Behind every brand — and every design — is a story. It takes the right kind of designer to bring these behind-the-scenes visions to life. Enter Sunny Bonnell and Ashleigh Hansberger, partners at South Carolina-based top branding strategy and design agency Motto.
In 2003, the duo started a local design shop with just $250 and a few computers. They were in their mid-twenties and hungry to build a company based on purpose and value. Soon after, their ‘Motto’ caught on — growing from a modest $25,000 in first-year revenue to over $300,000 in the company’s second year.
Bonnell and Hansberger’s decade-long journey has earned them numerous awards, including a spot on Inc.com’s 30 Under 30 list in 2010. The two have worked with numerous brands, including Inc. Small Giants and Johnny Cupcakes. Their compass, they say, is a desire to bring those brands’ stories to life. We had the opportunity to sit down with Sunny to get some branding tips learn what inspires them.
Shutterstock: How did Motto originally come to be?
Sunny: Ashleigh and I met as young guns in a Chicago snowball fight, went to college together, and embarked on a powerful journey in our early twenties. We channeled our entrepreneurial spirits into starting Motto in 2005 after discovering a simple truth: purpose is the most meaningful asset for any business.
This revelation inspired us to help our clients discover their motto, and to use that as the foundation for every brand we build.
What gap in the market did you see, and how did you approach it?
Having a deeper sense of purpose is the greatest of all human needs. We all want our work to have meaning, and to feel like we’re doing what we’re passionate about and what we were born to do. A company that is driven by its purpose knows what it stands for, what it believes in, and why it exists.
Yet, so many companies are emotionally shallow and lack the meaning and substance necessary for people to even care about them. The brand must stand for something truly special — different not only in features and benefits, but in attitudes and behaviors.
We believe in companies that lead with their purpose and values. Every great leader, organization, institution, and company that’s ever existed had a noble cause and inspiring motto. Helping our clients discover their purpose beyond money — and authentically positioning their brands in a way that is meaningful and relevant to their consumers — is a true labor of love.
How do you help brands find their motto?
Branding is a process of self-discovery — to uncover the one meaningful idea at the center of a brand that makes it rise above. Branding is the deliberate effort you make to say, “This is who I am” to the world. It’s the process of defining, shaping and influencing — both strategically and creatively — the purpose, story, and authentic meaning that your audience should experience.
Our process has been described as bit unorthodox, but completely transformational and therapeutic. The foundation of all our work is centered around the company’s motto. Through facilitated discussions and strategic branding exercises, we work with clients on crafting their vision, clarifying and documenting their purpose, mission, values, beliefs, and story, and articulating who they are, what they stand for, and why they matter.
The result of that work is a brand motto and framework that serves as the strategic and creative compass.
Tell us your most fun customer story. What was the role of design in bringing the brand to life?
Johnny Earle is the founder of clothing brand Johnny Cupcakes. Over the past decade, Johnny has grown his brand from a “joke” to a multimillion-dollar, highly exclusive t-shirt company driven by a cult following, with retail locations in Boston, Martha’s Vineyard, L.A., and London. We actually met Johnny at the Inc. GROWCO conference in New Orleans last April.
We instantly clicked, and not only has he become a great friend, but he’s so inspiring to us as an individual and entrepreneur. He’s also a very funny person, always bringing out the kid in everyone he meets. We’ve collaborated with him on a few different projects, but the most fun was a recent website launch for his lecture series. Johnny speaks at business events, conferences, schools, and summits around the world, specializing in entrepreneurship, marketing, design, tech, advertising, education, and creativity.
In his talks, he exudes the fundamental connection between the person and the brand, and seeks to inspire and motivate his audiences to do more of what they love. The demand for Johnny’s speaking engagements had grown so much that a separate website was needed to reinforce his identity as a speaker and serve as the dedicated hub for his personal brand. Motto worked with him on the strategy, identity, and UX for his new website.
How can a brand learn to embrace its inner value?
We believe brands that embody a deeper sense of purpose have a significant advantage over those that don’t. They have something to say and something to stand for, not just something to sell.
Purpose-driven businesses work to restore the good in the world and fully embrace the values they stand for. We help our clients align these internal truths with their external brand so they can make the difference they were born to make.
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