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Rex Branding and Design: Rudo Botha & Olivier Schildt

Top designers get back to basics and provide branding solutions for business problems

Juliet Pitman

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Rudo Botha & Olivier Schildt of REX Branding

“Traditional marketing methods areexhausted and can’t meet the needs of new culture or engage relevantly with thenew generation out there.” It’s a bold statement, particularly considering itcomes from a company that makes its money in the branding and marketing space.But Rudo Botha and Olivier Schildt, co-founders of Rex Branding and Design,stand by their belief that branding and design need to change in order to addreal value to businesses. “In the past, businesses saw designers as people withponytails who drew pretty pictures and made things look good, but who weren’treally involved in the ‘real’ stuff of business,” says Botha.

But as the market has changed, so theapproach to branding and design needs to change as well. Botha explains: “For along time, marketing has been about a brand pushing itself onto themarketplace. But the new generation knows more, has greater access toinformation and choice and forms its own opinions. They have far greater powerto choose whether to engage with a brand or not.” Rex believes that brandingand design should be about helping companies to solve business problems.“Design is just the vehicle – it’s a reallysimple function that many branding firms have complicated over time. You take abusiness challenge and you solve it beautifully.”

Fulfilling this function is what Rex doesbest. The company was the only South African business invited by Coca-Cola,together with 125 artists from around the world, to participate in the remixand reinvention of 125 years of Coca-Cola marketing material. Each design team–which included the likes of Sir Peter Blake who designed the cover of theBeatles’ Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album cover – was briefed to reinvent the material to create a series of fresh visuals inspired by the brand’s‘Coke Side of Life’ positioning statement and reflect Coke’s ‘happiness in abottle’ mantra. Rex’s remix tells an African story using the universal languagecreated by Coca-Cola over the years.But, as Botha explains, the job was aboutmore than just ‘creating pretty pictures’. “Today’s audiences don’t have thesame emotional connection to brands that their parents did. For a lot oftoday’s kids, Coca-Cola is something you drink when you’re thirsty that comesin a red and white can. For Coke to be guaranteed a future, it really needed toengage with the youth market, to make a connection and give them a reason tostart engaging with the brand.”

How to do this? “By creating brandmeaning,” says Botha. Which brings him back to his first statement aboutexhausted traditional marketing methods. “In the design space, there are threespheres: traditional marketing, on which we believe far too much emphasis hasbeen placed in the past; brand visibility, which people are starting to use andunderstand; and brand culture.” For Rex, it is this third sphere that createsthe kind of meaning that will attract and engage audiences. “So, from Coke’spoint of view, yes you need to use traditional marketing methods and you needto increase brand visibility, but that’s only part of the solution. You need tocreate meaning for audiences first, give them a reason to feel an emotionalconnection to the culture of a brand. If branding companies can design suchmeaning and let the visibility reflect that meaning, then they’re really addingvalue to a business.”It’s the way this design team approachesall its work – from huge projects like Coca-Cola, to small jobs for one-manstart-up companies. “We first try to understand the business problem orchallenge. So a client may brief us to design a good-looking interface on theirATMs for example. We explain to them that we’ll get there but we need tounderstand the business issue first – the reason they feel they need a newinterface and what they hope it will achieve. For us, this understanding iscentral to designing a solution. It’s about beginning with the end in mind. Wecould of course, go straight to the design solution and create an interfacewith cool graphics, but it wouldn’t be adding any real value, and it’s not whatwe’re about,” says Botha. It’s simple stuff, he concludes, but it requires bigvision thinking. Contact: +27 11 781 5442; http://rexjhb.com

Juliet Pitman is a features writer at Entrepreneur Magazine.

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