In this episode
Jeremy and Malin look in to Michael Bierut's design career and the famous rebrands for Mohawk papers and Mastercard. We get tips on how to conduct a successful rebrand and what to keep in mind, including how to find out what customers want, good reasons to rebrand and how to deal with criticism.
Interviews with Michael Bierut
P.F Candle Co.
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Jeremy: Hi and welcome to the creative hold podcast, my name is Jeremy Jusoh and right next to me is my co-host Malin Lernhammar.
Jeremy: And today we have a fun topic for you guys all about rebranding and Michael Bierut. So first off, I’ll go. The topic for me today is Michael Bierut. Now Michael Bierut is a designer from the states, specifically born in the suburbs of Cleveland and went to the university of Cincinnati and he is most famous for being a partner in Pentagram and also his first job out of University was for Massimo Vignelli at Vignelli associates.
Malin: Oh really? So really the big leagues.
Jeremy: Yes, right out of University.
Jeremy: And apparently the way he got noticed by Massimo Vignelli was he stayed late every day. He had apparently two shifts at Vignelli Associates which was his normal 9 to 5 and then he tucked his wife in to bed and then stayed from 10pm to 3am.
Malin: At the same place?
Jeremy: Yes! For four years he did that.
Malin: That seems very unsustainable.
Jeremy: It does seem very unsustainable.
Malin: Impressive I guess…
Jeremy: He does credit his success to this or at least his work ethic to that. I do not know if he succeeded because of this or in spite of this.
Malin: I mean I do feel like if you are trying to get better at design you would want to be among people that are great that you can learn from. I don’t think those people were there from 10-3 but maybe that was time that he himself could spend himself just like testing things out that he heard from people or you know, doing his own kind of learning. I don’t endorse working this much but it is an interesting part of his story I guess.
Jeremy: Yea and I mean Massimo Vignelli did end up noticing him and you know at Vignelli Associates I guess he was one of his biggest mentors, Massimo Vignelli. Another episode. He was able to work on these big projects for the city and subway system of New York.
Malin: Mm really big names.
Jeremy: And after that, he became a partner at the big design partnership Pentagram. For their New York office. And there, most of his famous work is what happened. Before everything happened under the Vignelli Associates.
Malin: Wait most of it happened before?
Jeremy: No so most of his famous work that he is know for happened at Pentagram because before that it was all under the Vignelli name.
Malin: Right. So it was like after that he was able to take credit that came under his name.
Jeremy: Yes exactly. So you know, famous rebrands such as rebrands for the New York Jets, of course most recently it is the branding for the Hillary Clinton campaign for 2016.
Malin: Right which is a really big one because of the whole...I guess because it was so dynamic. People were really taking it on in the best and worst ways.
Jeremy: Yes exactly. So of course a contentious subject but in the end still a very famous brand and design.
Jeremy: Because today is about rebranding, what do you know about Mohawk?
Malin: Mohawk is I think, i don’t know if it is a stationary or if it is just a print brand. But I do know their very like iconic with the dots and the opacity working in different colours and like working with patterns. It sparked this big trend, like I remember seeing it everywhere. People were like OMG this opacity is so cool and you can do all this multiply effect with things and I saw a lot of trends following this.
Jeremy: Yes so that happens a lot in branding. So the reason, so Mohawk is actually just a paper company.
Malin: Ok they sell paper stock?
Jeremy: Paper stock right, and before hand they were very much a B-B trustworthy company and you can see that in their previous mark where there is this picture of this Mohawk native american from the side profile view. With you know sort of this dark black very trustworthy tones.
Malin: Yea, we are looking at it now. We will put a picture up on the episode on the website so you can have a look. It is really detailed so it is super different from their new brand. So what was the reason to go away from the mark and the person itself?
Jeremy: Yes, so the reason they rebranded according to Michael Bierut is because selling paper in the digital age is a new challenge.
Malin: Right right.
Jeremy: Mohawk had to rebrand to become a bit more of a person focused, consumer focused brand. They needed to be associated with being able to be part of the digital age rather than just an old print manufacturing company.
Malin: They were kind of like you know how Kodak rebranded because and they had so many issues because some people see it as a success and some people see it as an issue just because they used to be the face of film.
Malin: And then when film stopped being you know part of the big kind of camera movement they did not really catch up as fast. So they also tried to rebrand but they did not do it fast enough. I guess it is like a similar...industries changing.
Jeremy: Exactly, so because the industry changed, and the demand for the industry changed, the mark had to change. And that is where the interconnected paper and consumer goods mark, the famous mark with the opacity and the dots came and...they have done other rebrands for Mohawk but this one has lasted so far the longest. And it is a very successful rebrand, I think nobody really identifies Mohawk print and papers as their American Indian, Native American side profile logo anymore. When you think of Mohawk, if you know of Mohawk, you think of the big M with the opacity. Yes they really successfully changed people’s perception.
Jeremy: Another rebrand that Pentagram did under the leadership of Michael Bierut is the famous company mastercard. So the...it was a relatively recent rebrand and they definitely stayed with the look of the two circles. And Michael Bierut commented on why they stayed so similar and the goal of that rebrand was to say “wait why did they do that? Nothing changed” And that was the goal of the whole rebrand because they wanted to have a simpler and more easy to establish identity to use without changing much because mastercard is such an identified brand. You know if you see Mastercard with the two circles, you know that is Mastercard and changing that drastically would have been a mistake for Mastercard to do.
Malin: Definitely. This is one of the things I think, people really underestimate the power of making subtle changes that just make your brand more timeless. And a little bit more sustainable. But you don’t have to overhaul everything just because you are rebranding, it is probably a bad idea.
Jeremy: Yes, and what they are now doing, which is really interesting is in certain contexts they are taking the name away. They are just using those two circles. So on I think these next few iterations of the cards for example they probably won't have the name mastercard under it anymore. It will just have those two circles. And again, as a strategy, this is a long term strategy by Michael Bierut and Pentagram is that they want to make those two circles so permeating in people’s minds as that Mastercards brand that they slowly wanting for people to associate the two circles as Mastercard.
Malin: Yea, I think this is one of those things that it is like the dream of so many brands to be able to have like the one colour or a shape like Coca Cola for example to be all you need to able to be recognised. I think there is a lot of strength in that obviously because you are claiming a whole shape and colour or you are claiming all these associations, at the same time, you have fewer things visually to play with so it could be like, long term a riskier strategy. But simplicity is good so.
Jeremy: Yea, I mean they are starting it off as in select contexts right so when it is on an actual bank card and they take the name away but they still have the two circles. I do feel most people will understand that that is still a Mastercard.
Jeremy: Do you know what I mean?
Jeremy: Now in an ad they might still keep the name but I think this is in select contexts is actually quite a smart and interesting.
Jeremy: Yea so we didn’t go too much into the history of Michael Bierut because he is much better at explaining it than me and there is a lot of resources out there of talk of his that we will put in the description. Really interesting guy, really cool guy and I think it is much better for him to explain his life story but I think it was interesting to talk about these two famous rebrands that Michael Bierut did and a bit about his sort of design background.
Malin: Yes it is interesting to see how all these people that are famous and historic are interwoven.
Malin: You know it is like with the beginning of the internet and you can see the same people in the same spheres. It is a small world. I think the one thing I think is so important with rebrands is something we can help clients with but is also something we have to consider for ourselves and the most important thing I think with all these rebrands that you really have touched upon is the why. Like why are you choosing to rebrand and I think a lot of people have the wrong reasons for going in to a rebrand. Like maybe it is the feeling of “O something in the business is not working, we are not selling enough, we are not converting something is not working” and you don’t dig deeper you just say “O we are going to change it”, “We are going to rebrand” And it is going to fix everything and in reality, maybe like your website is not working, or maybe you don’t have the right customers and maybe a rebrand is the right choice but you just have to dig in to that first. Another reason I see, I’m sure you have seen this too, is like the founder or the CEO or just the core team being bored of their brand, it is almost like “O I want to repaint my kitchen to make something exciting happen”.
Malin: And I think that is such a wrong reason to rebrand because really the right reasons are: you are not connecting with your customers or you are completely changing something about your business. Like maybe you are changing to a kids line instead of like an adult line, or maybe you are pivoting as a company towards digital products rather than physical or whatever it is, your old brand doesn’t make sense. Can you think of any other ones except those two ones?
Jeremy: Like why you should not rebrand?
Malin: No like a good reason to rebrand.
Jeremy: O a good reason. Yes, I think a good reason to rebrand is because, I mean maybe if associations with the industry are changing.
Jeremy: You know what I mean? For example Mohawk, they are still making paper. Their services have not changed but the context in which their company exists in has changed.
Malin: Yes, or like if you used to do things that changed in to cloud service for example. This is also a note for someone renaming their company, or doing a logo for something. Try to pick something that doesn’t change. Like if you do cloud services and you put a cloud, it might be great now but maybe we change it in to something in the future that makes that very obsolete. But yes, if your industry is changing, if your target audience is not working or responding to you or if you are changing your product or focus. So I think the benefits of having a strong brand obviously is that you look trustworthy and established and I think that is even more important now that most businesses are online. Because think about it. You are going to a website, you are putting in your credit card details. If your brand looks really suspicious, you are not going to buy from them. If they have a storefront and it is not super sleek, you can maybe speak to the owner, you get over that hump. But if you are online…
Jeremy: Yes, there needs to be a connection, superficial as it may be , you know, there needs to be, and especially on websites you have something like 0.2 seconds to convince someone that you are worthy of their time.
Malin: Yes it needs to be very thought out. And the other reason is that emotional connection you were talking about because if you want loyalty with your customers and you want retention, you want all these great things, they need to have a reason to come back to you. So yea, something positive, something that connects, and one thing I wanted to throw in there as a reason for a strong brand is like “share-worthiness”. So it doesn’t have to be like in the newspaper but if you have a brand that is a bit quirky, if you have something that is interesting or unique, people want to share it. And then you are going to have so much more impact with your brand. Now we started touching upon this before but like if you decide to rebrand, I think the most important thing to know to set yourself up for success is to decide how much you are going to change.
Malin: Because so many people they approach it with “everything has to change. We are going to update everything, we are going to have a new logo and a new company name, we are going to have a new website, everything is going to be overhauled at once” and the risk with that obviously is o maybe you lose your SEO, maybe your customers won't recognise who you are anymore and if it is completely irrelevant what you used to do, go for it but consider how you are going to make that transition in the mid of your customer. And I saw a really cool example that I think is completely underappreciated of a company that changed it really gradually. It is this company that makes candles. And they were initially called “Pomfites” so like a french fry, but it was like a spin on the founder’s last name. And it was really cute, people were finding it really funny in the beginning and then they got in to these big retailers and people were starting to ask them like “O is it made from oils from french fries, what is the story?” They were trying to figure out the brand message and it was super confusing. And instead of just calling it something different, which would have been to them a little bit like we don’t know what we are doing we are just going to flip flop around, they changed it to Pomfries candle co. And in the last step, they changed it to PF candle Co. And PF candle Co. it could just be the initial from anyone so there is not going to be that confusion but they did it in a super logical kind of way.
Jeremy: Yes really gradual.
Malin: Like intentional steps. And I thought that was a really smart way of doing it. It is a really lovely video of a woman speaking about it we can put it on the site as well.
Jeremy: I have a question.
Jeremy: How do you know how much you want to change? Let’s say you identify the problem, or that there is a problem but you don’t know what that problem is.
Malin: Perfect segway.
Jeremy: Oh ok good!
Malin: Because my last one was going to be really how to find out how much and what you should change. So I think a lot of people get feedback from customers that say “O I don’t like this” or “I don’t understand this” and they think we have to rebrand. And they collect that information in their mind processing what they heard and that is what is brought to the discussion about rebranding when actually you need to take a much more scientific approach, and I’m not just saying that from my background, but like you have to actually collect data that is going to help you give an unbiased decision on it. So maybe you pick 30 people, 50 people depending on your budget. You show them the brand, you look in to what they are saying about it and something I think designers can do which is super inexpensive is just go on social media. Go to the brand’s sites. Go to review sites. Go to all of their chats and find out what people are saying, what keywords they are using and find out how the brand is responding. Because if the company you are working with are not aware and they are being really unhelpful or rude or something like that in their responses, it doesn’t matter if you put a nice new face and say “We are so helpful and we are so fast on delivering” and then everyone in the comments are like “I’m not receiving my goods” and they are not helping out. Because you are really not changing the perception. So I think go and really find out what your customers think because you are never going to guess right. It is always going to be different. It also helps with that, kind of mistake that sometimes happen when people sometimes have a completely different association with what you are creating. There was one example that was quite brutal. Which was Hershey's chocolate.
Malin: So Hershey’s have like a, their old branding had this 3D little candy next to the name.
Jeremy: Ok, right.
Malin: And I’ll get it up so you can see it. Hershey’s had this little candy and it was called a chocolate kiss.
Jeremy: Ah ok.
Malin: And it looks like a little drop, like a little chocolate drop.
Malin: In the rebrand, they changed it from this 3D to a 2D and it has this little tag on top and in the new brand it looked like a poop with steam on it.
Malin: And it also is in brown.
Malin: And it is one of those things that because they did not run it by enough consumers, it was something that could have easily been avoided or changed or just done in a way that would have been. Hershey's decided to phase out the…
Jeremy: The kiss.
Malin: The kiss completely. That is one of those things where getting feedback is super helpful.
Malin: And absolutely lastly, I wanted to say embrace criticism because there are so many times...if you launch a brand I think you should tell people the reason you relaunched because if you don’t you open up this Pandora’s box of everyone’s opinions. If you say we are changing our focus and this is our new brand. We are so happy we are doing this, people will have an association and context to it. And Airbnb did this really smart thing where they anticipated people not liking their new brand. So when they launched Belo, that symbol, they also launched a site that helped you be able to customize it to your own. So everyone could go and remake it they way that they wanted it with like patterns and colours and stuff, and that made it much easier to integrate.
Jeremy: And people understood probably also like the...or at least they started gaining positive associations with the Belo because they were able to customize it. They started gaining “Oh this is fun!” you know playing around with something and all of a sudden in their mind they started associating it with simplicity and fun and you know what I mean.
Malin: And so many brands say that they want a logo that is customizable or you know that is taken on by their community but Airbnb really took that to the next step and made a platform where you can do it instead of just leaving it up to people, because they don’t do that. I don’t think so. So to summarise, to have a successful rebrand I think you first need to have the right reason to rebrand. You have to understand your customers, new ones or old ones and really focus on the ones that pay the bills. Thirdly, think strategy first so take this overarching thing and implement it acoss everything. If you are changing the name in steps, you have to know that before you get started. And embrace criticism. If people are complaining, take it in a nice way and feed it into the brand as it is evolving.
Jeremy: Accept and pivot.
Malin: Accept and pivot. Yea! And anticipate criticism and help people deal with it in a nice way. I think if you have included them in the steps of creating the brand, it is more likely that they will be more excited about the end product.
Malin: Yea, and I think that is something that Michael Beirut has done a lot because their process at Pentagram seems to be very engaging with people.
Malin: Yes thank you that was really cool. Thank you for that.
Jeremy: Thank you! And thank you listeners and see you next time.