What It’s Like to Work With the Design Shops Behind Some of the Hottest Challenger Brands

Clients including Noken and Keeps share their experiences with Gin Lane, Red Antler

Hear from a few challenger brands on what it's like to work with the branding firms behind the buzziest brands.
Sources: Keeps, Noken, Brandless

How does a startup with a business idea that could shake up an entire industry (like Casper or Warby Parker) take that idea and turn it into a brand that people will not only love but also buy? For many brands like Keeps or Noken, the answer lies in partnering with one of three major branding firms in New York City to help design, market and launch the startup into the world.

Earlier this week Adweek looked at the branding shops—Red Antler, Gin Lane and Partners & Spade—responsible for helping to market and launch much of the most buzzed-about new challenger brands. But what is it like to work with these shops? We spoke to some of the clients that work closely with some of these firms to find out.

Noken, a travel app that went to market just last week, worked with Gin Lane to help build the brand from the ground up. Before launching, Noken put out a call to several branding firms, but the team was struck by how catchy and unique the work coming out of Gin Lane was. After entrusting the design firm to co-create what the brand would be (including creating a brand strategy, building a website and creating a visual identity), Noken’s CMO and co-founder Emily Brockway said she was impressed by how dedicated Gin Lane was to helping the startup succeed with its launch and in the years to come.

“We molded into one team during the project, and we had an iterative, collaborative and quick work style,” Brockway explained. She added that it was clear early on that Gin Lane was truly invested in helping Noken build a brand that would have every chance to dominate in the marketplace. “Gin Lane dug into conversations with a variety of stakeholders to understand the business and the brand to date. Through this process, Gin Lane extracted the insights that were the foundation of our brand pyramid and brand personality,” she added.

That willingness to dive in and understand the business and brand ethos to then hone the brand voice has given these three design firms a reputation for successfully launching challenger brands. While Brandless CMO Aaron Magness was not with the company when it launched, and when it did the bulk of its work with Red Antler, Magness reiterated that everyone who was at Brandless at the time knows how instrumental Red Antler’s work on packaging design as well as brand messaging, strategy and identity has been to the brand’s success.

“Brands need point of view early on,” said Magness. “Working with Red Antler really forced a focus in the team that it needed.”

Men’s wellness company Keeps also enlisted Red Antler to help launch at the start of 2018. Keeps was introduced to the firm by one of its investors and knew right away that the partnership would be a success. The two teams worked closely together, “at the earliest stages of the company development to really help us weave this straightforward message and experience throughout everything we do, from our website and our marketing to the unboxing experience you get when the package arrives at your door,” Keeps co-founder, Steven Gutentag, explained.

Overall, Keeps found that working with a design firm of Red Antler’s caliber early on was key to the brand’s success. Bringing one of these experts in early—before even going to market—means the likely unknown brand has a greater chance of developing a strong voice that will capture attention in a crowded market.

“You have to make sure that as a brand entering a market that you really come in with a distinct point of view. That funnels back to what are the brand pillars, what’s the voice and why are you doing this. Red Antler was instrumental in helping us get there,” Gutentag added.

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