How we helped rebrand a Swedish manufacturer of super-high-end amplifiers
Lars Engström is an engineer, born in the Swedish town of Lindesberg, who’s been building amplifiers as a hobby since his childhood in the early 60’s. After a long and varied career in electrical engineering he decided to dedicate himself to amplifiers full-time in 2001. He asked his nephew Timo, an industrial designer, to help with the product design.
A company was born – Engström & Engström – and they’ve been showing off their products at high-end audio events around the world since 2009.
Recently the board felt it was time to take the brand to the next level prior to their appearance at the High End show in Munich in May 2016, and we were given the opportunity to help with the rebrand.
Like a true engineer, Lars didn’t care much for branding. He shrugged us off as “fancy graphics guys” and got back to his work. Real work.
So could we convince a veteran engineer that there was value in branding?
What follows is a detailed look at how we approached this particular rebrand, but also how we approach branding in general.
Step 1: Industry & Competitor Snapshot
To be clear, what we’re talking about here isn’t your typical high-end audio industry. We’re not talking about amplifiers and speakers that set you back £2,000. This is the world of super-high-end (what we also like to call hi-hi-fi) and the kind of products that fall into this category would swallow the average person’s bank account whole and still be hungry for more.
We encountered speakers worth £1,000,000, and a set of amplifiers from Engström & Engström weighs in at several tens of thousands.
We started by looking online at direct and indirect competitors, expecting some of the most beautiful websites we’ve ever seen. After all, this was the first time we worked on a project in an industry with such heavy price tags.
But that’s not quite what we found.
Welcome to the world of the audiophile: sounds amazing, but it ain’t pretty.
Step 2: Engström & Engström
Most of the competition looks years — even decades — out of date, so where did Engström & Engström fit in?
Well, compared to most of the other players, they were actually doing quite well. Their approach was simpler and more modern. What was letting them down was how functional it all felt. When we read about the amplifiers in detail we understood the effort that went into them and what made them special, but we didn’t get that from looking at the 3D renders on the website. The magic was missing. For us branding is about emotions, first impressions and gut feelings. Engström & Engström felt plain, and left us feeling a little cold. Also, it didn’t look like the products were worth as much as they were, and we were genuinely surprised when their price was revealed to us.
Step 3: The Brand Circle & Triangle
Before we can design anything, we need to pin down the DNA of the brand. Every brand has an identity, but it often gets lost or confused over time in the day-to-day grind of running a business and reacting to immediate opportunities and threats. If a new product is being released, for example, all the effort goes into selling that product and its features.
In order to elevate a company from a series of products into a brand, we need to look at the bigger picture and start with some simple but critical questions:
• Why does the brand exist?
• How does the brand fulfil its purpose?
• What does the brand do or sell?
Discussing these questions with the key stakeholders led us to a Brand Circle that was a true reflection of Engström & Engström. We found that the brand isn’t really about the technicalities of the LARS amplifier or the MONICA pre-amplifier, but rather it’s about the pursuit of sound in its original, natural, purest form.
Uninspiring brands communicate from the outside in. They start with what they sell and what the features are, never addressing why they do it or why you should believe in it. An inspiring brand leads with a purpose, and though it may not always be explicitly written on every piece of communication, it pushes everything that company does in one clear direction. As Simon Sinek puts it: Martin Luther King Jr. gave the I have a dream speech, not the I have a plan speech.
Next we funnel these ideas through the Brand Triangle and delve into a bit more detail, ending up with a brand message to summarise it all.
We pulled some key ideas out of the Brand Circle and Triangle that defined the company and together made it unique. This is the brand’s DNA, and would serve as a compass for any future expression of it.
One subtle but important observation was that the entire industry is talking about audio, a word that is technical rather than emotional. We made a conscious decision to always talk about sound; to craft a tone of voice for the brand that was human and used as little technical jargon as possible.
Step 4: Building a New Identity for Scandinavian Sound
After getting an understanding of a brand’s true identity, we usually dump everything and start fresh. It’s surprising how big the chasm can be between what a company thinks it stands for, and what it actually communicates to the outside world. But this wasn’t the case with Engström & Engström. We found plenty of relevant thinking in the name, the logo and the language. It just needed to be tuned, then amplified.
Engström & Engström is a mouthful, and it wasn’t clear from the logo what the actual brand name was supposed to be: Engström & Engström? Engstrom Engstrom?
As a family company built on years of personal experience, we decided that the name Engström had to stay, with its genuine spelling intact.
Sweden’s coat of arms consists of three crowns, so the two crowns in the icon (for the two founders Lars & Timo Engström) was also a nice touch, and something we wanted to keep. But we needed to simplify; two Engströms and two crowns was redundant. Whenever possible, we try to tie a brand’s icon to its logotype to create a coherent system.
The way to tie everything together in this case was with sound geometry, something that was lacking in the original identity but very important for a company that prides itself on precision engineering.
A precision engineer leaves nothing to chance, so neither could we. Even the dots on the Ö are constructed from the negative space of the E.
Step 5: Photography
A logo alone only goes so far in communicating why Engström exists.
The brand exists to revive sound in its original, natural, purest form.
Their sound has been described as “open, dynamic and uncompressed”, delivering a “compelling sense of acoustic space”. The amplifiers are also praised for their ability to bring to life the finest details from a record.
Pure, untouched Scandinavian landscapes and natural features tell this story and provide the color, scale and feeling that the competition don’t have.
We go from details to vast open landscapes to capture the full range of sound that Engström allows you to hear — and feel.
We also needed photography to tell the personal story of the brand, and to show the products, with a focus on detail and craftsmanship. An artificial studio shoot wouldn’t deliver the Scandinavian honesty that the brand needed, nor would 3D renders, so we instead documented the company and its people in action at home and at the factory. We then shot the products in natural light with a consistent black & white finish.
The use of the black & white means the only color the brand gives off is the natural color of Scandinavian landscapes, just as the only sound you should hear through their amplifiers is the natural sound of the music you’re listening to. It also gives the photos a timelessness, reflecting how Engström embraces older — but equally timeless — amplifier technologies.
Why would you pay tens of thousands of pounds for an amplifier, when you could buy one from for a few hundred? The difference is that every Engström amplifier is a handcrafted work of art, not just another product that rolls off an automated production line.
Step 6: Print Materials
Digital media is all the rage these days, but there’s no substitute for quality printed material that you can pick up and touch. For Engström this was crucial to reinforce the personal touch that shapes the products. We created premium screen-printed business cards and a matching brand booklet.
A booklet or brochure is nothing new, but most of the competition opt for glossy paper and a product shot on the cover. Engström was going to be different in a number of ways that reflected its brand pillars:
Understated: Nothing is printed on the cover, just the debossed icon.
Natural: A textured 300gsm grey card, rather than clinical glossy white.
Less is more: Lots of white space, rather than spreads crammed with content.
The booklet brings to life the brand with personal biographies of its founders, the ethos behind their engineering and design, and seductively reveals the amplifiers from production and detail shots to the full product on the final page. In stark contrast, most competing brands go straight for the full product shot and fail to build any intrigue.
Step 7: Packaging
Most brands are obsessed with one thing when it comes to packaging design: shelf standout. Engström doesn’t have this problem because you won’t find their amplifiers on a store shelf. The brand is so specialist that your typical consumer will go out of their way to visit a high-end audio dealer (possibly even in a different country) to listen to the amplifiers and order them. The only job the packaging has is to protect the amplifiers for shipping, then make a very Scandinavian, understated and pure statement when they arrive.
For consistency the packaging is finished with the same grey card used on the business cards and the cover of the brand booklet. The EE icon is debossed onto the top, and the product name discreetly varnished onto the side of the pack. There’s no need for additional information, because when someone spends this kind of money, you can be sure they know exactly what they’re going to find in the box.
Step 8: Website
The websites in the super high-end audio industry tend to follow a more is less approach. They’re generally years out of date and littered with technical details, low-resolution product images and lots of visual noise and clutter. Engström needed to be a breath of fresh air that reflected pure Scandinavian Sound. Any visual noise would be strictly off brand.
Lars Engström says that he is “very happy” with his fancy graphics guys.
Thanks Lars, we knew you’d come around sooner or later.
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