Innovation Protocol

Intelligent Business Demands

Innovation Protocol

Intelligent Business Demands


    Logos Shouldn’t Be Based On Personal Taste

    We can agree it’s a bad idea to build a house by beginning at the roof and working downward.

    And yet, countless entrepreneurs begin their brand strategy adventures by coming up with cool logos and catchy names. This isn’t so effective, either.

    A company’s logo shouldn’t just take a backseat to the company’s philosophy—it should be thrown into the trunk until the brand strategy journey is complete. Why? Because a well-built brand is one that’s constructed on a strong foundation of research.

    All aesthetic concerns must stem from that research and its findings.

    So don’t even bust out the sketchpad before you’ve scoured the Earth for competitors who might already be doing and saying the things you plan to do and say.

    Don’t go searching for colors and shapes before you’ve chatted with consumers in your field, interviewed stakeholders, dived deeply into competitors’ social media channels, and come to understand the lay of the land.

    It all comes down to that simple principle you learned from your mother or grade school teachers: Listen before you speak.

    The vast array of social media tools now at your disposal makes it easier than ever to listen to brands and audiences. Subscribe to competitors’ news blasts. Set up Google Alerts for any terms related to your field. Join the Facebook groups of every gaggle of like-minded folks in your category.

    But keep your lips sealed until you’ve really figured out what to say and how to say it.

    What good is a message that hasn’t been finely tuned for the audience it hopes to reach?

    What good is a color scheme that might be off-putting to the target consumer, even as it is a personal favorite of the company’s CEO? Even the best of all businesses will flounder if consumers can’t find it, relate to it, and quickly recognize its value.

    Effective brand strategy isn’t selling a product. It’s selling a feeling.

    And by targeting that feeling towards exactly the right consumers at exactly the right time and in exactly the right way, your business won’t have to concern itself with selling much at all.

    Because consumers will already recognize and feel comfortable with the language you speak.

    Because it’s speaking directly to them.

    Beginning your business venture with aesthetics that stem from your own tastes, and not from those of your targeted consumers, is a backwards approach to the process of branding.

    In truth, there is no substitute for the time-consuming, painstaking, detail-focused gauntlet of research prior to design.

    It may not be as easy or as fun as blue sky design thinking, but it’s sure to yield better results.

    Understanding the Direct-To-Consumer Market

    From Quip toothbrushes to Dollar Shave Club razors at Target – what’s a DTC brand doing in a big-box retailer?

    The explosion of Direct-to-Consumer (DTC) brands over the past five years marks a profound shift in how products are sold and experienced. Early on, DTC brands were considered disruptors, with a business model that challenged industry norms and fundamentally changed the way legacy brands related to their consumers.

    The appeal of the DTC movement is universal: By cutting out the middle man, brands avoid inflated retail markups and enable better design, quality, service, and price points. DTC brands also own the customer relationship, which has advantages on the backend (capturing cohesive customer data to build connected, compelling experiences) and frontend (consistent messaging and user experience throughout the customer journey).

    Today, there are over 400 DTC brands. In 2018 alone, over 27 DTC brands launched, more than double, the number that entered the market the year before. As DTC becomes more and more saturated, differentiation becomes invaluable.*

    The consistent origin story communicated by the founders of DTC brands, is that they recognized there had to be a better way to purchase [fill in the blank] than what currently existed. However, as DTC becomes progressively crowded across verticals, brand plays an increasingly important role in creating differentiation and emotional connection that goes beyond product and price point.

    DTC brands who develop an authentic brand—one that stands for something more than selling features and function—continue to gain market share. They’re also better positioned to remain competitive amid industry changes because their relationship with consumers is grounded in emotional connection and higher perceived value.

    In the early years, cutting out the middleman was a novel claim. Warby Parker, Dollar Shave Club, and Casper were among the first-movers to push this story, packaged as a friendlier, cooler alternative to the status quo. By infiltrating digital channels, early DTC brands generated awareness by being everywhere, all the time. Soon, though, DTC brands were competing for the same audiences, within limited channels, and the cost of customer acquisition moved closer and closer to that of traditional retailers. This reality led many DTC brands to try a hybrid model: brick-and-mortar locations with a digital-first approach.

    DTC is no longer defined by a specific business model, but by a new mindset around the exchange of goods and services.

    DTC brands have shown the entire retail space how to evolve with consumers–particularly when it comes to the purpose, design, and experience of a brick-and-mortar location. The DTC powerhouse brands have all made the transition from an online-only experience to physical pop-ups and permanent retail locations. While this may seem like an industry in reverse, these brands reimagined physical retail, in a manner that was more forward-looking than legacy retailers’ agenda.

    Case #1: Reformation

    Reformation founder Yael Aflalo saw the appeal of fast fashion retailers like Forever21 and H&M but knew the crowded racks, piles of clothing, slow-moving lines, and unflattering dressing rooms could only sustain certain shoppers’ loyalty.

    In stark contrast, enter Reformation, where a few best-selling outfits are displayed in a minimalist and uncluttered space. Throughout the store, customers can use touchscreen monitors to find outfits (a la Cher from Clueless), select their size and enter a dressing room where their selection appears. As they try on clothes, customers can charge their phones, play their favorite music, and choose from a set of mood-lighting options. Initial items not working out? Not to worry, there’s another touchscreen in the dressing room through which you can easily request different sizes or other styles, all brought to you automatically through what feels like a magic closet door. Ever had that experience at a Nordstrom?

    Case #2: Glossier

    Anti-beauty brand, Glossier, is a best-in-class example towards which all DTC brands aspire. With humble roots as beauty blog, “Into the Gloss,” Glossier created a community of advocates before they created their first curated product collection. Glossier (virtually) listened as readers shared their thoughts around what was working, and what was missing, from beauty products and brands—eventually, their founder, Emily Weiss, was inspired to create a product line that directly addressed the needs shared by this online community. Glossier’s original products (cleanser, priming moisturizer, lip gloss, and misting spray) were natural extensions of the brand, 100% informed by the online conversation among their readers turned customers. Glossier recognized the importance of brand early on by claiming the position that they make “beauty products for real life,” with real customer input. The authenticity of this claim coupled with the relationships already formed between customers and “Into the Gloss,” successfully extended the brand and ignited its cult following, where customer-first wasn’t just something thrown around, but a proven guiding principle of the brand years later.

    While traditional retailers struggle to remain relevant, Glossier’s shift from online to brick-and-mortar exemplified the marriage of physical retail and ecommerce– by viewing the physical location as a brand experience and awareness generator, more so than a revenue generator. The Glossier storefront is immersive– from the thoughtfully crafted décor to the pink jumpsuit-wearing employees who, as they walk you through the product line, feel more like beauty educators than sales associates. The store experience is not only unique, but uniquely Glossier.

    What this all amounts to is a shift in the way DTC brands consider themselves and therefore present themselves to the market. When brands first connect with customers online, they must strategically design the user experience so that it doesn’t just feel transactional. Instead, the customer should have an experience that is valuable, engaging, and even unexpected—an experience that makes this online channel stand out among numerous other options.

    When DTC brands transition from URL to IRL, the in-store experience must be the ultimate expression of the online-first brand with which their customers fell in love. The in-person experience should only deepen the customer connection, by enabling them to interact with, touch, talk, try-on the brand…the possibilities are endless, but the most important point is that a storefront is as much a marketing spend as the website.

    Will this trend continue? DTC brands are nothing new (think HSN or QVC as the precursor to what we know today as DTC brands). But once we accept that the DTC channel for communication and consumption is no longer a novelty, we see these organizations have the same motivators as traditional brands: consumers who crave story, intention, and human connection.


    * Foster, T. (2018, April 19). How Wharton Launched Warby Parker–and Dozens of Other Companies Just Like It. Retrieved April 2, 2019, from

    Brand Architecture: Build Your Strategic Foundation

    Structure frees creativity. And for brands, structure also provides a durable foundation for growth. Whether organic or inorganic, new offerings or new markets – our brand strategy clients are always thinking about growth. And as businesses think about what to build next, it is critical that they first assess and strategically organize what already exists. Enter Brand Architecture.

    One way to look at Brand Architecture is to think of building a house. To build a strong house – and a strong brand – you need a stable underlying structure to support everything above – the roof, façade, furniture, people, etc. The shape of the house or décor within may evolve over time, but the foundation will always remain and determine the longevity of the house and its ability to remain stable amid whatever changes the owners choose to make. Brand Architecture is the necessary foundation a business needs to grow.

    Need proof? Here’s the evidence. Look across industries and brands such as FedEx and Volkswagen Group. They each have their unique Brand Architecture framework that allows them to expand their reach, while maintaining focus and credibility with each new business venture. FedEx is a classic example of a Branded House, meaning the portfolio is focused on a single, consistent, and strong masterbrand. Here, the masterbrand is the hero, and all its portfolio offerings drive greater equity and trust into the masterbrand – allowing customers to instantly accept and adopt any sub-brands by association. On the flip slide, the Volkswagen Group is an example of a House of Brands strategy, meaning each brand in the portfolio has its own distinct identity, and oftentimes each represents a separate demographic or need. This enables the masterbrand, Volkswagen Group, to diversify its portfolio and reach to serve completely different audiences across its brands (Volkswagen, Audi, Lamborghini, Porsche). What these examples have in common is that their growth strategies are rooted in their foundational Brand Architecture strategies, allowing them to make agile business decisions. And with the launch of each new offering, they are able to strategically place that offering in the portfolio to target their key audiences in the most authentic, differentiated, and credible way possible.

    Fostering a fundamental understanding of your Brand Architecture can help you navigate the growth options that exist for your organization and make intelligent, strategic decisions. To recap, Brand Architecture unlocks growth through the following:

      1. Clarity: Strategic bundling of and contrast between offerings help teams sell and customers navigate the portfolio.


      1. Direction: When there’s a clear means of organizing all new and existing offerings, teams can make decisions based on precedent, not gut feeling. Questions like, “should an acquisition company keep its name?” or “should customers know this as a distinct offering vs. a feature within an existing offering?” are answered efficiently and strategically.


      1. Flexibility: Now, with clarity around the role of each offering and their relationship to one another, businesses can agilely pursue new relevant audiences, identify partnerships, launch new products or services, and drive innovation.


    1. Resilience: One certainty is that the market will always fluctuate up, down, and sideways. With flexibility comes the ability to adapt to these disruptions by enabling businesses to quickly consolidate, remove, or add to the portfolio.

    Brand Architecture provides structure. That structure unlocks the potential for businesses to grow. Looking to define your Brand Architecture Strategy? Reach out to us.

    Your CHRO is Also Your CMO. And Vice Versa.

    HR (often now called “People” or “Talent”) and Marketing are two departments that are not often associated with one another. Even if they share the same building, they operate in totally different spheres. They speak different languages and emphasize different skill sets. For example, HR focuses on employee retention and recruiting, while Marketing is focused on generating leads and increasing engagement with customers. But in reality, they actually share more similarities than organizations would expect, with roles that intertwine in many ways. And when they work together, they can have more impact on an organization’s health than all other business units combined. They’re a strategic match made in heaven, and here’s why.

    Marketing is more than an external effort (i.e., marketing to customers). The business comes alive for customers through the workforce they experience. And how do you find that workforce to evangelize and embody the brand? You got it: Marketing. Similarly, Employer Brand is labeled an “HR initiative”, serving separate objectives from the customer-facing business. But the brands we build inside and the ones our customers experience are inextricably linked. A strong company brand leads to a strong Employer Value Proposition (EVP). In other words, an organization’s core positioning, vision, and values inform the EVP and create a cohesive, united brand experience for both customers and employees. Likewise, a compelling EVP drives equity back into the brand by attracting and retaining quality people to continue to grow the brand. Employer Brand improves recruiting outcomes and drives employee retention – both of which strengthen perceived value in the eyes of consumers, customers, and partners.

    What does this mean for leadership? Recognize that HR and Marketing are two sides of the same coin. The CHRO is the CMO to the workforce and the CMO is the CHRO to customers, sales team, and future employees. Closely aligning the HR and Employer Brand to the business strategy and corporate brand strategy are required to achieve maximum organizational impact and durability. For example, cultivating a strong workplace culture will benefit from the CMO and CHRO working together. CMOs can help infuse the corporate vision and values into the Employer Brand, which will be the strategic anchor for which the CHRO will hire, retain, and engage talent. Relatedly, the customer experience does not exist without the employees – so driving a strong, consistent internal brand will naturally emanate outwards and create greater engagement and trust with your customers in turn.

    At Innovation Protocol, we believe that brand brings people together, from the inside out. Reach out to us to build organizational alignment in and outside your organization.

    Why Are Your Employees Still Leaving?

    The Great Resignation was a tumultuous time for businesses. For the past two years, employers have re-evaluated their compensation and benefits packages to retain their existing employees and replace the ones that have left. Now, employers are long ready to restabilize, grow their workforce, and focus on the future. But employees may have other plans – employees are still unhappy, and still leaving. According to a McKinsey study conducted between February and April of 2022, 40% of workers considered quitting their current jobs in the next 3-to-6 months. Many others are “Quiet Quitting” – a term that’s gone as viral as the phenomenon itself: employees stay at their jobs and perform at the bare minimum to remain employed. So, why are employees still so unhappy with their jobs? And more importantly, what’s the solution?

    1. Be Strategic. Best-in-class Employer Brands, like great corporate brands, are strategically built to last. They are durable, authentic, compelling, and differentiated from the competition. They are the foundations around which companies align on their business’s vision and purpose, as well as the values, success behaviors, and traits that their people should embody and build up the business. By threading the Employer Value Proposition (EVP) throughout the entire employee experience, from recruitment to retention efforts, engagement to long-term culture building – employers will attract talent fit for the business, as well as motivate the right employees to stay.
    2. Be Proactive. Employers often conflate fun perks with their Employer Brand – but they are not the same. Take a step back and evaluate what real value you can provide your employees, in addition to fair compensation and benefits. A Glassdoor survey conducted in 2019 revealed that “Culture & Values” are the strongest drivers of employee satisfaction in the U.S. (19.1 percent) versus “Compensation & Benefits” (10.8 percent). In other words, perks may be nice, but above all, employees are looking for a clear vision and purpose. Resist the reflex to mass-hire, commit to daily free lunches, or install ping-pong tables in the office. Instead, invest in a strong Employer Brand with a strong EVP. This enables a company to define and align everyone around shared foundational beliefs that will cultivate strong company culture and give employees a reason to join, and a reason to stay.
    3. Be Selective. Your people represent your brand, and all departures aren’t equal. Consider whether the employees that left your company were culturally and strategically moving the company forward. Employment is a two-way street: The employer provides the employee with a stable working environment, fair compensation, and an inspiring environment to thrive, while the employee contributes meaningfully adds to the business’s success. After all, employees are your strongest brand ambassadors, directly contributing to the end customer’s experience and perception of the brand. So, who do you want to attract and who do you want to retain? This “filter” through which you evaluate future candidates will be too, informed by your Employer Brand.

    Innovation Protocol helps clients build intelligent brands that define organizations and community culture. Connect with us to build a strategic Employer Brand that’s made to last.

    Humans Aren’t Rational

    People will forget what you said … what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. — Maya Angelou

    There is a concept in economic and social studies called the rational actor theory. It suggests that, when confronted with a decision, people assess their options and then make the choice that is in their best self-interest. In economics, that self-interest is usually defined in terms of financial value or gain.

    The rational actor theory allows us to build models to study human behavior. The only problem with the theory is that we humans are not rational actors. We place higher value on things that are hard to quantify – feeling safe, feeling inspired, feeling sexy.

    It’s true that we do make some decisions based on rational criteria, in limited circumstances. Those decisions tend to be rote, and they tend to take place in categories where providers have not invested much in helping consumers understand how they should feel about their choices.

    The best thing your brand can do is give people a reason to believe. This requires you to abandon your marketing of highly imitable features and benefits – like product formulation, or delivery speed, or price promotions – and instead focus your communications on what your customer is announcing to the world when they choose you. Indeed, the only thing people pay a true premium for is how it makes them feel when they buy or use your product.

    After all, we are not rational actors.

    We are rationalizing actors.