By providing a viable alternative to piracy, as a start up Spotify achieved a cult-like status in its native Sweden and much of Europe. Since it entered the U.S. market in July 2011, it has made a splash in the U.S. But like many music acts, if Spotify is going to have a significant impact on the music landscape, they need to grow the American audience and educate the market about what’s on offer beyond Apple.

“We want to bring music to every single person and bring it to every moment of their life”

Daniel Ek - Founder, Spotify

Getting to the heart of it
To continue their rapid growth and efforts to win the hearts, minds and ears of the American mainstream, our task was to help Spotify define how music played a defining role in people’s lives.

Building on existing segmentation work, we designed qualitative research with our partners, customer insight agency C Space. We studied the music habits and preferences of two user groups in four typical markets.

In parallel, we mapped the user experience: from a search on Google, to landing at the website, signing up, downloading and using Spotify, and through ongoing product experience and customer service interfaces. We identified the points that could be improved along the way.

Lastly, we spoke with employees and industry experts to precisely define Spotify’s unique position in its category. Why was it different from competitors, and what was its real reason for being?

Based on our insight, we redefined Spotify’s position around the idea of ‘the right music for every moment’. This created a clear sense of their audiences and echoed the central part music plays in all aspects of their lives.

Branching out without selling out
We worked with the leadership team and over 100 stakeholders to build the brand and its supporting experience principles. In less than six months, we galvanised key teams in the business, ensuring buy-in and understanding of the strategy from the outset. We ignited a wave of people-centric innovation across product and marketing.

The brand now serves as a strategic lens. Every internal team – from the Leadership Group and User Insights to HR and Operations – is using it as a starting point for their thinking.

In March 2013, Spotify confirmed they had acquired over 4 million new users and 1 million subscribers, keeping it on track to bring in more than $684 million in 2013 from subscribers alone. Having also recently confirmed over 6 million global subscribers and over 24 million global active users, the brand has grown up. It’s become accessible to a huge new audience, without ever losing its cool.

USA TODAY was built on the founder’s vision to be a “forum for better understanding”. As pioneers in using visual story telling and concise copy, they were dedicated to telling the news in a way that made it relevant to the lives of everyday Americans.

30 years on this pioneering vision had become lost in a sea of imitators, parody-makers, and digital competitors. The brand looked dated and was struggling to navigate the changing media landscape. Hundreds of branded initiatives resulted in a disparate experience.

They asked us to help them reposition USA TODAY as a future-fit news organisation.

“USA TODAY was designed to be different”

Al Neuharth, Founder, USA Today
An identity as dynamic as the news
The offer from USA TODAY wasn’t easy for consumers to understand. We proposed a simple brand architecture that organised the majority of its offers behind six main sections.
As we started to redesign the logo, we explored options from ‘evolution’ to ‘revolution’. The client team was unanimous in choosing a direction from the ‘revolution’ end of the spectrum. They believed it was the best representation of the audaciousness that USA TODAY was built on.
The printed paper was still the most prominent product, so we partnered with the design teams to help them agree on one visual style for all properties. We shadowed the entire process, from the early morning meeting through to press at 10pm, and contributed content ideas.

To launch the new brand, we created a national campaign covering digital, TV, print, and out-of-home advertisements. The concept centred on visual storytelling and kicked off in NYC with a Grand Central subway station take-over.

An American icon making numbers
The launch became one of the largest media business stories of 2012, resulting in total media impressions exceeding 325 million.

In the month after launch, the number of unique visitors to USA TODAY’s mobile sites increased by 79%, and the brand’s digital revenue increased by over 69%.

“In the month after launch, there was a 100% increase in Facebook fans and a 69% increase in digital revenue”

Gannett Market Research

Further market research showed they had 6,000+ new Twitter followers, their Facebook fans were up over 100%, and almost two-thirds of readers thought the redesign of the newspaper made the news easier to read. Gannett — the media company that owns USA TODAY — reported a first-quarter profit increase of 53%.

When Virgin Media approached us, there was no overall visual system in place so the experience lacked coherence. We set up sessions with agency partners and internal brand, marketing, and HR teams and audited around 6,000 pieces of print and digital output. These sessions helped Virgin Media’s people to air their concerns, which in turn helped us to form a stronger picture of exactly what needed fixing. Our thoughts grew into a brief that asked three questions:

1) what was the attitude that ran through Virgin Media?
2) how could we enable them to respond quicker and in the right way?
3) how could we bring that to life in VM’s applications?

The Virgin Media attitude needed to be present in everything it did, and we worked to articulate it as open-minded, fun and generous, or ‘OMFG’. This playful acronym identified the ingredients for future briefs. They’d all be present in varying degrees, and brought the brand closer to the identity of Virgin Group, which hangs on the idea: “don’t just play the game, change it for good”.
A bit of us, a bit of you
To express the attitude, we created a flexible visual identity system. We described it as, “a little bit of us and a little bit of you”. Some direct marketing situations called for more focus on the customer, and less on Virgin Media (“more of you, less of us”); at other times, with billboard advertising for example, this balance would be reversed. We tested thinking against live, incoming briefs. This helped us keep budgets lean and refine based on real proof points.

“Wolff Olins are a hugely valuable partner. Passionate, smart, warm and committed to change for good. I enjoy working with them. No matter what challenge we face, we deliver”

Adrian Spooner, Head of Brand, Virgin Media
Communicating with focus
Virgin Media are already using their new system to communicate with more focus. They’re able to talk about themselves and what they stand for when required, and can allow their identity to be more responsive when talking directly to the customer. The business is also now able to take communications to market in a quicker and more efficient way.

In 2007, USA Today ranked AOL 4th in a list of 25 things that shaped the internet. An early tech pioneer, they had provided premium internet service to millions in the late 90’s and early 00’s. For many, AOL was their first gateway to the World Wide Web.

But the media world had changed – from one-way broadcast to conversations that were fragmented, non-linear and niche. Stuck in an outdated model, AOL found itself suffering from a decline in subscriptions, revenue, morale and brand image. Following an unsuccessful eight-year merger with Time Warner, they planned to spin-off and become a separate public company.

Recognising its inflection point, AOL hired new management. Their goal was to create a company with a strong strategy and mission: to inform, entertain and connect the world with extraordinary content experiences.

“AOL is in a turnaround situation. It will take every ounce of blood, sweat and tears to make it successful.”

Tim Armstrong, CEO, AOL
Identity as a platform
AOL asked us to help them become a ‘media company for the 21st century’. First, it needed to signal that it was more than an access provider. It was a future-forward, creative and cultural force that delivered extraordinary content. It needed an identity that could act as a platform, so we created a simple, confident logotype revealed by ever-changing imagery.

“Our new identity is uniquely dynamic. We plan on standing behind the brand as we take the company into the next decade.”

Tim Armstrong, CEO, AOL
An internal and external reboot
Working closely with the leadership team, we helped define and translate their vision for the business. We developed a brand architecture with a clear sense of how past and future acquisitions connected to AOL. Internally, we helped build confidence in creativity and originality, and externally, we activated brand-led initiatives. These included MAKERS: Women Who Make America and (930,000 unique visitors in the first 6 months), as well as the AOL Originals with Chuck Close and 25 for 25 grants programs.

“The Internet needs better quality content. This is an ambitious mission but we are hiring, developing and encouraging the best creative talent in the world.”

Tim Armstrong, CEO, AOL
Brand-led reinvention
Within the first year of the spinoff announcement, 40% of users described the AOL brand as ‘creative’. By the end of 2010, AOL was the only major brand to have a better ‘buzz’ score than major online brands such as Google, Facebook and Yahoo!, according to Brand Index. In 2012, AOL was dubbed by some “the hottest tech stock in 2012”.
The identity won prestigious awards from both AIGA and the Cannes Lions and was named ‘Best Identity of 2010’ by influential identity blog Under Consideration.

Today, AOL has successfully reinvented itself as a brand-led company that invests in experiences that align with its mission. Home to a world-class collection of premium brands, it creates original content that engages audiences on a local and global scale.

In 2015, we were asked to help shape the core proposition of the Guardian Members brand, to clarify its relationship to the parent brand and to give it a distinctive look and feel which would signal a new, reader-focused spirit for the organisation, without challenging the history and equity of the parent brand.

At the time, there was much debate about the role of membership. It was viewed as a very important way of building a meaningful connection with readers, potentially bringing them right into the heart of the organisation, but there were also fears that membership could signal a ‘paywall’ – something The Guardian wishes to avoid at all costs. No newspaper in the world is as committed to free and open information as The Guardian. ‘Exclusivity’ sits uncomfortably.

A seat at the frontline
Over time, and in close consultation with various people at the centre of these debates, a careful piece of branding began to emerge – one that would offer a contemporary take on The Guardian’s ‘cause’, give the potential member value for money and also offer them chance to become much more than a reader by having a seat at the frontline of news creation. These were the different objectives to reconcile.

As a result of our work, a powerful manifesto, based around the idea of ‘up close, first hand’, now drives The Guardian Members experience, synthesising the Guardian’s editorial principles with a contemporary sense of participation.

It helped us convey the feeling of a ‘backstage pass’ to the one of the world’s greatest newspapers. It is written to communicate a mixture of excitement, special access and individuality. In the spirit of the manifesto, the scheme feels different from others of its kind.

Shaping the experience
We continued to use the spirit of ‘up close, first hand’ to develop the other key aspects of the brand, particularly the UX – a vital part of the offer. To help imagine what this could be, we created a ‘year in the life of a Guardian member’, which outlines how the member might be engaged over a period of time.

This would be through a mix of conversation, inspiration, networking and information, keeping the member engaged on a regular basis and importantly, giving them ways to contribute and shape the offer and experience for themselves.

New look, new voice
Finally, with the brand strategy and member experience agreed, we were able to finalise the look and feel for the new brand. This would bring together all the intentions and the spirit of Guardian members, in a visual (and beyond visual) form, which everyone could intuitively connect with.

Not surprisingly, the inspiration for the creative identity came from a busy editor’s desk covered in contact sheets, marked up versions of stories, draft documents and unfinished content. This is content in its most raw, unedited form, just like the experience of The Guardian members itself. Our visual system represents an array of rough content through layers of colour, texture, photography and annotation to create distinctive layouts.

A final key element is the tone of voice we created across all communications. This is a mixture of The Guardian’s own official and informative tone and the conversational response and reaction from the members themselves. The Guardian’s own tone is used to convey the informative content that we need to know (titles, body copy, location etc.) but the members’ voices are super imposed on top, conveying ‘the word on the street’ in relation to the topic being presented. The brand itself always represents the interplay between the organisational voice and the reader voice.

Confidence and growth
The Guardian members brand has been a great success, bringing clarity and confidence to an underused part of The Guardian offer. The number of paying members increased from 50,000 to 230,000 in the year running up to April 2017 and the scheme continues to thrive.