Have you heard the one about the shoemaker’s children who had to go barefoot? Or indeed, the architect whose home stayed a perpetual work in progress as he was forever prioritising client work? Many of us don’t draw breath for long enough to give our businesses the benefit of the knowledge and experience we share day-to-day with our clients.
With all the changes the past eighteen months or so have wrought in everyone’s lives and in the world at large, I decided to take a leaf out of my own branding book and turn the spotlight on Touchpoint Design, the studio I founded in 2015. I had a strong feeling it no longer accurately reflected what we were about and the direction we were moving in. Our brand assets, from the name, to the logo and website were beginning to feel out of date and inauthentic.
Putting myself in my clients’ shoes was something I approached with a measure of trepidation. But in fact, it turned out to be an exciting, challenging and enlightening process and I’m sure my lovely clients will benefit from my having sat on the other side of the table for a change!
Like me, you might have come to the conclusion that something has to change about your branding. But perhaps you can’t pinpoint exactly what. The Brand Discovery process we create for our clients is really useful at this stage.
It takes you to the heart of your business, focusing on the value you bring to your customers. From all the elements that feed into this value, you can start to distil your brand essence.
It’s usually a pretty simple answer drawn out from what can feel like a messy equation:
What you care about + What your customers/clients/prospects care about (+ where they can be found) = Your Brand Essence.
It looks something like this:
When we find that sweet spot in the centre – the brand essence – the brand strategy becomes all about communicating that position to the people you care about most: your current and future customers, your team and your wider community.
Sometimes this newfound clarity reveals that some radical changes need to be made – that your brand needs more than just new copy, a change of marketing strategy or a visual refresh…that what’s called for, as was the case with Touchpoint Design, is a full renaming and rebrand.
Touchpoint Design was an integrated design studio that worked across a range of sectors. With our ‘navel-gazing’ exercise ably kick-started by being part of Janusz Stabik and Robert Craven’s GYDA Mastermind Group, we began to niche down to identify the key sectors we worked in and would be choosing to focus on in the future.
Some changes within Touchpoint, such as members of staff leaving and ways of working being upturned by the pandemic, meant the business itself seemed to be evolving and suggesting a path to how it might best work in the future. To all intents and purposes, ‘we’ became ‘I’ and I started to work as an independent consultant, bringing in some amazing talent to support me depending on client need. A lean, agile and highly expert offering was born.
The new way of working allowed me to refine a brand process that relied heavily on co-creation. This became fundamental to Touchpoint’s ‘new way of doing things’. I believe ideas can come from anyone, and are not just the preserve of the design team. In this way brand identity design can, to a large degree be democratic – not, God forbid, ‘design by committee’ but more coming up with ‘winning ideas by group spark’ – less about ego and more about listening, facilitation and insight.
What I found particularly liberating about this whole exercise was that I learnt to say ‘no’ to work that didn’t fall into our brand essence sweet spot – if the project didn’t start with a brand identity challenge then it would be passed on to individuals and companies that had, in the past, been our competitors.
Exploring this stage called for some additional niching down. It was a case of going deeper and defining exactly who I added the most value to. One of my expert collaborators and friends, Sonja Nisson played an invaluable role here, interviewing some key clients and helping me settle on the ‘who’. This is all about accepting, “that if you want to be good at something (and known for it) you can’t be good at doing everything, for everybody.” (Ben Potter)
The acceptance I came to was that I work best with mission-led founders of creative and tech brands, those “small giants” who “choose to be great instead of big.” (Bo Burlingham, Small Giants, Companies That Choose To Be Great Instead Of Big)
These include an opera company that’s disrupting its category, a ‘tech for good’ charity looking to increase its impact and an immersive animated content studio on the leading edge of innovation in its field. Sharing common challenges, these became my ‘who’ – helping them thrive became my ‘why’.
Touchpoint Design now felt like an ill-fitting shoe and I needed a new pair of kicks!
My years of experience have taught me that trying to be too clever at this stage (e.g. coming up with a pun or in-joke) is rarely the best way to go – very often the best solution is taking the straightforward route. Touchpoint’s new name, The Co-Foundry has a sum all of its own:
co-creation, with expert collaborators
this has two elements to it: The founders who are at the heart of our brand name and a foundry being the place where brands are forged – pouring all the elements and ideas into a bespoke mould and Boom! a new brand being formed.
A message to all the clients I have put through this ‘pain’ – I salute you for your energy, enthusiasm and openness – it’s not always easy is it? But definitely so very worth it.
If you’d like your inbox to glow with more musings hot off our presses, do sign up to our monthly Co-Foundry Hot Metal Press newsletter – it’s full of tips, insights and ideas on branding and creativity.
Cast your eye across the bookshelves in Waterstones and, away from the fiction, you’ll find yourself surrounded with books by brands. Some of those publications will be overtly brand-led (chef, restaurant and food brands in particular), others will take you quietly into their confidence – drawing you in with their stories, making you feel part of something substantial, promising and important.
It’s obvious why book publishers want to have brands on their covers – in an increasingly digital world, names and logos we know and trust keep hard copies moving off the shelves. But, what’s in it for the brands? Why bother with the time-consuming process of making books or magazines, drawing resources away from the primary focus of the business?
There’s nothing new about content marketing – brands have been doing it for centuries (yes, really). Think Michelin Guide: the tyre company published its first drivers’ travel companion (we know it as the Red Guide now) in 1900 when there were only 3,000 cars on the road in France. Michelin believed the guide would encourage more people to travel by car, putting more cars on the road and so increasing the demand for tyres. There was no direct advertising, no overt message to tell you to “Buy Michelin Tyres”. Instead, the Michelin guide established the company as a lifestyle enhancer, an information provider, an expert – the kind of company you’d want to buy your tyres from, and people did. Now, of course, Michelin is also the much-coveted quality mark for the finest restaurants in the world. A brand invented and then re-invented—and that reinvention started with a book.
Today, brands have greater power than ever to become trendsetters, to lead the field in what’s hot and what’s not. The Red Bull print magazine has around 2 million subscribers and is published in 11 countries. Its pages aren’t filled with information about the energy drink, but with articles about high-octane, high-energy sports and lifestyle. Red Bull is giving its market what it wants – aspirational living, adventure on the newsstand, thoughtful, intelligent insight into the world its consumers dream of carving for themselves. In turn, Red Bull has become the perceived expert on extreme sports – when I take to the skies in an inflatable wingsuit, I’m drinking Red Bull first… every time.
From Ella’s Kitchen to Nespresso and Red Bull to Michelin, brands have increasingly tapped into the marketing potential for intelligent storytelling in hard-copy format. Brand identity and authenticity reveal themselves through design, typography, photography and written ‘voice’ to build a deep sense of trust, belief and loyalty in consumers (statistics show that branded content increases loyalty by up to 30 percent). Add to that the opportunities to create something that sets a brand apart from its competitors in a business-to-business environment and the ripple effect for sales goes on. Yes, books and magazines may take longer to make, but they live longer, too – no swiping away, deleting or unsubscribing.
In the end the success of brand publishing comes down to human instinct: we trust something physical that appeals to our senses and emotions. Something we can actually feel draws us into its confidence. And when what we’re holding makes us feel good, positive, reassured, hopeful, inspired… we want more of it as often and in as many ways as possible.
According to the recent publication: Graphic Designers Surveyed, female graduates outnumber men in graphic design, yet, there are few women in senior positions in the industry.
Pentagram is the grandfather of independent agencies, it is the largest internationally, and since it’s beginnings in 1970’s London, it has worked with many global brands. It’s small, but stella list of female partners includes, honoured US graphic artist Paula Scher and British graphic designer and filmmaker, Marina Willer, best known for her work on the Tate Modern brand.
The World Economic Forum recently predicted that it will be another 117 years before the gender gap is removed and women and men co-operate equally: that’s in 2133.
Globally the number of men and women is more or less equal. Women drive 70-80% of all consumer spending. So there are human as well as business benefits in men and women working closely together – bringing diverse insights to the creative process. One thing is certain: we need women at the top.
The theme of International Women’s Day this year is: ‘Pledge For Parity’ – in honour of this we asked a number of high profile, female, senior graphic designers for their thoughts and advice for women getting ahead in the graphic design and creative industries.
A common view from female senior designers and agency owners is understanding the importance, particularly for young women, of confidence, communication and negotiation skills as much as design talent and that this should be taught as part of design education so that women learn how to explain, defend and promote their work.
This thread is further borne out in the Graphic Designers Surveyed report, which revealed that in the field men were more confident, they generally thought their work better than others, they were very comfortable promoting it and happy to speak publicly about it, whilst, women were much less so.
The book unveiled a few more unsightly home truths, despite being thought of as a progressive, open-minded industry, women graphic designers are paid less than their male colleagues; in the UK, women were one and a half times more likely to be earning less than £20k and six times less likely to be earning over £60k.
Morag Myerscough, of Studio Myerscough and design collective, Super Group London, believes that a strong sense of drive is essential to success:
I have always strived for equality and I hope in some way I have added a little bit to this. When I left the Royal College in 1988 there were only 3 girls and 14 boys in my year. I felt very strongly then that I wanted to be successful and better than the boys, which I must admit did drive me on. I did not think anything was going to stop me just my own drive and ability.
Morag Myerscough, photos by: Luke Morgan
Emmi Salonen, Founder and Creative Director of Studio Emmi has this advice:
In graphics it’s vital to network, to be inquisitive and bravely curious in order to go forward. Enquire, be affirmative, find out and explore how everything works from getting work, designing, and the whole print process. Sharing information, learnings, new styles, fonts, resources – it’s all such a vital part of the profession.
Lynne Elvins, Design Strategist, Director and Founder of Design Rally and former Vice-Chair of the West of England Design Forum believes there is good news:
I genuinely believe that we are seeing a shift to a more entrepreneurial, creative and innovative style of business. Evidence points out that emotional intelligence, collaboration and ‘soft skills’ (which are more female) are valuable. Diversity and inclusivity are also highly positive for workplaces. I feel very encouraged that young men and women already know this so it is, hopefully, only a matter of time before we see design teams change.
This change is taking place from the ground up, momentum is beginning to really pick up especially with events like WOW, Women of the World, Festival which is taking place in London this month, which will be seeking to honour and celebrate women who are: ‘breaking the mould and leading the way across the creative sector’.
Meanwhile, working at the grassroots of education is, The Girlhood, a project created by former teacher Natalie Rodden and Kati Russell – previously a senior programme manager at D&AD, which introduces girls (11-24yrs) from low socio-economic backgrounds to the skills they will need to get ahead in creative industries. Their aim is to bring a richer mix of females into the creative sector and feedback into the industry the insights, learning and values discovered through this project along the way. The Girlhood motto: ‘Fearless Females Pioneer Change’, should ultimately be the maxim for us all and through this belief we will inspire, promote and bring about equality in creativity far faster than the WEF will have us believe.