Brand Experience And Experiential Design (W/ Tom Gilbert At Design Bridge)

Mr. Tom Gilbert is the founder, and executive creative director at the Design Bridge which is a 35 year old global agency with studios in London, Amsterdam, Singapore, New York and of course Shanghai.

Design bridge have worked on some amazing campaigns with some amazing brands as well, including the likes of Durex, Guinness, Smirnoff TNC, and Save The Children to name a few.

Tom shares his journey to such a coveted position in such a prestigious agency, as well as his ideas and philosophies on the processes of global branding agencies.

Such as on how all work includes strategy on how experienced design is the bridge between brand and marketing.

So if you want to get a taste of what it’s like to run strategy sessions with global brands and how to design experiences into your brands, then stick around for this article

Brand Experience And Experiential Design (w Tom Gilbert At Design Bridge)

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How Did You Become An Executive Creative Director At Design Bridge

Stephen Houraghan

So there’s a lot of interest in top agencies, the processes they go through and what’s important to them.

Can you tell us first, a little bit about your journey to how you became a founding partner and an Executive Creative Director there at Design Bridge in Shanghai?

Tom Gilbert

I was one of those kids who started in a very creative zone because even as a kid I was really interested in art and things like that and making things. 

But it wasn’t until teenage years that I started to realize what that could eventually be. So kind of naturally grew into being an industrial designer, which is what I’m trained to do.

So in 2010, I ended up moving to Singapore and joined Design Bridge, so I’ve been with company for 12 years and in that whole time period, I’ve again meandered a little bit in different roles, but it’s mainly been started in industrial design lead and just design team here in Singapore.

As things developed and experienced design started to become terminology within the industry, we also started to evolve and we went from just industrial designers to having CGI artists and environmental designers, events, designers, digital designers, motion design.

We started expanding the team into a really kind of mixed discipline team and a lot of collaboration to the point where we’re doing lots of projects globally for some of our studios until 2017.

When they gave me a new chapter to go to China and part of my title is that I’m the founder of the Shanghai studio. 

I’ve been the ECD of Shanghai ever since there was one tiny blip in that is that I’m now in Singapore because of the pandemic.

So I’ve been working remotely ever since, but in some ways that’s also been an interesting journey because I’ve now become this kind of accidentally become a bit of an expert in remote working.

Using lots of different tools that you weren’t using before to keep things working. 

How Is Your Agency Positioned And Who Is Your Target Market

Stephen Houraghan

I understand from my role that there are so many different facets of design when considering the brand, but even I hadn’t considered the industrial element of brand design.

It’s kind of great to see that in anybody who hasn’t come across Design Bridge before Google them and have a look at their work

It’s some awesome work. It’s really great work and then I like to have a look at what top agencies are doing there because it’s just to kind of get a feel for that top level work.

It’s really awesome. The work that you guys do is really great. 

How would you actually position ourselves or how do you position yourselves as an agency? 

What’s your target market? 

What’s your position and do you have a focus on branding and brand design? 

Tell me a little bit about that and a little bit about your target market

Tom Gilbert

We have a global brand design agency that’s how we describe ourselves to people. 

Obviously that’s quite broad so how would position really is working with, very close relationships with multinationals.

So we’ve got a lot of long-term relationships with multinationals and Design bridges, 35 years old. 

Some of those relationships go back 35 years we’re talking about companies like Unilever or Diageo and the big multinational companies like that.

We did a lot of FMCG consumer goods, branding, but over that 45 year period, obviously we’ve diversified as well and work in a variety of different sectors. 

We’ve got five studios across the globe in New York, London. Singapore and Shanghai and we’re currently in the midst of opening up Mumbai as well.

We’ve got strategic locations to help us make sure that we can deliver global brand design in all these markets, which are the dominant markets in the world, but also make them locally relevant. 

Instead of some other global design agencies are working in a way that’s quite monolithic and kind of one brand fits all type of approach.

Whereas we’re strategically positioned to locally evolve a brand to make sure it fits with local consumer needs and resonates with local consumers so they can kind of build that brand love. 

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What Branding Challenges Do Your Clients Typically Have?

Stephen Houraghan

I really believe in the philosophy of education, um, when it comes to clients, because at the end of the day, they are great at doing what they do,

Branding is not their field, branding is not their area of specialty.

There is an education gap often that needs to be closed before diving into the work that you do together. Otherwise. you’re going to come across problems down the road. 

If you don’t kind of collaborate and if you don’t align from the get-go. 

What kind of challenges are they coming to you with?

Tom Gilbert

That question keeps evolving as it’s so heavily linked to culture and global trends as well. 

There are a lot of sustainability challenges going on at the moment, which is great.

That we’re part of trends that I’ve experienced in Premiumization have been some markets, especially in China, the big surge in premiumization. 

The markets experienced that probably 10 or 15 years ago. I remember at the start of my career in Europe, there was a lot of this kind of premiumization and good, better, best strategy in terms of portfolios.

A lot of that is going on now in China and so we’re doing a lot of things like that.

I’ll use the word nationalization or nationalism. We all know that trends like things that happened in the globe light Brexit and Trump going into power in America and countries like China being quite nationalist as well.

Brands are having to adapt more locally now to be more than more locally relevant to those countries that are getting that national pride back.

Now, rather than constantly thinking about globalization and having like one brand that fits all over the world. 

I definitely feel like in the last five or so years, there’s been a little bit of a pivot where people are starting to adapt their brands a little bit, to make them feel a bit more locally relevant in different markets. 

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What Is Your Brand Strategy Process?

Stephen Houraghan

Now, when you see the globalization of so many different brands and how indifferent that is now. 

Do you, of course, when you take on a new client, you obviously bring them through this training process.

I’d imagine that’s the very beginning of the very first step of a longer process. Can you talk to me a little bit about it? 

What that process looks like, or is it different for every client? 

Tom Gilbert

I would say it’s different for every client and different categories as well that’s why we don’t do training for all our clients.

As you mentioned that multinationals have their own internal training and then they’re going through and they might be really experienced. 

So there’s different experience levels we have to deal with as well, depending on the brand and on the team of marketers that we’re working with.

I wouldn’t say there’s any kind of fixed way of working in that sense.

We do obviously have our own principles of our own kind of framework of way of working, but it evolves per client

Make sure unsettling with, as some of them have their own structures and points of work in that we’re constantly adapting and trying to get each of the systems to align.

How Involved Are Your In Story And Design?

Stephen Houraghan

So obviously you’ve got this broad background you’ve come from.

This teaching background, this industrial design background, led into graphic design. 

How involved are you in the likes of strategy and story?

Did you find that there was a transition there at all? Or did you that come to you quite naturally? 

Tom Gilbert

I’m very involved in strategy. We all are within design vision because we see ourselves as a very strategic band design company. 

We do every project we do start with strategy and also all the way through the process. There’s different strategic needs to help in whatever phase it is. 

It’s interesting that you say storytelling as well and because that is one thing that we believe we’re really stronger is the element of storytelling. 

It’s particularly important when it comes to brand design because story’s very emotional with dealing with women in the world of emotional connection. 

We really want to fault consumers to experience that positive, emotional connection with the brands that we work with. 

So, yeah, like strategy and storytelling are huge and everyone’s role actually within, within the design bridge.

How Important Is Brand Experience And Experiential Design?

Stephen Houraghan

You touched on brand experience there and I know that there’s a lot of talk these days about brand strategy, even storytelling and there’s also a lot of talk about marketing execution.

But there is a bit of a gap there that kind of needs to be closed, which is brand experience. 

Can you tell me a little bit about what your definition of brand experiences and how important that is when developing a brand?

Tom Gilbert

Well, I don’t know, but I heard this stat recently I was listening or reading something and they were saying that 80% of consumers interact with brands

There’s often disconnected from the product itself. 

It’s kind of, we’re now living in this weld of a complex light marketing ecosystem where you’re getting influenced as a consumer from lots of different angles, lots of different channels, different brand touchpoints.

So often kind of executed by different teams, all quite siloed within the organization. So they’re not quite connecting. 

The way that we approach it is about connecting all those fragments into kind of one coherent story, coherent brand story, and then also a consistent visual.

To make sure that every touchpoint feels right for that brand and we also talk about how like your own, your brand is only as strong as your weakest touchpoint.

If a consumer has a bad experience with a brand on a certain social media platform and that’s been undervalued or something.

We’ll do that and they have a fun experience. It affects your whole brand experience and the perception of the brand

So we’re constantly making sure that we’re kind of thinking big. 

So think about the whole ecosystem, the whole world and how it all connects.

Having to dive in deep and zoom into the detail to make sure that you’ve got that consistency in that quality to make sure that every touchpoint is executed to the level that represents your branded.

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Experiential Design Processes To Create A Brand Experience

Stephen Houraghan

I totally get what you’re saying about the siloed or the fractured brand experiences, from big brands to small brands, because sometimes you will have a social media department over here.

They’re kind of doing their own thing and maybe sticking to some brand guidelines, but not really a, they might have a style guide maybe.

Then over here you’d have the customer service team and they’re doing something completely different than you have the marketing team writing, direct response marketing and it can be very fractured. 

Do you have a look at your before thinking about design, brand experience or experiential design? 

Do you look at a brand and audit all its touchpoints and then how do you make those connections and bring everybody to the same page? 

Tom Gilbert

So that would be how we’d stall a classic if we got a new client or not even the new client, but if they want us to look at the overall kind of brand experience then that will start with an audit of that brand.

Look at how they’re interacting with consumers in all the different communication or commerce channels and evaluate it. 

Have honest feedback to the client that’s of the things that we’re observing. They also might have some data as well, because obviously, they’re tracking different things all the time.

They’ll have data that they can give a gift to us as well and that’s the strategic element of every project we start with strategy. 

There’ll be a lot of strategic thinking once we’ve done the audit and identify the opportunities where we can improve that brand well and that experience.

This is when you start to realize that maybe the brand story and the brand strategy needs a little bit of a tweak or need some, some help in order for everything to connect. 

We might realize that the visual identity system hasn’t been designed in a way that’s optimized for certain channels or touchpoints or they might need a few more brand assets to help them stretch into more premium space or to connect with a different target audience. 

So that’s why more might have to do a bit more kind of design identity work and help them develop a suite of distinctive assets that can be used across the different channels. 

Then finally, we’ll start working into that overall experience and ake sure we’ve got that coherent story and then the consistent touchpoints. 

Is Experiential Design Part Of Your Brand Strategy Process?

Stephen Houraghan

Would there be sort of touchpoints that you would kind of stay away from in terms of execution, obviously within your wheel, has you going to have your strengths? 

You’re going to have, your brand identity, your website, design, and development, and they would be kind of the front lines of your execution skills.

You might come across a brand that needs a bit more in terms of design within their shop, for example, that would not be your area of expertise or strength, or are there any touchpoints that you would stay away from? 

And say, okay, this is the strategy. It’s up to you to go away and execute.

That will look after these 3, 4, 5, 6 touchpoints, but you need to get this inline over?

Tom Gilbert

Yeah, the main TV commercials, it’s something we don’t go near and there’s some amazing communication agencies that are experts in that. 

So we don’t go down that route, we have done kind of brand launch movies or product launch movers.

But we wouldn’t go into a short-term tactical campaign and doing TV commercials or online commercials. 

So that’s probably the area that we are. 

So that the two areas I’d say that we don’t go into, we try and focus on. 

On long-term brand thinking, first of all, it’s not short-term tactical campaigns. 

It’s long-term so that’s one reason why we don’t go into those two areas and also we’re a design agency. 

We employ designers, so it makes it all our all that, but that’s quite a broad term.

There are loads of different ways of loads, of different types of designers. We stick to the design side of things of creating things and executing things for the design lens.

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Stephen Houraghan

One more question before we wrap, before I let you go. 

Now, of course, all of your clients are different from one client to the next. 

So this question will be kind of could go any direction, generally, if a startup company came to you and they wanted to develop a new brand to make an impact, 

Where would be the three core areas that you would look to make sure that they put themselves on the map to get themselves the awareness that they need to take off?

Tom Gilbert

Okay. so the first thing is always start with your consumer. 

Really, really understand your consumer, what makes them tick and think quite personally as well, observe them, they would just rely on data. 

Then once you’ve identified that.

Your role as a brand is then to connect with the opportunity to solve the problem, find a solution for that, for whatever they’re looking for.

But do it in a unique way that’s distinctive to you. So when we’re faced with that challenge with new clients or clients look into the history. 

They found a story, the origin of the company, like find some unique stories that only you can talk about because that makes you distinctive.

If you’re going into a very competitive landscape, people will all be talking about the same thing as they’ve studied the consumer and they’ve found the same opportunities.

The only thing that can make you unique is by looking inward at your brand, your company, to find out what’s distinctive about your story and the way that you do things. 

So we’ll do that for the brand story, but then when it comes to visually expressing it as we’ll make sure that we. We’ve got distinctive brand assets, um, that help you stand out within that marketplace.

So there’s a part of that second point is just to make sure that you’ve got all the key ingredients ready for. 

The third point, will be, make sure you’re thinking holistically and that will heal and story across all the different channels that you’ll be communicating your brand within the south.

Third point is then making sure you’re thinking big about that consistency, but then be prepared to deep dive in and focus on details. 

When you need to, to ensure you get a consistent quality throughout your brands.

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