Cincy is Creative: Cathy Sonnett & Intrinzic design branding solutions where values meet customers

NEWPORT, Ky. - Cincinnati and the greater Tri-State region are home to people who excel in artistic and other creative disciplines. Each week, we’ll focus on a creative individual who is bringing new perspectives to our lives and enriching our cultural diversity.

Who: Cathy Sonnett
What: Associate Creative Director
Where: Intrinzic , a strategic brand design agency in Newport
Latest & greatest: The rebranding campaign for Remke Markets

Brand communications are everywhere. You can find beautifully designed graphics wherever your look: from product packaging to social media pages.

While part of graphic designer’s job is to maintain brand consistency in all these media channels, a creative designer can do much more. Using "design thinking" principles, Cathy Sonnett and her colleagues at Intrinzic help clients take a fresh look at their work cultures. The goal is to ensure that the outward expression of a brand accurately reflects the internal culture of the company behind it.

“Some may think culture is an organizational problem, but in Cathy’s mind, inspiring and aligning people is a design problem,” said Dave Townsend, president of Intrinzic. Design thinking provides a methodical approach to solving problems that can help companies discover new opportunities.

About Cathy Sonnett

A native of the Cleveland area, Sonnett earned a visual communications degree from the University of Dayton, and moved to Cincinnati 10 years ago. She joined Intrinzic a year ago, after working with a package design firm for nine years.

Designing packages helped her recognize the value of brand culture, because package designs and labels require input from the legal team, research and development and production staff, and other employees outside the marketing department. Consumer testing also matters because people interact with a brand’s packaging far longer and more directly than other facet of marketing communications.

“Cathy's work proves there is no brand without a strong company culture and a team of employees motivated and aligned to live up to a brand’s promises,” Townsend said. “What Cathy calls 'brand culture' is driven by a higher purpose, bringing meaning to work and a personal fulfillment to individual and team effort that radiates out to the consumer experience.”

Townsend believes Sonnett and Intrinzic are helping Cincinnati companies define "a new way to build enduring success.” The goal is to strengthen Cincinnati’s reputation as a center for branding, “and move us forward to become the crossroad where brand and culture meet.”

Branding creatively, step by step

“Building a brand today is very different from building a brand 50 years ago,” writes Zappo’s CEO Tony Hsieh in his best-selling book, “Delivering Happiness.” Back then, a few executives could decide what the brand positioning would be, then buy advertising that told people what the brand was. Now, Hsieh writes, “You can’t possibly anticipate every possible touch point that could influence the perception of your brand.”

For example, if a customer has a disappointing experience with a product or meet a disgruntled company employee, it will affect how you perceive that brand. If you mention your negative impressions on social media, those perceptions can quickly spread.

In a nation overflowing with product choices, consumers now look for companies whose workplace cultures reflect their own values.

Intrinzic uses a three-phase process for branding projects:

  1. Study
  2. Craft
  3. Build

The study includes employees from departments beyond the marketing department.

“In the beginning we try to lead everyone through a process of discovery. We collect and curate insights from people throughout the organization.” Sonnett said. The goal is to get everyone to agree what the real problem is. If everyone starts from the same reference point, they are more likely to support all of the offshoots of the brand later on.

Cathy helps facilitate the discussion: “It’s not always pretty, but it’s honest.” Part of process involves helping companies recognize the many positive attributes that already exist within the leadership team and the people who make up the organization.

“We uncover lots of hidden things they think are unrelated, but in fact end up being the catalyst for business-changing ideas,” Sonnett said.

In the “craft” phase of the process, Intrinzic’s creative team uses the curated ideas to sketch concepts, create models, build prototypes, find the flaws, and build them again.

“This phase is where we shape rough ideas into meaningful stories and identity elements,” Sonnett said. The real magic happens when clients feel inspired when the ideas are presented.

The brand comes alive during the “build” phase.

“For us, the execution of a brand is about building a common culture between an organization and the customers they sell to,” Sonnet said. “Think of it this way: People should want to work for you as much as they want to

buy from you.”

In addition to Remke, Intrinzic has worked on projects for a wide range of companies and organizations:

  • U.S. Bank
  • Johnson Investment Counsel
  • Miami University
  • Tavern Group Restaurants
  • Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Cincinnati
  • “Growing Sound” at Children Inc.

Rebranding Remke

During the project, Remke bigg’s grocery stores were rebranded as Remke Markets. Intrinzic developed a new logo along with visual reminders that the family-run company was founded in 1897.

Remke's website copy not only talks about the company's commitment to delivering high-quality fresh food and local products, but also notes that Remke’s produce buyer spent his childhood working on his grandfather’s farm and buys a lot of summer produce straight from Tri-State-area farms.

What hasn’t changed at Remke Markets, according to Sonnett, is the company’s friendly service. 

“Remke is a great example of culture being the hero of an amazing brand transformation,” she said. “The work we deployed was something that could be embraced, built upon and added to by every employee in every interaction.”

A brand culture of creativity

Intrinzic is located on the third floor of the Newport on the Levee building, around the corner from Dewey’s Pizza and one floor below the AMC movie theaters. Judging from the vintage toys and vibrant graphics in the agency’s display window, it looks like a fun place to work.

“We do use our internal culture as a place to try out some approaches to growing brand culture in other organizations,” Sonnett said. “We have made huge efforts to integrate inspiration and emotion into everything we do.”

The items in the display windows rotate quarterly and tell a story about what inspires Intrinzic’s 20-person staff. One display featured a collection of employees’ vintage cameras:

“We are a visual culture, and how we capture emotion and connection is fascinating,” Sonnett said. The toys in the window displays revealed childhood memories that shaped employees’ career goals.

“The Green Room” section of the Intrinzic website spotlights the wide range of personal and professional projects that employees are engaged with.

“It celebrates the diversity of our experiences and different points of view,” Sonnett explained.

When the company hires interns from area colleges, it emphasize that Intrinzic’s culture is built around inspiration, beauty, and craftsmanship. Intrinzic calls its interns “apprentices,” because the agency looks for self-assured students who are already confident in their career choice and want to hone and expand their skills.

(Photos by Chris Dye, Intrinzic)

Connect with WCPO Contributor Eileen Fritsch on Twitter: @EileenFritsch

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