All posts in Case Studies

warbyparker770Fast. Cheap. Good.

We’ve mentioned this cliched business tenet before. You know how it goes; pick two because you certainly can’t have all three.

But stop. Why can’t I have all three? Why can’t there be a business that breaks down that barrier that limits and prevents differentiation within an industry? I may have found one that does. Warby Parker. Continue Reading →

Every year, it seems, there’s a Super Bowl advertiser that regrets signing off on a spot that runs during the big game. This year’s Monday morning advertising quarterback is Groupon. Continue Reading →

News this morning that Borders has filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy and may be closing up to 200 of its stores is yet another defining moment in publishing and may forever be the true beginning of the end to the entire bookstore experience. Continue Reading →

Over the past couple years the North American International Auto Show has taken on a more low-key display of the cars and trucks. Gone were some of the over-the-top and impressive stages that showcased the various manufacturer’s product lines. Also missing from the floor plan was Porsche and a few other luxury badges that thought Detroit wasn’t worth including on their auto show circuit. Continue Reading →


Four years ago Kimberly Leclercq and I started SOZO | Pivotal. Along with that exciting new beginning came the responsibility of creating a new website full of information and project work to showcase that we really did know what we were doing.

The information part was easy. We are never at a loss of words when it comes to talking about what we do. However, the online portfolio has been a thorn in our sides for a long time. After a year or two we finally got a bunch of screen shots up there showing corporate identity work, screenshots of websites and photographs of printed materials. The problem was that it just didn’t do the work justice.

Sure, it looked great, but there’s so much more to our work than just what you see. An online portfolio is a must for people who solely practice graphic design, printing, photography or website design. But us showing a logo or a brochure design is akin to showing just the answer to a long and difficult calculus problem.

We all remember the excitement in 7th grade when we realized the math answers were in the back of the book. That thrill was dampened when the teacher wanted to see our work to know that we truly understood the problem.

The same can be said for what we do at SOZO | Pivotal. We provide answers to our clients through the use of a wide variety of tools, but it’s the strategy and creative thinking that guides us to the right solution.

So you can see why showing images of our work just doesn’t tell the whole story. Nonetheless we’re excited to have finally figured out a way to capture our process — from strategy to design. The hardest thing for us was getting the term portfolio out of our heads. All we saw was a nicely cataloged booklet of fancy artwork and nice photography. Clearly that was not the right approach in communicating and illustrating what we do as SOZO | Pivotal. Please take a moment to look at our new website and some of the relationships we have with our clients (or as we like to refer to them, our friends). Also, please take a gander at the Beyond Strategy section. Here is where we take a closer look at individual client projects that are the results of clearly developed brand strategy.

It all makes perfect sense to us…finally. We hope that you find it just as informative. If you ever have any questions about the work that we’ve done with our clients or how we can apply what we do to your needs, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Thanks for stopping by and while you’re at it, please consider following us on Twitter and becoming a fan of SOZO | Pivotal on Facebook.

So I’m meeting with a client yesterday and this is how it went…

After showing the website design concepts and site architecture our client, who loved both concepts, favored the second version. Both directions were different in their approach, but similar in that either one would have been effective in communicating the client’s message.

This is when I heard the best testimonial ever…

“Dave, it’s like pornography,” said the client. I wasn’t quite sure how to react, but I knew it was a compliment so I laughed.

He continued, “You know it when you see it. I knew what I wanted to see, but I wasn’t sure how you were going to pull it together and this is exactly what I wanted to see.

We have great clients here at SOZO | Pivotal!!


Just the other day I noticed the old Wayne State University t-shirt I was wearing to the gym. Gosh this thing is old and it doesn’t show any wear-and-tear at all. It’s been in my workout rotation, I would estimate, for about eight years. (Please, no jokes asking how often I actually hit the gym)

Today, after reading this article in the New York Times, I thought about that t-shirt again and realized it’s the oldest workout shirt I have—by far. Many of these shirts are free giveaways, but this particular one cost me $5 at Steve & Barry’s. At the time, I’m sure I thought cheap shirt, but it’s only $5.

Maybe it wasn’t such a cheap shirt. Let’s call it inexpensive. Or better yet, let’s call it priced just right.

You may be saying what does this have to do with branding? Until a couple years ago, Steve & Barry’s spent very little in advertising and quite frankly they still don’t. However, they have signed on some pretty big celebrities and are selling clothing lines with their names behind it. Big shots like Sex and the City actress, Sarah Jessica Parker, and basketball star, Stephon Marbury. (check out the post I wrote last year about his very affordable basketball shoe that he actually wears in games)

The truth is, Steve & Barry’s has created an outstanding brand with rather unconventional methods. I don’t necessarily identify with the company’s logo or its in-store merchandise displays and presentation and I don’t see any advertising. But what I do see is buzz. Take a look at the article and you’ll see how Steve & Barry’s gets creative in keeping their prices low while still providing a quality product. They cut corners where, frankly, corners can be cut. From second- and third-hand office furniture to a non-existent advertising budget, just hearing that they sacrifice those expenses in order to pass along the savings to the customer is the best way to build a solid brand position in their niche.

Great branding isn’t accomplished by following the same recipe for every company. While messaging, identity and design are huge tools to carry out a strong branding strategy, a deep understanding of your business and what you want to accomplish is the best place to start with any brand. Like marketing, PR and advertising, pricing is a tool.

In Steve & Barry’s case, it’s about looking at the retail price first and then figuring out how to produce a quality product that will allow the company to thrive. IKEA has also built its brand in a similar fashion—working backwards from the price tag.


Here’s a branding campaign that we all can appreciate. At least I think so. This is the new identity of the We Campaign—a project of Al Gore’s Alliance for Climate Protection.

Personally, I think it’s outstanding and simple—a combination that is so rarely achieved whether it’s in identity design or a Fourth of July BBQ. That reflective “m” is so irritatingly perfect. You read it as “we,” but you see an upside down “m” and think of me. It takes you through an entire thought process.

The name is great and the logo is brilliant. “We” says it all. The litmus test of this solid brand identity is the fact that you can almost summarize what the organization is all about by just hearing three key words—Al, Gore, We.

Enough said. It’s a winner from every angle. We can’t stop praising it…or is it just me all turned around?


BACKGROUND
Learning and Performance Systems is an organizational catalyst that delivers cutting edge results-focused learning to municipal, county and state government agencies, non-profits, educational institutes, and contractors / consultants working with those entities. The firm’s partners realized that there was a disconnect between the message that they wanted to communicate and what the audience was actually hearing.

As a two-person company with partners who work directly with its clients in setting up programs and activities that help individuals and teams work better together, Learning and Performance Systems had difficulty attracting new business with their existing marketing model.

THE CHALLENGE
Throughout all of its marketing efforts, Learning and Performance Systems never established a unique brand position or corporate identity. The name itself lacked equity and the introduction of secondary name, PeopleGro, added to the inconsistency.

Marketing materials were quickly created in order to address immediate needs rather than systematically designed with a consistent look and feel. Furthermore, the written message was extremely technical and didn’t associate with the partners’ passion for their work and the personality that is revealed when they are face to face with their clients.

How was Learning and Performance Systems going to appear more friendly, energetic and innovative and stand out from its competition? While the firm’s partners realized these challenges needed to be addressed, they understood that, with their focus on the business and their expertise, they were likely incapable of making a drastic creative change within their own company without the assistance of a professional branding consultant.

THE SOLUTION
After surveying their external audience, SOZO | Pivotal created a branding strategy and corporate identity program that better aligned the company with its broad-range business goals. The creation of a creative brief and tone of voice that better aligned with the message that its audience wanted to hear was the basis for implementing a brand strategy that would work as effectively today as well as in the future of the company.

By studying the survey results SOZO | Pivotal identified two unique audiences. The first audience was the upper management hiring PeopleGro. The other audience involved the people and teams that PeopleGro would be assisting. These people weren’t so much the consumer, but the beneficiary. Group one was more interested in their bottom line. What was the ROI for this activity. The second group needed to feel comfortable opening up to this company so they could grow personally and within the organization.

SOZO | Pivotal recommended that from this point forward the company would officially be named PeopleGro and a dynamic icon was created to associate with the company name and connect to the primary objective and proposed tagline—When people grow, companies grow. The icon effectively addresses and communicates to both audiences and symbolizes that an organization’s people are at the center of its growth and success.

The selection of a vibrant and energetic color palette and use of highly legible and aesthetically-pleasing typefaces allowed PeopleGro to visually differentiate itself from its competition. The creative was now in line with the firm’s true personality and most importantly with the passion, energy and excitement of its founders.

A new tone of voice was written to give the client a better understanding internally of how they want to be perceived by their audience. SOZO | Pivotal is currently working on the re-design and messaging for a new peoplegro.com website.


A few years ago the Detroit Lions were hosting the Arizona Cardinals. As I watched the game, I flipped through the Cardinals media guide. Quickly, I could tell this was no ordinary media guide chock full of player stats, records and front office personnel photos.

This media guide gave you a real flavor of a first-class organization. Now, if you’ve followed football at all during the past several decades you know that the Cardinals and Lions have been two of biggest bottom dwellers in the NFL as far as the standings show.

But that day when I looked at that media guide, I could tell that the Cardinals got it. That year they had made very minor tweaks to the logo on the side of their helmet and they introduced an identity campaign that stands above that of any professional sports team. The corporate identity included the creation of an original typeface and a full-page explanation of the program in the media guide. The updated red and yellow colors in the logo were now more vibrant and eye-catching.

The team was also preparing to open the new Cardinal Stadium the following year. If you haven’t seen it, this venue (which happens to be hosting this Sunday’s Super Bowl—how’s that for a timely posting!) is an architectural marvel with a retractable roof and a grass field surface that can be rolled out into the parking lot so the stadium can host other events without affecting the turf. The Cardinals also tapped international branding giant, Pentagram, to design the stadium’s graphics.

As someone who pays very close attention to the branding of sports teams, the Cardinals are the best, hands down. Now if they could only get the product on the field to look as good.