Brand Makeovers: Jonina Skaggs & Bradley Skaggs On The 5 Things You Should Do To Upgrade and Re-Energize Your Brand and Image

Simplify and focus — Don’t try to be everything for everyone. Keep things as simple as possible which will allow you to better focus on those products that your consumers love. We worked with a brand that had 5 SKUs and all of them were amazing.

As part of our series about “Brand Makeovers” I had the pleasure to interview Jonina Skaggs & Bradley Skaggs.

Jonina Skaggs, Partner & Art Director at Skaggs and Bradley Skaggs Partner & Creative Director at Skaggs.

Skaggs is a full-service, award-winning creative & branding agency specializing in beauty and hospitality. Skaggs began as a graphic design studio in San Francisco in 1998, with Microsoft and NASA as its first clients. By 2000, partners (and former architects) Jonina and Bradley opened up the New York office which has since grown into a full-service branding and digital agency with an international portfolio of clients including Charlotte Tilbury, Diptyque, Morphe, Estee Lauder and Skyn ICELAND to name just a few. Skaggs thrives at making brands heard, seen and known.

Thank you for joining us in this interview series. 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?

Bradley: To make a long story short, we met in architecture school when Jonina was doing a foreign exchange program. I was in my last semester and she had a year to go at the university she was studying at in Germany. My uncle was an architect and had a contact in Stuttgart, Germany and I called him up and asked him if I could have a job. He agreed that I’d learn German so by chance I ended up in Germany for Jonina’s last year of school. Our relationship became closer, I quit my job in Stuttgart and moved to Trier where she was studying and got a job in Luxembourg with a very small architectural practice. She then graduated and also got a job in Luxembourg. We moved and spent about 2 years in Lux before moving to San Francisco so Jonina could do her MFA (architecture ended up not being her thing). Her MFA connected her with one of the founders of Pentagram who ended up being her mentor and literally changed her life. I had interned at a couple of firms in San Francisco while I was in school and knew the good firms there so figured I had a pretty good chance at getting a job.

Fast forward a few years and Jonina finishes her MFA but had so much freelance work that she never really did work for another company. It got to the point where our small studio wasn’t enough space and we found an office space down near Chinatown. I had become interested in 3D modeling and the emerging virtual building concept when I was in Europe and started working on the side developing a website for Progressive Architecture magazine to feature the editor’s top 6 homes in a virtual web environment. This ended up connecting me with one of the pioneering software development companies in the 3D modeling space. One thing leads to another and I start working on a virtual tour website of all 10 NASA facilities while Jonina lands Microsoft as one of her first clients. So here we were in 1998 with our hands so full that I quit my day job and Skaggs Design was formed. We haven’t looked back since.

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?

Bradley: This isn’t exactly a mistake but it is funny. During one of our first major presentations to the team at Microsoft, we ran out of spray mount for the last board (this is before projection and massive screens) so we stopped at the art supply store on the way down to Mountain View, CA. We got to Microsoft and had to mount the last board in the parking lot. While spraying the spray mount on the drawing, a gust of wind comes out of nowhere and blows the piece of paper out of our hands and it ends up stuck to the side of the car and to make matters worse, we end up covered in spray mount. We managed to get the drawing peeled off the car and onto the board, but the 80s metal band hair wasn’t going away. It was a funny meeting. Lesson learned, always keep enough supplies on hand.

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?

Jonina: I would say it was the day we got a completely out-of-the-blue call from the director or e-comm at diptyque. He had been following our work and really wanted to work with us. That was the beginning of an 8 year engagement which involved the design of their first real e-comm site and running all of their global digital for the US, UK, France and EU. That changed everything and led us to work on the launch of Charlotte Tilbury in the US and doing her global digital for 5 years. It also put us squarely in the beauty space. It made us realize that what we were doing was getting noticed, that our creativity was desirable and opened our eyes to an industry we’d never really considered.

Bradley: I would add that the takeaway to this is to stay focused on what you enjoy doing and what you want to be doing. You will get noticed but you have to also be looking for the opportunity. Often you could trip over an opportunity because it’s so close.

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

Jonina: Yes, I think we have been fortunate in that all of our work (for the most part) has been exciting. I love to be challenged and I think the team does too. Over the past year of COVID, we’ve done a lot of digital work and a ton of packaging projects. I’m not so sure it will help people directly, but I do know that putting more of an emphasis on more sustainable packaging and materials and coming up with ways to reduce the amount of material will help with reducing waste and bring some good to the planet.

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

Bradley: Travel. Go to far away places, observe how people interact and how the same things we have here are marketed there. Burnout isn’t impossible to avoid and you should expect it from time to time, but it is manageable. Travel has alway been our re-energizer and a huge source of inspiration.

Jonina: Travel is my #1 thing to do (I’ve had a passport since age 1 but selfcare comes really close (without the selfie): Be alone without a device and stick your feet up in the air, be silly and make faces, meditate (2 seconds flat before you start to talk to yourself, again) and dance, dance, dance to your favorite music.

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?

Bradley: Brand marketing is the “what” and product marketing is the “how”. That might be a bit simplistic or confusing but, for example, let’s say brand X is a skincare company (what it is and what it is known for) that makes products A, B and C. Products A, B and C were created to address issues 1, 2 and 3 and they do this by doing so and so (the how). The “how” is product marketing and brand marketing is “what” brand out there that can solve my problem.

Jonina: Branding is giving a brand their visual and verbal voice. Advertising is executing creative strategies to the consumer.

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?

Bradley: We worked with a CBD brand once that was aiming to take on Lord Jones. The brand grew both cannabis and manufactured products which was unique since most brands buy cannabis from different farmers. We created everything from the overall brand positioning and key message, to renaming the brand and designing the identity to all their packaging and the website. They put a lot of good money and time into this effort and it looked great and very different from what was out there in the market (and their CBD was amazing). Then they hired a Chief Revenue Officer who came in and decided the brand could only win by discounting at every opportunity. He literally killed the brand and now it’s just sort of there but not doing anything. Had they stuck with the plan and continued to invest the resources and energy to build the brand, I’m sure they would be a very successful brand now. It’s unfortunate. Building a brand requires both an investment and marketing and advertising efforts. It really doesn’t work with just one or the other.

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

Jonina: There are a few. The most common is a merger or acquisition and the new management is ready to shake things up. Or, the brand has a legacy they have created over the years and it’s time for a refresh. The other is that the brand started off on the wrong foot and needs to get things in order. This is very common, unfortunately, since it often means they need to try to rebrand without a realistic budget. I’m not saying it can’t be done, but the number of times we’ve met with founders that spent a lot of money for nothing only to realize it all needs to be redone is depressing. It’s important to get it right the first time and build from there.

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

Bradley: There is always a downside but if done correctly it can pay off in the end. Young brands need to be patient and stay focused on building their audience and supporting their products. You can never please everyone with the visuals but a bad product is a bad product and people will know it instantly. As it is said “a pig with lipstick is still a pig”, right? Make sure you have an amazing product and that the brand image/messaging is professional and relevant to the audience and differentiating from the competition.

Jonina: If the brand is not broken, don’t fix it. We have seen so many companies hiring new CMO’s and marketing directors and off they go to try to “fix” a brand that isn’t broken. Maybe needs to be updated a bit because of new technology or their customer needs but often a full rebrand isn’t necessary. Just some cleanup, organization, simplifying and revitalizing is often enough to get a reaction and be able to determine if going further makes sense.

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.

Bradley & Jonina:

  1. Hone your brand message — While it may make sense to you, it’s not guaranteed it will make sense to your audience. It’s important to keep honing your brand message since there are new brands popping up every day and to make sure it’s resonating with your audience. Look at what people are saying about your brand and you’ll see keywords start to popup. Integrate those into your story, if possible.
  2. Refresh your brand image — This one is obvious. Sometimes a little change is all that is needed as discussed earlier. Other times, it’s time to put the gloves on and really get to work with repositioning, crafting new messaging, reformulating products or creating new products and rolling out a revitalized brand.
  3. Reevaluate the white space — The market changes and new products show up and what you thought was your white space is no longer yours. It’s important to keep an eye on the competition and make sure you own your space. If not, it’s time to reevaluate and, if necessary, find or redefine a new white space that is better suited for your offering.
  4. Simplify and focus — Don’t try to be everything for everyone. Keep things as simple as possible which will allow you to better focus on those products that your consumers love. We worked with a brand that had 5 SKUs and all of them were amazing. They conquered Europe and came to the US and after a short time, they decided to introduce a bunch of new products that didn’t even contain their key ingredient thinking that would help their appeal with the US audience. So rather than spending the money on building their US audience they spent money on product development and then had to spend more money on supporting products that their competitors were doing better.
  5. Adapt to your audience — This does not mean jump from one trend to the next but it does mean listening to your audience to understand their pain points. We’ve worked with brands that were certain their audience was like this or that, which was true 5 years ago but not today. We’re all getting older each day, our interests change, the products we use change so don’t think that your audience will always be the same. You have to grow with them and at the same time continue to bring new customers into your brand world.

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?

Bradley: Probably easier to find one that didn’t do a good job, LOL. A brand has to be constantly nurtured and if done so, then a makeover shouldn’t need to happen. I’m more interested in brands that continue to evolve over time hence they never get to a point where they have to do a big makeover. Look at Apple, for example, the constant evolution of the visual design keeps their look fresh and engaging and inline with their product evolution.

Jonina: Papaya King in NYC is a brand we did a makeover of that hadn’t been touched for over 30 years. The NY Times noted it as the best makeover keeping the legacy of the brand while giving it a much needed clean up. It was a really fun project too.

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. 🙂

Bradley: Cut down on consumption and support biodiversity. We are literally killing our planet with over consumption and the amount of waste we produce. One of our hopes is that post-COVID we’ll all realize how fragile life is, how having less actually makes you happier.

Jonina: Eat less junk food and maybe the big food corporations will rethink their delivery systems. People need to look into your freezer and RETHINK how much they are consuming and the waste being produced.

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

Bradley: “Haste makes waste” — Mom. She was completely right about this. Either do it right the first time or don’t do it at all would be the follow up statement. It applies to pretty much everything including our work.

Jonina: An old Icelandic saying:Thröngt meiga sáttir sitja” which translates to “Tight may reconciliation sit”. This is important for any work or personal relationship. If you can’t sit “close” to each other then there is no chemistry.

How can our readers follow you online?


IG: @skaggscreative

This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!

Brand Makeovers: Jonina Skaggs & Bradley Skaggs On The 5 Things You Should Do To Upgrade and… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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