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Fame versus Mastery: Building extraordinary and meaningful brands


I had the honor of having the imaginative Brian Collins, Chief Creative Officer of COLLINS, give a brilliant, genuine, and inspirational presentation called “Fame versus Mastery: Building extraordinary and meaningful brands” this past October at the Shareablee office in NYC.

This event was part of the New York Branding Meetup that I run. Brian’s presentation addressed how a brand can successfully create experiences that are meaningful and purposeful for people. He first started by identifying common issues with brand design, and then illustrated the concrete steps his team takes from clarifying a company’s purpose and operationalizing it through a system that infuses relevance into all communications, design, products and experiences.

Here are some of the key takeaways from this meetup.

Sameness vs uniqueness

Brian made the attendees realize something that is becoming so omnipresent, that we barely notice it at all these days. Namely, since the past decade, the brand expressions of many top corporations have gone from full-on personality, edginess, and distinctiveness to becoming generic, minimal, and…sameness. Case in point:

A right start is crucial

For Brian and his team, every project begins in the library of their office. He explained, “I want our team to design, draw, create and plan—but only after they’ve gone to our library and first looked at books on psychology, history, poetry, architecture, philosophy, mythology, science fiction, architecture, biography...even comic books. I want us to find some unexpected stories and ideas, especially non-visual ones, to spark our initial thinking.” No wonder, Collins’ work is so rich and full of depth.

Also, one of the very first questions his team addresses is “Who else solved a problem like this before?” There is not always a need to reinvent the wheel; instead look at what has been already created in the past and then reexamine, enhance and translate that to your current endeavor.

“Film directors, architects, musical composers, writers—they all intensely study the history of their craft. And the best ones know it well. How do you reinterpret the rules unless you are aware of them? I want my team to know the thinking and artistry of John Ruskin, to Corita Kent, to Disney animators, to the brilliant poetry of Beowulf.” Brian continued by passionately saying that history, being so lush and insanely inspiring, helps to inform the way we see and create the world around us, today. He exclaimed, “We need to better understand our creative history to better map the future.”

Spotify: Creating a strong and energetic brand

When Brian and his team began working with Spotify, it quickly became evident that even though Spotify’s product is music, they did not “behave or look like a music company, but an engineering one.” Brian explained, “They had to reimagine themselves not as a ‘tech’ brand, but as a real music company that leverages new technologies to provide people with soundtracks for their lives.” Like many other tech companies, Spotify’s early advertising consisted of taking a picture from their stock photography library of customers and then putting a headline with their logo—sound familiar anyone? Brian called it “mirror marketing” and it’s not ownable.

In accordance, the main objectives for the team were to establish “what music really feels and looks like” and how Spotify could be much more relevant and unique in their category. The subsequent strategy and execution were carried through from that vantage point, including: research of the history of music and visual arts over the past few decades; create a visual language and voice that is specific to Spotify; and develop a brand design system software application for ease of implementation and consistency throughout platforms.

The result is a brand system that is striking, emotional, fitting, and coherent. Spotify went from looking like a technology company to looking like a music company with a unique personality. The proof is in the pudding:

Brian’s sheer love for design, art, and genuine connection, coupled with his insatiable curiosity and honesty puts him and his team in a league of their own. Thank you Brian for reminding us all that the essence of great work is all about first reconnecting with our sense of wonder, passion, and the miraculous in everything—and then ferociously celebrating individuality for each entity.

For a more in-depth look at how Brian and his team work on brand design and identity systems, you can view the following video where Brian shares his thinking, insights, and wisdom. Enjoy!

This meetup was hosted by CoreConnect. A big thank you to Shareablee for providing the space for this event! Please join us for our next NY Branding Meetup by registering here.

#branding #marketing #design