Tuesday Insights at FUSE

Cheryl Swanson, co conference leader and founder of Toniq welcomed us all with an overview of semiotics, the study of signs, symbols and body language.  She used this filter to study our interaction with change.  Radical change is not just a possibility it’s inevitability.  We are both driven by and in fear of change.  Her advice is to face change with positive emotion for although you don’t know here change is leading, it is easier to accept if you know that it will be worth the experience.  She referenced radical change in brand messaging using humor in examples from AT&T, Chrysler, Cracker Jack, Clorox and others.  This was a great way to tee up the experience that this day was going to offer.

Debbie Millman co conference leader and President of Sterling then took us all on a history of the FUSE conference through a delightful and ingenious “graphic movie”, highlighting the changes in the design industry as the FUSE brand evolved.  Referencing past speakers and contributors was a great reflection for those of us who have been FUSE loyalists for many years

Jonathan Adler, Artist/Author then took on the challenge of the provocateur, the artist, and the brand builder by sharing with us his creative process, his inspiration and his beautiful work.  He battles against his “addiction to his brand” and the analysis, rules and limits that branding puts on innovation and creativity.  He described his fashion-driven muse, his sense of style, blending craft with high style authenticity and “a dash of vulgarity”.  He took us on a tour of his Shelter Island home so as to give us an insight on how he uses scale, applied art, contrast and textures to weave a truly unique experience from this space.  He provoked those brand enthusiasts among us by poking at the creative process and collaboration suggesting that nothing comes out right the first time and that to design is to continue to evolve.

Mike Indursky, CEO of Bliss, gave us an insider’s view from the top at how a challenger brand can turn barriers into opportunities.  In competing with billion dollar brands that can out spend it at every turn, Bliss’s success is driven by being resourceful, fast moving, decisive and nimble.  Mike uses his “one shot” analogy to suggest that he has to make immediate impact and see fast success or move on.  He embraces polarization.  A brand needs to be something very important to a very specific audience, not everything to everyone.  In order to attract those that love the brand you have to accept those who hate it.  He used Dollar Shave Club, Method, Help and other brands as examples of relevant but irreverent brands.  He showcased Bliss launch of the cellulite fighting “Ass-spite” brand of as an example of leading the consumer rather than following them.  His courageous rally cry ignited the audience.

Neil Grimmer, Co Founder Plumb Organics described the development of his “small giant” brand that was inspired by love and fueled by a mission for “craveable health” in childhood nutrition.  He went further into the evolution of the Plum brand and how it created the first real disruption in the baby food category, not just in its nutritious and delicious food but also in its package and the convenience it provides.  He then switched the focus to giving back.  To address the fact that 1 in 5 children in the US are undernourished, he and his foundation members at “The Full Effect” have set out to provide nutritious foods for the first 36 months of child’s life. This sets the tone of their eating habits for their entire life and allows them to reach their full potential.  With proper nutrition, every child can grow up to provide its full effect on the world.  He asked the audience to participate and further this quest.

Following lunch Dondeena Bradley of Pepsico and an eclectic team of five women talked about their collective roles in “collaborative disruption” as they seek new pathways to wellbeing for women.  Working from their strengths each takes a different responsibility in contributing to the information and how it is processed.  From the “warrior” who drives new ways of thinking to the “interventionist” who deconstructs complexities, to the “weaver” who binds them all together, this team explored collaboration in an entirely new way.  Their inspirational film outlined their goal of wellness and the power that the Pepsico brand can provide to fuel it.

Chad Donvito of Hasbro then outlined the path that the Nerf brand took to move from a toy to a lifestyle brand, as it became one of the most successful brands in its category.  He featured the brand’s evolution in product innovation and usage innovation, using key insights from kid play patterns to create new structured games and competitions among Nerf tag players.  Knowing that kids are 4 times more likely to buy a product recommended by a friend, Hasbro encouraged kids to own the brand.  They allowed kids to make their own TV commercials and to foster brand advocates. Once kids started talking about the brand to their friends, the brand really became successful. Following this lesson, Chad encouraged marketers to let go of the reins and allow the consumer to determine where the brand fits in their lives.  This new thinking drives new products like Fire Vision where using special glasses, kids can play in the dark.   He discussed how cross brand building strategies brought the existing Super soaker into the Nerf brand franchise that doubled sales within a year.  Now targeting girls by building on The Hunger Game franchise, Nerf has seen a 10 fold increase in sales in the last few years.

The Web De Vlam team and Louis Goldstein of Organic Farms used a beautifully crafted case study of re-inventing an Organic cooperative brand by tapping into the roots of its 1800 family farmer owners and what motivates them to go organic.  Video of the farmer’s lifestyles and testimonials to their quest to build a better world through organic food drove a deeper understanding of this compelling brand story.  This created the connection point between the consultancy and the decision makers to make relevant change in the brand message and its identity.  The resulting full-color work package design showcases emotional imagery of the farmers and their cows, reflecting the respect they have for their animals and the pride they take in the quality of their product.

A panel featuring Willy Wong, Chief Creative Officer of NYC & Co, Sean Hughes, Chief Design Officer of Philips Healthcare, Chris Plews, Design Director of Davis and Vince Voron, Head of Design of Coca-Cola provided a fast paced and interdisciplinary look at branding from very different perspectives. 

Willy’s work with rebranding New York City showcases the challenge and power that comes applying strict brand identity standards to a myriad of applications and allowing them to come alive in their own individual way.   He referenced the lightning speed tat his team works under and the parameters of variety within consistency.

Sean then changed gears to highlight how design of both the medical device and the environment in which it’s in can dramatically improve patient care. He was faced with an army of powerful forces that did not want to change, but by showing them how the room design, lighting, projected imagery and ambient sound eased patient anxiety and gave them some feeling of control.  Patient satisfaction scores proved that this works.  The design team transformed themselves from a value-added department to revenue generating profit center for the Philips brand.

Using the Stride brand redesign case study, Chris talked about designing for brands that never stop moving.  The need to speed the process can often be thought of as limiting the creative endeavor.  But Chris suggested that this also forced more non-linear thinking, it required simplifying complexity and it drove intuitive decisions.  He argued that better work results. 

Using lessons he learned while in the creative team at Apple, Vince applied his collaborative design leadership tactics to the sizable challenge of keeping Coke relevant.  He trained his design team to become “chameleon communicators”.  He fostered their empathy for the audiences they were addressing, from the Finance and research teams to the marketers.  He encouraged the designer as the ROI advocate, the consumer insight interpreter and the branded retail experience builder. This new process resulted in such industry defining innovations as the Coke Freestyle machine, which engages the consumer in a very different way and makes Coca-Cola contemporary and relevant to emerging audiences.  He elevated design as he elevated designer’s impact within the organization.

Presenting a refreshing look at the pathway of the creative entrepreneur, Kendra Inman then concluded the day.   Her quest to create a truly unique skin care brand in this hyper cluttered category began by questioning everything with a “beginner’s mind”. She began by questioning everything. “Do we need it”?  In formulating the brand, she questioned the need for its largest ingredient, water.  If the product did not have water it would not need the emulsifiers and preservatives that water s.  By eliminating these harmful “industry standards”, what results is one of the industry’s highest quality and most effective products.  This truly distinct product and its compelling brand story emerged to become the One Love Organics brand.  Kendra continued to describe how this “beginners mind” vision continued to inform the brand’s identity and package design.  The clean aesthetic strips back all elements to their core.  Educated consumers look to the brand’s web site and social media platforms where they can learn more about the brand story.  The brand’s twitter page proves that One Love Organics does not just have loyal users, they have passionate and informed brand advocates.

On to the cocktail reception and the chance to reconnect with the industry’s most engaging thought leaders!

Rob Wallace
Wallace Church



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