One on One with Lippincott's Rick Wise

David Smith The world of branding has changed. Where the focus was once centered around design, logos and communication, brands today are looking for ways to differentiate themselves in how they reach customers. A big part of that is offering customers an experience unique to their brand that makes them feel emotionally connected to it. In other words, brands are looking to show they have heart. In the case of a recent engagement with Southwest Airlines, Lippincott took that literally, including in its redesign a large heart painted on the bellies of Southwest’s jets as a nod to its Love Field origins. Consulting sat down with Rick Wise, CEO of Lippincott, to discuss the state of branding consulting and learn more about its acquisition of Bonfire Communications, its first in the firm’s 70-year history.

Consulting: How is a successful brand built today?

Wise: The Lippincott view on it is that it has to be broader than in previous generations. Brands are increasingly experienced in a variety of ways that are much broader than traditional communications. We really focus on how do we take a brand, turn it into a really compelling story about the company, what it does and why and then translate that into experience, both the more traditional communications experience but also the actual delivered experience in terms of what customer is seeing and feeling around the brand. Also the experience employees have and how the brand actually frames the way they think about and interact with the company, such that it also supports and aligns them around the experience they need to deliver to customers.

Consulting: You recently worked with Southwest Airlines and Black & Decker, two very different brands, what were some of the goals of these engagements?

Wise: In each case there was a specific set of objectives for the rebranding. In Black & Decker’s case it was how do we take a brand that has traditionally been a mid-priced tool brand and reconceive it so it can play a much bigger role and we can drive more growth in the home and home appliance arena. Also how do we change it so it feels slicker and a little more modern? In that category years ago, nobody cared much about what the product looked like. But with Dyson bringing design to ordinary appliances and some of the European brands doing so as well, Black & Decker wanted to move from the toolshed to the kitchen right next to the coffee maker. The notion was to make it a little more modern and fashion-forward.

For Southwest, the issue was partly how do we broaden the meaning of the brand, because they’re increasingly serving business travelers and not just leisure travelers. A lot of was re-articulating what Southwest is all about as they’ve grown to be a very large carrier from this kind of small upstart. There the goal was to really bring to life in a more tangible way the people dimension of Southwest and do it in a way that felt fresh and modern but also harkened back to their origins: they originated at Love Field in Dallas and their ticker symbol is LUV. We’ve used all that to weave together into the new brand expression. The heart symbol at the core of the new identity is treated as a grace note to the actual logo. It became a symbol adopted into employee rituals, and it’s kind of become this living symbol that’s part of the employee experience. The heart is kind of a way to take a service rooted in this big somewhat scary machine and give it this sense of humanity. That’s been a fun aspect of it.

Consulting: How does the Bonfire acquisition fit into Lippincott’s long-term strategy?

Wise: Unlike most of our peers in the marketing services agency world, we’ve never done an acquisition before, always just growing organically. So when we came across Bonfire and saw what they did and the fit in terms of the culture and offering it just clicked for us. It was at the right time, because we really had this vision of branding being something much bigger than traditional identity and design and logo and this notion of aligning an organization around the experience they want to deliver and their ability to do it. That’s really what Bonfire is all about. Not from a traditional consulting perspective, but from an agency/communications/engagement perspective. They have designers on staff, they do campaigns, they kind of work in sync like us. There are many out there who are organizational or change management consultants—that’s not really a fit that would work with us. But extending the notion of brand into the organization really does. It also gave us critical mass on the West Coast, and is really a great group of people we felt a cultural affinity to. We wouldn’t have recognized them as the diamond that would fit into our portfolio if we didn’t have this vision of how we want to expand what branding is all about, and really take it into the realm of organization and experience.