Target, the second-largest discount retailer in the United States, is renowned for acting like an innovative upscale boutique, with high quality products at low prices. This strategy had set them apart from others who focused solely on price, and now they had ambitious plans to grow their revenue from $50 billion to $150 billion.

They also had an unruly portfolio of over 240 brands – the result of merchants acting independently to create own-brands, in the absence of a strategic architecture. Consequently, while there was choice, own-brands weren’t driving loyalty. Customers were confused, with research showing only 32% could correctly attribute Target’s own-brands to the right company.

A framework for decision-making and innovation
We worked with Target’s senior management to define the essence of the master-brand and a set of principles to guide own-brands. We analysed the hundreds of existing labels, spending time with customers at stores and in their homes to get a deep understanding of shopping patterns.

We found a fragmented mass of products that lacked coherence, and recommended that Target manage fewer, bigger, better brands. We created a strategic framework that categorised brands based on their relationship to the master-brand, their role in customers’ lives, their in-store scalability, and their potential profitability.

“The consistent execution of our strategy helps us create the excitement Target guests expect and the shopping experience they love.”

Target 2006 Annual Report

Everyday optimism
We also gave Target a range of recommendations to simplify and upgrade own brands. For example in the consumables category, we conducted quantitative and qualitative analyses to understand the competitive landscape, consumer needs and Target’s unique advantages.

Our learnings led us to create a strategy around ‘Everyday Optimism’, which was about bringing a helpful, positive attitude to daily purchases. We brought this to life with the brand name ‘up & up’, supporting it with a vibrant identity across packaging design and in-store execution.

“The identity gives us the opportunity to deliver on both the ‘expect more’ and ‘pay less’ sides of our brand promise”

Mark Schindele, Senior VP Merchandising, Target
Up, up and away
‘Up & up’ now includes over 800 everyday essential products across more than 40 categories, including household, healthcare, beauty, baby, and personal care. Nearly 100 items were introduced for launch, including new categories such as cotton balls and swabs, laundry detergent and baby food.

Our work helped make Target one of the most valuable retail brands in the US. In 2009, the ‘up & up’ brand registered a 14% increase in comparable sales, and by July 2010, comparable sales were 21% higher than the previous year.

150 million times a day, across 150 countries, someone chooses to bring a Unilever product into their life. Though it had evolved into a silent, city-facing, holding company, Unilever had an interesting history. Port Sunlight – a model village in north-western England – was built by the Lever brothers in the 19th century to provide decent living conditions for factory workers.

It also had an unwieldy brand portfolio, encompassing 1,600 disparate products. It was clear the company was too diffuse, with an abundance of brands and no unifying driver of growth. There was an opportunity to connect the products and bring Unilever out of the shadows, towards their customers.

The visible hand
Rather than a hidden owner of brands, we helped Unilever become a visible business focussed around a singular idea: “adding vitality to life.” We put this at the heart of the organisation by designing workplaces, transforming the recruitment process, training employees and inventing new products. We also developed a ‘vitality key’ and trimmed the range from 1,600 to just 400 brands.
A public face
This internal change needed to be reflected externally. We created a fresh visual identity, at the core of which was a logo that featured 25 icons representing Unilever’s many brands.
Seen from a distance, the U-shaped logo is solid and unified. It is only on closer inspection that the diversity and constituent parts become evident. Supporting the logo was a new, handwritten wordmark, which added warmth and humanity.

“You could now expect something from a Unilever product, rather than just know that it was a sister product of this or that”

Brian Boylan, Chairman, Wolff Olins

Unilever businesses across 100 countries embraced the vitality brand idea. It was used to guide decisions on investment, exit and innovation. In turn this yielded great financial results: over the course of 2004, Unilever’s leading brands grew by 3.7% under the “Vitality Mission”, while operating profit grew at an average of 15% a year for four consecutive years.

The logo, with wordmark, now appears on every Unilever product, on shelves throughout the world.

With 300,000 people in 174 countries and 3,500 businesses, GE epitomised the 20th-century global corporation. Co-founded by tireless inventor Thomas Edison, they were the famous makers of everything from jet engines and lightbulbs, to healthcare tools and appliances.

They also made the infrastructure for the transportation and energy sectors, and provided capital for businesses and individuals eager to grow. GE were an icon for change, progress and invention – one that had yielded 65,000 patents in 120 years.

But it was now the 21st century and with the transfer of leadership from Jack Welch to Jeff Immelt, GE was poised for transformation. Their focus had shifted from the US to Asia and Europe, and from a business constrained by organisational silos, to one with a greater focus on customer needs.

They needed us to help bring about another shift: from under-leveraged, atomised and old-world manufacturer, to 21st-century technology and service partner.

Brand architecture: from 3,500 to 11
Our first brief focused on GE’s brand architecture. With 3,500 business units, the company appeared incomprehensible from the outside; the finance world didn’t understand them and customers weren’t clear on what they could buy.

Jeff Immelt wanted to bring the organisation closer together. And he understood that marketing offered a solution without taking away the individual P&Ls that gave business units their responsibility.

We proposed GE adopt an architecture that used their market-facing capability as the entry point for customers. They had the capability to build and equip a whole hospital, yet were selling it piece by piece. What their customers needed was a joined-up relationship, rather than a series of transactions for individual products.

Where a business unit was previously defined by what it did, it was now defined by what it was for. Where there stood GE Aircraft Engines, GE Plastics, GE Specialty Materials and GE Equipment Management, there would now be GE Industrial. Where there was GE Power Systems, GE Transportation Systems and GE Industrial Systems, there would now be GE Infrastructure.

In all, 3,500 names were reorganised under just 11 market-orientated headings. This new architecture, based on market-facing capability, was a profound move for a company the size of GE. Suddenly they had more opportunity for interaction with their customers.

A reason for being
Next, they needed a core idea to drive the business, and a set of common values that would guide decisions, allowing them to face any situation with confidence. GE’s advertising agency had given them ‘Imagination at Work’, which we worked to define with a simple story that could excite and unite people. This built on the ethos of Edison himself, who wanted to improve the lives of ordinary people through his inventions.

“Imagination at work is not a tagline, it’s a reason for being.”

Jeff Immelt, CEO, GE

Having adopted a customer-centric architecture and a core idea to drive the business, GE needed a new presence in the world. We gave them a modern identity to liberate and celebrate the GE monogram, which had stood since the 19th century. The identity used a system based on 14 colours that allowed GE to adapt their mood, or tone, based on the context.

We then set off around the world with a roadshow, getting GE leaders excited about ‘Imagination at Work’. We also worked on the packaging for consumer products and – in the case of GE Money – branch design.

A 21st century partner
GE could now pitch to nation states, using their new ability to bring unified solutions to customers. Its 85 ‘Imagination Breakthroughs’, inspired by the brand idea, added $25 billion dollars in additional revenues across 100 countries.

They were named ‘most admired company’ for two consecutive years by Fortune and continue to top brand performance lists. In 2012 BrandFinance Global 500 rated GE the 7th most valuable brand, seeing total value increase by 14% to $4.3 billion.

And their customers continue to grow, with the support of a 21st-century technology and service partner.

Fortnum & Mason is a 307 year old business with the ambition to secure another 300 year old future and double the size of the business in the next 3 to 5 years.

To get there, they needed to expand their reach and relevance, and dramatically reassert themselves in a world that is hungry for the passion, knowledge and expertise Fortnum & Mason uniquely possesses. Most of all, they needed to understand the potential for growth beyond its core offer (food) and its single store in Piccadilly.

A strategy to deliver the business ambition
We worked directly with the CEO and his executive team to shape a brand strategy that could deliver the business. Critically, in the fast pace of retail, we needed to quickly give them tools to activate and instantly use the brand strategy. We devised ways in which Fortnum & Mason could step outside its Piccadilly store and bring its unique way of making the everyday special to a broader audience.

The first manifestation of this has been the F&M Hamperling– a unique piece of product innovation that reinterprets and contemporises the iconic hamper. It will form part of Fortnum & Mason’s takeaway offer both in-store and beyond, and appear front and centre in the experience-led initiative at St.Pancras International, which opened in November 2013.

Clear focus on commercial success
Since our relationship began we have helped embed the brand in the business. We have given the business a distinctive purpose and clear focus, lent coherency and direction to the product offer, specifically looking at the business opportunity for confectionery and rationalised categories on each floor. We have crafted a narrative that tied together the in-store experience, secured a new retail space, and established a partnership with the Serpentine Gallery.

In the year 2015, like-for-like sales were 15% up over the key Christmas period, the five weeks to 3 January. This pushed annual profits up 31% to £5m. Fortnum said it recorded the best trading day in its history on 15 December.

Microsoft were a siloed organization, communications were inconsistent, experiences felt disconnected and the masterbrand was under-leveraged. There was a a massive opportunity to breathe new life into the expression.

One Microsoft
To live up to this ambition to be “One Microsoft”, we renewed the propositions and purposes for the key players in the portfolio.

Windows was the obvious place to start, since for its billions of users, it’s synonymous with Microsoft. Windows 8 represented a bold change to the ubiquitous operating system. Its modern aesthetic and fierce reduction of elements serve up a surprising perspective. It was confident and completely engineered around what mattered to users, so we reflected this in the identity.

“Wolff Olins disrupted the status quo, reimagined us as a user-focused organisation and empowered all of us”

Tony Bates, CEO Skype & EVP Microsoft

After Windows, we explored Office, Skype (a long-term partner of ours), and the Microsoft store experience. We created and launched the Surface brand, taking the company successfully into hardware.

We brought each brand to life through a set of robust identity systems we called the Brand OS. Working across product and store experience simultaneously, we developed expressions that were unique, but closely related to one another.

Full experience for full effect 
Our work spanned every possible touchpoint. We developed the end-to-end experience, including naming, architecture, digital, print, packaging, retail, non-traditional, motion, sonic and product.

In the process, we created tools that saved money and time, and ultimately delivered more brand consistency around the world. Immersive training brought the new brand to life for key stakeholders within each business unit.

“One Microsoft” is now recognizable no matter the product and has laid the groundwork for generations of products to come. It’s also had a significant impact on the value of the brand.

3M is perhaps most famous for Post-it® notes and Scotch® tape but such well-known consumer brands are a small fraction of its 60,000+ products.

It has long been among Fortune’s most admired companies, and it’s almost impossible to get through a day without coming into contact with 3M materials. They’re in cars, planes, mobile devices, hospitals, factories, offices, and homes.

Despite its status as an innovation powerhouse that makes vital contributions to everyday life, the brand is relatively invisible. We were asked to help change this by leveraging the overarching brand platform: 3M Science. Applied to Life.™

We worked with Chief Design Officer, Eric Quint, and Global Creative Director, Donna Root, to create a new identity that would reflect the transformative power of 3M. The company needed a smart system that would be flexible enough to resonate with business partners and customers around the globe.

“Our visual design system must bring life to the 3M experience, elevating every touchpoint”

Eric Quint, Chief Design Officer, 3M
About the system
The visual identity brings forward strength and symmetry. The core graphic elements were developed with science in mind, and the typeface – 3M Circular – is more distinctive. The system incorporates epic and lifestyle photography, highlighting the world at large and the people solving problems using 3M products.

“We were excited to co-create a system that would empower everyone to tell the story in a creative yet distinct way”

Jan Eumann, Design Director, 3M

The new system was revealed at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas in March 2015 and deployed worldwide in a carefully phased program. Reaction from 3M’s widespread businesses has been overwhelmingly enthusiastic, and dynamism now defines the brand experience.