*PS. Below you will find an auto-generated transcript of this episode.
Arek Dvornechuck: Hey, what's up branding experts? Arek here at ebaqdesign and welcome to On Branding Podcast. Today I have two guests, Catherine Clark and Paul McDowell. They found the branding agency Clarkmcdowall over 20 years ago. They've worked with brands like Starbucks, Danone, Pepsi, Herman, Comcast, Colgate, Palmolive, and many other brands. They help them with branding, strategy and innovation. Clarkmcdowallpartners with brands that have both ambitions to make our future brighter. They have a progressive team of brand architects and expert problem solvers with a passion for making brands future ready. And this is the title of our today's episode: "Making brands future ready". Hello, Catherine and Paul. Thanks for joining us today.
Catherine Clark: Thank you Arek. We're happy to be here. Thank for having us.
Arek Dvornechuck: Thank you. First I wanted to say. You're doing a great work. I love the style. I love your website and your portfolio. So you position your agency as an agency that prepares brand to be future ready. Right. So I want to start off with talking about what does it actually mean? So our listeners can understand what does it mean being future ready and why it's so important when it comes to branding?
1. Future-ready branding
Catherine Clark: Well, we like to think about it as building resilience into your brand. So this the last few years, I think we've all been and the entire globe has been through so many changes. Um, it's probably a, a good time to be thinking about being future ready because everything's changing so much, but it's really about helping brands have more resilience so that they can actually go through those times and for the teams who manage those brands to have the optimism and the strength to kind of make the choices that they need to make. So for us, what we find actually is the biggest foundation for that is to really being clear on who you are, like, you can't be resilient and you can't be able to pivot if you don't really know what your grounding forces, if you like, and what really makes you who you are. Um, so we work with all kinds of clients and it often starts with digging deep into that. I'll give you one example. We worked with the city thunder NBA team and they, you know, they might win, they might lose, but they really needed to know who, who they were as a culture, as an organization, as a group of people so that they weren't subject, if you like to the ebbs and flows of players leaving or coming or games being lost or won. So they're an organization actually that did a lot of work with us to redefine their heart. And it's, it's carried them through in an amazing way. And we're, we're so admiring of, of all the moves they've made since then. I think
Paul McDowall: We see it's changing for brands and album, brand owners. The speed of change is rapid. I mean, getting faster and faster all the time to cultural changes, political changes, changes in behaviors in tastes in, you know, and, and that's obviously propagated by social media, but also events like world events, like COVID that forced a massive change across the board. And so if a brand doesn't know who they are, and if they're not resilient, they're really gonna fall behind very, very fast, you know, and they even canceled to some degree. So the, the speed of reaction responsiveness, and always looking ahead is so important. It's so important. Um, the danger of becoming irrelevant very quickly is, is very apparent.
Arek Dvornechuck: Can you maybe, can you think of a specific example so we can understand the concept, maybe, you know, we can think of one of your clients and the challenges, some of the challenges that, you know, they came to you with and how you solved those challenges. Yeah.
Catherine Clark: I'm gonna continue with this, uh, Oklahoma city thunder example because it's a good one. Yeah. You know, they're subject to players coming, leaving to winning or losing that they can't really truly control. And so what they did is a lot of sort of inward looking work to try and understand what defines them of the culture. And they're really about progress. They're really about, um, creating a legacy beyond the sport. So they kind of try to help think of themselves and their purpose beyond playing a game, but really about being, making change, creating a legacy and always forward thinking. So when it came, for example, to the recent rebuild that they had to do, they had been planning that not necessarily to execute it, but they were ready for it probably a couple of years before it actually happened. They were already processing that, how will we do it? And they didn't see it as any kind of failure. They saw it as the best smartest move they could possibly do, um, to rebuild their team. And so we've seen them go through all kinds of different challenges and really be very clear about sort of the values that they have. So I would say with all the clients that we work with, that's probably the one that is most subject to change and they're in the news all the time. So you know, that it's probably heightened for them, but it's the same when we're working with the CPG brand or any kind of brand having that sense of who you are so that, you know, whatever happens, you know, how to respond on Twitter, you know, how to respond if people leave your, your, your company and all of those kind of things. Right.
Arek Dvornechuck: So it's about, uh, defining the brand internally, right? It's about brand culture is a big part of that and brand purpose, as you said, right. Finding that, uh, greater purpose and, um, defining your brand internally, uh, to be able to respond to, you know, the world that is changing so rapidly these days. Right. I'm just curious, do you guys have a specific framework or maybe any like specific branding exercises that you use in your process because you know, different agencies they have, you know, obviously for an approach, is it something that you have, like a proprietary framework that you use? Can you explain?
Catherine Clark: Yeah. I can talk a little bit about this and Paul, you can build as well. I think what Paul and I are all about is bringing intelligence and imagination together. That's kind of, and Paul is a creative, you know, know on training and I'm a strategist in training. So really those, those two sides of the brain coming together. So the brand framework that we use actually has a lot of the pieces. A lot of agencies have, it has purpose, it has values. It has all the kind of classic things, but we've designed it as this brand arch that really starts to encompass both the thinking part. So the, the vision mission, all that kind of stuff, and the expression part. So, you know, how does your brand actually manifest? How do you respond? What's your tone of voice? How do you express yourself visually? And all of it is held together at the middle by your character. So imagine your character is like your, your Keystone in your arch. It's the person that the brand is if you like that holds all that together. So we do use use that framework, um, with our clients, because character is often thought about as this kind of afterthought of personality. We put four words and everybody's happy, but really you need to dig quite deep to understand your character. So that then everybody in the organization knows how to respond as a brand. You know, you want that junior person, who's managing your Instagram account to know what to do as in the same way that CEO knows what to do. So the character is really for us, the, the Keystone of all of that,
Arek Dvornechuck: Right? So you, you call it character. Some other people call it brand personality, I would say, or brand persona or things like that. But basically it's a similar concept, right?
Paul McDowall: Similar, I mean, a character is something that is intrinsic and is unwavering a personality can, you can kind of flex and shift cuz that's more outward. So we see character and personality to be slightly different, um, slightly different things. It's also gonna say, you know, beyond just the, um, you know, the character leads expression, there's also innovation as well. So with future readiness, it's not just how one expresses oneself, what you say. It's also the products that you actually create and make as well. And that's, that's, we're seeing is a, is a big shift and we're actually extremely busy right now with a lot of innovation work as, as, as people are coming out of COVID and going, oh my what's next, you know, there's been a radical change, uh, in how people are dealing with, you know, the food, how dealing with health wellness, mental wellbeing, all of those things working from home, et cetera. And so there's a big push towards like, well, how is, you know, people's behavior pivoting and shifting based on, on this and how do we respond from a product standpoint, from a portfolio standpoint. And then how does that, you know, what's our right to play in that space and how's it, how's it connected to our brand personality of brand purpose. So character rather that no brand purpose.
Arek Dvornechuck: So you combine, uh, those two things, right? So now since we have some understanding how you prepare brands to be future ready, now, let's talk about brand creation. I just wanted to spend a few minutes because as I mentioned, you know, every agency, we have a different approach, but you work with both startups, smaller brands, bigger brands, right. As we mentioned in the introduction, so, and in, in different industries as well. Right. So can you just explain in more detail, what makes your process so unique and special? Because I saw on your website that basically you assume three scenarios when you work with brands, right? Either is a brand creation where you create a brand from scratch, um, does not exist. Uh, didn't exist before brand amplification is where you try to make the brand stronger, right. And brand transformation. This is what you were talking about. This is where, uh, we actually need to know reinvent the brand. So can you talk to us a bit about that?
2. Brand creation
Paul McDowall: Yeah. Brand creation. So, I mean, we have a on entrepreneurs by an agent who we are, we try to, um, to bring that spirit of entrepreneurialism to, to the process. Now we're working with actual true entrepreneurs. It's either when we're working with big organizations, what we found is we really try to establish a true champion on from a brand side. So from an organizational standpoint, what we've seen is brand managers will come in out, just they rotate as they go through the organization and you can't really build a brand that way. You need to have like true passion. You need to really be a champion and to drive and push whatever that brand purpose that brand goal is. So we establish as best we can. We're trying to establish a champion. We also bring in stakeholders as well because you can't push things up up uphill. You need to have folks at the top that are all aligned at the very top and, and have skin in the game basically. So we make sure we establish that the, the core team, because without that core team, it's very difficult to get things through. And then it's, there's not a hard, logical way of building a brand. It really is about, as Catherine said earlier about intelligence imagination, it's about making these intuitive leaps. It's about establishing yet. What are, what's our goal? What's our purpose. What's our relevance, what's our right for being. And then, and then creating what we call sort of, um, these whole propositions. So again, it's not just a product in isolation, not just a, a purpose in isolation, not just a story, but how are these complete entities working together, right? Getting those out in front of people and just hanging out with the response. And we'll bring in consumers not to say if they like something, don't like something to help shape and form those ideas in a way that's relevant to their lives. So bring in and create consumers and our build life and our bespoke sort of build life sessions. And so is this, this sort of idea of building holistically testing things, putting them out there using our intuition and, um, and having that driving force that our client driving force, just pushing, push, pushing, pushing from their way through really. Um, but without that passion, we found it's, it's difficult to truly make it to launch something or to create something of meaning, cuz you need to take risk and organizations by definition of risk averse. You know, we hear fail, fail, fail, but like in the reality they've scared of it because people's bonuses and money and all of things are tied to it. So we get it, but you have to be brave and you have to have to just basically create a new brand there's risk involved in it. So, um, we are trying to help manage and mitigate some of that fear and anxiety through all of those steps. Catherine, Jeff builds on that.
Catherine Clark: Yeah, I think where, you know, it does help. I and our clients will set up like a, a venture group or something. So we recently worked with a venture group for post holdings and they created this venture group that was trying to create things that were more environmentally friendly. And then we created a, a brand for them called early, which is essentially a food brand that mm-hmm, you know, has Paul you can probably do early saw your project on your website.
Paul McDowall: Yeah. Yeah. Users, regenerative farming to basically put clean air back into the environment. So it's, it's an incredible, it's incredible proposition, but,
Catherine Clark: But I guess the takeaway is, you know, they had this spin group and I think that spin group mentality really helps. Yeah. Because you know, they're alone in an office, they don't have any resources. This is a classic thing. You're getting people in to a different mindset. So when we work with a venture group like that, you know, we're kind of set up for that entrepreneurial spirit when we're working with people who are still sitting in the main office, as Paul saying with, you know, rotations going on on their team and all of that, um, we do try and create that spirit as much as possible. And we have brand tools like everybody else. I think where we add value is just trying to get people to think more like entrepreneurs and, and like Paul saying, have that courage to kind of have the conviction, like a personal conviction behind the idea, as opposed to, oh, this looks good on paper, but really put themselves into it because you, it's very hard to create something that other people are gonna fall in love with. If you're not completely to it yourself.
Paul McDowall: I mean, that's the, I don't believe it. You know, it's very different. It's not tactical, you know, like it is about scaling a brand or whatever it's, there is, there's a lot of heart and soul and passion. And that was the success of launching early in, you know, in a matter of months and we've done it with Pepsi. We had a, we launched stubborn soda with Pepsi with a really small kind of scrappy to, he rolled his sleeves up and we launched a soda brand in a matter of a few months, a brand, you know, new brand, which is, which is, which is growing, which is fantastic.
Catherine Clark: You know, lots of things written about these DTC brands that all look the same and they start to look like they have a bit of a formula going. And I think that is coming back to the idea of passion. I think some of these are, are built because there's a business opportunity, but there's not necessarily a, a real passion and idea. And it makes a difference. You know, when you see a brand that's been born with, with like, Truban, there's been born with like a real passion and entrepreneur behind it. So we are trying to see if we can make that spark happen within our, our client organizations as much as possible.
Arek Dvornechuck: And I just wanted to ask, can you give us like an estimate? I know every, every brand is different, right? And every business has different challenges, but in general, how long does it take, as you said, it took you few months. So how long does it take for in, for each scenario? For example, if you create a brand from scratch right there, there are no marketing materials, basically nothing. You need to build it from scratch and versus brand amplification or brand transformation.
3. Brand amplification
Catherine Clark: So that's a great question. I would say it depends what you mean by create a brand, cuz a brand doesn't really exist. I, until people have a relationship with it. So, but in terms of having something to put out there,
Arek Dvornechuck: Brand brand identity, like yeah, like define the brand, uh, brand strategy and create all the visuals to start launching the brand.
Catherine Clark: We like speed when it comes to brand creation because without momentum, you don't have that passion. So, you know, our best jobs we've had like enormous pressure and we've been out there in like three, four months. So when things take a year, a year and a half, nothing happens like you get analysis paralysis. So we would say the short, the timeframe for brand creation. And then you just gotta go in there knowing you're gonna keep changing it. You're gonna make it better in real life. So don't perfect. It too much. Just get it out there. You know, if you could aim to have something out in three or four months, I think the thing that takes the longest actually is the last one, which is the brand, you know, transformation because organizations have, you know, built these massive brands. They've got a huge following. They're usually are very profitable and then we're asking them to completely change.
Catherine Clark: And that is something you shouldn't rush. You really need to take your time and make sure you know what you're doing and that you really get the organization brought in. So I would say that can take like a year, sometimes a year and a half to really truly restage a big billion dollar brand because rushing that is a bit of a, we've had that a few times where we've like, oh, could you re restate our a brand and we can rush, rush, rush. And then we don't have buy-in internally. You really need to make space for all the stakeholders to basically feel great about the risk they're taking now in this day and age, you know, we don't always have a year and a half. So I would just say to organizations, staff thinking about the fact that you would run is gonna need to change way before it happens, because when it happens, you're gonna be ready. So take it on and start seeing the big patterns like gen Zs are coming along. You know, we're not just talking about millennials anymore. So even though they're not your consumers yet get to know them, like, you know, good two, three years ahead of, of when it's gonna hit
Arek Dvornechuck: You. Right. Well, it makes total sense. So some of my key takeaways for our listeners, you know, whether it's for creatives who work with brands or brands themselves and teams and entrepreneurs. So, you know, when you think about rebranding or embarking on a rebrand start as soon as for possible, right? Because it takes time and some, um, specialist, young teams or startups, they don't realize how long it actually takes to, you know, develop a great, great identity. And all those things create all these visuals. So the brand looks consistent. Right. So it all takes time. Yeah. And makes a sense, as you said, you know, when, when it comes to transformation, um, it all about buy in and there is also a lot of information to work with. Right? You need to interview stakeholders just because of the scope of work itself. That's why it takes so long. Right. As you said, maybe a year and a half. Yeah. Paul, do you want to add anything to that?
Paul McDowall: Yeah, it does take time. And like you said, across those three things brand creation through, so transformation, we cut. I figured out there's a certain psychology that we treat that we sort of tapped into. There are different mindsets from our clients' side. So with brand creation, there's a lot of excitement and there's energy. If you get the right team behind it amplification, there's a lot of provider because the brand's doing well and they want to reach more people. So, and then transformation is huge. The absolute fear, cause it's like crap. We could be outta business. We could be irrelevant or wow, we have this legacy, you know, we're a big brand. Everyone knows us. And to make a change is it can be paralyzing. So we empathize with how brand owns feel. So we try and work with them from a, from a psychology style, which is really important.
Paul McDowall: And I think that's also to your point, Arek is, is part of why the time does time, does the mechanics of rolling out brand identity and all of those things, which just takes time. Then you've got the, you know, the fear factor and, and making decisions and decision making time is it can really can slow a process down and the journey down a lot. So it's really trying to have the team involved, feel very confident about the changes that they're making and why they're making those changes. And that's up to us to present the information a as best as we can and use our smarts and our foresight and all the data that we have to those decisions as well.
Catherine Clark: We like to tell our team, you know, it's, it's about the quality of the work you do. We need to be super creative. You need to execute beautifully. We need strategists their own point. They're insightful. But if you don't have the ear and the trust of your client, you're not gonna get anywhere. So knowing the psychology of that client, that's creating something is very different. Like Paul saying to this. So psychology of somebody who is in a transformation stage really helps you have more empathy. So you can kind of go in and not get frustrated. We get people sort say, oh, it's so taking so long. I'm so frustrated. Why can't they make a decision? But if you understand what they're going through, certainly it's like, oh, let me help them have the right information to make the right decision, have this space to do it. So I think all with, with brand creation, people say, oh my God, these people are so frenetic. Of course they are. They have to build everything at once. So get in there, work with them, speak to them every day. You know? So I think one recommendation we'd make to just, you know, people who are listening, if they have an, a agency is just setting up their team for success to know what to expect from their client, given the situation they're in is really different.
Arek Dvornechuck: Right? So obviously I'm going include the link to your website. So you guys can check out the work, but can you just give us a few examples for each scenario? Maybe you have an, of your projects you want to share with our audience. What can we, you know, what should we look at? What projects are you the most proud of when it comes to maybe each at least one example for each, if possible for, for creation, transformation and amplification.
4. Brand transformation
Catherine Clark: So on brand creation, we mentioned early, I think we love it because it's a big firm called post holdings, their own post serials. They're kind of like, you know, your mainstream serial maker and they're going out there doing some breakthrough environmentally conscious products that are gonna be accessible to the mainstream. So we're super pumped about that creation. It's the baby brand. That's just come out there. Uh, but it's got tons of potential. And we did everything from naming design positioning. That whole thing, I think on amplification, we have these incredible partners we work with in the low east side of Manhattan called the low east side girls club. They're an organization that, um, helps these incredible young women in the neighborhood become like world shapers. And so we've helped them really re-articulate their brand for a new kind of era that they're going into their next 25 years of existence.
Catherine Clark: And that's just been extremely fulfilling and, and you can see their work out there. It's beautiful. It's full of energy and it's kept their spirit, but yet it feels contemporary again. And it feels like it's tapped into kind of gen Zs and, and that whole aesthetic that's happening. And then in transformation, we did an amazing job with Palmolive. That's part of Colgate Palm, olive, dish soap. I mean, how, how do you transform dish soap? But you know, that's a brand that's like kind of being there, people trust, but suddenly through COVID we were able to really redesign and re stage the whole brand. Now it's like the most eco-friendly mainstream dish soap you're gonna be able to find, and everybody in the organization has kind of shifted their mindset and there's a lot of passion for it. So that's a brand transformation. We're super proud of huge amount of skews to redesign. Um, and just a big, big effort.
Paul McDowall: Yeah. And I think another one on brand transformation should we have on the site is evolution fresh. That was a pioneer organic juice brand. That was it's owned by Starbucks, kind of was owned by Starbucks.
Arek Dvornechuck: I like the juice. I often buy it.
Paul McDowall: Juice <laugh> and it's good juice and great packaging. It was gonna be delisted by Starbucks. It wasn't selling it. Wasn't connecting with this generation of, of juice drinkers. And, uh, we were working very closely with that team and, uh, managed to reinvent evolution, fresh rethought the, you know, not, not throwing away any of the good stuff, keeping the good, getting rid of what was not relevant and then reticulating the story all the way through to the, uh, positioning the mission, blah, blah, blah. And then the visual identity. And that brand is now in double digit growth growth that they have never seen before without advertising. And that was just down to, you know, a commitment from their team, a partnership with us, and then the work that we did. So we're very proud of that one too. It's evolving and they've got new innovations and they're growing and it's a fabulous brand and the product is phenomenal and it's making organic juice accessible to people, which is, which is wonderful, which we love.
Arek Dvornechuck: Yeah. That's a great example. I think we can all relate to that brand, uh, because it's everywhere. Right. So...
Paul Mcdowall: It is now <laugh>.
Arek Dvornechuck: Yeah. So, and the final thoughts, uh, and the tips you have for creative agencies or freelancers, or even for, for clients, you know, who are thinking about rebranding,
Catherine Clark: I would just say, you know, we are very fluid in the way that we work and we have people with very different mindsets, mix people up, you know, there's a way to do it, so that's not chaos, but this whole business, you know, we need processes, but we also need fluidity. We need sparks, we need energy, we need creativity. We need to mix people's minds together. So I would just say, try not to get too caught up in the tools and all, yes, we need all of that, but don't forget the magic and the spark, because that's the reason Paul and I are in business is this creative process is, is super exciting. And so you gotta try and celebrate it and bring great minds together as much as possible.
Arek Dvornechuck: Right. So some of my key takeaways for you guys, we all use different tools, but, don't get stuck with those tools. It's also about intuition and thinking holistically and about how those elements work together. A big part of that is brand purpose, brand culture and things like that. But ultimately it's about creativity, right? And how do you find this connection and to create something, new and original and unique, right? So I'm going to include a link to those examples of your work and, to your website. Of course. Anything else you want me to share with our listeners? Maybe your social media.
Catherine Clark: Yeah. That'd be Great. You can share, uh, I think we have an Instagram again, LinkedIn. Those are probably our main ones that you could share.
Paul McDowall: Yeah. We have a fabulous, fabulous team that put out awesome newsletters. We share culture, we have our little ten. We share out culture insights. We put out thought pieces written by several members of the team and, um, they're all great. We love them. So...
Arek Dvornechuck: Yeah I saw it.
Catherine Clark: If there's smart people out there, freelancers, whether they're designers, strategists, account, people feel free to get in touch. We're always meeting people. We're always looking for great brains. So if you have something to offer and you're interested in our vibe and what we, what we're doing, don't hesitate to reach out, send us a note and you'll probably get a meeting with us.
Arek Dvornechuck: Awesome. Are you looking for new talents to join the team?
Catherine Clark: All the time.
Paul McDowall: Always. Always
Arek Dvornechuck: So you guys contact them if you have a great portfolio. So thank you very much for joining us today. It was my pleasure. Thanks again.
Catherine Clark: Thank you, Arek. Thanks for great questions. Really appreciate it.
Paul McDowall: Loved it. Take care. Bye
Arek Dvornechuck: Thank you. Bye.
Arek Dvornechuck is a strategist and designer who helps brands grow by crafting distinctive brand identities, backed by strategy. Need help with your project?—Get in touch
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