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Geoff Donegan of ‘Tank Design’: “Stay relevant”

Stay relevant. The very best brands understand where their market, their customers and culture is headed. Understand what will move your customers in the future and design a brand that can meet them where they are going to be, not just where they are today. As part of our series about “Brand Makeovers” I had the […]

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Stay relevant. The very best brands understand where their market, their customers and culture is headed. Understand what will move your customers in the future and design a brand that can meet them where they are going to be, not just where they are today.


As part of our series about “Brand Makeovers” I had the pleasure to interview Geoff Donegan.

Geoff brings a decade of international design experience to Tank, having worked in agencies in London, Amsterdam and Boston. With a particular aptitude for interactive design, Geoff has an astute sensitivity to a client’s business needs and applies sound design thinking and logic across multiple platforms to satisfy those needs. Before joining Tank in 2010 Geoff was Head of Design at Tangent One in London where he led design initiatives across multiple platforms for numerous high-profile clients such as the UK Labor Party and The Royal Institute of British Architects. Geoff also worked for Lateral, the UKs most awarded digital Agency, where he worked on initiatives for global brands such as Levi’s and Amnesty International. Geoff’s vision and creative drive has influenced the team to always challenge the expected and overdeliver for this longtime Tank client. Lastly, he is credited for revolutionizing the Tank/FedEx design experience approach, a feat accomplished by immersing himself into groundbreaking research and innovative insights and magnifying these into salient customer experiences.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit more. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I’m really a graphic designer by trade. I’ve known I wanted to be a graphic designer long before I knew what a graphic designer was. My earliest memory of this was drawing band posters when I was in second grade. I could barely write but I was drawing big, graphic letterforms. That followed on through the rest of my childhood and teenage years as I became interested in music, graffiti, skateboarding — all things with a strong graphic culture. It wasn’t so much a career choice for me but rather a logical progression.

Can you share a story about the funniest marketing or branding mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Honestly, every designer probably has a story about how they designed a logo that looked like something it shouldn’t have… and I’m sure I’ve had a couple of those.

I’ve definitely had my fair share of high-profile typos. Even a couple when I’ve spoken at conferences. I normally make a joke about it being intentional which is never really that funny, but people are always really polite and laugh anyway.

I guess I’ve learned that a typo can be forgiven if the work is really good, but a typo is normally seen as indicative of a bigger problem if the work is sloppy too.

Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Is there a takeaway or lesson that others can learn from that?

The tipping point for me was when I learned to listen. Design, whether it’s branding or digital feels like a very personal pursuit when you’re starting out. You’re creating something from scratch, so it was hard to hear from a client that the solution you’re giving them wasn’t hitting the mark. But once I learned to listen and really understand what people wanted, even when they couldn’t express it very clearly, it elevated my work. Ultimately, it made me a better designer, a better presenter and a better storyteller. You need to be a good storyteller — you can have the best idea in the world but if you can’t convince your client it’s the best idea, it’ll never see the light of day.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

At Tank Design, we’re very lucky. We get to work with brands and organizations across a pretty broad spectrum of industries. We seek out projects that will have a positive impact on the world. We’re working with organizations in education, shipping and logistics, tech, biotech, mobile telematics, in a single week, we’re likely working on anything from adult education, to revolutionary electric vehicle technology, to future financial tech. It’s really exciting. Of late, we’ve worked on a COVID tracking app, we rebranded the Community Music Center of Boston — a non-profit organization working to provide equitable access to music education and the arts.

What advice would you give to other marketers to thrive and avoid burnout?

I always think you have to find magic in the problem. At first glance, the problems you’re trying to solve may not seem so exciting but there’s always something exciting in there. For example, maybe the scale or impact of the project is really exciting. Or maybe it’s an industry you’re less familiar with. There’s always something exciting or interesting in there — you just have to remind yourself to look.

For designers, it’s really important to keep your field of inspiration and influence really broad and varied. That keeps your work fresh and keeps you inspired.

Ok, let’s now jump to the core part of our interview. In a nutshell, how would you define the difference between brand marketing (branding) and product marketing (advertising)? Can you explain?

To me, brand marketing can feel very nebulous if you’re not organized. Consumers expect brands to be authentic and to have conviction. At the same time, brands are operating on fast-moving, dynamic channels. Brands really have to know who they are in order to act and react quickly and authentically. At Tank, we spend a lot of time helping brands develop the tools they need to communicate quickly, effectively and authentically — style guides, templates, messaging frameworks etc.

Product marketing is often a little more specific. It’s likely more benefit-focused and designed to give consumers the information they need to make a purchasing decision. Brand marketing is more about giving people something they can believe in or rely on.

Can you explain to our readers why it is important to invest resources and energy into building a brand, in addition to the general marketing and advertising efforts?

Having a strong brand allows you to build resonance in a consumer’s mind. Brand resonance ensures that when a consumer thinks of the product or service you provide, they think of your brand first. In very basic terms, most people don’t think they want to drink a cola, they think they want a Coke. Or, when most people think they need a new phone, they don’t think phone, they think iPhone. That’s brand resonance and it’s the most potent form of marketing there is.

That type of association or recognition isn’t built overnight or with a single interaction. It’s built over time, through multiple consistent interactions. That’s why branding is so important. It gives you the tools to be authentic and consistent and to build that resonance.

The other power of branding is to create meaningful first impressions. You may have the most revolutionary, impactful product or service but if that’s not coming across in your presentation, it will get overlooked.

Let’s now talk about rebranding. What are a few reasons why a company would consider rebranding?

• Business has changed direction or strategy

• Marketplace or competitive landscape has evolved

• Current branding isn’t dynamic enough or flexible enough to meet an organization’s needs

• The business has grown significantly, and the current brand system doesn’t reflect the business accurately or give the business the tools they need to engage with the world.

Are there downsides of rebranding? Are there companies that you would advise against doing a “Brand Makeover”? Why?

There aren’t really any downsides to rebranding. However, a poorly executed rebrand is always a problem. There are lots of ways a rebrand can fail to deliver. If a rebrand is poorly researched or if it doesn’t give the organization the tools it needs to be the brand it needs to be, it would be a costly waste of time and may even hurt brand sentiment.

Ok, here is the main question of our discussion. Can you share 5 strategies that a company can do to upgrade and re-energize their brand and image”? Please tell us a story or an example for each.

Focus on who you really are. The most effective brands are authentic. It’s a lot easier to make a brand impression that is truly authentic and consistent if it represents who you really are as an organization. Tom’s is a good example of this, they’re conscious enough of the communities they’re profiting from that they’ve built it into their business strategy to give back to those communities.

Develop the right tools. No matter how good your brand is, it won’t make connections if your marketers and communicators don’t have the tools they need to deliver on-brand communications and experiences. If your brand isn’t coming through in the words in your communications, focus on a messaging platform. If your brand is falling flat visually, focus on the design tools and templates you need to deliver amazing visual communications.

Know where you stand. It’s really important to understand brand sentiment. You have to know what people think of your brand in order to know how to improve it. Engage in brand research or speak directly to your customers to understand how your brand is being perceived. It will either validate that you’re as amazing as you hoped you were, or it will give you the insights you need to know where to focus your energy to change negative sentiment.

Build advocacy from within. Your employees are your culture. They’re responsible for your communications and they’re also the ones who are likely communicating directly with customers. Start by making sure your brand is something they can believe in. Not only will you have an energized, more satisfied workforce, it will also likely have a really positive impact on your customer experience.

Stay relevant. The very best brands understand where their market, their customers and culture is headed. Understand what will move your customers in the future and design a brand that can meet them where they are going to be, not just where they are today.

In your opinion, what is an example of a company that has done a fantastic job doing a “Brand Makeover”. What specifically impresses you? What can one do to replicate that?

I hate to toot our own horn here but Tank rebranded Vistaprint. As a brand, the company was ready to shift away from their CMYK printer roots to better represent their integrated business offering and the company’s mission of providing simple, direct, customized service. 
The result was a simple yet dynamic identity system that spoke to their position as the leader in personalization and customization. What impressed me about the team at Vistaprint was their recognition of how their market was changing and their commitment to getting ahead of that change.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Thankfully, this issue is currently getting real attention, but I would ensure we stamp out institutional racism and anything that marginalizes black people, people of color or the LGBTQ+ communities. There’s still a great deal of work to be done.

I think the world is a contentious place at the moment. I would encourage people to act with aloe, not ego.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I’m not sure who said this first, but I recently heard it attributed to Jim Lovell: “There are people who make things happen, there are people who watch things happen, and there are people who wonder what happened. To be successful, you need to be a person who makes things happen.”

I think, in life, I’ve learned that you have to show up with the intention of making things happen.

How can our readers follow you online?

If you want to see pictures of my kids and videos of me skateboarding badly, you can follow me on Instagram @geoffdonegan.
But more importantly, follow @tank_design for fresh insights from my talented colleagues and to see some of our work. Check us out on LinkedIn, Facebook and at www.tankdesign.com too.

Thank you so much for these excellent insights! We wish you continued success in your work.

Thanks.

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