Why Creating Brand Strategy Is All About Problem Solving

PSFK, in partnership with SVA chat with program alumnus Sean Lopano about how great branding strategy relies on focus, context, and building creative solutions.

Branding is as important to a company’s continuing growth as is their intended services, so a strong branding team is essential.  As part of an ongoing series, PSFK will be chatting with alumni from the School of Visual Arts (SVA) Masters in Branding program. We caught up with former student Sean Lopano to discuss what makes this field so important in today’s society and which companies have created standout examples.

What made you decide to enroll in the Master’s in Branding program?

The decision to apply to the Master’s in Branding program was based on my desire to provide not only creative, visual design solutions, but also strategic and business solutions that directly affect business and communications. I was finding that many of my clients who came to me for design solutions actually needed branded, strategic and foundational changes in how they approached their business to be successful, not necessarily a new visual identity.

How has having a Masters in Branding degree helped you to further your career?

The program has been instrumental in honing my ability to provide creative solutions that have a great strategic underpinning in them. Through asking the right questions I can better identify problems and issues before they arise and break through to the underlying issues so that my design solutions can address those directly.

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What is the most surprising thing you learned about the process of branding during your time in the program?

I was really surprised by the notion that our gut instinct about most branding issues aren’t entirely wrong. All of our experiences, research, and understanding about the world around us leads us to these instincts. But, with the tools in the program you’re enabled to test these hypotheses and it’s nice to see that your original idea wasn’t far from correct.

What do you feel is your most valuable experience coming out of the Branding program?

The network I have access to through fellow classmates, faculty and alumni. I learned so much from each of them and their diverse backgrounds and specialties. In the program you really have to work as a team and it’s beneficial to have this diversity and insight all in one place.

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Name two brands you think are standout examples of innovation in terms of their branding strategy, and tell us why.

Tesla Motors is my current top choice. I admire brands that set out to be the best at something and ultimately do it, without exception. I also admire that their entire brand is built on great cars that happen to be electric. They knew that they couldn’t just build an electric car, but they had to build a brand around outstanding automobiles that happen to be electric. Tucking that wonderful product benefit at the back of their brand positioning instead of the front is sort of brilliant. I rode in a friend’s Model S recently and it was exhilarating, a really memorable and fun experience to see this machine come to life.

My second choice is a toss up between Virgin America, Warby Parker and Uber. But I would probably have to choose Uber Technologies. Not only are they providing a great and consistent user experience in any city, they are improving an entire industry. Cab and car-share situations are frustrating and you never know if they are better or worse in different cities. But, Uber is implementing consistency and the consumer advantage back in their system. When was the last time you were able to leave feedback regarding a cab or Town Car driver?

Wouldn’t it be great if Tesla and Uber had some kind of collaboration?

If you had to offer one key piece of advice to interested applicants, what would it be?

Focus, really, really focus on what’s being presented and read, be aware of branded activities and things happening around you. So much of the strategic underpinnings you learn in the program relate directly to your context and I think that’s how one can succeed in the program. To really take the course work out of the studio and see how it applies in real life. Digest ones’ surroundings strategically.

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What is the one lesson you learned during the program that you use today in your job on a daily basis?

If your work isn’t emotionally engaging and relevant it’s more or less unnoticed and useless. With all the research, data, numbers, interviews, analytics and politics that drive much of branding and strategy, at the end of the day, you must delight and satisfy with the thing we all need — emotional connection. This is why branding is so important and relevant; today, more than ever, we crave that connection to something thatmakes us feel and it seems we want it more and more each day.

Thanks Sean!

School of Visual Arts // Masters in Branding

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