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Brand Evolution Through a Product Methodology. From JoyTunes to Simply

How we applied an analytical approach to building our new brand

A few years ago, our CEO Yuval Kaminka and Growth Lead Nathaniel (Yanky) Yankelevich were having a walking meeting outside our office. Yuval was wearing a T-shirt branded JoyTunes; Yanky wore a Simply Piano shirt. Mid-sentence, they met a mutual friend in the street who looked at both of them and said: “Wow, I didn’t know you were allowed to speak to each other; I thought you were competitors!”

At the time, working on our brand was not prioritized, as there were many other areas of impact we chose to pursue. Generally speaking, we choose and plan our efforts based on impact assessment. However, we knew the day would come when it made sense from a business perspective to start building a globally unified brand. That day came last year when our vision and strategy evolved, along with the need to connect everything together to reflect our mission.

JoyTunes was already known by our learners for our Simply products: Simply Piano, Simply Guitar, Simply Tune and Simply Sing. Thanks to the huge scale and worldwide recognition of those products, they became the lever for the brand. As we started broadening and diversifying our acquisition channels (adding TV, podcasts and more), it was the right time to leverage the power of all our products together. It was time to create a branded house for future growth, representing our mission to transform how people spend their time at home by bringing them together through new creative hobbies in music and beyond.

Here I’ll share with you how a team of only three people (a super-talented product designer, a mega marketer and myself) used agile product methodology to develop our new brand Simply, focusing on only what mattered for impact. This approach helped the team and our learners connect to this meaningful transformation.

First Things First: Discover The Essence

At Simply, we work in small, laser-focused teams (pods) with a clear business goal. This enables us to move fast, make decisions and lead by impact. The pod dedicated to branding consisted of Oded Bengigi (designer) Laura Schillemans (marketer) and myself. We were accountable end-to-end for the entire branding effort.

Like in all of our work, we applied a consumer-centric approach to our brand building, turning to our audience first with a deep discovery process. We heard over 140 different voices, including learners and new audiences, in one-on-one interviews, focus groups and surveys to identify patterns and build brand personas. We also conducted a competitive analysis to understand our differentiation, along with speaking to the team and our investors to get their perspective.

From all the consumer research, we discovered that we didn’t need to build a disruptive brand: our audience already knew and loved our products and our company’s essence. What we needed was a stronger, tighter and globally unified umbrella brand that would expand JoyTunes’ identity and transform how we tell our story.

From day one we knew the brand strategy and company strategy should be intertwined so that the brand would reflect the company vision. The goals that we defined were:

  • Establish the brand foundations for a globally recognized and lovable brand
  • Unify our existing and future products under one umbrella brand by connecting everything together
  • Expand our brand beyond music so it would be extendable to other types of products

Now we had our goals. How did we create a strong partnership in order to achieve them?

Getting Everyone Involved

Our work methodology at Simply is bottom-up, collaborative and iterative so we can achieve impact — fast. The way we approached the brand-building process was no exception. In fact, it was even more important for us to work this way on branding, because the brand touches everything and everyone, internally and externally.

Throughout the entire branding process, we held open internal milestone sessions, workshops and focus groups with the team so that everyone (yep, exactly that, everyone) had the logic for the decisions being made. It also gave us the opportunity to get their input. While you might think all these different opinions would slow us down, in our case it actually accelerated us. Not many people knew this at the time, but we actually had a fourth goal: to connect the entire team to what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. This helped create greater internal brand adoption, connection and belonging. The effect of this was pretty amazing, and not trivial. To avoid the natural noise that this approach might create, it was important to define clear decision owners and stakeholders, along with key milestones for input. That kept us super-focused.

This approach was also applied to how we worked with our external branding partners. In our case, we collaborated with a strategy consultant and a branding agency. Usually agencies take a holistic approach, creating fully worked out visual identity options from the start. For us, the process needed to be more agile: broken down into smaller blocks for faster cycles and optimization, while keeping the overall direction aligned with our brand strategy. When working on the brand identity, for example, we broke it down into its core elements like the wordmark, the icon, the colors and the graphical elements, ensuring they each expressed the brand strategy.

Okay, back to what we did. After strategy, we started with the most hotly debated topic: do we need to change our name?

What’s in a Name?

When we realized that one day JoyTunes could affect people’s lives beyond music by bringing the value we had created from our existing learner experiences to other areas, we understood that the current name would need to be changed. We certainly wanted to keep the ‘joy,’ but we needed to part ways with ‘tunes,’ as it wasn’t extendable to non-music products.

Our learners already knew us as “Simply”, so we also needed a name that retained the Simply equity due to the amazing product recognition. As we considered the name Simply from over 50 potential names, it met our naming criteria goals: offering a strong connection between the core brand and sub-brands, creating an umbrella brand future-proofed for growth and being clearly extendable beyond music to other creative hobbies.

From a Name to an Identity

To create a strategically differentiated brand, we distilled our brand essence into pillars, or what some might call values. These pillars would essentially define our entire brand and would be expressed across all our assets.

The four Simply brand pillars:

  1. Empowering journey — We empower people to have meaningful experiences throughout their journey. It’s a journey that is challenging, rewarding and enriching through the ups and downs, a.k.a “uptime.”
  2. Joy — That’s literally what we’re putting out into the world: those magical joyful moments. We enable people to feel good, sparking joy in each moment during their journey.
  3. Togetherness — We bring people together through shared experiences of joy, connecting to family and friends.
  4. Supportive environment — In everything that we do we’re with you through the highs and lows, guiding people through their own journey in a personalized way with no judgment.

These consumer-first pillars were our guiding light when approaching many of the branding key decisions. One example was our logo. Did we need a symbol beyond the company name and, if so, what should it be? With “guiding learners through their journey” in mind, we created the spark representing the North Star.

Choosing a brand color was guided by a similar process. The color purple, representing joy and creativity, was already associated with our products by our learners.

Now that the brand was built, how did we roll this all out?

Brand MVP approach

We launched our new brand just like we would launch a new product: gradually, testing all the time and optimizing, before focusing on growth (in brand terms, amplification). The brand MVP plan focused on only what was needed to implement and test the various aspects of our new brand.

At this point, the brand pod grew from 3 people to a 14-person multidisciplinary tribe with all the skills needed. Developers, designers, creatives and marketers worked together on only what was needed for brand impact. We defined our brand MVP release to highly visible channels: our top-performing ads, App Store, website and our Simply Piano and Simply Guitar products.

Even before the brand was released, we tested most things to increase confidence before it was rolled out to all. The objective was to understand how our story resonates with current and future audiences and to get a gauge for how it performs. For example, in our App stores, we tested icons and screenshots to optimize performance. In Simply Piano and Simply Guitar, we did A/B tests to get a baseline for what we could expect when the brand came out. Post-MVP release, we already see a positive impact: shifts in perception, stronger positioning and stronger brand sentiment. So what now?

Next Up: Story-Audience Fit

You’ve heard of Product-Market Fit, the “elevation” that you aim for when your product fits its target audience, as seen in the metrics. What we’re calling “Story-Audience Fit” applies the same product testing and methodological approach to the brand, ensuring that our primary audiences get the brand story and are excited by it, before getting to the growth stage of the brand.

In July, we unveiled our new brand. We’re now in the first stage of Story-Audience Fit testing. Two questions are guiding this effort: do primary audiences understand the brand? Are they excited by it? We’re testing this qualitatively and quantitatively through A/B tests. We’re measuring brand sentiment through a combined score associated with our brand pillars (this could be a whole separate blog post). One example of a test is Language-Audience Fit. Are we a brand that is for “the family,” “the home,” or “a household”? Let’s put it to the test and see what resonates.

To sum it up, an effective way to deal with the challenges of building a new brand is to approach it like building and releasing a new product. We did it by testing our risky assumptions and decisions along the way, rather than building the entire brand in a sterile environment and then releasing it. We let our product recognition drive the brand, looking to our audience, current and future, as well as our teams that build the products, to see what resonates. We also defined a brand MVP (or MVB, if you will), and focused on what was needed to see brand impact on our goals, helping us work in an agile way on something as big as building a huge global consumer brand.

Feel free to check out our brand new website (sorry, couldn’t help myself with the pun). I’d love to hear what you think and any questions you have, so feel free to email me at nadia@hellosimply.com.

Special thanks to Dani Zilberberg and Michal Dvir for helping me find my voice.

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Nadia Hitman

Nadia Hitman

Marketing @ Simply (formerly JoyTunes). Global consumer marketing specialist with a background in household brands and high-growth tech startups.