The Importance of a Visual System

Why is a visual system crucial for your brand?  Matthew Muller, Creative Director at Innovation Protocol, shares how visual systems are used like brand tool boxes, and what are the most important elements to include to ensure visual consistency.

How to Build CSR for Brands

Why is it important to consider CSR as part of your brand?  Stacey Derkatch, Associate Director Brand Development at Innovation Protocol, speaks about how CSR can increase employee retention and productivity.

Organizing products and services in your portfolio

How should you organize your brands, products, or services?  Anna Drabik, Associate Director of Brand Development at Innovation Protocol, speaks on behalf of how to organize products and services in your portfolio, and how to decide whether to organize your offerings based on audience, product, customer needs, or lifecycle.

Building Brand Cohesion

By Terra Gottesfeld

From ditching hotels for Airbnbs to hailing a Lyft over a cab, the consumer mindset is changing, and so is the way we work. Adult sharing economy users are forecasted to reach 86.5 million by 2021 – a 23% increase from 2018, and about 35% of the US workforce and 16% of the population at large is part of the gig economy. That’s over a third of the workforce who work as freelancers, contractors…whose work is demand-based, not scheduled…and whose interactions with the company that pays them may be as limited as receiving a background check followed by a series of direct deposits.

The sharing economy has tremendous benefits—companies can accommodate fluctuating demand without burnout or layoffs, and individuals have an increased access to self-employment. However, when brand ambassadors are mostly contractors vs. full time employees, you lose some control over the brand…unevenness in not only the quality of service, but the ideas surrounding our brand.

Companies are becoming progressively savvier about measures to ensure safety and quality in this new market, but they also need a solid identity to celebrate, exude, and differentiate themselves through. Rigid standardization isn’t feasible, nor is it desirable…but how can you create a cohesive, differentiated, compelling brand experience?

 

BRAND VALUES

 

By codifying your unwavering commitments to yourself and your customers, you create a litmus test for all you say and do…including who you choose as ambassadors and how you engage with them.

It starts with defining, or rethinking, your values—what do you feel more strongly about than anything, including profit? What, in practice, does this mean for your organization?

Internal alignment on these values is a major, if not the most essential, barometer of your ability to stick with them overtime. Consider opportunities for collaboration and engagement, making values a collective creation, not an order from the top.

How do you ensure that your employees far and wide not only know but align with and commit to your values? Companies should create values that are:

  • Strategic Filters: Companies make decisions based on data, experience, and intuition…but values can serve as universal guardrails. Strong values can bolster and reinforce each choice you make, from hiring to acquiring. In the moment, it might be hard to pass up profit that doesn’t align with your values (e.g. funding from an organization whose cause we do not support), but doing so can give your company legs it can stand upon and a core it can defend.
  • Unique and Descriptive: According to a Booz Allen Hamilton / Aspen Institute Study of corporate behaviors, “90 percent of companies emphasize ethical behavior and integrity.” While these attributes may be (and should be) important to any business, should they be front and center, or are they simply tablestakes? By creating values that show you really, deeply thought about exactly what matters to your company, you are communicating to your customers, partners and future employees that you are thoughtful about, intentional in, and committed to all you say and do.
  • Magnets for The Right People: Values help find clients and employees whose mindsets and orientations towards your business are aligned, and with whom a partnership is productive and fulfilling. Having a set of specific, unique values can attract the right employees upfront, and keep them engaged and focused throughout their time at the company. People (whether customers or coworkers) who believe in what you do and how you do it will want to tell their connections—these advocates will help you grow your business, and forge new relationships.
  • Informed and Actionable: Values should dictate behavior more than money does. For example, employees’ reputations in the gig economy rely heavily on customer ratings. Uber drivers are required to maintain a certain rating to stay on the platform, but sometimes are removed for poor ratings, without explanation or the ability to fix it. You should define how we handle customer input in a way that is fair to both your contract employee and your customer—values can inform how you communicate and take action.

Whether you are at a large company using more contractors or driving your own Lyft car…the marketplace demands cohesion now more than ever. Values help shape a customer and employee experience that is resonate, memorable and (yes) profitable.

Humans Aren’t Rational

By Jon Cohen

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

There 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.

Logos Shouldn’t Be Based On Personal Taste

By David Radcliff

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.

Think Twice Before You Market to Millennials

By Joseph Olender

Scroll through any business or advertising publication long enough and you’re bound to find an article likening Millennials to unicorns or some other mythical beast that defies the conventional nature of the universe.

What even is a Millennial… and how does one market to a said Millennial? How does one… employ a Millennial? Or tap into the complex spirit that these Millennials seem to want to live their lives with?

Well, thank you for caring, various publications, but you’re doing it all wrong.

It’s important to understand who you’re trying to communicate to. Millennials are not only the face-buried-in-their-phone teenage caricature that they’re made out to be. Not anymore at least. We’re not (all) narcissists who post selfies all day and worship Kardashians. We’re adults. We’ve graduated college. Some of us are married with kids. Some of us have mortgages. Some of us want to be able to host a barbecue in a home we own someday (but are fully aware that it’s a changing market, not an Avocado Toast addiction, that currently prevents us from being able to do so…).

Millennials now outnumber every other generation in the world, and while we may be the first to end up more financially insecure than the previous generation, we are going to inherit a record $30 trillion from Baby Boomers.

So, how can you better market and advertise to these Millennials, who we’ve been told are immune to marketing and advertising?

It’s quite simple, actually: don’t.

Don’t “get on social” and assume this alone will make you seem younger, hipper, and sexier to us silly kids with our silly phones. Don’t hire influencers to peddle your products and assume that will rack up the likes and translate into monumental sales.

Don’t do this. Or this. Or this… and definitely don’t do this.

Link……. Link

#Cringe, right?

Instead, stand for something and then follow through on that stance. Do what you say you will do. Be exactly who you say you are, and make sure that essence seeps through every communication, every visual, every post… and be proactive about it!

And this doesn’t necessarily mean simply “have good CSR” (although that certainly doesn’t hurt). This means communicating your authentic impact that goes beyond dollars and cents.

Put this way, communicating with Millennials is actually really, really simple… if you first know exactly who you are, and exactly why you matter.

This recent Fast Company piece outlines the power in understanding that the Millennial consumer desires to be so much more than just one side of a dollars-and-cents transaction. Rather, the Millennial is a value-seeker who wants to broadcast their purchase as a value-add to their own identity.

When we look at the brands performing well, many of them have a clear mission. Despite being only six years old, Honest Company’s stands for product transparency and healthy families have helped it to a No. 34 ranking for millennials (No. 84 for boomers), significantly above Pampers’ ranking for millennials of No. 76. This is a microcosm of a larger shift: Procter & Gamble’s largest global brand, generating sales of over $8 billion per year, being de-positioned by a millennial-focused brand with much clearer, more overt values.

Similarly, Starbucks has taken strong stands around healthy communities, ethical sourcing, social justice, and environmental progress. Those stands have helped it to a ranking of No. 25 for millennials (No. 111 for Boomers). Always, another P&G brand that has taken a different approach to marketing with its Like A Girl campaign, has effectively championed girls’ potential and won broad support from millennials, who rank it the No. 29 brand (boomers: No. 99).

Our research suggests millennials care about social issues in much greater numbers than older generations. Sixty-eight percent of millennials say creating change in the world is a personal goal that they actively pursue, while a minority of boomers do (42%).

Millennials see life as a series of experiences, and we see the organizations we give our money to as being crucial players in that journey. We want (and want to feel) proximity to the impact that your organization wants to leave on the world, and we want to help you leave that impact.

Do we literally think about changing the way the world moves every time we step into an Uber? Nope, but we are drawn to participate in a world where we can be transported across a city with the push of a button.

We are drawn to participate in movements greater than ourselves.

And this is true across every industry.

Mattresses? Yep. Football? Of course. Transportation? You betcha. Citywide safety and security? Absolutely. Beverage holders? Oh yeah…

No clever campaign or filter is going to suddenly make Millennials love you. But you know what might? Vision and honesty.

So stand for something of value, and go be it. It works better than a #hashtag.

Brand Strategy Isn’t So Simple After All

By Alex Bornoff

I have never been one for self-help books, guides to better business, how-to-build a brand instruction manuals, or how-to literature of any kind. Ironic perhaps given my profession as a brand strategist, but then perhaps not.

If I do find my way through the pages of such literature, I struggle with how over simplified everything becomes. As if, all I need to do is check the boxes and I win.

But intuitively I know the boxes themselves are not that simple.

Those boxes crave opening, unpacking, and dissecting, before their contents translate to actionable learnings. But that level of detail is often missing from these resources and so I am often left unsatisfied.

I had one such experience recently re-reading Landor’s Agility Paradox, a report into what makes for successful brands in an era where disruption is the norm. It’s one-part investigative reporting, mining through data attempting to understand the characteristics of successful brands in a modern era. And, one-part instructional manual, giving brand managers a synthesized list of recommendations for how they can set their brands up for success in today’s business landscape.

Don’t get me wrong, this by no means is intended to discredit the valuable work Landor has done. The analysis is insightful and there is a lot to learn, if not empirically validate what one may sense intuitively.

Yet, I struggle when the work is distilled down into six neat little attributes that so long as a company complies, success is abound. These attributes include adaptive, open, global, principled, responsible, and multichannel – six little boxes to check before a brand can feel confident it will thrive in a new world order.

But each of those attributes can dramatically change the course of business for any brand. And I would argue (even at the expense of jumping into the “hands off” advice pool) that the art to succeeding at any of them starts with a core dimension the Agility Paradox does not address – the internal brand.

Building a brand that succeeds at all six attributes the Agility Paradox identifies, is by no means simple, especially if the brand was never designed to include them in the first place, of which there are many.

Brand reinvention is hard, rigorous work and along with vision, leadership commitment, and resources, transformations that enable brands to meet these modern standards require the unwavering dedication of those in the business. And getting employees to commit, means getting them to believe in the promise of the brand (before any consumer or shareholder) to ensure success, loyalty, and longevity.

Too many times I’ve seen great brand vision and strategy fall by the wayside because employee buy-in was so deeply de-prioritized. Building employee trust, advocacy and alignment to the brand, is what puts in motion the brand’s ability to succeed externally.  It forces the business to think about process, structure, and evaluate vision against reality so as to uncover what’s needed to close the gaps.

The workforce is a brand’s greatest, loudest, most impactful asset and advocate. It’s a critical dimension to lean into and take seriously as employees can also be a brand’s greatest roadblock if they don’t believe in it. Arming the workforce is arming the brand with the firepower it needs to rise above the noise and standout above the rest.

Building brands is an inside out effort. It’s how authenticity is established and brand reverberation is felt far beyond the efforts of any single campaign. Consumers drive vision but employees drive success of its execution. Over look that and all good recommendations will remain boxes unchecked. Build into it, and you may find yourself asking the “how” question far less.

What is the Los Angeles Brand?

By Charlie Stephens

Just after starting my role at Innovation Protocol, I was eager to dive into my new work and learn my way around Los Angeles. Having just moved from Orange County, California, and with a background in urban research, I figured there’d be no better way to learn the ropes than to immerse myself in the city and take on Los Angeles as if it were my own brand client.

So I set out on a 6 week journey to research, analyze, and attempt to define the Los Angeles brand. This was by no means an exhaustive process, and would take much more work to develop a fully fleshed-out brand strategy. Nevertheless, the insights gained were quite interesting and I think shed a nice light on some story-telling opportunities for the city.

 

Discovery Phase: What’s in a City Brand?

City brands are notoriously complex. There are many different economic, cultural, and governmental factors that work together to create the identity of a place. There are also different ways and reasons to package that identity and share it with people. In some of the biggest cities around the world it’s been proven that strong brands can increase both tourism and investment, and drive collaboration across the public and private sectors.

Los Angeles is well-known around the world, but there is a huge opportunity for developing a brand strategy to boost its overall performance. An understanding of the city’s core identity and brand essence would be a great starting point for achieving this.

Los Angeles is a behemoth of a city. So in order to really get a grasp of the brand I needed to hear people’s stories and research the things that make the city truly unique. With just a few weeks to interview over 20 people and sift through dozens of websites, reports, and articles, I set out to identify what Los Angeles really means to people.

 

Discovery Phase: Understanding the Findings

Cities today have an opportunity to shape their perception both in-person and online. However Los Angeles’ websites, press releases, city documents, and social media promote a fragmented image. With many different verbal and visual styles and no core message tying them together, the idea of Los Angeles isn’t being expressed in a consistent way to its people.

I interviewed a number residents, tourists, business owners, and past city employees to get a better idea of how people think about Los Angeles, and I identified a few key themes.

People around the world have preconceived notions about Los Angeles. There’s the good – amazing weather, Hollywood, and ‘individuality’. There’s also the bad – materialism, traffic, homelessness, among many others. There’s an almost infinite amount of ways to imagine and experience the city, all of which affect its ability to attract and retain people and organizations.

A big idea that stood out is that Los Angeles is seen as expansive, with its vast network of highways and neighborhoods. It’s also known as a place where people can express themselves and unleash their creativity. No matter what industry you work in – entertainment, professional services, media, aerospace, manufacturing – Los Angeles is where you go if you’re really shooting for the stars.

Los Angeles is also one of the most diverse cities in the world, with hundreds of nationalities, languages, and almost every religion co-existing peacefully. On top of this it’s a creative capital across many industries, leading the nation with its number of creative workers.

All in all, its diversity, creativity, and opportunities were reoccurring themes in my exploration – each an essential component to what Los Angeles has been, is today, and can be in the future.

 

Brand Position: The Opportunity for Los Angeles

Everyone has a dream waiting to come to life. In Los Angeles, diversity flourishes, creativity takes place, and opportunities to realize one’s grandest visions are available. It’s true that Los Angeles is a city with great amenities and things to do, but more than this, it’s a gateway to a universe of infinite possibilities; a frontier of dreams for all who dare to visit, live, or set up shop there.

Los Angeles is unique in that it has an expansive cross-section of cultures, industries and individuals that enable creative opportunities for all types of people. Whether it’s building community, sparking innovation, or fueling economic growth, the city plays a crucial role in connecting people with the passions, platforms, and people to create the world they want to see.

Of course politics, operations, and basic human nature get in the way of making Los Angeles a complete heaven-on-earth. Inequalities persist, housing struggles, and crime continues, and Los Angeles isn’t perfect. However what a city brand can do is help communicate the city’s values and qualities in a way that encourages community engagement and inspires progress across different issues and areas along the way.

The idea of Los Angeles as a city of dreams has already been floated in Garcetti’s State of the City Address and the latest Olympic bid video. But with fresh clarity, cross-sector buy-in, and belief in its own potential, the city can intentionally start crafting its own narrative in a way that builds upon its strengths and creates a more connected and thriving community for years to come.

The Importance of Internal and External Branding

By Sasha Strauss

Managing Director, Sasha Strauss, explains why ignoring your internal audience when branding is a recipe for disaster. When you focus on both sides of the brand, internal and external, you get a more holistic view of what your value proposition truly can be.