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Zapier Rebrand: Associations, Symbolism & The Ukraine War

Brand Master Podcast logo

Zapier Rebrand: Associations, Symbolism & The Ukraine War

I’m joined by Zapier’s Creative Director turned brand strategist, Mr. Michael Jeter.

Now for those of you who don’t know Zapier.  Its a software company that connects two different softwares so you, so it could say that they’re a bit of a software connector, and recently they went through a rebrand.

Now, this wasn’t just any rebrand and on the eve of their launch, Russia invaded Ukraine and unless some drastic decisions were made, they risked being caught up and associated with Russian oppression through symbolism.

So in this article, I speak to Michael about the rebranding story, and he gives us an inside look at what decision-making was like under political and time-sensitive pressures about the brand that they had just built.

And what I really love about this article is that they used the brand strategy that they had just developed to throw out the brand identity they had just designed.

So if you want to get an inside scoop as to what it’s like making big decisions for big brands in big moments, then don’t miss this article.

Zapier Rebrand: Associations, Symbolism & The Ukraine War

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Michael Jeter Journey (Zapier Rebrand)

Stephen Houraghan

Now, Michael, I’m sure most of our viewers know who Zapier is.

You’ve got a vital role over there and that role came into more significant importance in recent times, why don’t give us a little bit of an overview of your journey to where you are now and your current role with Zapier?

Michael Jeter

I think early on in my career, I moved to San Francisco to go to grad school before the tech boom, before any of that was kind of a thing, to become a designer. 

Started a design studio that was solely focused on social issues. My whole thesis in grad school was around like, can we actually make money in a studio, in a business that’s around good?

So all my clients were nonprofits or cities that did a lot of disaster preparedness, kind of like campaigns and stuff for the city of San Francisco or the City of New York or worked on social issues around identity or homelessness, stuff like that. 

Fast forward through that studio last about 8-9 years and did a small stint with a fellow named Beto De Thurston, who had just recently left the Onion, if you’re aware of that, this satirical kind of newspaper.

We started a kinda comedy design studio for a year to try that out and that was super fun and interesting.  Then he got a job to run the Daily Show that the marketing side, the Daily Show when Trevor Noah took on and so that studio kinda dissolved because of his amazing opportunities.

I was looking at life at the time, all of my clients become the big tech companies, Google, Facebook, Pinterest, on and on and on, because that’s where the work was in San Francisco. 

I kind of was getting frustrated because they would come with pretty thin briefs they just need a quick kind of thing to be done.

While it was fun to do that work, you kind of had it off at the end of the day. You just felt like you were not really making a big impact or big change for different things. 

So I started getting curious, as design started growing as a, in quality in-house, like right back in the day, like being an in-house designer was like a bad thing, right?

I remember, it was like where the creative went to die and people were very sad. The only happy moments is when they went to like a conference each year and that kinda changed in tech as these companies started realizing that designing product designs was really important to the business.

Started asking around and being wondering what was kind of available and interesting and who was doing kind of cool stuff in a way that I could kind of help and Dropbox was looking for someone to run their illustration team and help with their rebrands now infamous rebrand.

So I joined Dropbox was there for four and a half years over the time was creative director, running advertising, kinda anything I say anything with a story in a pixel. 

I was kind of running and with some great counterparts. Jessica Fenson was the design director. Aaron Robs was the creative director for a while. He’s over at RAMP now.

An incredible human and creative and many, many other folks there that I kind of call that my, like PhD and design and I think relevant to this podcast and the thing that really changed the trajectory of my career and I think is important to the Zapier story.

I was introduced to brand strategy at Dropbox.

First with our first brand strategy is Patrick Ra, and then over time Anna Sternoff, who’s the head of strategy there, who was the head of strategy at Collins and actually worked on the rebrand with the Dropbox and then came over and then another guy named Etti and Ma, who was a strategist Goodbee for a long time and came over and I just fell in love with working with them.

Just really like how to dial in the ideas, how to like bridge kind of business problems with creative potential became something that I was really obsessed with it. 

So I just probably clinged onto them way too tight and learned everything from strategy that I could.

As we were building that brand for better and for worse, for all of its twists and turns, like really understanding how they thought about things and simplifying things down to its core was my obsession. 

So I realized that I made a total mistake as a career and I should have been a strategist, but I didn’t know that existed until now. 

How Does Design And Strategy Interlink?