What’s in a brand? At Kazoo, the answer is intention, aspiration, and years of teamwork and evolution. And today, we’re exploring that story – plus diving into what brand is and how designers can approach building one – with Kazoo’s Senior Creative Designer Claire Glover.
As a graphic designer who started here in 2017 (when Kazoo wasn’t even Kazoo yet) and advanced to lead design at Kazoo, Claire’s had a major hand in making the Kazoo brand from the ground up. Here’s a bit from the mind behind the magic.
Kazoo: First things first: Why is brand important? What does it do for a company?
Claire Glover: First of all, let’s define brand real quick. I like to think of brand as the expression of a company’s core characteristics, trait, or “personality.” Yes, it includes the company logo and color palette – but it’s so much more. Brand is feeling you get when you see a company logo or use a particular product. It’s about who the company is, and how the company speaks to their customers.
Claire Glover: With that in mind, we want every piece of content or creative we put out into the world to communicate our brand. I think a brand does four really important things for a company:
1. Good branding can instantly communicate who you are and lets people know what to expect.
Logos, colors, fonts, graphics, word choice, and design all work together to create an impression of what we value and what we offer. Many times this communication simply relies on the automatic associations our minds make every day.
For example, we assume a company is more serious and reserved if they use dark or muted colors, whereas brighter colors tell us that a brand is fun, light-hearted, or perhaps kid-friendly. Or why modern tech companies opt for modern, sans-serif fonts, instead of medieval-looking brush scripts, or why law firms stick to darker tones instead of pastels. (If you don’t think these small details matter, just try to imagine if you would choose to invest your life savings in a bank that had a cartoon animal mascot or bubbly Comic Sans letters in the logo!)
So many of the judgments we make about brands are so intuitive and instantaneous that they seem too obvious to mention. Our subconscious does a lot of the work for us. However, companies with good branding are always keenly aware of these associations and know how to use them to their advantage to clearly communicate who they are.
2. Good branding creates emotional connections.
All these branding elements work together to give the brand a “face” or personality, and humanize the company. If brands tap into these associations and effectively communicate who they are and what tonal realm they live in (serious or fun, steady or spontaneous, traditional or unconventional, etc.) they can create emotional connections that help people identify with your company, and be even more likely to use your company’s product or service.
3. Good branding sets you apart and makes you unique.
Perhaps a brand’s biggest value is in its power to distinguish one company from another.
Branding gives us so many tools to do that. It could be the way a company advertises, the colors they use (like “Tiffany Blue” or “John Deere Green”). Or the way employees interact with customers (like the famed Disney World customer service), or the way they love to push boundaries (like Vogue). After a while, you grow to expect and seek a specific experience with the brand.
And these distinctions don’t have to be subtle. For example, “The Dollar Tree” states its main differentiator right in its name (everything is a dollar or less). So does “Kentucky Fried Chicken,” which promises us the reliable taste of Southern fried chicken, no matter where we are in the world.
Anything that’s unique about your company should make its way into your company branding, if you want to stand out against competitors.
4. Good branding acts as a creative compass.
Knowing who you are – and, maybe more importantly, who you aren’t – helps guide every single creative decision you make on behalf of your company. From the style of your letterhead, to the tone of a big press release, to how and where you advertise your services, everything is informed by the company brand. The key is consistency. Consistency is part of what makes a brand both effective and trustworthy – because you know every encounter you have with that company brand is going to have the same message, same visual language, and same quality of product or service.
Need a summary? Here’s Claire’s brand breakdown:
Kazoo: Let’s dive into the evolution of the Kazoo brand. What was its inception?
Claire Glover: In its early days, the Kazoo brand was very fun and vibrant, but it has gained more focus over the past two years. All of the visual design was created with the “Entertainer” personality in mind and was primarily focused on being bold and celebratory.
The concept of Kazoo came out of the idea that work, when done right, can be a joyful experience. YouEarnedIt had already been championing the concept of improving the “Employee Experience,” but Kazoo sought to expand this brand story and give it new life and more dimension.
Kazoo: Some of our readers know that Kazoo was born of a merger between two companies: YouEarnedIt (YEI) and HighGround (HG). What role did brand play in unifying the new company?
Claire Glover: Coming up with the Kazoo brand was so important to uniting both companies into one. It was very much a group effort and a brain trust of a very talented collective. I think everyone recognized the need for a new brand to symbolize a fresh start and new beginning. While we didn’t borrow elements directly from YEI or HG, we reached a place that I felt incorporated the strengths of both brands.
Here’s how it came together:
YouEarnedit used red in its branding and prided itself on being bold, personable, and quirky. The brand’s friendliness, energy, and approachability are probably all ingredients that got it to the point of success it achieved, and there was a lot about it worth keeping.
However, some things needed to be modified if we were to continue growing as a company. For example, in the spirit of personalization, we customized communications materials for each new customer. This was nice for a smaller company but not an approach that was sustainable at scale. And while the YouEarnedit brand was so much fun, our informal approach might not have given us the appropriate perceptions when entering into consideration with larger, enterprise companies.
On the HighGround side, the brand looked much more enterprise-friendly. It made use of a calming blue, simple line icons, and very straightforward marketing design. HighGround already looked like a brand that might appeal more to larger corporations and enterprise accounts. However, opposite to the challenge of YouEarnedit, HighGround’s brand felt a little too safe and buttoned-up and didn’t capture the boldness we wanted to convey as a new company.
In order to truly distinguish ourselves as Kazoo, we needed to create a brand that combined this clean, professional approach with a dash of the fun that YouEarnedit displayed. So, we took the strongest parts of each brand ethos and combined them into a brand that was both light-hearted and fun, but also candid and challenging.
Kazoo: Since the initial launch of Kazoo in 2019, how has the brand changed, and why?
Claire Glover: The creation of the Kazoo brand was motivated by the combining of the strengths of both of these two brands, and by the notion that work can be fulfilling and joy-filled.
We wanted to lean into the celebratory aspect of the brand, knowing that the Kazoo product helps people recognize and celebrate one another for work done every day. The emphasis on celebration and recognition is what gave rise to the name Kazoo, and the bright brand colors, the bunting flags in the logo, and the use of confetti patterns. We wanted our brand to remind people that Kazoo helps them achieve their goals and celebrate their work achievements, and what better way to do that than use visual imagery associated with parties?
We wanted our brand to remind people that Kazoo helps them achieve their goals and celebrate their work achievements, and what better way to do that than use visual imagery associated with parties?
So off we went, into full party mode, until each piece of marketing content looked a bit like a technicolor confetti explosion. We used bright colors for text, laid over brighter colored backgrounds, with busy confetti patterns that certainly communicated the energy and celebratory nature of our brand, but the lack of restraint (and, at times, legibility) of this approach left something to be desired.
By introducing a little bit more restraint within the design, I figured we could still maintain the brand’s exuberance while giving it more weight and authority. We did this by reducing the amount of colors used in a single instance, limiting the logo and buttons to only green (our main brand color), making our patterns more monochromatic and simplified, and using confetti more strategically – to draw the eye towards whatever we wanted to highlight. We also replaced the 2-tone photography with full-color photography, and then gradually shifted to the use of more illustrations, which gave us much more flexibility to make exactly the kind of visuals we wanted to make.
Furthermore, as the world grappled with the challenges of Covid-19 and its effects on the workforce, we found our message growing more candid and direct. It wasn’t time to sell people on a notion of happiness at work without speaking to many of the obvious struggles people were facing. We could still be bright, exuberant, and bold, but we also had a responsibility to address these real workplace issues head on.
Our message shifted to talking about workplace diversity and inclusion, burnout, and employee retention, so our visuals had to reflect that. If I had to sum it up, I’d say we went from expressing “generic joy” to a “meaningful message” about the way work is changing and the real ways that we can help.
Kazoo: If you could share 1-3 pieces of advice with designers about brand, what would they be?
Claire Glover: Here are some helpful things to think about when creating a new brand:
1) First, understand your audience.
Before plunging your stake into the ground, you have to understand what ground you’re trying to claim. Who are you trying to reach? What do they care about? What do they value? And what problems do they need solved?
If you can identify who is making the buying decisions for your product/service and what they care about, then you’ve taken an important first step in understanding what message you have for that audience and how to convey it to them. This step is crucial before moving on to the rest of the branding process.
2) Understand your competition.
We created a lot of the Kazoo brand based on what other brands in the space were doing – or not doing. That’s why we chose to lean into the “Entertainer” archetype (within the commonly identified 12 brand archetypes).
We chose to give the Kazoo brand this colorful, fun-loving, witty (even slightly self-deprecating) personality because it was not a personality that we had seen embraced in the HR space yet. Many of the HR tech companies at that time fell into categories like “The Caretaker” or “The Everyman,” leaning on the notion that the field of HR should appeal to as many different people as possible and make people feel safe and nurtured. While this is absolutely fine and true, we knew that going that same route would make it harder for us to differentiate our brand. Plus, we had a fresh new product and a fresh new way of doing people management! So why not pick a personality that speaks to that?
We wanted to give ourselves permission to talk to our audience honestly, and bring a new, more light-hearted energy to the field of HR tech than we had seen before. This is what led to the concept of “Kazoo” – an instrument that is celebratory, accessible to anyone, and even a little bit silly.
3) Think about how your brand will apply across different kinds of media and uses.
This one’s a bit more technical, but still really important. Before you commit to any element of your brand, think through all its applications.
For example, test out your new logo in a bunch of different places – is it still legible if it’s shrunk down to a small size? How does it look on a letterhead or translate onto a screen? How does it look when printed on a shirt, on a piece of paper, or displayed across the side of a building? Do your brand colors all compliment one another and can they be mixed and matched together? If added behind text, do your brand colors meet current standards of accessibility? (There’s a lot of good literature on accessibility guidelines, but here’s one article to get you started if you’re designing for UX.)
If you’re designing a brand for a physical or digital product, you may have even more specific guidelines you need to follow to meet some of the technical requirements. Whatever it is, make sure to at least think through as many different placements and use cases as possible before nailing down all your brand elements.
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Claire’s top 3 tips for designers creating a brand
Check out more pieces in the How We Do at Kazoo series:
- How to Give Great Employee Recognition with Patty Williams
- How to Increase Productivity for Your Remote Team with Casey Carey
- Stay Connected: The Power of 1-on-1s and Team Check-Ins with Erin Jones
- 3 Big Tips for Recruiting Top Talent in a Pandemic with Robyn Trinkleback
- 10 Tips for Creating a Design System that Works, guest post by Kelley Shanahan
- Setting Up Your Wellness Program for Success with Jandee Speegle
Like what we do at Kazoo?
Then let’s talk. At Kazoo, we’re passionate about bringing together all the tools you need to make work work better for everyone. That’s why the Kazoo Employee Experience Platform brings performance management and recognition and rewards — including Goals, Feedback, Conversations, Recognition, Incentives, and more — into one simple, easy-to-use platform.
If you’re ready to align, connect, and engage your workplace, check out our Kazoo overview. Or, schedule a personalized demo today.