Branding By Design
Scott Mires (and partner John Ball) find success by immersing themselves in a company’s culture
By Manny Cruz
Branding: The promotion of a particular product or company by means of advertising and distinctive design. (New Oxford American Dictionary.)
When Taylor Guitars was about to launch its Thinline Five-Way (T5) electric guitar, its longtime brand design firm, Mires+Ball, faced a big challenge. How does a company synonymous with quality acoustic guitars move successfully into the electric market?
The answer, according to a case study performed by Mires+Ball, was to focus on Taylor’s history of technical innovation. “We positioned the T5 as an inevitable extension of the Taylor brand,” the study said. “Then, to attract a younger demographic, we gave the T5 a more electrified personality and devised a strategy to generate buzz.” That included product teasers and promotions and what the company called the “creative use of the Web.”
The end result was the most successful product launch in Taylor’s 31-year history and one of the most successful launches in the electric guitar industry.
Scott Mires, partner and creative director of the agency — a title he shares with co-owner John Ball — could be called a branding genius, judging from the success the agency has had with its many clients, including such top names as Black & Decker, LA Gear, Starbucks, Nike, Hewlett Packard and Qualcomm Inc.
Mires believes branding is much more than the definition offered by the dictionary. “To me,” he says, “branding is that thing that is the gut feeling you have inside about a product or a service or a company. And so as a consumer out there, it really brands it inside the consumer’s mind.”
Located in an upstairs loft on Kettner Boulevard in Little Italy, in a tall space filled with computer stalls, colorful wall graphics, displays of some of its clients’ products and a staff of designers, writers, marketers and others, Mires+Ball has the look of a comfortably busy place where ideas flow freely. The agency was formed in 1985 by Mires. Ball came in as his partner a few years later. Revenues for 2009 totaled $8.9 million.
Mires says the agency has strong, emotional ties with Taylor Guitars, a client now for several years. “We started with them when they were fairly small — they were doing about $5 million or $6 million a year (compared to about $75 million today). We kind of shaped what they’re all about, helped visualize what they’re all about, helped create messages and kind of shaped their story, helped them out to the audience.”
Mires’ is asked about Toyota and its vehicle recalls and how the company handled all the bad publicity. “We’ve talked a little about Toyota (in the agency),” he says. “It is a really strong brand (its vehicles) built on quality and innovation. But their biggest downfall or challenge or things that kind of tripped them up is they didn’t come out right away and say that, yes, there’s something wrong and we’re going to address it quickly. A lot of branding is really a lot like how you treat yourself personnaly. You need to have that quality in yourself that you’re willing to step out or step on the sword kind of thing and say, OK, I screwed up. And they didn’t really do that right away… They’ve done a fairly good job of this now, trying to be in front of the story.”
“If you really stand for quality and innovation,” adds Mires, “when there is a problem you need to fix that problem quickly and then prove that you’ve fixed it. Then you can regain some of that credibility and that confidence (from consumers).”
Mires likes to say that Mires+Ball isn’t just a branding company. “We’re fairly scrappy. We actually do a lot of work that a typical brand design firm may not get involved its. And it’s because of our clients. They’ve got a lot of faith in us. They’ll take a leap of faith and say, ‘Okay, we want you guys to do a video for us, we want you to do our advertising. One of our biggest clients, a Fortune 100 cleint, has us now doing their advertising and they’ve got a multi-national ad agency. We’re not an ad agency, but we can actually create great adss. So now they have us doing quite a bit of their ads and they’re really happy.”
The agency has between a dozen and two dozen clients at any one time, many of them for 10 to 20 years. “Which is interesting,” says Mires, “because in our business, marketing directors move from company to company. And when a marketing director moves and a new one comes in, usually they want to bring in somebody they’ve had from a previous relationship. We’ve been really successful at helping them in that kind of transition … I think that’s part of the culture here. People like to work with us.”
“We definitely have fired a few clients over the years,” adds Mires. “A lot of what a client wants may not exacly fit what we can deliver. And then sometimes, it just isn’t something we really want to do.”