Brand agency Daake infuses passion, community spirit and design thinking into every. single. project.

This is a sponsored post paid for by Daake and written by SPN. The day he launched his eponymous branding agency Daake in 2001, co-founder and CEO Greg Daake grabbed pen and paper, sat down in the rented duplex in midtown Omaha that doubled as an office and drafted a guiding purpose for the company….

Photo courtesy Greg Daake
Photo courtesy Greg Daake

This is a sponsored post paid for by Daake and written by SPN.

The day he launched his eponymous branding agency Daake in 2001, co-founder and CEO Greg Daake grabbed pen and paper, sat down in the rented duplex in midtown Omaha that doubled as an office and drafted a guiding purpose for the company. He double-underlined the phrase “something more than an exchange of money for ideas.”  

It’s an ideology the agency, on the verge of its 20th anniversary, follows to this day. 

This community spirit was embodied most recently with last summer’s unveiling of the Omaha flag, a Daake agency-designed emblem meant to inspire unity and to directly support local causes. The flag is supported by a line of branded merchandise available through the Omaha flag website, including t-shirts, coffee mugs, hats and face masks. One hundred percent of profits from merchandise sales go toward the Omaha Metropolitan Healthcare Coalition, a collaborative system of healthcare providers and responders that helps coordinate local COVID-19 response strategies.

So far, the project has raised over $15,000 for the coalition. Daake, a long-time proponent of the power of design thinking, said the project’s success proves the relevance and real-world usefulness of art and aesthetics.

“I think graphic design can have a seat at the table,” Daake said. “There’s a purpose for visuals and design and art in this world, and it can serve more than just a creative person’s goal to express themselves. It can actually motivate change and inspire.”

Even before the pandemic, the Daake agency was offering assistance to local nonprofits through periodic 24-hour, free-of-charge, agencywide flash rebrands, an exercise Daake called “P.M.T.M.s”—a play on the time of day and the trademark symbol. 

During each flash rebrand, the agency devises a new logo, new website and new messaging for an organization that would not otherwise be able to afford the services of Daake, whose high-profile clients have included Nebraska Medicine and Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium. It’s a purposely exhausting exercise that Daake said benefits not only the community, but also the agency itself.

“You really get to know someone at 3 a.m. on no sleep,” he said.

The results have been powerful. In one instance, while the agency and the nonprofit were watching a video detailing the rebrand, Daake said emotions surfaced.  

“They were all crying. We were crying. That’s what I’m talking about when I say ‘something more than money,’” Daake said. “We changed their world for a while with that.”

While the global COVID-19 pandemic has put these flash rebrands on hold, Daake continues to think deeply about how the agency can make an impact beyond providing work for money. 

“Don’t get me wrong,” he said. “We want to be profitable and stay in business and grow and add revenue. I definitely have one foot in that realm at all times. But there still has to be something more than, ‘Here’s $500.’ ‘Okay, here are those files; I made ‘em for you.’”

This holistic, boundary-breaking, future-oriented focus has won him admirers among clients and colleagues. Colleagues such as Rod Smith, co-founder of Volano Software, an Omaha-based business software firm that has partnered with Daake on previous large-scale projects. 

In an interview with SPN last summer, Smith expressed his admiration for the agency’s work and for Daake’s approach to strategy and design thinking.

“When I meet those folks that have a successful firm, and they’re delivering every day, and their clients are advocates, you know they’re doing great work,” Smith said. “But then to know that there’s a leader that’s actually thinking about strategic moves to get them beyond that transactional deliverable, it’s pretty amazing.” 

“There’s always something more we could be doing,” Daake said. 

To that end, Daake has released a series of free white papers through the agency’s website, as well as a book explaining its approach to branding and design. “How to Rebrand a Hospital” was informed by the agency’s experience rebranding and streamlining the vast University of Nebraska Medical Center system into one unified brand: Nebraska Medicine.

A key takeaway from these works is that powerful design does not merely consist of the visual look and feel of a brand, but a deep reimagination that touches every aspect of a company, a kind of courageous exorcism of “the ghosts in the hallways.” 

“You can’t do ‘design lite,’” Daake said. “It doesn’t exist.”

And now is the ideal moment for brands to engage in such introspection about the impact they can have, he said—not just in terms of what they can do for their customers or for their communities, but also—crucially—of how they can treat their employees and structure their workplace cultures.

“It’s a perfect time to insert positive change about how we deal with each other, and what brands really mean,” he said. “When things are taken away, what does your brand stand for? Who are you going to be?”

In increasingly virtual work environments, such positive change entails recognizing and overcoming the challenges inherent to physical distance. 

First and foremost, brands need to overcommunicate expectations with employees and their business partners, he said. “Put everything on the wall so everyone can see it. Ask yourself: what does ‘crushing it’ look like?”

Brands should also be aware that new hires and new partnerships may need to “spend more time in the aquarium” because certain social cues that would otherwise be easy to pick up on in person are not so evident over Zoom.

Perhaps one of the hardest things for leaders to grasp, Daake said, is how to deal with the anxiety of managing remote teams, each member of which is dealing with unique situations that may include child care, homeschooling and other new responsibilities that overlap with the workday. Brands should be aware that just because employees are in the office does not mean they are getting anything done. And just because team members may not be as immediately reachable as before does not mean they aren’t doing vital work.

“At the end of the day, it’s all about contribution,” he said. “You can go for a walk with your dog and think of 20 more ideas than you can sitting in your cubicle.”

Now more than ever, brands should try to spot and hire for passion, especially in their marketing partnerships. Passion goes a long way in overcoming the challenges of the telecommuting age, Daake said.

“Even if we didn’t get paid, the people who work at Daake would still be doing this stuff,” he said. “Because it’s just in you.”

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