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How Brands Are Built
40 minutes | 13 days ago
Brian Collins changed someone’s life by redesigning a uniform
Brian Collins is Chief Creative Officer of COLLINS, an independent strategy and brand experience design company with offices in New York City and San Francisco. Prior to founding COLLINS, he spent a decade as Chairman and Chief Creative Officer of the brand and innovation division of Ogilvy & Mather. Brian's also a teacher—a professor in the Graduate Program of the School of Visual Arts since 2001—and sits on the Board of The One Club. Among many accolades, Collins has been named as: A "Design Master" by Graphis One of five American "Masters of Design" by Fast Company One of the 50 Most Influential Graphic Designers Working Today by Graphic Design USA He was also the first graphic designer invited to participate in the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, which you’ll hear us talk about on this episode. Brian has long held that design and designers have the power to make a positive impact on the world (e.g., this blog post about using design to create a better future), which makes him an obvious choice for this season of the podcast, during which I’ve had many conversations about the social impact of branding. But I was originally put in touch with Brian by one of his employees, Diego Segura, a design apprentice at Collins. Diego reached out to tell me about his own experience and about the internship program at Collins, which focuses on high school students of color. So this is part one of a two-part series. In this episode, you’ll hear my conversation with Brian about the impact of design on the world, the COLLINS internship program, and more. In part two, you’ll hear a little more of my conversation with Brian, plus a full interview with Diego, design apprentice at COLLINS. Diego will share his story and point of view on the future of the design industry. Toward the end of the conversation, Brian offered up some great advice to young, struggling designers: There's no such thing as perfect projects. They don't exist. You’ve got to take the assignments that you’ve got and turn them into something. Focus on excellence." – Brian Collins Then he recommended two books: The Architecture of Happiness, by Alain De Botton ("It's a remarkable book." Siddhartha, by Hermann Hesse ("I would recommend [it] to any young person.") To learn more about COLLINS, visit their website. You can also learn more about Brian at his personal site or on just about any major social media platform (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram). And don’t forget to subscribe so you can hear part two of this conversation, which will feature Brian again, as well as Diego.
48 minutes | a month ago
Alina Wheeler has a doppelgänger named Blake Deutsch
Today’s guest is Alina Wheeler, best known as the author of Designing Brand Identity: An Essential Guide for the Whole Branding Team, now in its fifth edition. One of my favorite memories of this book is seeing it on a desk when I arrived to my first day on the job at Labbrand, where I worked in Shanghai. I already knew the book, but seeing it in use, so far from home—that's when I really understood how influential of a book it is. In fact, it's been translated into Chinese, Spanish, Arabic, Portuguese, French, and other languages—and it's used by brand, marketing, and design teams, undergraduate and graduate students, and brand and business consultancies all over the world. I wanted to get an idea of why Alina wrote the book and what she was doing beforehand (around 2003). Along with being an author, she's a designer with over 40 years of experience working with teams in the public and private sector. She’s led the development of integrated brand identity programs, sales and marketing strategies, and design and communications systems. I was excited to have the opportunity to talk to Alina about her career, the book she’s created, and what the future holds for Designing Brand Identity. During the conversation, I learned that there will be a sixth edition but she won't be the author (!!!), how she gets case studies and quotes for the book, and the true identity of the mysterious Blake Deutsch. (It's hilarious—listen to find out.) Toward the end of the conversation, I asked Alina whether there's anything she'd like to support and ask that others check out, and she talked about Simon Charwey, a brand identity designer and anthologist on indigenous African design systems and African Symbology. Simon's work includes the African Logo Design book, a compendium of 1,000 unique symbols inspired by indigenous African design systems, symbols, and culture. And off the air, Alina also mentioned Certified B Corporations, something else she’s passionate about and recommends everyone checks out. I found the conversation both enlightening and inspiring, and I hope you do too. To learn more about Alina and Designing Brand Identity, visit designingbrandidentity.info. Of course, the book is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold. Alina’s also active on Twitter and Instagram.
54 minutes | 2 months ago
Nirm Shanbhag sees brand architecture from the consumer's perspective
Nirm Shanbhag is the Chief Strategy Officer of Sid Lee USA, an international creative company. He’s also my old boss. Back in 2012, he was running the San Francisco office of Interbrand, and he hired me as Director of Verbal Identity. Before Interbrand, Nirm earned his MBA from London Business School and worked in advertising, at firms like Mullen and McCann. He also ran his own, independent agency, Notch Strategy, for about six years between his roles at Interbrand and Sid Lee. Nirm and I have worked together quite a bit—first at Interbrand, then as independent consultants. We’ve been called in on brand architecture projects a few times, and Nirm is one of just a handful of people I consider an expert on the topic. Since I haven’t had too many (any) episodes focused on brand architecture, I was eager to get Nirm to share some of his insights into brand architecture—what it is, why it matters, and how it should be done. Throughout the conversation, Nirm came back time and again to the idea of keeping the consumer’s journey front and center, considering their motivations and approaches to decision-making. We also talked about brand purpose, and whether brands are good or bad for society (heady stuff). At the end of the conversation, Nirm recommended two very different books: The Experience Economy (“a seminal work and … one that not a lot of people know about”) and A Brief History of Time, by Stephen Hawking. I’ve probably read [A Brief History of Time] four times in my life. The reason I think it’s worthwhile is because, yeah, it’s about physics, but at its heart it’s a book about perspective and recognizing that your perspective can change.” – Nirm Shanbhag To learn more about Nirm and Sid Lee, visit sidlee.com. I also recommend you check out some of Nirm’s blog posts on the Notch blog.
41 minutes | 2 months ago
Emily Heyward builds brands that inspire obsession
Emily Heyward is co-founder and and Chief Brand Officer at Red Antler, the leading brand company for startups and new ventures. Red Antler is the branding firm behind brands like Casper, Allbirds, Keeps, and Burrow. They also work with established brands like American Express, HBO, Google, and Gap. Emily was named among the Most Important Entrepreneurs of the Decade by Inc. Magazine, and has also been recognized as a Top Female Founder by Inc. and one of Entrepreneur's Most Powerful Women of 2019. She's also the author of a new book, Obsessed: Building a Brand People Love from Day One. I asked Emily what makes Red Antler different from other branding firms and what makes it, in the words of a 2018 Adweek article, one of "the surprisingly small group of branding shops behind today's top challenger brands." She says Red Antler was "the first creative services company that was designed and built to work with startups" and, as a result, "we've thought about brand in an incredibly holistic way … with obviously a particular focus on digital." Next, we turned to Emily's book, Obsessed. "The book really came out of 12 years of running Red Antler, launching new, disruptive businesses into the world, and seeing the ways in which brands’ relationships with consumers are shifting. … The rules are not the same as they were, certainly 20 years ago, but even six years ago. Things keep changing.” – Emily Heyward Then we turned to the events of 2020, and I asked Emily for her take on how brands should respond to racial injustice, as well as the COVID pandemic. Lastly, I asked Emily some wrap-up questions, including a brand/initiative she recommends checking out (the 15 Percent Pledge), a book recommendation (On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous), and her advice to you people in the industry: "Be curious. I think that so much of what we do is a response to the world around us—to culture and trends and what makes people tick. And when I meet with someone that doesn’t seem like they're passionate about what's happening in the world, and what businesses are out there, and what they're seeing, and what they're loving—for me, that's an immediate red flag." – Emily Heyward To learn more about Emily and Red Antler, visit redantler.com or emilyheyward.com. Obsessed is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.
57 minutes | 3 months ago
Armin Vit has a little grid in his mind
Today’s guest is Armin Vit, co-founder of UnderConsideration, a graphic design firm, and editor and writer for Brand New, the leading site for reviews of corporate and brand identity design work. Born and raised in Mexico City, Armin—along with his wife and partner, Bryony Gomez-Palacio—have created multiple other design blogs, co-authored books, and organized events like the annual Brand New Conference. I was excited to talk to Armin about design trends, blogging, and the pros and cons of being a professional critic. The conversation started with some ancient history, going back to a blog called “Speak Up,” and FutureBrand’s 2003 redesign of Paul Rand’s UPS logo, which gave rise to Brand New. I asked Armin how he selects which work to review on Brand New, and he said he has a "little grid" in his mind. The more people are likely to be familiar with the client, the more likely he is to write about the work. If the client is small and unknown, the work has to be groundbreaking. Much of the work he sees is "fine"—but work that's just fine is actually less interesting than work that's terrible. I meet other designers [that] will joke that they are always wondering ... what I might say. They're always thinking about, 'Oh shit, I hope this doesn't make it on Brand New. Or if it does, I hope it goes fine.' It just increases that level of stress ... but in a positive way that I have to make sure that what I'm saying is valuable to as many people as possible and doesn't put down anyone just for the sake of it. Armin Vit Armin and I went on to talk about a design trend he's seen lately: a stampede of wordmarks featuring geometric sans fonts, like Airbnb and Google, and the backlash against them, epitomized by the Chobani logotype. Next, we discussed how design and branding can make a positive impact on the world, his experience as a Mexican-American immigrant and how it influences his thinking as a designer—especially given some of the Trump administration's rhetoric and policies toward immigrants and Mexico in particular. I asked Armin for an example of some work he's seen that's making a positive impact, and he mentioned IBM's "Be Equal" campaign, which repurposes a bee designed for IBM by Paul Rand, highlighting an equals sign in its stripes. To close out, I asked for Armin's book recommendations (he likes Branding: In Five and a Half Steps, by Michael Johnson) and his advice for young designers and people in the branding industry: "Look at a lot of brand design ... It's really about building your palate for identity design, how colors work, how typefaces work. It's not about copying anything, but taking bits of pieces from different places, and how you will apply that to your own lens, to your clients, or to your work. It's consuming a lot of identity design and letting it simmer in your subconscious." But honestly, he says, that's not just a pitch for Brand New. To learn more about Armin, visit UnderConsideration, from which you can find Brand New as well as design work by Armin and Bryony, books they've written, like Flaunt, and events like the Brand New Conference.
52 minutes | 3 months ago
Sunny Bonnell reframes your vices as virtues
On the podcast today: Sunny Bonnell, co-founder of Motto, one of the leading branding agencies in the country, with clients like Google, Hershey's, and Twentieth Century Fox. Sunny and her co-founder, Ashleigh Hansberger, recently wrote their first book, Rare Breed: A Guide to Success for the Defiant, Dangerous, and Different. Sunny says the book started with a question: "What if you could take the parts of yourself that other people criticize—traits they call defiant, dangerous, and different—and turn those things into your selling points?" We talked about how Sunny and Ashleigh arrived at the seven "virtues" in Rare Breed: Rebellious Audacious Obsessed Hot-blooded Weird Hypnotic Emotional If you're curious which virtue applies to you, try the Rare Breed quiz. Sunny and Ashleigh also host a YouTube series, also called Rare Breed, where they sit down with guests like Charlamagne Tha God and Jon Batiste. I asked Sunny about Motto's origin story, the challenges of being one of very few female-owned agencies, the importance of diversity, and more. Toward the end of the conversation, Sunny recommended a few books: It's Not How Good You Are, It's How Good You Want to Be and Whatever You Think, Think the Opposite, both by Paul Ardern, as well as The Hero and the Outlaw, by Margaret Mark and Carol Pearson. We ended with some of Sunny's motivating advice for anyone trying to grow their career: "Own who you are. In a world that wants to own you, owning yourself in this way can really hurt like hell. Being defiant, dangerous, and different is a gift. Succeed because of who you are, not despite who you are." To learn more about Sunny, check out her agency's work at wearemotto.com. Rare Breed is available now on Amazon and elsewhere. And, if you go to rarebreedbook.com, you can watch episodes of Sunny and Ashleigh's YouTube show and take the Rare Breed quiz. If you take the quiz or read the book, drop us a line on social media-I'd love to hear your thoughts, and I'm sure Sunny would, too. Episode sponsors The Brand Strategy Kit from Egle Karalyte. Available in both digital and print formats, the Kit provides structure and tools to streamline and gamify your branding process. Squadhelp. To begin a business name contest with hundreds of business naming experts, check out their services to get a fresh perspective on your company.
44 minutes | 3 months ago
Dava Guthmiller makes the invisible visible
In this episode, I'm talking to Dava Guthmiller, founder and Chief Creative Officer at Noise 13, a brand strategy and design agency based in San Francisco. She's also cofounder of In/Visible Talks, and annual conference that celebrates the art of design and creativity, and In/Visible Project, which includes a collection of other events that bring people together over the process, inspiration, and challenges for design and creative professionals. Throughout the conversation, we touched on diversity in the worlds of design and branding. I asked Dava what it was like to start Noise 13 as a young, female designer, and how In/Visible Talks is giving a platform to a racially diverse and heavily female-leaning group of speakers. Next, we got into the weeds a bit on how Dava built the In/Visible Talks brand. She told me where the name came from and how the visual identity for year one involved a trip to the dollar store. We rounded out the conversation, as we often do on the podcast, with book recommendations and advice for young professionals in the branding and design industry. Dava recommended The Empathy Edge by Maria Ross (see Maria's post on How Brands Are Built) and Marty Neumeier's Brand Flip. And she had several pieces of advice for young designers, including encouragement to try many different internships and jobs until you find the best fit: "Take internships. Find a mentor. Try it on. Try a small company. Try in-house. Try something big. This is your life. This is your job. Find the right project team fit for you, so that your life is not miserable." To learn more about Dava, visit Noise 13 or In/Visible Talks. The annual conference will be on Jan 14, 2021, and early bird tickets are on sale now.
52 minutes | 4 months ago
Dr. Jason Chambers explains the origins of racist brands
Season four has arrived, and my first guest is Dr. Jason Chambers of the University of Illinois. The theme for this season will be a bit looser than past seasons, but I'm hoping to get perspectives on the social impact of brands and branding. In other words, are brands a good thing for society, overall? In light of what's happened in 2020-the pandemic, protests for racial justice, increasingly extreme weather as a result of climate change, and even the U.S. presidential election-this topic felt relevant. I first heard Dr. Chambers on 1A, a podcast from WAMU that's distributed by NPR, where he talked about "reckoning with racist brands" like Aunt Jemima and the Washington, D.C., NFL team. I was excited to talk to Dr. Chambers in a little more detail about these brand names, where they come from, why they should change, and how to change them. Dr. Chambers's research is focused on the history of African Americans in the advertising industry, a topic about which he's written a book: Madison Avenue and the Color Line: African Americans in the Advertising Industry. Given his expertise, I also wanted to get his take on diversity in the agency world. I don't often interview professors on the show (which makes sense, given it's a show about "how brands are built"), but I had so much fun talking to Dr. Chambers and exploring his in-depth knowledge of these subjects; I hope this is not the last time I host an academic or professor on the show. To hear more from Dr. Chambers, I encourage you to check out the episode of 1A he joined, "Reckoning With Racist Brands." You can also find his opinions in publications like Ad Age, Adweek, CNN, Forbes, Black Enterprise, and The New York Times. He's written another book, too: Building the Black Metropolis: African American Entrepreneurship. Lastly, you can of course find him on the University of Illinois website and LinkedIn.
59 minutes | 6 months ago
Special episode: Rob on IG Live with Ilya of Studeo
On June 11, 2020, Rob (creator and host of How Brands Are Built) joined Ilya Lobanov of Studeo on Instagram Live for a chat about brand strategy and naming. Ilya is an Australia-based designer and strategist who teaches multiple branding classes (available on his site and Skillshare). Given Ilya's design background and Rob's naming experience, the conversation often covered similarities between design and naming. This special episode features the entire IG Live conversation (including live comments from viewers, which Ilya occasionally reads out loud). The episode is also available on IGTV and as a YouTube video. If you like the interview, follow Ilya on Instagram (@wearestudeo), where he's also interviewed designers and branding experts like Michael Janda and Reagan (Frank) Mackrill of G'Day Frank.
57 minutes | 6 months ago
Special episode: Rob on the JUST Branding Podcast
Rob joins Jacob Cass of JUST Creative and Matt Davies on their new podcast, JUST Branding. We explored best practices for naming, positioning statements, and conducting discovery for brand strategy through the lenses of the company, client, and consumer. Rob shared actionable tips and real-world examples that will help you build a better brand.
20 minutes | 9 months ago
Mini episode: David Aaker on game-changing subcategories
Today's episode features a rare repeat guest: none other than David Aaker, Professor Emeritus at the Haas School of Business, UC Berkeley, Vice-Chair at Prophet, a global marketing and branding consultancy, and prolific author of books and articles about branding. Last time David was on the podcast, we talked about two of his books, Aaker on Branding, 20 Principles that Drive Success, and Creating Signature Stories. We also talked at length about his brand vision model. If you’re interested in hearing that longer conversation with “the Father of Modern Branding,” go take a listen. This time, we’re talking about David’s newest book, Owning Game-Changing Subcategories: Uncommon Growth in the Digital Age. The premise of the book is that the only way for a business or brand to grow (with rare exceptions) is "to create or find 'must haves' that define whole new subcategories that can attract a loyal customer following." During the conversation, David explains where he got the idea for the book, what he means by terms like "game-changing subcategory" and "must haves," and how digital has changed everything. He also illustrates his ideas through examples like Dollar Shave Club, Apple, and Airbnb. At the end of the conversation, David provides one final piece of advice to business owners and brand managers: "Look for opportunities to create subcategory platforms—new ways [of] looking at what the customer is using and their relationship with the brand. And when you see one, think long and hard before you turn your back on it. ... Take some risks and make some investments, make some commitments. Because that's really the only way to grow."
21 minutes | 9 months ago
Mini episode: Brands reacting to COVID-19
Generally, I try to make the How Brands Are Built podcast evergreen. I want listeners to be able to go back any old episode and find that the conversation—whether it’s with a namer, a strategist, an author, or some other branding professional—is still relevant. But this episode is different. It’s April, 2020, and we’re in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. To say the least, it’s been disruptive. (And not in the cool, buzzwordy kind of way.) Early on in the crisis, I read news of Zoom making conference calls free for K–12 schools, grocery stores creating special shopping hours for more vulnerable populations, and The New York Times taking down its paywall for all coronavirus-related coverage. I started keeping track of how companies were pitching in, and created an Instagram post highlighting six approaches, with an example for each. Shortly thereafter, I started seeing similar content, including a blog post from Character, titled “A Brand’s Responsibility In Times of Crisis.” I wanted to talk a bit more about how brands are reacting, so I reached out to the authors, Lauren Wong, Associate Strategy Director, and Myra El-Bayoumi, Head of Strategy. (Myra’s name may sound familiar—she was a guest on the podcast last season.) Lauren and Myra graciously agreed to hop on Zoom for a quick, impromptu chat about what brands can do, should do, and in some cases, should avoid doing, in times of crisis.
24 minutes | 10 months ago
Mini episode: Brad Flowers and The Naming Book
For the second mini episode of the podcast, I’m talking to Brad Flowers, founding partner of Bullhorn, a marketing company in Lexington, Kentucky. Brad is also the author of a new book entitled, The Naming Book: 5 steps to creating brand and product names that sell. Regular listeners know that naming is an area of focus for me, so when I heard about Brad’s book, I couldn’t want to read it and ask him a few questions. We started out talking about how there aren’t too many books about naming out there (here’s a list, which now includes Brad’s). Brad wrote his book because he’d had trouble early in his career finding something that documented a replicable process for his team. The five steps Brad recommends are: Establishing Criteria Brainstorming Compiling Names Expanding Your Knowledge Deciding on the Final Name Within each step, Brad includes short worksheets and exercises. One that I especially like comes right at the beginning, when he asks readers to pick any three brand names and post-rationalize where the names came from. Brad says it “gives someone the opportunity to take a step back and start to just recognize the names that exist and how they’re working, so that when you start to think about your name, you can understand that while Apple seems like a great name, on day one it felt like a really risky, and probably a pretty dumb name, really.” We rounded out the conversation talking about the benefits of sometimes going “off brief,” how to ask other people their opinion on name ideas, and Brad’s favorite naming story (involving his five-year-old son). To learn more about The Naming Book, visit thenamingbook.com. It’s available now on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and IndieBound.org. To learn more about Brad and Bullhorn, visit BullhornCreative.com, or find them on social media.
13 minutes | a year ago
Mini episode: Career advice
This is the first of several "mini episodes" of How Brands Are Built. Hopefully, you saw this mentioned on social media or in the newsletter: between now and the next season (TBA), I'll release a few short episodes on a range of topics—no consistent through-line, just some interesting, snack-sized branding content. I reached out on Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook asking for feedback on which mini episodes would be most interesting or useful. If you’re one of the many people who weighed in, thank you! And now that the results are in, I'm happy to share this first mini episode, all about careers in branding. I've spent some time reviewing interviews from the past two seasons, looking at the advice guests gave, and grouping them into themes. I've boiled it down to six pieces of advice broken out across three categories: Category 1: Where you work Surround yourself with good people—it’s more important than getting to work on cool, big brands, especially when you’re just getting started. And it might mean starting out at a smaller agency, where you could have more exposure to clients and experienced coworkers. Category 2: How you work Master the basics, such as running an interview, presenting, and writing, as well as gaining a basic understanding of how business works. Pick a lane; for example, research or analytics. See the big picture—always think about the problem you’re trying to solve for the client. Know that saying, “To a hammer, every problem looks like a nail”? Don’t be a hammer. Category 3: Why you work Get out there—experience new things Enjoy what you do This episode goes into more detail on each of the six pieces of advice, with clips, quotes, and insights from interviews with: Jeremy Miller of Sticky Branding Ken Pasternak of Two by Four Fabian Geyrhalter of FINIEN Caren Williams, independent brand consultant Dennis Hahn of Liquid Agency Ana Andjelic, strategy executive and doctor of sociology Alan Brew of BrandingBusiness Myra El-Bayoumi of Character Denise Lee Yohn, author of What Great Brands Do and Fusion Tim Riches of Principals Erminio Putignano of PUSH Collective Allen Adamson of Metaforce Gareth Kay of Chapter Adam Morgan of eatbigfish Laura Ries of Ries & Ries Marty Neumeier of Liquid Agency (and author of Brand Gap and Zag) David Aaker of Prophet (and author of Building Strong Brands and Brand Portfolio Strategy)
23 minutes | a year ago
Season three wrap-up: How to build a brand experience
Season three of the podcast featured my most wide-ranging conversations yet. I talked to guests about topics such as naming, social influence, and fusing brand and culture. Like last season, I talked to a mix of popular authors and speakers, like Jeremy Miller and Denise Lee Yohn, as well as some people I've worked with closely at agencies like Interbrand, Siegel+Gale, and BrandingBusiness. Thank you to all my guests this season: Jeremy Miller, founder of Sticky Branding; author of Sticky Branding and Brand New Name Ken Pasternak, president of Two by Four (formerly president and COO of Marshall Strategy) Fabian Geyrhalter, principal and founder of FINIEN; author of How to Launch a Brand and Bigger Than This Caren Williams, independent brand consultant Dennis Hahn, Chief Strategy Officer at Liquid Agency Ana Andjelic, strategy executive; PhD in sociology Alan Brew, founding partner at BrandingBusiness Myra El-Bayoumi, strategy director at Character Denise Lee Yohn, brand leadership expert; author of What Great Brands Do and Fusion Thank you, too, for listening, sharing your thoughts, following along the website, social media, and the newsletter. The theme of this season, broadly speaking, was brand experience. In this wrap-up episode, I walk through what a brand experience is and how to create or improve one. First off, how should we define brand experience? About a year ago, before this season started, I posted the following definition: "The totality of all sensations, feelings, thoughts, and actions evoked by a brand." That pretty much aligns with other definitions I've seen from the likes of Marty Neumeier. (His, from The Dictionary of Brand, is "All the interactions people have with a product, service, or organization.") The episode kicks off with Ken Pasternak and Caren Williams each going into detail on how they think about brand experience. Next, we get to the four steps for creating (or strengthening) a brand experience. Sounds simple, but each step requires some serious work. In the episode, each step is fleshed out and supported with audio clips from the season's interviews. Four steps to create or improve a brand experience Get the brand strategy right (should a strategy platform include experience principles?) Outline the context within which the brand will be experienced (e.g., customer journey mapping) Brainstorm ideas for the brand experience (often takes place in a collaborative work session with the client) Implement, measure, and modify (organize ideas by impact/effort, mock up or prototype ideas, and always be iterating) To learn more about brand experience and the guests from season three, listen to each full episode or read transcripts on HowBrandsAreBuilt.com. You'll also find a growing list of books recommended by guests this season and last. Thanks again, especially to those of you who've subscribed, left a rating or review, or connected on social media. If you haven't done those things already, please do-I really appreciate the support!
43 minutes | a year ago
Denise Lee Yohn fuses brand, business, and culture
My final guest for season three of the podcast is Denise Lee Yohn, author of the bestseller, What Great Brands Do: The Seven Brand-Building Principles that Separate the Best from the Rest. She's also an in-demand keynote speaker, and has appeared on CNBC, Fox Business, NPR, and in the Wall Street Journal discussing business and branding issues. Denise cut her teeth in lead strategy roles for the advertising agencies behind campaigns for Burger King and Land Rover, and has held client-side positions at Jack In The Box and Sony. On this episode, Denise and I talk about the relationship between brand and business, why it's important to "sweat the small stuff," brand experience versus employee experience, and her latest book, Fusion: How Integrating Brand and Culture Powers the World's Greatest Companies. I kicked off the conversation with a question about the relationship between brand and business, something I've been interested in since writing an article on the topic for The Guardian in 2014. Denise and I agree that business leaders need to stop thinking of brand and business (or brand strategy and business strategy, at least) as two separate things. They are "one and the same," to use Denise's words. Next, we talked about one of the seven "brand-building principles" from her book, What Great Brands Do. According to the book, great brands "Sweat the Small Stuff." Denise explains that the process she recommends for achieving this goal and introduces one of the free tools she's created, the Brand Touchpoint Wheel. Later in the conversation, Denise and I talked about her latest book, Fusion, which explores the relationship between culture and brand. While she does not recommend creating employer brand platforms (partly because they create an unnecessary divide between the external and internal-facing brand), she does recommend working on the employee experience using a similar approach to that used for customer brand experience. The Brand Touchpoint Wheel can again prove useful when working on the employee experience, as can another tool Denise offers, the Employee Experience Architecture Framework. As usual, we wrapped up the conversation with Denise's book recommendations and advice for junior/aspiring branding professionals. You won't want to miss it! To learn more about Denise, visit deniseleeyohn.com. On her site, you'll find information about her books, speaking engagements, and consulting practice, as well as her blog, and more free, downloadable tools like the ones we mentioned in our conversation. You can also find and follow Denise on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or YouTube.
30 minutes | a year ago
Myra El-Bayoumi doesn't mind blowing up the process
My guest on today's episode is Myra El-Bayoumi, Strategy Director at Character, a branding and design studio with offices in New York and San Francisco. Before Character, Myra held senior strategy positions at Landor, Siegel+Gale, and Interbrand (which is where I met her). Myra also holds an MBA from the University of Toronto Rotman School of Management. Given Myra's experience, I wanted to get her perspective on the similarities and differences in brand strategy approach, philosophy, and deliverables among top-tier brand consulting firms. She has a lot of respect for her prior firms, but admits she's biased toward Character now that she's leading their strategy efforts. She says she's "better equipped to see the value of a place like Character because [she] grew up in the big shops," and that differences at Character include more flexibility, the ability to "blow up our process in service of solving" the client's problems, and speed. Myra describes the Character approach to brand strategy as arriving at answers to two key questions: Why did this brand exist, beyond to make money? Why should the world choose this brand? The second question should be answered in a way that's relevant in today's culture but also "evergreen for the future." This link between the brand strategy and cultural trends is equally applicable for B2B brands, Myra says, citing the example of UberConference (a product of Dialpad, a Character client). "One of the examples of a B2B brand that we worked with, who I actually think does the brand experience thing pretty well is Dialpad. You might not know Dialpad, but you probably know UberConference, which is one of their products, and UberConference has that famous hold music. That's an example-and we didn't create that, so I won't take any credit for it-but we know those people now and we know how well that hold music-what it says, the sound of it, and the fact that it exists in the first place-represent the spirit and the DNA of who that company is." I asked Myra what components she thinks are necessary in a brand platform. She says purpose is critical, but that values and personality traits "lack precision, focus, clarity, and sharpness." We got into an interesting conversation about whether personality belongs within a brand strategy platform or should be removed, allowing design principles or voice principles to play a similar role, but "outside" of the brand platform. We wrapped up by talking about a brand Myra thinks is doing "pretty much everyhing right" (Billie) and a book she recommends (Mating in Captivity) even though "it has nothing to do with branding. It just has to do with humans." To learn more about Myra, visit the Character website.
25 minutes | a year ago
Alan Brew sees corporate narrative as the evolution of positioning
Alan Brew has been in branding since 1985. In this, episode he takes us back to that year to explain how he got into the industry and what he's seen change since then. Along the way, he's worked with clients like Chevron, Elsevier, Tech Data, Royal Bank of Canada, Delta Airlines, and Huawei, as well as a number of startups and small-to-medium businesses. Now a founding partner at BrandingBusiness in Southern California, Alan's career has also included roles at Landor, Addison, and Siegel+Gale. Alan and I met at that last one: Siegel+Gale. I was lowest man on the totem pole (I think that may have actually been my title) when Alan came in as Managing Director of the LA office. I remember an early meeting with Alan. We were in a full conference room with lots of smart strategists and designers sitting around the table. I was used to being a fly on the wall for meetings like this-maybe just taking notes or waiting for some marching orders. I can't remember what the meeting was about or what we were trying to decide, but I remember, vividly, Alan turning to me and asking my opinion on the matter at hand. Now, maybe Alan just didn't know how unimportant I was, but I took it as something else: To me, it was a recognition that my point of view had value, hierarchy be damned. That moment stuck with me, and shortly after Alan left, I followed him to his next agency and joined his strategy team. I wanted to get Alan talking about his early days in the industry, including the origin of "global brands," the first time he saw the book Positioning, the age of the corporate narrative, and a fateful dinner meeting with Walter Landor, back in 1985. Next, we talked about a proprietary tool at BrandingBusiness, the Brand Performance Platform. "The Brand Performance Platform is a databased research program that produces analytics, metrics, for evaluating brands on ... awareness, consideration, preference, and purchase intent-the classic sales funnel," says Alan. "But we can put metrics against those elements and look at where a company is succeeding or where a brand is succeeding. ... We can, on those four metrics, create an index, which we call the Brand Performance Platform, and say, 'This is your index and this is how you increase it,' and we can correlate that increase to revenue performance." Afterward, we got into an interesting conversation about "corporate narrative," which Alan think of as an evolution of positioning. We talked about storytelling and content creation, with Alan explaining that brand strategy has "become more of a fungible externalized set of strategic components rather than just this inert strategic document that lives on somebody's shelf." Lastly, Alan shared some favorite brands (Amazon and Subaru) and recommended some non-business books and authors he recommends every brand strategist and businessperson reads: Dickens, Michael Lewis (including The Undoing Project), Man's Search for Meaning, and The Economist. To learn more about Alan, visit BrandingBusiness, where you can learn about his agency, read his bio, and see many of his blog posts. Speaking of blogs, you should also check out Alan's blog about brand naming: Namedroppings. You can also follow Alan on Twitter.
36 minutes | a year ago
Ana Andjelic helps brands design for social influence
Ana Andjelic is a strategy executive with wide-ranging experience on the agency and client sides. Recent roles include Chief Brand Officer at fashion retailer Rebecca Minkoff and SVP, Global Strategy Director at Havas LuxHub. Past agency experience includes time at Droga5, HUGE, The Barbarian Group, and Razorfish. Ana also has a PhD in sociology and has published dozens of articles about luxury and fashion branding, the experience economy, social influence, content strategy, and more. Her writing has been published in The Guardian, Fast Company, AdAge, Adweek, LeanLuxe, Luxury Daily, Glossy, Campaign, and Form Design Magazine. In 2018, she was listed by Forbes as one of the top 50 Chief Marketers in 2018 who "serve as models of a new, emerging and disruptive chief marketer." She's been recognized as one of the "Luxury Women to Watch" by Luxury Daily and one of the top 10 digital strategists by The Guardian. I kicked things off by asking Ana about her PhD-why she chose to pursue it and how it's impacted her career. Then we talked about a term she writes about "social currency." I asked what it means and why it's important. Next, we talked about how she defines "brand experience" and what brands should do to create compelling brand experiences and social influence. Ana says, "These days, the strength of the brand is how successfully it can defy the strength of the algorithm." To do so, she suggests brands must exhibit at least one of her 4 Cs of the modern brand: Community Content Curation Collaborations Throughout the interview, Ana lists quite a few brands she's interested in because they're "trying something new," including GOOP, Casper, Net-a-Porter, The Upper House (a luxury hotel in Hong Kong), Rapha (cycling clothing and accessories), Tracksmith (running gear), Away (luggage), Glossier, and MUJI. Wrapping up the conversation, I asked Ana for book recommendations. She likes Value Proposition Design (by the authors of Business Model Generation), This is Service Design Thinking, and a series called Brand. Balance., which she describes as "little booklets [that explore] what iconic brands have done right ... a deep dive into the brand aesthetics, identity, and then the brand expression." She also recommends books in the field of behavioral economics, such as those by Daniel Kahneman, Amos Tversky, and Bruno Latour. Lastly, Ana offered some advice to young and/or junior people in branding and marketing: "I overall believe that people need to think more. They're too trusting of ideas-they just adopt ideas without critical thinking. Whatever can inspire junior people, or advance their critical thinking ... I would advise that. And then, ... I cannot underscore [enough] the importance of observation and being very aware that one's own perspective is limited. So, that means travel, expose yourself to other cultures, observe how people behave, observe obstacles, how they overcome obstacles in their behavior, and just be very open." To learn more about Ana, visit her website or find her on Medium, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook.
35 minutes | a year ago
Dennis Hahn makes brand culture by Swarming
Dennis Hahn is Chief Strategy Officer at Liquid Agency, a brand experience, strategy, marketing, and design agency with offices in San Jose, Portland, and New York. Dennis is responsible for the methodologies Liquid uses to address the strategic challenges of clients like John Deere, HP, Microsoft, Motorola, Nasdaq, PayPal, and Walmart. During the episode, you'll hear us reference a 2013 video of Dennis talking about brand experience, in which he says, "To activate your brand, you really first have to understand what the brand stands for. So, understanding the brand's meaning is a vital component of that. Once you've figured that out, then you can use the brand strategy as a filter for thinking about the different dimensions of the experience. And those dimensions can go into different areas, such as the digital experience, or the experience with employees, or the product experience, or even the service." Dennis and I discussed the dimensions of brand experience he mentions in the video, as wells as Liquid's approach to creating a brand experience for clients, which includes a proprietary workshop approach they call "Swarming." Dennis describes Swarms as follows: "Swarming is our workshop methodology, essentially. It's designed to attack a problem from a number of angles and unleashing the power of simultaneous collaboration between agencies and clients. It's really a co-creation model, and that's where we use the design thinking and lean startup principles to guide clients through that co-creation process." We also spent some time talking about a related concept Liquid focuses on these days, brand culture, which Dennis says is "the best possible relationship that a brand can have with its customers and employees." To learn more about Dennis, visit the Liquid site, where you can find his bio, some blog posts he's written, and more information about the agency and its approach.
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