CEO of Uber’s Branding Agency Talks Visual Communications

Uber branding

In case you missed it, one of the big trends in communications is less talk, more pictures.

“Visual branding” isn’t just a buzzworthy phrase; it’s a crucial part of every big-name business’s marketing strategy.

Today we had the chance to speak with Dava Guthmiller, founder and CEO of San Francisco’s Noise 13. The self-described “brand strategy & design agency” helps create the visual identities of various brands, including one called Uber that you may have seen mentioned in recent posts on this very blog (in addition to every other blog on the planet).

What, exactly, does Noise13 do?

We do everything from branding ID packages to print marketing materials, events, signage, etc., and we’ve doubled in size over the last two years thanks to Uber.

What sort of recent work have you done for Uber, and how closely do you work with PR?

A lot of our smaller clients do have outside firms, and we often collaborate with them.

But we work almost exclusively with Uber’s internal branding/marketing team, so I have no idea what happens in their PR department.

The work people see most often is marketing for specific promo campaigns like Uber ice cream, Christmas tree delivery, etc., as well as creating campaigns every time they launch in a new city.

[Ed note: here’s a promo video for the ice cream campaign followed by materials created for the company by Noise13.]

We’ve helped with over 1,000 promos over the past two years primarily because we work around the world: we do graphics, t-shirts, invitations, art direction for photo shoots, internal graphics for their offices, et cetera.

When we started with Uber they had two in-house designers, but now they have more than 50 in their headquarters.


How does Noise13’s work help convey the client’s “corporate values and goals?”

The company has several internal brand pillars they want to emphasize — themes like “magical” and “populist” — and they’ve been updated over the past six months. We want to make sure that the visual work we provide aligns with some or all of those brand pillars: Uber black, for example, is a little more high-end while X is more “for the people”; some cities have scooters and some have boats.

We originally worked on messaging as they had no real marketing team, but now they have in-house writers. The changes have been very fast-paced.


[An Uber-sponsored concert series]

Within the PR industry, there’s a lot of talk about communications becoming more visually-oriented. What’s your take on that?

The general public doesn’t read as much; they absorb data in bit form, and they flip/scroll through everything so quickly that you have to grab them with consistent visuals. I’m grateful for things like Medium that inspire people to read longer pieces, but consumers want quick bursts of information so they can decide whether they want to dive deeper.

In the case of “Uber ice cream,” the campaign went out from San Francisco to 30+ cities around the world, so it needed to be translated into different languages and put on ice cream trucks, stickers, napkins, blog posts, emails, et cetera. We designed it so that everyone could understand very quickly that this was still Uber whether they got the information from the side of a car, an email, or a social promotion on their phone.


[An Uber driver’s kit]

What does PR need to learn about visual messaging strategies?

The key is to find out where your consumers are and what information they need so you can focus your communications as much as possible. You don’t need to repeat the same information in a print ad and a Facebook post, and visual messaging can bring these elements together.

It’s about focusing on what you’re saying to them in that moment rather than presenting a collage of ten different messages. Disperse it down to make sure you’re conveying the right info at the right time.

Consistency of visuals doesn’t mean everything needs to look exactly the same, but there must be common elements to tie things together; otherwise people will get bored.

It’s about tying the message to the visuals. For our client Eat Drink San Francisco, we have to do print ads in addition to bus shelters, digital ads, and more — but if we used the same message/visual for six months, people would get bored. It’s also important to connect with the consumer wherever he/she is: if the promo appears in a wine magazine, the visual should include images of wine.

A logo is great, but people associate your brand with so much more now. All the visual communications connected to that brand need to tie back together.