Geoff Cook and Martin Bravo: Three Things that Make a Brand

April 19, 2013, 20:00 lecture


On April 19 the Digital October Center hosted branding expert and partner at BaseDesign Geoff Cook, as he spoke about how to build a strong, charismatic tech company, while Martin Bravo, director of digital products at the New York branch of the agency, joined remotely and added his own comments to those of his colleague.

“We specialize in having no specialty,” began Geoff. “About one third of our clients are from the luxury segment, while we also work with Adidas. We even spent some time working for a carwash. Another third of our clients come from what we call the “big culture:” Biennale, exhibitions, museum projects in the US and in Europe. However, one way or another fully half of what we do is digital.”

“We think that in today’s world branding is the lowest common denominator, considering that everything you do will either negatively or positively affect your brand,” said Martin. “Until recently all the tools we had were one-way, while today we have interactive channels of communication. Because of that branding is playing a larger role in the work of tech companies.”

“Let me say this up front. A brand isn’t a cure-all; it’s a tool to say what your company is about. You have probably noticed that you are unique: there aren’t many people who are similar to you as far as their character goes, right?” continued Cook. “Imagine what it would be like to look around and see that everyone looks and dresses just like you.”

“That is why we say that brands are like people.”

“Take Virgin, which has such a powerfully unique and recognizable brand that it allows the company to venture onto a number of completely different markets. If you are able to successfully implement the three components we’ll be talking about today, there will really be nothing stopping you from creating a really noteworthy company.”


Geoff Cook: “I think you’re aware of VKontakte, Skype, Foursquare, LinkedIn and Bing, all of which serve a particular need while providing entirely different things, but… Don’t you think that they all kind of look the same? Remember what it was like in school, trying to keep up with the Joneses.”

Martin Bravo: “You have to admit that only complete geeks didn’t fall into that trap. Twitter also began as a “teenager,” though it has since grown up, and what they do there today is just genius. As they moved away from the beaten path they built their own identity, even their own world.”

“How can one find an identity for a brand, you ask?”

“If you think that your idea is unique then it would be silly to position yourself exactly like other market players. For example, let’s take… What, you’ve never heard of that project? I’m sure you know Dasha Zhukova, founder of the Garage Center. She is one of the main investors for this New York-based company.”

“They are trying to create a market place for works of art on the one hand, and become a digital exhibition platform on the other. You can understand that they have to work with very, very demanding clients, and the first thing they had to figure out was their language. They don’t use the language understood by the tech platform crowd, but by those on the art side. They very carefully chose their own uniqueness: no other projects like them have positioned themselves that way.”


Geoff Cook: “Let’s talk about Google. We could talk about Yandex, as I’m familiar with that company, but we have Google in the presentation.”

Martin Bravo: “Google’s biggest plus isn’t just its easily understandable interface; it’s that they really want to know what you want. Let me demonstrate. I’ve never been to Moscow, but I open Google Maps and punch in “Tverskaya” — with mistakes, mind you… Here they give me the right option and I see that it’s one of your main streets where many people probably do lots of shopping.”

“The whole fiasco with maps made by Apple is that Google has already spoiled us.”

Geoff Cook: “Now let’s look at how generous Google is. At our office we often use their applications for free.”

Martin Bravo: “But business is business and so they can’t always be generous. If you’re offered a free product, it can be recalled or closed at any point without warning. Think of Google Reader: there weren’t many users, but they kept on coming back.”


Martin Bravo: “Think of how many vacations in your life you can really say were very good. Needless to say, not all of them. Airbnb thought up a great idea focused on that problem: help people by themselves taking on everything that is boring or uninteresting.”

“Their programs provide exactly the functionality that you need as a traveller. I regularly use their services, for example, making my own map through them whenever I’m going somewhere.

“They take the bullet so you can just enjoy the interesting parts of exploring a new city.

“The fact that it’s cheap is just the cherry on top.”

Case #1

Geoff Cook: “Are there any companies in Russia who make money through seasonal, very short-term sales? In the US we have Gilt, which is a company that specializes in selling luxury clothes, visits to expensive restaurants, etc. We also have Fab, which has the same model but only for clothes. Both companies are tech-oriented, both are online and the difference is only in their branding.”

“While Gilt began with luxury and gilding, and then ran around trying to figure out the identity, Fab never once changed its style. Now everybody thinks the first company is just out to get their money, while the same people say that Fab is simply inspiring, associated with good taste.”

“One year ago Gilt stopped growing, while Fab has continued because people love them.

Gilt, on the other hand, doesn’t inspire any emotion at all.”

Case #2

Geoff Cook: “Have you heard of Warby Parker? They decided to be a completely tech-oriented project and work the same both on and offline.

“One can only learn from and envy the way they get people involved.

“The project is focused on eyeglasses sales. I think in Russia the process for purchasing glasses is like this: a doctor writes a prescription, you go to the store where everything is expensive and, in the end, choose a frame you don’t even like. In the US it used to be the same.”

“Here’s what Warby Parker decided to do: they bring in five frames, for free, by the way, let you try them all on, customize them to suit you, all while charging one third the usual amount.

“Somehow they’ve built a garage sale for their glasses. Imagine that somebody wrote in to newspapers, “Look, these knuckleheads with the online business for some reason decided to start selling from their garage.”

“Warby took it even further: they rented a school bus, branded it and drove it around the country. They didn’t do it in an attempt to open a physical location, and didn’t even really advertise, but they blew up the market and last year they were called one of the most promising American e-commerce projects.”

Case #3

Geoff Cook: “I think many of you probably use Instagram, right? Remember how they changed their privacy policy by writing a small note in a tiny font about how they can now use your pictures at their own discretion and without compensation.

“Most people said, well, Instagram is dead, they mean nothing to me now. The company claims that they didn’t lose anything by doing that, which is, of course, a lie. Independent analysts say that they lost up to 25% of their users.”

“Therefore, in conclusion, I’d like to tell you this:

“I think that a start-up needs a full-time brand manager,

that is, a professional who would never let anything like that happen.”

Geoff Cook and Martin Bravo for Knowledge Stream


560 show Geoff
moderator, Partner at Base Design
561 show Maria
PR Director, Runa Capital
563 show Maria
Press Secretary,
564 show Igor
CEO, Fabrika okon
562 show Yaroslav
CEO, Inspire Ukraine
565 show Mikhail
CEO, Metabar

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