frog design and business leads talk frog’s brand relaunch, lessons learned in building a brand for the modern age, getting to the soul of an organization, telling truer stories—and what it means to ‘Make Your Mark.’
On this episode of the Design Mind frogcast, we’re talking about what it takes to design a brand for the modern age. Of course, when we talk about brand, we’re talking way bigger than any single logo or fancy color palette. We’re talking about designing a holistic, unifying brand strategy to be both an engine of change for an organization, as well as an expression of this change to the world-at-large.
But first, let’s back up. There’s a reason why we’re talking brand strategy here today. At frog, we’re excited to be announcing the future of the frog brand. Marketing Director Todd Taylor, Executive Design Director Andreas Markdalen and frog President Andy Zimmerman sat down to tell the story of how they knew frog was ready for a new, powerful brand vision that can speak to where frog is now and where we’re going next.
Listen to the episode and read the transcripts below to hear from three business and design leads at frog, each involved with leading the charge behind frog’s brand refresh and a new call to action for the organization as well as our partners that we like to call: ‘Make Your Mark’.
Design Mind frogcast
Behind the Design: Designing the Brand Strategy for frog’s ‘Make Your Mark’
Speaker: Todd Taylor, Marketing Director, frog
I think brand as an engine of change is poorly understood by most people who are observing brand at an aesthetic level. The truth of the matter is that humans respond to stories. We search for signals and look for meaning. And within a company, which is an organization of people, brand becomes a focal point for shared beliefs. It becomes part of the social fabric that holds an organization together. And, so in that way, it supports the formation of norms. It influences strategy. It gives us impulses when course corrections are needed. And those are tangible mechanisms of change. It’s hard to understand them, but they’re very definitely there.
Brand is the beating heart of an organization. It’s the vessel for shared beliefs. It helps individuals identify with the collective. It’s the logic that that holds us together. It underpins all the stories that we tell. Without it, neither the employees or the public have any idea what you stand for. And today, it’s more important than ever that we stand for something.
The frog brand has a really fantastic legacy and a really rich history, but I think that we got to a point where we where we were not being assertive enough about how we how we take the brand into the future. And I think that needed correction. Hartmut Esslinger, our founder likes to say, “Only the best” in reference to a number of different things at frog, and I feel strongly that that should also apply to how we manage the brand.
I think the moment that crystallized was in 2019 when we celebrated frog50, or frog’s fiftieth anniversary, because it was a real opportunity to dig through frog’s archives, to speak with frogs from across eras and to really immerse in frog history. And what we uncovered in that was really gold. I mean, just 50 years of very deeply interesting brand heritage that had been buried and held away from public view. It was truly inspiring to revisit that, start to internalize that and use it as a mechanism to drive our imagination into what the future of the frog brand could be. So, at that point, I really personally became quite obsessed with the idea of driving the frog brand into the future.
We want to understand, interpret and amplify the truths that make the brand special and hold us together as frogs. So, for example, frog founder Hartmut Esslinger, he’s well known as a rebel antagonist. He cast frog in his own image in that regard. And although we look and operate very differently today, frog remains a home for rebel antagonists. So, we continually return to that truth over and over as we develop the brand. Another truth is that frog is a human-centered organization with empathy and emotion at its core. If you take away the human and emotional qualities, you inevitably weaken the brand. It would be less true for frogs. So, we’re not going to allow that to happen. And we worked on the brand accordingly.
What we were thinking about was really the great collaborations that frog has had with change leaders or entrepreneurs over the years. We were also observing movements of social change in the world that were sparked by individuals with drive and passion. And there’s parallels in those things. There’s similar characteristics that we see in frogs, in our alumni, in clients. The construct and storytelling that brings all that work together is is composed into a single, clear, compelling narrative that summarized as what we call a ‘messaging pyramid’—and it’s capped by ‘Make Your Mark’ as its calling.
Brand is at the heart of marketing strategy. It’s the vehicle to articulate unified values, identity and ambition. Without it a strategy would lose its soul and would start to degrade into some pure mathematical formula, and there’s a significant risk of that it would in a data-rich world and an era of digital engagement. Brand is a little less measurable, so there’s always a risk that you deprioritize it. Yet, undoubtedly it drives inbound inquiries, it drives employee retention, it drives your ability to charge for your services at the level that you want. These are essential things in building and growing a business.
In terms of ‘Make Your Mark’ as a combination of words and the meaning that it drives, it should be a challenging statement in a way. I want to put a provocation out there to a certain extent. People should be striving to do the very best work that they can, and ‘Make Your Mark’ implies that.
‘Make your Mark’ was conceptualized as a platform upon which other frogs could also create. So a lot of frogs have already gotten involved with the design of ‘Make Your Mark’ itself. They’ve started creating their own programs like the ‘Make Your Mark Awards.’ And we’re starting to see outcomes of programs within ‘Make Your Mark’, like the creation of onboarding tools and other internal comms and so on. So that sort of open and experience-oriented perspective of brand is been something that we’ve been trying to push, and it’s really coming to life now as part of the daily existence at frog. I’ve even heard people saying things like, “How will you make your mark on this program?”, which is a little crazy and surreal, but also super rewarding.
I hope people fall in love with ‘Make Your Mark’ and the whole brand refresh. I hope that in the future people are also challenged by it. I really want to thrill people, not the least of whom are my fellow frogs. Obviously, I’m really honored by the people on the project and have been inspired by them and learned from they, and hopefully could give them something back, particularly Andreas who Ive collaborated with for a year on this project. And I think that’s one of the things that makes frog fantastic. You get these opportunities to work with people who inspire you, who you can maybe inspire as well. When we can bring that to a challenge like brand and elevate our game to a very high level, then that’s a reason to get up in the morning and show up at work. That’s a beautiful thing.
I think making your mark is very personal for each of us. If you if you find a mission with meaning for yourself and then you have the courage to really push yourself, take risks, endure and try to bring positive change into the world, then you’re making a mark.
Speaker: Andreas Markdalen, Executive Design Director, frog
There is this classic statement in design that understanding what the question is almost solving half of the problem. And I think that’s really what we got to in this process—going back to the basics and really understanding what kind of questions we should be asking ourselves.
frog has never really been a nostalgic company. In fact, all of us are fostered in this culture to keep looking forward and never really look back. But I think the process for us was very important, trying to at least understand and map what were the basics of our brand 50 years ago? What were they 30 years ago? And 10 years ago? And in what direction are we heading today? That discourse was valuable for us digging in the archives and getting inspired by the past. And through that conversation and building on some of the experiences that we’ve had personally as a team, we were trying to shape this core, strong, robust idea that sat at the heart of it all. And that for us was ‘Make Your Mark.’
So, one type of discussion that came out in this process was around what type of work frog is doing as a company. We saw an interesting friction between the kind of typical strategic consulting work that we do, when we come in as a strategic partner to essentially accelerate innovation—working almost like a SWAT team in very short or brief stints, to accelerate transformational efforts, often in highly ambiguous contexts and scenarios. And on the other hand, we saw that we were also working in new ways on almost an industrialized scale globally with other types of product delivery efforts and DesignOps and DevOps. And I guess what we came to throughout our discussions and going through this discourse was that it wasn’t so much about the typology or the work itself. We can do pretty much anything. What was really important for us to do was to land on a ‘why’ statement—the reasons for existing in the world in the first place—and what mission and values held us together.
[The onset of the COVID-19 Pandemic] was a difficult moment, stating the obvious. But what we saw in the coming months, in particular during the spring period, was actually quite beautiful as well. We saw a global design community within frog coming together in a way that at least I hadn’t seen before, and I think brought us together on a level that we felt was completely novel. And that was actually a very profound change for us that we could build upon in our work. It became a very natural starting point for us to speak as a global community about things like values and mission. So that was really interesting.
What was happening as well was that there were many other things, large-scale discussions happening during the pandemic. Like, we were talking a lot about things like sustainability and social impact. By magic almost there was this cross-pollination of different groups of people discussing the same kinds of topics, but coming in from different angles. And ‘Make Your Mark’ became woven into this discussion and provided a vehicle, or a platform, for that discussion to happen. So, in that context, it was interesting. We got a chance to to kind of unite across the different studios. We had a common platform and ‘Make Your Mark’ became the narrative. That was very interesting and very beautiful for us to see. So in some way or form, it also helped us in that process.
I think the thing that I want to get out of this as a frog is to share something with the frog community, our clients and the design community, and bring something to the world that that feels like it’s truly human-centered. And ‘human-centered’ has become almost this cliché expression. Everyone is speaking about the same thing. But I think and I hope within our storytelling, the videos that we producing, the stories that we’re putting on our website, podcasts and everything else, that people can feel like there’s something distinctively different there.
I kind of see this effort in this campaign as as a love letter to the sign, as a celebration of our craft. We want people to to feel and see that we love this story, that we love what we do and that we put a lot of effort into making a difference. And I think having that connection on a deeper human level, moving beyond the jargon and the bull**** is something that is very important for us. And we hope that everyone will feel that when they see the work.
When we started engaging the community, we put out a brief there to say we have this statement, we want you to contribute to it, we want you to express yourself and use it as a vessel for your own ideas and your own creativity. Essentially, we wanted to transmit this kind of sensation that ‘Make Your Mark’ is an accelerator and a catalyst for change. And that’s really, I guess, what we’re trying to communicate on the inside and the outside: there are things are starting to happen in association with this brand revolution that are positive. I hope people feel like there are new things happening and that change is coming.
The key thing for me, really, when speaking about the design execution as well, and speaking about the global community, was to really transmit that sense of diversity and inclusivity. And that’s another topic that, you know, sometimes we speak about in theory, but is very, very difficult to to turn into a practice. And the way we tried to manifest that on the design side of this was really to incorporate work, to build on work from our studios all over the globe. We were trying to sponsor and bring forward local languages, and that’s something we’re still going to keep pushing for in the next year.
‘Make Your Mark’ is not really about one thing. It’s not one singular vision or one singular dogma. It’s about many things to different people. And all of these things can co-exist in the ecosystem that we’re building around it. And we hope, of course, that that’s going to be exciting within and outside of frog.
Going forward, we want to keep pushing. Of course, we want to start bringing new people and new ideas into the mix and keep expanding this universe. I think also another key thing for us that is very important to move out of our comfort zone and start pushing the brand further away towards the edge, and really explore the whitespace that we see around innovation and storytelling—and really understand where we can play as a brand. And that’s really the core of our brand spirit. We should always be pushing ourselves towards the edge. So hopefully we’re going to start to see some new provocations coming out, and some new ideas for just idea generation and partnerships in general. That’s the vision moving forward and moving into the next year.
Speaker: Andy Zimmerman, President, frog
For me, as soon as I heard the phrase, it was perfect. But then you really do want to think about, is it aspirational? Is it something that’s a really cool phrase, but I mean, is it relevant to frog and so forth? But then when you go back through our history, I mean, it’s really what we’ve been doing all along. We just haven’t used that particular phrase to describe it. When you have an organization like frog, which literally has invented and created whole industries, whether it’s a personal audio, or personal computing, or online music, or experience design as an actual practice, all of these things—frog has been making its mark for 50 years. It’s just that it took us 51 years to figure out how we name what it is that we’ve been doing all along.
The genesis of ‘Make your Mark’ was like many things at frog. It was a casual breakfast in Munich with Todd where he said he wanted to take a stab at refreshing frog’s brand. I told him good luck with that because having run frog for a while, ironically, I found it was difficult to get frog to think about its own brand. I know it’s kind of a shoemaker’s children kind of problem. And then Todd was smart enough to link up with one of our most brilliant designers, Andreas, and the two of them went off and started to think about the rebranding of frog. Now, obviously they included a lot of people in that journey: designers, strategists, marketing people, and so forth.
But I think what I love about the whole story of our new rebranding and with ‘Make Your Mark’ is it happens the way so many things happen at frog, which is just that sort of magical moment, that little interaction that triggers these creative juices that turn into these beautiful, brilliant designs. And in this case, I just say hats off. I mean, it was a much larger team than Todd and Andreas as I’m sure they would acknowledge, but I do really want to say thank you to Todd and Andreas for taking the lead, taking the risk of trying to do something that is actually challenging when you’re frog.
‘Make Your Mark’ I think operates on a couple of different levels. I think on a more technical, if you will, level—from a design point of view—is to design something that has longevity and sustainability, that’s actually being used by lots of people. So, that’s more on the technical side of things. I think on a more philosophic or social side of things is having an impact in the world. Hopefully that impact is something that’s good for the world, whether it’s in terms of a sustainable economy, in terms of being good for the planet, good for people, good for individual consumers, ‘Make Your Mark’ is about having that sort of impact.
I think certainly in conversations with clients, when we, when we explained to them that, you know, our purpose is to make our mark with them, it just seems to resonate tremendously with clients because they kind of look at themselves and say, you know, that’s exactly what we want to do. We want to make our mark. And so I think with clients it’s really resonating. I think the other thing, though, is we are trying to embed it in everything we do. So, for example, this year, we came out with a new handbook for career planning and so forth for frogs and incorporated into that is the question, a series of questions around, “How do you plan to make your mark in your career at frog?” And so, we’re challenging ourselves I think to incorporate the philosophy and the aspiration of making your mark into everything we do. And we’ll be authentic if we actually, you know, execute on that, which I think we are doing.
‘Make Your Mark’ is a call to action, but now we’re going to have to act. Now we’re going to have to do something. And I do think that companies like frog, although we’re relatively small in terms of number of people and size of the company, we have potentially an outsized impact on the world. So, I actually believe we can make an outsize mark on the world in a positive way.
I’m already seeing frogs working on programs with clients and people say, well, “We need to make our mark,” or “I need to make my mark” or a client says, “I want to make a mark.” And, and if it just becomes part of our conversation both within frog and with our clients and with other parts of the ecosystem, then I think that’s success to me.
We want to sincerely thank Todd Taylor, Andreas Markdalen and Andy Zimmerman of frog for taking us behind the scenes on the frog brand refresh. Learn more about Make Your Mark. Subscribe to the Design Mind frogcast wherever you listen to podcasts, including Apple Podcasts and Spotify. And if you have any thoughts about the show, we’d love to hear from you. Reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.