After over a decade of rapid expansion, D’Addario & Co. recently made the decision to re-examine the overall branding of the company’s entire line of offerings, which in addition to the iconic and popular line of instrument strings also includes accessories, drumsticks, drum heads, reeds, and percussion.
CEO Jim D’Addario recently spoke with MMR about D’Addario’s new branding and logo and what was behind these significant changes, as well as the group’s vision for the future.
MMR: What was the initial catalyst behind the move to re-brand?
Jim D’Addario: Our company has grown over 400 percent in the last 12 years. The growth has been both organic and through acquisition. Each time we have brought another brand into our family, our marketing and messaging becomes a little more complicated. We decided to seek the help of a sophisticated branding firm, and the deeper we dove into the research, the more we realized that we needed to do a much better job defining our brand. Who is D’Addario? What do we stand for? All of our brands were not reflective of our deep heritage of innovation, to our pursuit of continuous improvement, and to our commitment to operational excellence. We decided to challenge ourselves on how we could tell the D’Addario story better so that all our sub-brands could benefit from the halo effect of our heritage brand, company and family. We also asked our agency to challenge each and every sub-brand to determine what the market perception was of each brand, and its products.
All this work has culminated in a clear vision for D’Addario as a master brand. This vision has been expressed in a beautiful internal brand book that has been printed and distributed to all of our employees and key partners. We now have a new logotype and logo mark, and we are close to completing a full sub-brand communications road map that will guide our branding, marketing and messaging for decades to come.
The new logo – which is a bold and contemporary evolution of the original – signifies the company’s commitment to remaining modern, technologically advanced, and forever innovating.
JD: Changing the logo was a very difficult and personal decision for me since I personally designed the logo in 1973. The old logo evolved slightly over the years, but it is well recognized and changing it could be perceived as a risky endeavor. That being said, the nearly forty-year-old logo had some serious limitations. The old logo was difficult to place and use universally. Art directors have always struggled with finding the right location and size for our logo, as it is proportionally a long word and not a simple mark that fits easily in any required location.
Second, I felt strongly that our company needed a logo mark that could stand separate from the name D’Addario and eventually become known to represent the D’Addario company, brand, foundation, and all our affiliates. For instance, we wanted a clearly recognizable mark that could be on the end of a guitar strap, on a pick, on a mouthpiece, one that is artistic and not commercial but would clearly identify our products as D’Addario products.
The first efforts were to take the original logotype and clean it up so it had more balance, better spacing for use on the web and on small accessory products. We then tried to come up with a logo mark (like a Nike “Swoosh,” for instance) that would work well with the new cleaned up D’Addario logotype. After months of back and forth, we came to the realization that the old logotype was still not working well with some beautiful logo marks we had developed.
After long hours of deliberation, I agreed to explore other logotypes to go with the beautiful D mark we had developed. Sure enough, utilizing a slightly modified version of Avante Garde, a mid-twentieth century typeface from ITC, we came up with a combination that I think is timeless and will look good for many decades to come. This logo will transcend generation after generation of new management teams and will remain the identity for our family business into the distant future.
The new logotype and mark can be used locked up together in a horizontal or vertical way, and each element can stand on its on and perform beautifully. We have achieved all the objectives we set out to address. The new logo mark and logotype will be used extensively to identify everything related to our company. The same mark is also going to be used on our affiliate companies and for our D’Addario Foundation.
MMR: Can you talk a little more about the design process and the meaning behind the new “six-string converging into one ‘D’” imagery?
JD: We worked with a Chicago based branding agency, VSA, on this entire re-branding project. The object for the new logo mark was to create something that was beautiful and timeless while speaking to our heritage for creativity, for freedom of expression, openness, and our love for music. The six lines emerging in an arc from the base of the ‘D’ reflect the importance of the six strings on a guitar to the overall success of our company. While our string business is still our largest product segment, it is now less than 50 percent of our total turnover. That being said, we felt it was necessary to recognize those roots in this trademark. Although a musical staff is only five lines, the six parallel lines also are reminiscent of musical notation.
We explored many combinations of abstract iterations of music strings, the letter ‘D,’ and other appropriate icons to our business. We did extensive testing of the new mark in position on our products, our packaging, in our ads, on our stationery, buildings and trade show booths, to mention a few. After spending a couple of months with the design and seeing it “in action” in various applications, we were convinced that we hit the “mark” with this new design.
MMR: Are there any related initiatives or campaigns planned in the coming months that you’d like to discuss?
JD: Yes, there are so many that I could go on for pages and pages. Many have not yet been fully fleshed out or agreed upon, so I will refrain from mentioning them, but there are a few that are in progress that we can certainly speak about.
By mid-December, our agency completed a second extensive qualitative and quantitative research project, this one pertaining to our sub-brands. Over thirty in-depth qualitative interviews were conducted with stakeholders for each of our sub-brands; artists, amateurs, dealers, distributors, and employees were queried for input. From that qualitative research, several different hypotheses were formulated for how these brands should be treated in our overall branding as a company. Then over 1,200 quantitative surveys were conducted, 200-300 per brand, to test those hypotheses. The data is now being crunched, and we have an outstanding base of information that will enable our agency and our communications team to develop winning branding strategies for every product we make and sell.
We have also redesigned our XL electric string packaging. One of the elements of our DNA as a company is our respect for our planet and our desire to be the industry leader with regards to sustainability. Graphically, the new packaging speaks to our main brand purpose of “inspiring performance’ and takes our XL and circle logos and modernizes them. We considered changing our outer package from its present recycled, earthy-friendly format to a laminated foil bag. Unfortunately, laminated foil packages are not recyclable because dissimilar materials such as aluminum foil, polyester film, polyethylene film and paper are layered and glued together. The materials cannot be easily separated and cannot be marked as recyclable. This just does not agree with our company and family commitment to sustainability.
Instead, we chose to maintain the recycled outer cardboard package that has become a D’Addario trademark. We upgraded the design so the outer bag is sealed, ensuring that the strings have not been tampered with or exposed to the environment. We also upgraded the inner, recyclable, plastic bag to a more advanced vapor-corrosion-inhibitor design. The result is that all elements of our packaging are either recyclable or recycled, and all printing is executed with soy based, earthy-friendly inks.
The new packaging design will be premiered at the 2013 Winter NAMM Show.
We are also upgrading all the packaging for our Planet Waves accessories. The branding research has indicated that Planet Waves should take on a stronger “D’Addario” identity, and new packaging with the new D’Addario logo prominently displayed will be transitioned in over the course of 2013. Products that have been tested with the D’Addario brand name included have already seen huge increases in turnover. We are confident that marrying Planet Waves fretted instrument accessories to the D’Addario fretted instrument string line is going to a successful migration.
At NAMM, we are also re-launching Evans drumheads. For the last five years, D’Addario engineers have been researching new collar shapes and making new molds to test them. The goal was to develop a drumhead design that would create a head would fit all drums better. The new Evans Level 360 technology enables all Evans tom and snare heads to fit drums perfectly, tune easier and with an extended tuning range. The culmination of a five-year R&D effort, all molds have been replaced with this new profile design and an extensive marketing re-launch will be unveiled at the NAMM show.
There are similar developments for each of our brands, but it is too early to speak about them publicly.