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Brand perspectives

13 Nov 2018 by Brian Slade

An early brand project risk analysis on all possible perspectives can save a bunch of rework, awkward pauses and electrical appliance analogies! (Keep reading and all that will make sense!) Working with a regional...

brand perspectives brian slade

an early brand project risk analysis on all possible perspectives can save a bunch of rework, awkward pauses and electrical appliance analogies! (keep reading and all that will make sense!)

working with a regional council a few years ago, we were commissioned to develop an inbound tourism and economic development identity. as part of this we were asked to reconsider the existing council identity that had been untouched for quite a few years.

after appropriate due diligence, briefing, creative exploration on multiple perspectives, and consultation, we arrived at a solution that was ready to present back to an array of councillors in their regional chambers. in slightly unfamiliar surroundings i pitched the concepts, with the occasional side-ways glance to our direct client to ensure i was on the right path and when finished, opened the floor up for questions.

there was general agreement that the conceptual thinking and ideas were a great leap forward, moving them from a decade or two ago into the future. they could clearly understand and see the visual improvements to a rather dated identity. however one rather mature gentleman took us all back to my opening rationale and challenged the ‘why’?

thinking on my feet and after an awkward pause, i used the analogy of progressively upgrading an electrical appliance that’s been reasonably reliable but some of the functions have started to not perform at 100%. the once white lustre had gone a bit yellow and the seal had started to go around the doors. what was once top of the line was now not so flash. the councillor didn’t quite grasp the concept and still disagreed. his perspective was fixed and firm.

the updated visual identity was by no means a radical solution in my eyes. it aligned to the desired outcomes in the brief, yet still this gentleman objects. yes, it was a departure from the existing identity. but while i saw evolution, he saw something of a revolution.

his objections were dutifully heard and considered, worked through at length within the consultation process and we ended up with something ever so slightly modified. so, what was the issue? 

so, what was the issue?


regardless of how strong or positive the new visual identity was; regardless of how well it was embraced by local iwi, hapu and the wider community, this gentleman’s perspective was fixed on fiscal responsibility, roi value and ‘why fix what isn’t broken’ (in his view).

what i had failed to do in my opening address was answer his deep-rooted question of value and benefit. and to be honest, i’m not sure i should have had to. not at this stage in the process. this should have been addressed a lot earlier by the management team. if this councillor had been engaged enough in the earlier consultations or identified as a potential risk and spoken to one-on-one, his comments may well have been cut off at the pass and less of a distraction to the rest of the presentation.  

at the post presentation debrief, our client informed us that the gentleman in questioned drove a car that was pretty much clapped out, bought decades earlier and was likely to drive it until it collapsed on him! his ‘why?’ question was clearly less about the council identity and more about his own very deep rooted and personal perspectives on the world in general. valid, but not identified early enough.

with both the council identity and the new economic/inbound tourism identity still hard at work for the council today, the lesson i’ve had reinforced by this experience is that it pays to scope all risks and listen to all perspectives to form appropriate responses as early as possible - saving a bunch of rework, awkward pauses and electrical appliance analogies!

branding, stakeholder perspectives, insight creative

Not everything that shines is gold in the world of branding

14 Mar 2018 by Brian Slade

Your brand needs an evolution or a revolution. But how the heck do you choose the right people to work with to develop, evolve and roll out you brand identity? There’s a fine balance to be struck between...

not everything that shines is gold in the world of branding brian slade

your brand needs an evolution or a revolution.

but how the heck do you choose the right people to work with to develop, evolve and roll out you brand identity? there’s a fine balance to be struck between ‘contemporary’, ‘trendy’ and something that’s going to 'last the test of time’. 

with regards to trends, by nature they come and go, right? some stick around and morph from one thing to next. 

the contemporary ‘now’ creative air is filled with minimalist logos, geometric shapes, bold and playful typography, a touch of whimsical illustration and digital movement. not too much but just enough: to catch the eye, keep the file size down and not distract you from the content. the 'test of time’ approach though, may take a little more time, funnily enough, but will be worth it. 

"your creative partner will need to start each project like they’re fresh out of art school… but with at least 10 years solid experience."

each creative brand project should be approached as a unique challenge, so your creative partner will need to have the dexterity to constantly evolve and start each project like they’re fresh out of art school… with at least 10 years solid experience. otherwise you run the risk of buying a ‘style’ without substance and working with a bunch of ‘cool’ people just going through the motions but not quite 'getting' business and strategy. 

so what do you need to be looking for when you go ’surfing’ for a branding consultancy?

the first and most obvious thing to ask before you start, is what kind of partner are you looking for? strategic creative, visual guide or somewhere in between? get this right and your path will be a lot easier. then stay alert, watch, listen and be an active partner in the process.

"what kind of partner are you looking for? strategic creative, visual guide or somewhere in between?"

online, what does their website tell you about their view of user experience or customer journey? did they think about you or themselves when designing their site? are you being forced to read 9pt text? a trend where designers tried to force readers to squint through the pain barrier has surely been and gone. what about navigating from project to project. clear and seamless?

what’s their site's work section telling you about their design approach? can you see a strong 'house' style repeating through their work? or are you seeing unique solutions in their identity work that closely reflects the characteristics of their client rather than themselves? is there a focus on the executions with lots of energy put into the business cards they’ve created or is it clear what the client challenge was and how they solved the communications challenge? 

have you spotted an overuse of drop shadows or gradient effects, typography that’s gratuitously stretched or squeezed or work that is simply unclear? any swoosh in their identities? … great in the late 1990s and keeps on giving for nike.

designers solve problems and very few problems are exactly the same, so it follows the solutions you should expect to see would be different. there’s nothing at all wrong with developing stylistic elements to our work, but if it doesn’t distinguish the client from its peers and represent them individually, then 'bad move'.

"designers solve problems and very few problems are exactly the same, so it follows the solutions should be different."

to sum up… as communicators our job is to walk a fine line in brand communications that create individual, strong, distinct voices for our clients that allow them to evolve over time.

brand, design, choosing a designer

Discard the cookie cutter

29 Jun 2015 by Brian Slade

What might at first seem a familiar creative challenge often requires a different solution from the one used before, writes Brian Slade. And that is certainly the case for city identities. You can easily make...

discard the cookie cutter brian slade

what might at first seem a familiar creative challenge often requires a different solution from the one used before, writes brian slade. and that is certainly the case for city identities.

you can easily make the mistake of assuming that once you have solved a particular problem, you have the answer to how to solve it again and again. sure it gives you an insight into potentially how you might tackle it again but be careful of the cookie cutter solution. it can lead you up the expensive, unrewarding or ineffective garden path.

one of the great aspects of being a designer is the insight you get into organisations - quickly needing to assess the problems they face and understanding how you can apply your knowledge. past experience is a great framework for assessing a problem or opportunity but, as our experience with city identities has taught us, it doesn’t instantly provide us with the right solution.

over recent years we’ve worked with a number of local councils and government agencies to create city visual identities, brand tool boxes and communications platforms that fundamentally serve to engage in dialogue with local residents, inbound tourism or investment audiences.

the first question to ask is ‘where is the organisation in its visual identity evolution?’ tararua district council was new, created through boundary changes. i worked with them to develop two identites that were visually linked but quite independent. the first, a council one that residents payed rates to and identified services. the second, a tourism/investment identity that leveraged off the first but was much more expressive. this clear line allowed the two to talk to distinctly different audiences and worked really well. this second identity was later evolved further to include a more regional focus. tamaki, auckland, although very early on in their visual identity development, has a long proud history. this was captured in a poem ‘we are tamaki’ which we used to form a unified voice aimed at getting both local community and government to support the vision for tamaki transformation. this objective meant the approach was quite different from tararua although both had been in a similar stage in the life cycle.

the next question is ‘what equity has the organisation already built?’ albury city in nsw, australia was much more evolved as an identity. they had established their logo some time ago, representing the council but also the city. what they lacked were the tools to communicate, under one identity, to multiple audiences. we achieved this by developing a core brand story and visual idea for the city that was then able to be expressed into a flexible tool kit that could be dialled up or down depending on the audience they were speaking to. this  gave them complete flexibility. quite different from tararua or tamaki because of the much earlier strategic decision to represent the city and council under one identity.

after the 2011 earthquake in christchurch the answer to the question of visual identity life cycle was obviously quite different. the  ‘garden city identity’ was in quite a different place. with so much equity lost and subsequent identity ‘noise’, the question was ‘what do local residents need?’ part of the solution was  the development of a vibrant, optimistic and very much independent vehicle to engage locals about what was happening in their city, quite different from tararua, tamaki or albury city.

we inherited a fledgling future christchurch website and identity. the first thing we did was to develop a strategic framework unique for its purpose, giving the work that followed the foundation it needed. we took the bare essentials of the existing creative and stripped these back to a point where all that was left was the core existing name and the idea of using a broad colour palette - the key attributes that spoke to the strategic intent.

working closely with a very positive client we were able to evolve the name to be more regionally inclusive, and give the identity generous stretch. we consolidated this into a practical design system, adding a typographic set, an independent logotype, new visual language and distinctive tone of voice messaging. the new identity sytem allowed for broader communication and stretch across multiple channels. packaging it up into a set of guidelines, with examples of how it worked, we then shared it with the various internal and external design teams to implement.

we’ve managed this collaborative brand rollout process with a few clients, finding the best way is open honest dialogue, working out strengths and weaknesses early on and being honest about them.

it’s one of the most positive experiences contributing to a city that is grappling with how to visually represent and express itself to its audiences. it’s very tangible and ‘real’. you get to walk around and see your work in action. a uniquely special city required a unique solution that was right for them. obviously having that background knowledge to city identities really helped us offer up, not a cookie cutter solution, but an approach right for christchurch at their stage of the identity life cycle.

- published in nz marketing magazine, july/august 2015







marketing magazine, design, brand, city brand

Branding 360

10 Feb 2015 by Brian Slade

We’ve been working with the New Zealand Drug Foundation for years. We’ve created core brand identity elements, video, web, symposiums, sub-branded initiatives and a whole lot more, including their quarterly 40 page...

branding 360 brian slade

we’ve been working with the new zealand drug foundation for years. we’ve created core brand identity elements, video, web, symposiums, sub-branded initiatives and a whole lot more, including their quarterly 40 page magazine matters of substance. late last year they moved into new offices and we took a look at their environmental branding application to give their brand a full 360 degree visual and messaging alignment.


branding, environmental graphics, nz drug foundation

Designed to work

19 Dec 2014 by Brian Slade

Design shouldn’t seek to be creative or effective. It should always strive to be both. Earlier this year we secured the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra as a client for the first time. The NZSO is well known for...

designed to work brian slade

design shouldn’t seek to be creative or effective. it should always strive to be both.

earlier this year we secured the new zealand symphony orchestra as a client for the first time. the nzso is well known for their artistic excellence and high standards of creativity. it’s always a great pleasure working with creatively inspired organisations and we’ve been lucky enough to work with a few including the arts foundation and the royal new zealand ballet.

over the years, the nzso has produced a number of stunning season brochures that have been recognised with numerous design awards. fair to say we were pretty excited to be working on the season 15 brochure and its extended communications programme.

at the brochure briefing, the client was very clear about the objective: “more bums on seats.” this was followed by an explanation that they didn’t want an ‘over-designed’ brochure that made them look pretentious and inaccessible. they wanted something that represented their artistic excellence and worked hard to sell more tickets to the season’s individual concerts. by their very nature, the client understands the tension between creative integrity and business reality but even they seemed to imply that creativity needed to be grounded in effectiveness.

for many designers this outwardly expressed desire for a more functional approach could be a bit of a let down and they may feel that it compromise their creativity. in my view, if you approach a job with an attitude that it’s not a creative opportunity then chances are, it won’t be.

unfortunately this ‘creative or effective myth’ is one we seem to reinforce as a wider creative communication industry. we hand out creative awards to design ideas even though they fail to deliver the client’s objectives. we have separate awards to recognise communication effectiveness as if to say “it’s ok that it wasn’t that creative”.

i am a firm believer that in our commercial design industry good creative is only as good as the results it delivers. our clients pay us to design communications that inform, create desire, drive actions or change perceptions. if they don’t do these things then how can they be hailed as good design? a beautiful chair that can’t be sat on is a failed design. equally, a highly creative sales brochure that doesn’t sell is just as much a failed design.

fortunately, creative design and effectiveness do go hand in hand. good creative assists with cut through, engagement and storytelling, allowing audiences to effortlessly move through the stages of awareness, interest, desire and action. a strong creative idea balances rational and emotional appeal allowing the heart to want and the head to turn it into action.

to understand the season 15 offering we set ourselves the homework task of listening and watching the music and guest artists that make up the season’s concerts. for each concert we developed a story capturing the essence of what audiences would see, hear and experience. we also attended nzso performances to immerse ourselves in the concert experience we were promoting. (i’ve got to say what an awesome experience it was!)

the brochure’s cover is a key focus of immersion - losing yourself, or indeed finding yourself, through the music and the experience. the opening spreads tell a high level story of the season and what seeing the nzso live will feel like for audiences. these pages draw readers into the more detailed concert pages that follow. concert spreads provide a mixture of expressive and passionate imagery and factual cues to further involve the reader. to capitalise on the emotional engagement, the booking information was redesigned to aid the reader to take immediate action.

if you’ve read this far then the question you may ask is, did the season 15 brochure deliver both increased sales and high standards of creativity? so far, season sales are over a third higher than they were at the same time last year. we can’t claim it’s all because of our design (the season itself features an amazing line-up of compositions and guest artists) but the client feels that our work has definitely made a big difference. feedback on the brochure design is that it is worthy of awards recognition. we will no doubt enter it and let our creative peers be the judge.


nzso, subscription, 2015 season

More Savii

29 Apr 2014 by Brian Slade

Neat little project for an innovative crowd who run an employee benefit programme with a difference. Harnessing collective purchasing power Savii provide big savings on core household items allowing everyone to get...

more savii brian slade

neat little project for an innovative crowd who run an employee benefit programme with a difference. harnessing collective purchasing power savii provide big savings on core household items allowing everyone to get more out of life…


‘Stop Press’ article on our new Stand branding project

28 Apr 2014 by Brian Slade

Stop Press, 5 July 2013 Marketers could be excused for thinking that not-for-profit (NFP) sector brands learn from commercial consumer brands, not the other way around. However, developing a new brand for a...

‘stop press’ article on our new stand branding project brian slade

stop press, 5 july 2013

marketers could be excused for thinking that not-for-profit (nfp) sector brands learn from commercial consumer brands, not the other way around. however, developing a new brand for a long-established nfp organisation has been a salient reminder of the wider, strategic roles that a brand can play.

rebranding is not something that a nfp organisation undertakes easily. there is one school of thought that says not a single dollar raised by the concerned public should be used to build a ‘brand’. whereas anxious nfp chief executives are balancing these concerns with the worry that if they do decide to build their brand, their limited resources won’t cope with increased demand the extra attention could create.

and finally, the commercially-averse nfp leadership team believes that building their brand will diminish their separation from the commercial world, removing the vital essence of the not-for-profit relationship with its sponsors and stakeholders.

for these reasons, when te puna whaiora children’s health camps, one of new zealand’s longest running social services, initiated a brand review, it required complex thinking and an even more intricate process than would potentially be employed for a consumer brand.

first we had to ask “what is the role of brand in the nfp sector?” and the complexity of the answer challenged our consumer brand thinking.

nfp brands are now so much more than fundraising tools. management teams are being asked by their boards how their brand is contributing to their social impact, to their external trust, to partner/sponsorship solidity, to internal unity and to capacity.

an nfp brand also needs to perform numerous roles and appeal to multiple audiences. the brand must help the nfp acquire more financial, human, and social resources, and galvanise and help construct key partnerships.

the visual identity is only the first step in the journey to developing a strong nfp brand. it’s the organisation’s ‘shop front’ and is critical to building its ability to change the world on behalf of their cause. however, it is the brand essence that is the ‘call to action’ and a constant reminder of the nfp organisation’s mandate to do things their way; to be brave, and speak out.

knowing the brand story and buying into it also helps ensure their partners and supporters do things their way too and do nothing to undermine the brand’s integrity. most importantly of all, an nfp brand needs to instill a sense of pride in all who engage with it.

the brand developed for te puna whaiora children’s health camps – stand children’s services (stand) – is no exception. from day one, the rebrand inspired a step change within the organisation. it has given stand the opportunity engage with their stakeholders, tell a fresh story and remind them of how important their work is to the community. in a nutshell, it has reframed their call to action and has reignited passion.

in developing the stand brand, insight had to consider a much larger and more varied group of stakeholders than is usually considered when developing a consumer brand. those making a financial or voluntary contribution (funders) aren’t the ones who will experience the nfp’s core promise. they aren’t necessarily looking for a “what’s in it for me?” and yet, at the same time they have a stake in ensuring the brand represents something they wish to be associated with, is professional and portrays the right image.

secondly, a nfp organisation has to be democratic in its management of its brand; harnessing and providing boundaries for enthusiastic members, volunteers and participants, while ensuring it minimises brand anarchy. te puna whaiora children’s health camps actively engaged with all key stakeholders and their feedback was critical in shaping the final identity.

the response from stand’s stakeholders has been overwhelmingly positive. positioning statements “stand for children” and “a world strong for children” have become rallying cries for change. the organisation is reinvigorated, with staff operating with stronger pride and an even greater sense of urgency. politicians, funders and other child-support agencies have also noticed the change and are actively asking “what more can we do to stand for children?”

insight also had to be cognisant of the fact that nfps don’t have the level of clarity between brand functions the commercial world does. managing the brand isn’t simply the responsibility of marketing or ommunications. the entire team have to be custodians of their brand’s identity and be budding brand managers and brand builders.

the brand framework also has to be more fluid as often the cause, the organisation and the offering are synonymous. the visual elements must be adaptable to allow tailoring to the need of the audiences and specific messaging, while instilling a level of brand consistency. such adaptability is also essential for the inevitable use of the brand by social media.

stand’s strong visual image with a bold colour transition, a strong word mark, expressive typography, photography and graphic elements allow for this.

the inspiration for the name was new zealand’s totara. the ‘king of tane’s great forest’ stretches high above the dense canopy of broadleaf trees and protects the other trees from storm damage. the inspiration for the bold colour transition was stand taking the children on a journey from darkness to light.

‘stand’ helps explain the organisation’s unique proposition: they stand together to bring hope to new zealand’s most vulnerable children; they help children and families stand up and be strong; they stand against isolation and fear; they take a stand, acting with urgency to deliver solutions that make a child’s world safer, happier and healthier place. and finally, they nurture dreams and aspirations of our nation’s children, allowing them to find their turangawaewae ‘their place to stand’.

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