Design Thinking: The future of branding

/ April 23, 2019

It’s no secret that the way companies brand themselves to better market to customers is increasingly becoming more and more crucial nowadays. To circumvent this and gain a competitive advantage, companies have been employing design thinking as a way of showcasing innovation with their marketing strategy. This involves thinking from the perspective of the end user – being in their shoes, and devising solutions that cater to their problems. With the future of branding having increasingly sophisticated technology, and our shift to more automated means to communicate with customers, it’s now more important than ever before to employ design thinking to create more personalized experiences and better connections.
On our first episode of our Penji Master Class series, we’ll delve into design thinking for branding, as well as the future of branding in a changing environment with guests Vic Steinman of the True Hand Society and Jason Craparo from ConTap.

Vic Steinman

Vic is a designer at the True Hand Society in Fishtown, Philadelphia, being there since November of 2018. True Hand is a small studio that specializes in branding as well as tattoos in separate departments.

Jason Craparo

Jason is the founder of the new app startup ConTap, which is a new networking app available for iOS and Android, designed to build strong relationships and share content in more dynamic ways than ever before. Prior to founding ConTap, Jason earned his MBA from Babson College. ConTap has since grown in strength, with Jason signing exclusive deals and raising capital for his business, all while helping many people with his app.


Jason: 01:05 I think Vic, you know, said this great-following the journey of a customer, what are they going through? They’re going to sit down and, and here’s going to be their experience. And at every single touch point, you just want to try to be as authentic as possible and hammer home what it is they need to do; what they’re there to do. So, we use a firm out of Chicago called Codal, and they had a great designer out of London put together quite a bit of our design and it came out great. But it was all about trying to, you know, stay true to who we are; what our value proposition is, and then also try to differentiate in the marketplace in some way in terms of colors.
Johnathan: 01:45 And even in terms of, you and you’re talking to a client, whether it’s a new or even existing business, how are you able to further define what the person wants to convey when it comes to their brand?
Jason: 02:00 Yeah,
Vic: 02:01 It’s-I think it’s rooted mostly in process. So if you have a strong process for how you do things, you can kind of look at it as uncovering a thing, rather than thinking up a new thing. And what I mean by that is you can sort of look to reference materials, look to the past, look to existing brands and try to uncover what’s working for them and what relates to your client and try to sort of, dig up some of those things, you know? We always try to include a story and a concept and to all of our, all of our brands, no matter what we’re working on, and, the stronger you can make that come through and uncover that, then the stronger the end brand is going to be.
Johnathan: 02:47 My next question that I have is about storytelling. So we have a good foundation of, of branding what it means, and potentially even the future. But storytelling is an important aspect. What does storytelling mean to you?
Vic: 03:05 I would say I look at it just as sort of visual storytelling from a branding point of view. You can tell a story and let other people sort of uncover it through your brand. And, you know, you can do that in a similar way that you would brand a space, you know? If you’re telling a story, you can, you know, have part of it on your website, have a little part in the brand story in the environment, and let people sort of uncover it that way. And I think it’s like having a little bit of mystery around it and not beating people over the head with like, “Here’s our story. Here’s the concept behind our brand.” (It) can actually be beneficial a lot of times. You know, giving people the benefit of the doubt, giving your customers like, the benefit of the doubt; that they’re smart enough to figure it out. It’s cool. It kind of lets everyone sort of participate in the brand.
Jason: 04:04 Yeah. Well I will say that we don’t look at the storytelling in terms of telling our story. I don’t think any of our users on the app or also on our software for the event organizing care about how we came to be. And most people when they hear storytelling, that’s what they think. But to Nick’s point, it’s more about letting the product speak for itself. And, and having people discover, we added a lot of design elements that enhance our brand. on empty screens where typically if you don’t find something, you’re let down and there’s nothing, it’s goes down so you leave. And so we kind of pushed the storytelling through that. That creates some brand authenticity; that creates-the users are actually building the story as they explore the app and they find new things, they’re saying this is a cool brand. They start to actually fill in the pieces of who we might be as the storyteller on this product, through their experience, throughout the app. And I think we do it really good. For example, when you don’t have any contacts, when you come on or when you go to the event chat, we always have a nice animation and a little icon that tells you “no one’s here yet”, but then we’d lead them to that next action. So there’s a bit of discovery in it. And I think that when people can work around your product enough that the story becomes more clear to them.
Johnathan: 05:29 You said something about very briefly about tracking and seeing what people like and et cetera. There’s two different elements of tracking success when it comes to branding. From an agency side, it might be a little bit difficult, but from an app side, it might be the software that your service that you would inevitably use. How are you, Jason-how are you able to track the experience and are you then able to apply based off of that data?
Jason: 06:04 So let me just understand here. So you mean tracking there…?
Johnathan: 06:09 Yeah – tracking their movements, and in what have you found from like a research perspective in order to make the experience better based off of that data?
Jason: 06:20 Totally. Totally. So we track almost every single event, every tap. When we put out a message that “we’d like you to do this,” and we have a call to action button, we track whether or not that that happens; whether you click that button. These are all events that we look at and also from emails that go out. So emails or push notifications, everything is branding. And if we noticed very quickly – we have a great chief marketing officer here who lives in Philadelphia now. She’s constantly monitoring all of this information. If push notifications aren’t getting open, it’s-design thinking in general doesn’t just happen from a putting the product out. That’s a mindset throughout the entire organization where you’re not getting results, you’re iterating rapidly. You’re going to put out a new message. You’re going to change up the logo. You really AB test almost everything. So we’re constantly looking at all of the different pieces. I’ll also say on our quote storefront on the Google Play Store and the Apple App Store, those are places as well where the branding’s really critical. We have a lot of statistics that people don’t look past the first screenshot. They don’t read past the first paragraph. So we really have to show what we’re all about immediately. And if that’s not compelling, people just move on. And so, we need to get even better at putting up new signs all the time, just to try to narrow and get down to the core message, with the best graphic to convert people to the app.
Johnathan: 07:49 (The company itself.)? How are you able to track the success of your work?
Vic: 07:57 I think working with small businesses on print and production projects, sort of eliminates the need to do a whole lot of user testing. Cause it’s kind of simple: if a business is succeeding and the space looks beautiful, you can, and you know; a restaurant opener, a restaurant owner is opening other restaurants, and doing well financially, you know that you’re doing something right. But I mean, for what I do and what we do at True Hand Society, it’s just a really small part of an overall business. So, you know, after we pass off that brand and we know that at the end of the day we did the best job we can do, it’s kinda then up to the restaurant or the small business or whoever it is to implement it and, you know, hopefully keep, you know, kind of tapping us to keep working with them. So yeah, it’s a little less like user testing and AB testing and more of just if the business succeeds or not.
Johnathan: 09:01 So I actually want to dive in a little bit deeper in that, because you mentioned something along the lines of like, if they are successful and in how to go beyond that success. But for, on like a brand’s perspective and you can start from the clients that you’ve worked with in the past; two brands that you see online. How do you believe that brands (become organizations)? How do you think that they should be interacting with their audience space, whether it’s like their prospects, whether it’s their customers, et cetera, and that if you want to start.
Vic: 09:46 Well I think that now with social media, that’s like the number one thing. I mean it’s like the big sort of wow factor when you, when you create branding is like, you know, what’s the thing that, that someone’s going to take an Instagram photo of? And it sounds silly, but that’s a huge way to for something to get popular. I mean, now a lot of businesses can almost put their entire marketing budgets into just social media, and be successful that way. So I think that’s like the biggest thing in 2019. But obviously there are lots of little things that can help really push a brand, like creating, you know, really thoughtful print pieces, direct mail pieces, postcards, things like that that are, I think often overlooked now because of social media and because of digital marketing. Creating things that make a brand feel real, can be really cool. So I think any opportunity to convince a client to go with a print piece, and put some marketing budget towards that is always a really awesome opportunity because it just, it makes it feel real and it lets people interact with it in a tactile way.
Johnathan: 11:06 Very cool. That’s great.
Jason: 11:10 Yeah, I would think that too. Just from your perspective being at an agency, if I was in your position, I’d always want to leave the business owner, or the business unit with the start: “Hey this, we can come up with graphics for you and we can give great menus and you know, have all these things that make it look nice and even start to drive some business,” If it’s a new business, but you’ve got to (limit)? the outfits that people are wearing, the servers, the food – is coming out hot? Is it coming out quick? Those are all touch points where I think everyone’s been burned. Great Logo, great marketing; we get in the store and the experience just doesn’t live up to it. So there may be some disconnect; I’m sure that you can probably point a few instances where you guys did what you believe to be a solid job and then, you know, the execution from the business standpoint; it just wasn’t there.
Vic: 12:01 Yeah, absolutely. It’s definitely been the case before and we always try to, you know, even if it’s something as simple as a mocking up, something that maybe wasn’t in the original scope of the project, but allowing them to see, you know, this can be a really cool thing if you were to make it and providing them with that just to leave a little bit of an inkling like, thought for them, you know, what if we, you know, got custom matches made and left those on, on the table for customers at the front of the coffee shop. Just cool little thoughtful stuff like that that they might not think really like helps plant the seed for the future. And like I said, hopefully, you know, after you develop a relationship with a new client, it’s not a situation where you’re just kind of like walking away and handing off a brand to them. But the hope is always that we get to stay on and continue to create things for them.
Johnathan: 13:02 Yeah. And Jason, from a digital perspective, how do you believe or even yourself, you can answer or like what you’re doing, your own, how should brands interact with their customers?
Jason: 13:16 Well, I think it’s, it’s a 100% driven by the customers themselves. So we have – I wouldn’t say abandoned certain channels on social, but we put a lot more focus on the channels where we see engagement and we see the type of business offering that we have. Where are those people and what do they want to talk about? So we’ve made a strategic decision even from ourselves on social, we put out certain messages, we put out memes, networking tips, and then a large portion of our discussion on social is highlighting our event partners. So the way we distribute our app is by giving away a free software to event organizers. And then we do them a solid by highlighting every single event that they have and giving these opportunities for existing users to buy tickets and attend these face to face networking events. And so (cut out) or to highlighting the printers and giving people networking tips. But we don’t really stray all that much from that. And we also focus mainly on Twitter and Instagram, Instagram being just super visual. You know, we can show on Instagram very clearly social proof that people are at these events using the product and they’re enjoying it. And that’s harder to convey with, some of the algorithms that Facebook has now. And then, you know, LinkedIn, it’s not that we were not there, it’s just that our core target segment doesn’t want to engage with a brand like this in that medium right now. So it’s, I would say in short, it’s just driven by the customer and more so by what they want to hear then what we want to say. And, and that’s really important. So we’re always mindful of the messaging that we’re putting out.
Johnathan: 14:58 Yeah, super, super critical. I’m sure it takes (cut out)
Johnathan: 15:05 …both of your perspectives. How long have you, has it taken to get a message to the point where you feel that it has substance, like, again, I’ll speak to my own example. We had so many different ideas and verbiages that we’ve used in order to get Penji’s point across. But I’d like to hear Jason – how long (cut out) ….the brand’s messaging and guide?
Jason: 15:34 I’ll say it’s still a work in progress. And I know it’s still work in progress and I know that we’d still have work to do because when I tell someone or when they visit our site or we do a pitch somewhere and someone says, ”Oh, so it’s like LinkedIn.” Hmm. I don’t know. It’s not at all like LinkedIn) So I say: “What have I conveyed? Where did I go wrong in stating this, that caused this person to believe that it’s another social media rather than something that holds all your social media and gives them to people as you wish?” And so, we’re constantly looking at that brand messaging. We’re trying to make it more simple. We’re trying to make it more effective. That’s something that we talked about internally all the time. So I will say that, when we will know that we got there, when we can say one or two sentences and someone just-I’ll say our core target market, when we-I’ll say we’re there with our core target market because when I explain what we do in one or two sentences, they go, “Oh, that’s great.” “This is awesome.” “Can I download it now?” “I want to get it.” “This is really cool.” And they get it immediately. But for other folks who may not be so digital savvy, our target market are socially active, urban millennials, and we try not to stray from that. But when anyone goes outside of that, then it takes a more convincing or more language in, anytime you’re talking more, it’s a bad thing. So we know that we have to, we have to get a little better on our messaging. I don’t think we’re quite there yet.
Johnathan: 17:07 And I think that’s an honest answer and I appreciate that. And I think every startup in any business, unless you’re on the stock exchange only then, and maybe then; maybe I’m wrong, they still probably are figuring out, because I like to hear from an agency perspective, the idea behind messaging. What are some techniques that we maybe we could use now in order to determine what our brand is and how to properly convey it?
Vic: 17:36 Yeah, I mean I think Jason touched on it, but it’s always like an organic thing that kind of comes about like, ah, you can’t always expect right off the bat to kind of nail it and for people understand what you do right away. I mean, it’s kind of a stretch to even say that True Hand is an agency. I would call it more of a studio. But at the same time, like I mentioned earlier, being a branding shop and a tattoo studio in one is not always clear to everyone because it’s not a thing that exists anywhere else. So I still get asked all the time like, “Oh, do you design tattoos?” And you know, a lot of times when we find ourselves explaining like, “No, we actually do branding for businesses (as well as) graphic design, and then there is also a tattoo studio in the same building. So I think just, you know, it’s tough to really like to nail that, especially if you were really doing something unique. So we’re always working to try to make our website clearer, make our social media show more of an inside look of what we’re doing so that people can participate in the brand and understand what we do.
Johnathan: 18:55 (cut out) …and as we wrap this conversation up a have a couple more questions. I want to just ever so slightly sway the conversation into the future. Again, the future of branding and we’ve talked about it. The first question that we asked was what is the future of branding? But I’d like to hear a little bit more about the current aspect of graphic design and the current trends that are happening. So Vic, what are some trends that you see becoming more popular that maybe weren’t as cool before? And I think your perspective is like, I feel like you’re bringing in old school back because if you and all the links will be in the comments here, but if you look at Vic’s style, it’s very like, I dunno-how would you describe your style?
Vic: 19:40 Well I would hope that other people would describe it as being timeless. What I try to do and what we try to do as a studio is to put a contemporary spin on, you know, timeless and vintage style design, which you know, is maybe could be described as a trend, but we’re always trying to push against that trend. And you know, no matter where I’ve been in my career, I’ve always tried to stay away from what’s trendy. I think that’s an easy thing to fall into; is to just follow the latest trend and you’re always going to be kind of chasing that way if what you’re always going to be two steps behind because someone else is going to be setting that trend. I think if you, you know, try to make your work timeless and you know, rock solid, then you’re never going to be out of trend. So it’s, I think you can kind of-you can give that a healthy push and kind of push back against the trendy thing and be successful. And that’s what I’ve always strived to do.
Johnathan 20:54 Jason, how about yourself? What are, what are some trends in the world of graphic design or branding, that you see becoming more popular today?
Jason: 21:04 Well from our perspective, just building mobile products. There’s a lot of great designers. I mean, so many that I follow on Instagram that I’m so impressed by their work, what they do. In terms of, you know, new trends, I think that things are just getting more simple. From the digital aspect, a lot more customizable. I see experiences just trying to funnel people right from the get go, get them to their final destination a lot quicker. I’ve been at actually, you know, self learning, doing some other courses on graphic design, digital design, the psychology of online sales, things like that. Just to try to keep up with what I see is just tremendous amount of design. And for us it’s just- it’s a little more difficult to-it’s more difficult for a software company in some respects to push the envelope because you have to take into account that these users, they’re using a lot of other apps and those apps teach them how things should behave. And when you go outside of that box, it breaks their train of thought. And it might not always be a good thing. So they expect things sometimes to be in certain places. So you have to really pick and choose where you can push the envelope, where you can surprise and delight them where they didn’t see that coming before. But in terms of navigation, there’s ways: Snapchat for example, they have a great following. So they, and it’s a younger audience so they can afford to do some things that your average traditional brands like Facebook would never force you to discover how the app behaves. They, you know, they just can’t; they’re much more intergenerational where you have 13 year old kids and 65 year old retirees on the same platform and they all have to know how it works With Snapchat, there’s a little more discovery. So we’re trying to evolve and have those places where we can push our brand and, and surprise people. But it’s a lot more difficult because you all still want to have the things that people expect. You have to also hit on those and it has to be kind of cohesive all in one.
Johnathan: 23:24 Very cool. Well gentlemen, it was an absolute honor having you guys on this webinar. We really appreciate your insights. I like to give you guys the next 30 seconds to a minute, whatever you want to do to explain how people can follow you, how people can learn more about your businesses, potentially download the sign up for either a tattoo or some type of branding support. Jason, we’ll start with you. How can people find you?
Jason: 23:52 Yeah, well first of all, Jonathan, thanks so much for hosting this.  I really appreciate the opportunity and Vic, it was great to, to chat here with you. Uh, so our app is out on Android and iOS, so you can just go to the Play Store or to the App Store type in “ConTap”. We’d love for you to download it. You can search for me and connect with me. The platform allows you to just swap whatever you want so you can share Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat with me and I’d love to connect with you and hear your thoughts. Also, if there’s anyone out there who, is an event organizer or know someone who organizes events, we’ve got a free software right from where you can create host and manage events seamlessly for free. So give that a try or shoot me an email if you want to connect with us on social; almost everything is ConTap Social. So at ConTap Social on all major social media is we’d love for you to follow us and check out the good work we’re doing.
Johnathan: 24:41 Very cool. And as a reminder, all of the links will be in the comment section so people can go ahead, click, connect, sign up, whatever it may be. But go ahead. Go right ahead Vic. How can people find out where a, how to be a part of the True Hand Society  brand?
Vic: 24:55 Yeah, again: thanks Jonathan for having me on here. Jason, it was awesome chatting with you. I’ll definitely have to give contact download after this and  if you want to find me, same deal. I’m just Vic Steinman @vicsteinman on all social platforms for my personal stuff. And you can find us at True Hand Society for all studio related things. April 26th and 27th, we’re having a grand reopening for True Hand at the new space. It’s in a 150 year old converted church and you can come in, there will be 35 tattoo artists from all over the country tattooing for two days. You could come in, see the space, get a tattoo or don’t. And uh, Saturday, April 27th, we’ll be having an after party that’s sponsored by Love City Brewing and Research and Whiskey and can come in, hang out, see the space, have a drink and get to meet us.
Johnathan: 25:54 Very cool. And I have to say, I’ve been at the True Hand Society, Mausoleum, the church, so to speak. And it is absolutely amazing. So if you guys are in the Philly area and you want to tattoo, or maybe you don’t want a tattoo, I think it’s an absolutely great experience. And what better way to get a tattoo from like really talented people who are badass or, but to those of you that are still watching, still listening, we really appreciate it. We will be doing this on a weekly matter from now until the end of time. So you can expect a lot of incredible insights. A lot (cut out) like Vic and Jason and guys, thank you so much for your time. Everybody else go out there and execute your vision. Everybody have a great rest of your day. Take care.

Updated April 23, 2019

About the author

Sekinah Brodie is the Director of Partnerships at Penji. She enjoys writing and constantly learning about technology, entrepreneurship, and diversity in startups. She strives to empower women and minorities with job opportunities, career development, and positive representation. She recently launched an interview based podcast called “Shades of Success” that highlights individuals who champion diversity and positive community impact.

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