SJI Associates President Suzy Jurist on Getting Branding Right

How do you convey the transformation of a 50-year-old legacy like Fred Rogers Productions, or the complexity and depth of a Ken Burns project?  Suzy Jurist, founder and President of NYC advertising agency SJI Associates, offers insights on the branding process. 

What’s the most important goal when you’re helping a client through the branding process?

To help them discover their USP and to own that position in an authentic, honest way. Once we have consensus, we can then creatively communicate that unique position through
their visual identity and editorial. From there, we help determine how that branding weaves its way throughout the entire organization, building and reinforcing an understanding of who they are. At the end of the process, they can successfully and consistently present themselves across all their touchpoints in a uniquely ownable way.

What’s the difference between creating branding for a network, for example, versus an event? Or is the process the same?

One-time events are much more short-lived, so the discovery process will be much less involved. For a network, there is a greater concern with creating a brand that will endure, but the overall process remains the same for the most part.

The media marketplace has shifted so much in the last few years. What are clients asking you for now that they weren’t before? Or conversely, what don’t they ask you for now that used to always be included?

Going back through the nearly 30 years we’ve been in business, the primary change has been that much more of our clients’ marketing mindset and budgets are focused on digital strategies. This shift requires digital-first creative concepts that address different questions than “older” media. How does each idea best translate to different channels? What messaging best resonates and creates action within audiences’ ever-decreasing attention span? How might audiences interact with social creative?

Tell us what was most surprising in the Fred Rogers project: updating a 50-year legacy into a forward-thinking brand is a huge deal.

We were so honored to be entrusted with that project. Fred Rogers was an extraordinary human being and in many ways well ahead of his time. When conducting the discovery phase of our work, we expected high favorability and low awareness for the Fred Rogers’ name. This was due to the target audience’s age, and the time passed since Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood was actually on the air. What we weren’t ready for was the favorability and awareness for Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, Fred Rogers Productions’ flagship property. Third behind the Muppets and Mickey Mouse — who knew?! It informed everything we did from that point on, including promoting Daniel to company mascot and integrating him with the new company logo. The success of the rebrand is a testament to that knowledge.

What’s a recent project you’re most proud of, and why?

Honestly, we’re proud of all our work, but Ken Burns’ Vietnam was unique. For the first time, the story behind this pivotal period in our history was told through eyewitness accounts from both sides of the conflict. It was such a fantastic piece of work: compelling first-person stories woven through 18 hours of cohesive narrative. Our campaign needed to reflect the depth of the conflict – not only the war itself but how it was seen so differently by the opposing sides. We are very proud that the series did so well and that our creative was honored with numerous awards.

What piece of advertising/branding have you seen recently that you really admired (not an SJI project!)?

As a woman-owned business, I liked the Gillette campaign around challenging men to consider how they can be the “best they can be.” Based on the current political climate,
it took guts to enter the conversation in a way that challenged them and their previous messaging as a predominantly men’s brand. They may have lost some customers in the short term. But taking the longer view, they’ve staked out a position that will help differentiate their brand for some time to come. It was responsible and brave and well done. As Gillette’s CEO Gary Coombe has said, “I don’t enjoy that some people were offended by the film and upset at the brand as a consequence… But I am absolutely of the view now that for the majority of people to fall more deeply in love with today’s brands you have to risk upsetting a small minority and that’s what we’ve done.”

What’s the biggest mistake you’ve seen a client make during a branding process?

Trying to be too many things to too many people: prospects, customers, partners, employees. Only by being true to who you are as an organization can you tell your story in an authentic way that resonates with all your audiences. I think the biggest mistake clients make is not thinking of how the audience is going to take in the information, just thinking of what they want.

On which platforms do you see the greatest jump in creativity, and how? 

Online and mobile would be the natural, obvious answer. But I think the next big jump in creativity will be around the intersection of out-of-home and mobile. We’ve just started to scratch the surface in terms of how GPS and AR can be creatively integrated around retail, advertising, and communal spaces.

As it relates to branding and turning a brand into an experience, where do you see the market moving in the next year or two?

I think we’ll see more digital-first brands expanding into the brick and mortar world, following in the footsteps of Amazon, Warby Parker, Bonobos and the like. It’s one thing to build a robust and purpose-driven brand online, but expressing a brand in physical space allows you to connect with your audience experientially. Additionally, retail spaces act as de facto advertisements for the overall brand. In areas where brands have a physical store, online sales have been shown to increase as well.

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