Silicon Slopes Live with Alysha Smith

modern8’s CEO, Alysha Smith, had the opportunity to discuss all things branding, working remote, and more on Silicon Slopes’ live broadcast. You can watch it here or read the full transcript below.

 


Bree:
Hi, I’m Bree with Silicon Slopes. I’m the Director of Marketing and Events and we’re excited today to have Alysha Smith from modern8 here. She is CEO owner, managing director, a little bit of everything. So she’s Super Woman. And we’re going to talk to her today about modern8, her background, her experience, get a little feel for branding and design and see how that can help startups in the community. So welcome!

Alysha:
Thanks so much for being here for having me! It’s fun to be here and have a nice social distance distance between us. Close but not too close.

Bree:
So if you want to just start out telling us a little bit about
yourself, your background, how you got involved in modern8, all that fun stuff.

Alysha:
Well, it’s literally a story that began, I guess you could say at birth, I was a daughter of a graphic designer. So literally since inception I’ve been influenced heavily by branding, design, aesthetics, things like that. And you could say that kind of influenced my path. However, at the age 16, I had other things on my mind like clothes and it was right around the time (this dates myself), but that Gap was really at the height of style and fashion. And so I applied many a times to work there, finally landed my dream job at 16, and I felt pretty awesome let’s say, and worked my way up through with Gap Inc. through high school and through college and even my last year at BYU. I was promoted to store manager while I finished up my degree in communications and business. And so that eventually took me to New York, where before that I had married a graphic designer who needed to finish his degree.

So we moved to the city and he went to school and I went on to manage different Banana Republics of all sizes and had a lot of success there. I was recognized company-wide for leadership excellence, people development, and visual merchandising. And although I have the dearest place in my heart for New York, it is not the easiest place to raise a family and have a career. So we came back to salt Lake city and I worked at Anthropologie as a store manager for three years. It was there that I further developed a love for aesthetics and art. I don’t know if many of you know, that Anthropologie is kind of known for their highly visually dominated environment. So it was a lot of fun to work there and to further my love of art.

Unfortunately I had some personal tragedies happen within my life, which really forced me to reevaluate how I was spending my days and nights and holidays and weekends. So I resigned and went to work for modern8, which is also my father’s business. And, you know, I spent my whole, my spent my entire career up to that point, like really just being off of a computer, you know, being on the sales floor, managing people, working with teams. And so I had to take some accounting classes and some crash courses in the Adobe suite to learn some of the tactical parts of being a design agency. But I was able to use my interpersonal skills that I had learned and management to work on projects with the designers and the clients, and just really fell in love with the process even more than I had ever been.

I came back to where I thought I’d started in the first place and got to learn from the creative director. About three and a half years ago, I bought modern8, and since then I have been working to expand our team, our offerings and our expertise in branding and design. So that’s where we are now.

Bree:
Awesome. Yeah. That’s great. And can you tell me a little bit more about modern8 and your guys’s views on branding and how you help companies kind of brand themselves and the strategic process that you go through with companies that you work with?

Alysha:
Yeah, so we believe that brands are an emotional response to design that is formed by brand pillars that make up who that brand is. So their brand personality, their voice, their positioning, et cetera. And really the point of entry for a brand to resonate with a customer or a potential client is visual. It’s why we spend hours a day on Instagram trying to get those visual dopamine hits and why we get captivated by those Instagram ads. Because they’re all so nicely designed and they are targeted specifically to you and for you. It’s the same reason we pay more money for an Apple computer. I brought some of our own Ritual Chocolate, $12 chocolate because they just look so nice, right?

Bree:
You go after things that look pretty to you, yeah!

Alysha:

Yes they do! And you know, it used to be that if you were a company, you could create a product or service and probably have some success based on word of mouth or just based on how great your product was. But now we really truly live in a design and brand centric world. So we need to talk and create our brand specifically to resonate within this new world. Design is truly where the rubber meets the road; it’s where the brand has that, “I’ve got to have it at any cost” mentality. Design is the point of entry, but it’s not the sticking point.

Creating that long lasting brand is really what’s going to create that loyalty and is going to create that resonance that lasts longterm. And that branding needs to be built, as I mentioned before, on a strategic foundation. So that brand really needs to understand who they are, their personality, what their target audiences motivations are and create specific messaging and platforms to be able to resonate with that target market target audience and stand apart from the competition. And then design is used to then communicate that strategy. So, you know, at modern8, we always do strategy first and then we design based on that strategy.

Bree:
That’s awesome. And one thing that you mentioned before we got on stage was that brand is not just a logo. And I think some companies think that’s how it is, but like you said, it’s not just getting people in the door, it’s keeping them there. And that is through brand and design and strategy. It all works together. It all works together and truly you’re right.

Alysha:
Your logo is not your brand, your brand exists in the minds of your customers. So it’s up to you to control and create that perception within your customers. And we believe that design can truly create those feelings and perceptions and that perceived value. And with that perception, you can really control that customer’s behavior and get them to be a long lasting customer.

Bree:
Definitely. So you mentioned Apple. So I think I know your answer to this question, but what do you think is the best brand in the world and why, how do they create that?

Alysha:
Yeah, so I would absolutely still stand by that answer, which is Apple. I remember back in 2002, when I first moved to New York, it was right when, the first generation of iPad pods had just come out. I wasn’t fortunate enough to own the first generation, but I did get the second. I remember sitting on the subway and looking out and you could spot, you know, maybe every other ride, like one person with those white earbuds. And you could kind of like wink and nod and know that you were in this little Apple club. It was really like a fun “we’re in this together” thing. And then from there, of course, Apple has just grown. And I can’t think of many people that don’t own an iPhone these days.

I would say that Nike is another brand [like that]. We get customers or clients coming in all the time that are like, I want a brand that looks like Apple’s clean, simple, recognizable. I want a brand that sounds like Nike, that feels like Nike. And they really just hit on the head. There was a Seth Godin podcast that I heard recently where he talked about if you were to go to a hotel that was designed by Apple, you would know it, it wouldn’t even need the name.

You would feel it, you would know it. The same thing goes with Nike, right? But if Marriott had designed a shoe or designed a computer, you wouldn’t be able to recognize that shoe because Marriott doesn’t have a brand. They have a lot of hotels, but not a brand.

Bree:
Yeah, definitely. It’s funny, my husband and I will kind of play this game or we’ll try to guess the brand or company from a commercial. An Apple is the easiest one to guess, because you could just tell.

Alysha:
Right! You can look at it from a mile away and cover up the logo and know exactly like what you’re looking at.

Bree:
For sure. Well let’s shift gears a little bit. Like we said, we’re sitting six feet apart—social distancing—because, obviously, crazy times right now. But one thing that modern8 did was you guys launched a One Utah quarantine pitch competition. Can you tell us a little bit more about what prompted it, how it’s gone, and how you guys wanted to impact the community in that way?

Alysha:
Well, I think, as soon as quarantine, or pandemic—or whatever we’re calling it—COVID happened. We realized kind of a couple of different things. One is that we probably won’t be doing any major rebrands for companies for a very long time. And two, as you mentioned, we wanted to, we felt just awful. We felt really grateful and fortunate that we are able to continue doing business. We didn’t lose any clients and we’re able to work remote and weren’t really affected by this yet, you know, like knock on wood, but, um, recognize that there are so many individuals out there that were laid off and wanted to provide them an opportunity to get a leg up. So we wanted to kind of give back to the community. So we partnered with you, we partnered with kiln and some other organizations to launch this, this contest.

And we had many talented, smart entrepreneurs pitch their ideas to us. We picked two and right now we’re in the middle of working through our strategic process. Our brand design process. And  right now we’re in D2. So we just had our workshops with them just yesterday actually. And last week for the other one. So Droplet and Jeri are the two that won.

We’re just so excited for them and we also wanted to signal to other startups that we don’t just work with with big companies, we work with  startups as well. We want to be a part of whatever success that we can and give them a leg up in terms of giving them a strategic foundation and an identity. As well as just the things that they would need to get started without going into too much debt.

Bree:
Especially in a time where most people aren’t wanting to start anything. That’s great. And to kind of continue in that you mentioned your team started working remotely and I know a hot topic right now is leadership during these times. So for you, what’s kind of two or three leadership qualities that you think are most important, especially during these unprecedented times that we’re experiencing right now?

Alysha:
These are definitely different times and I was telling Bree just moments ago that our three year lease ended yesterday and we decided not to renew it. So I don’t think I would have ever dreamed of going remote, and so being open to change, especially now, during these times, is very important for a leader to be flexible. Beyond just logistically being able to run a business remotely, I’ve also been able to think about how I lead in a different way. And part of this is just my history, learning from other people that have bandaged me, like punching in a time clock, making sure you get your hours in, looking busy, all of those things.

There’s certainly some of that influence, but now I’m shifting my mindset and thinking it’s more about the output that comes out of this rather than the amount of time that was spent on that output. So I’m really able to value the successes and whether that took two hours or eight hours, it doesn’t matter. What really matters is the quality that came out of that. Then also being able to recognize the different ways that people need to be managed and led in this new environment. I have regular zoom calls with my people just so I can really still tap into seeing them and being able to read how they’re feeling and that body language. Staying on top of problems before they arise through those visual points of communication is really important.

Bree:
Yeah, for sure. You mentioned before we came on stage that with a bigger company you may not be able to Zoom call every single employee, but training your employees to be able to do that to the people that they supervise and passing that down through the company and through the culture is super important as well.

Alysha:
Right now I manage a team of 10 and so it’s very easy to have those close relationships, but I’ve also managed in teams of over a hundred and it really starts at the top. So if you can create that structure of really seeing the person as a whole and having empathy and trust from the top down, and then you can create those structures and systems to be able to continue all the way down through direct reports and conversations. Those things can still thrive no matter how large your organization truly is.

Bree:
Definitely, and it’s so important as well. I’m shifting a little bit to some more fun questions, not COVID related. What’s been the best project you’ve worked on?

Alysha:
So I have a toddler, she’s four, and my first child is now 14. There’s a big gap between babies. So when I was pregnant with my now four year old, I found a brand that I just fell in love with through social media. I fell in love with the aesthetics. Before I had her, I literally registered for everything possible of that brand. And when we were approached by this brand, Little Unicorn, back in spring of last year, I went nuts. I was like, “Are you kidding me? I didn’t realize this brand was local.” So we got to rebrand them! We took them through our D5 process, we got to work on the strategic part of their brand. Then we got to redesign their packaging and refresh their logo. We put together this beautiful brand book that deployed the assets of everything that we had created.

They were a dream to work with. Not only because we share similar points of view, but they’re all just wonderful, wonderful people. One of my favorite moments we had was when we gave them our strategy presentation to a group of them, it was emotional. It was really emotional because we worked on their brand story and their brand narrative, which is very emotionally driven. I made the owner cry and walk out and take a moment and come back. Anyway, it was just such a fun project.

Bree:
It all ties to what you’ve been saying with brand and strategy. You want to connect to your customers, and a one huge way to connect is emotionally. So that shows that a brand can be that impactful to people.

Alysha:
Yeah in fact, it really needs to be. It needs to touch on—we call it the head and the heart. The head is the positioning. It’s what you do that no one else does, and then the brand is really that heart. It’s the personality, it’s the story that you’re telling, it’s your voice. Those things together really truly create a strategic platform that can resonate. Then, like I said, we use design to communicate those strategies as they all work together.

Bree:
That’s awesome. So another question is what would be your dream client to work with? It doesn’t have to be a specific company, but maybe for modern8, what does a company look like if they come in and you would really want to work with them as a dream client?

Alysha:
Well, I think a dream client really could be summed up as someone that has a business, product, or service that has a lot of promise, but doesn’t understand how to communicate that value and that potential and wants to work with us to really dig in to understand and to create those touch points for them. As a woman, I would love to work with other women led businesses. We’ve been targeting more women’s businesses as of late, because it’s something I’m passionate about and I want to get in there and work with other women. But that dream client is someone that needs help realizing their potential and wants to do the process with it, and of course, someone that really values and understands great design too.

Bree:
Of course. Yeah. That’s awesome, for sure. So to kind of wrap things up, what is the future of modern8? What are you guys planning? Anything that you can let us know? What do you see? I know you mentioned your leas is up and it is kind of a unpredictable future, but what do you have in store?

Alysha:

We are going to continue doing what we do best. We’re not a marketing company that happens to do to branding. We are a brand design agency, so we’re going to stick to what we know and hopefully as brands come about, or as new brands startup they will come to us and we can work together to grow brands. Then as things start to stabilize then we’ll have more rebrands. We’ve also started developing our own products and branding those, so we hope to be able to do more of those in the future. We just launched a coffee company and we’ll be doing other products as well.

Then for the future of where we’re going to live and breathe, I think for the foreseeable future, we’ll be working remote. I think one other great thing about working remote is it allows us to tap into the talent that’s out there in a way that we maybe wouldn’t have been able to do before. So that’s really exciting to me. I think we’ll just kind of keep our ears and eyes out for a new space to move into once things kind of settle in and maybe a space that’ll better suit our needs of a photography studio, maybe a coffee shop and, and certainly more of a communal based gathering for us to meet with clients and have meetings, events, and things like that.

Bree:
Thank you so much. It was great having you here and I appreciate you taking the time and this is fun with all your future endeavors.