Turning cold into gold
Transform caught up with Brand Lounge’s Ibrahim Lahoud and Mo Saad to uncover the secrets of their work with cold logistics company Coco on the eve of the Transform Awards MEA. The UAE-based consultancy had high hopes for its work, entering the Coco project across many different categories.
The Dubai Design District, like most of this fantastical city, appears in the distance like a particularly deceptive mirage rising from the dusty earth. For its visitors, who are likely waning from the determined grip of the Arabian sun, the shade cast by the contemporary, shimmering offices is a welcome sight.
Even in the midst of a powerful sandstorm, which has engulfed much of the Middle East on the run up to the Transform Awards, the dark outline of the world’s tallest building can still be made out a couple of kilometres away. Amongst many things, the imperious Burj Khalifa serves these once barren lands as a branding device, signalling the new wealth and limitless ambitions of the emirate.
It is therefore no wonder that Brand Lounge has chosen this omphalos of design, art and fashion as its home. Safely inside and shielded from the sapping and stultifying heat in a neatly kept air-conditioned office, the jovial Brand Lounge team can be found crowded around a comfortable communal area drinking coffee.
But don’t be fooled by the relaxed environment. A plethora of trophies of all shapes, sizes and colours cram almost every shelf in the office. It’s the eve of the Transform Awards Middle East and Africa, and the consultancy has high expectations of adding to its illustrious collection having entered five of its projects this year.
“We’re hard on ourselves,” admits Mo Saad, head of design and creative impact. “Sometimes it’s not that healthy, but most of the time it has a good outcome.”
He joins Ibrahim Lahoud in the latter’s office, which also boasts shelf after shelf of Transform Awards trophies. Despite the apparent success of most of the consultancy’s projects, favourites still exist. For the director of strategy and head of insights, a project he and Saad worked on over the previous year with a company that sought to revolutionise the concept of cold logistics stands out.
Brand Lounge’s project with Coco, as it came to be branded from the words ‘cold’ and ‘controlled’, was entered into six categories for the Transform Awards MEA, including ‘Best use of packaging’ and ‘Best use of copy style or tone of voice’. With ample food and service delivery competitors across the UAE, creating a brand from scratch which could garner serious recognition in this saturated market was to be no small feat.
Lahoud says, “I think when we looked at it from a strategic point of view, we saw an opportunity to change the perception of the landscape. We really wanted to get [Coco] closer to the actual end user themselves and we tried to rethink the whole strategy from that perspective.”
Through adding a bit of “emotion” to the sector, Lahoud and Saad hoped to make cold logistics more approachable. Being a start-up run by younger businesspeople, Coco was particularly open to ideas in a way that established or “conservative” – as Saad phrases it – businesses might not be. “These are the projects that gives us the liberty to explore,” he adds. Both the consultancy and its client agreed that engineering a disruptive brand was to be Coco’s best chance of generating success in what was deemed a functional and boring sector.
Utilising pop culture references and witty phrases, the tactics for Coco’s tone of voice revolved around making use of succinct sentences. Phrases like ‘Cold rush’ on delivery bike bags and ‘Freeze mobile’ on vans helped foster a sense of humour novel to the industry, all while still letting the customer know critical information about its services.
“If you look at most of the businesses within the delivery and cold logistics sector, they try hard to tell you that they will deliver on time, but you always can sense negativity,” says Lahoud. “There’s a question begging itself: ‘why, do you screw up sometimes?’ That's how the pop culture fits in. It states what Coco does in a funny way without having to [worry] customers.”
The strategy for the packaging designs also thought outside the box. Research undertaken by Brand Lounge at the start of the project clearly indicated few competitors attempted to make its packaging special. In a sea of dull, predictable cardboard boxes with no messaging, Saad saw an opportunity for Coco to stand out. He took inspiration from UAE-based e-commerce firm Noon and the fight it has put up against Amazon.
Saad explains, “Noon focuses completely on its delivery and the experience of when you receive your package; they spend way more money on it than Amazon does. It's the exact same platform, but you always get a note that says, ‘Thank you for ordering from Noon.’ Why would they invest so much? It's additional costs, but they do it because the way you communicate with the end user is important. It says a lot about who you are and what you value as a brand.”
Unable to change the shape of the packaging, Brand Lounge instead decided to play heavily on the typography, forging a symbiosis between the typographic logo and the messaging typeface. This allowed the consultancy to utilise the tone of voice it had so carefully curated. An interesting lens feature was added to the packaging to represent the cold contents contained within.
But how could this fun, vibrant identity be translated from the physical packaging to the digital world? The idea of synergy, as opposed to pure consistency, forms an important part of Brand Lounge’s thought process as a consultancy. For instance, while individual aspects of the brand – like the colour palette or the typography – may be maintained across platforms, the team will refuse merely copying the identity across platforms. Instead, a vast array of witty phrases and visual designs are mixed and matched to keep the brand fresh, including on the logistics app and social media.
“I think this was my favourite project over the last year because the tone of voice was so different from anything we've done before,” Saad says. “We don't typically put all our strength into creating an entire identity that is based purely on its tone of voice. You'll notice that the identity of this brand is very simplistic. Yes, it has a graphic device and, yes, it has the right colours and everything. But what really made the brand very special was how it speaks.”
“Businesses and brands are about people,” adds Lahoud. “I wish all clients realised this. If you go on the street and ask consumers who don't know what the brand does to just look at it and they say 'eh', that's it. That's what your brand is worth.
“I think what we've learnt from Coco is that there are no boring businesses, there are boring brands,” he concludes.
With Coco yet to commence its operations, Brand Lounge’s work remains unknown to the general public. However, the project received a mixture of trophies at the Transform Awards the following evening, with Brand Lounge scooping up a gold and silver award for Coco’s packaging and tone of voice, respectively. The consultancy even had time to add a bronze award in recognition of Coco’s typography and pick up a highly commended award for ‘Best visual identity from the transport and logistics sector’.
While room will be made on Brand Lounge’s shelves to accommodate the Coco project’s success, time will tell as to whether space can be found for Coco in a city already filled with iconic brands.