Powering the Bolinda brand

Visionary brand guru, Andrew Hoyne, shares his secrets

Funny how things change. If I’d asked my grandparents to explain ‘branding’ to me, I’m fairly sure their answer would have been something about marking cattle hide and cowboys. Clint Eastwood and the Wild West might have had a look-in as well.

But these days, in a commercial landscape where it feels like we have more consumer choices than there are stars in the sky, we’re told that ‘branding’ is the secret to success. And unless there’s something going on behind the scenes that they’ve yet to share with me, for homegrown audiobook success story, Bolinda, ‘branding’ has nothing to do with a red-hot iron. Or cowboys, for that matter.

For Bolinda, it starts with a colour. Green.

It’s the green of spring leaves. Of Granny Smith apples. Of new life and promise.

‘It makes such an impact, doesn’t it?’ says Andrew Hoyne, founding principal of Australia’s foremost design studio, Hoyne, and the man behind the branding of Bolinda. ‘When I started working with Rebecca (Bolinda founder and publisher, Rebecca Herrmann) over twenty years ago, we were looking for an opportunity to stand out. And the best way to do that, in a branding sense, is to ‘own’ a colour.’

‘We wanted to find a colour that wasn’t being used by anybody else in the publishing industry. And because the company has always been innovative and progressive,’ Hoyne explains, ‘it needed to be fresh – to capture a mood that was optimistic and joyous.’

This was the sweet spot for Bolinda, which positions itself as an audiobook company that publishes ‘the greatest books you’ll ever hear.’

Signalling quality

The father of Communism, Karl Marx, once wrote that ‘value does not stalk about with a label describing what it is.’ But in today’s capitalist reality, a label means everything.

Branding in the 21st century is a sophisticated and complex process. It serves as a flag for us as we try to navigate an overpopulated commercial marketplace.

A brand is a hieroglyph – a symbol that’s heavily laden with secondary meaning. From Nike’s ‘swoosh’ to Microsoft’s coloured grid and Apple’s … well … apple, logos and brands communicate messages about a product’s origin, authenticity and value.

But the most basic function of a brand as a marker of quality has been around for thousands of years.

One five-thousand-year-old clay amphora ‘label’ found in an Ancient Egyptian tomb described it as containing ‘the finest oil of Tjehenu,’ a region in Libya. Whoever packed that into the tomb for the deceased’s trip to the afterlife selected it because it was expensive, superior quality and exotic, coming as it did from a far-flung region.

That’s where brands come into their own, because a brand is a guarantee of quality. As buyers, there’s one thing we’re searching for. We want products that live up to their promise and make our lives better. So whether it’s oil with a Libyan label, or an audiobook with Bolinda’s distinctive green spine, we know we’ve made a wise choice.

The trick behind branding is to work out how to capture and communicate a company’s spirit, and show how that translates to the product or service it’s offering. It’s the way a company presents itself to the world, and when it’s done properly, it shapes people’s perception of that company.

As American advertising impresario, William Bernbach – who inspired the TV series Madmen – put it, ‘You can say the right thing about a product and nobody will listen. You’ve got to say it in such a way that people feel it in their gut. Because if they don’t feel it, nothing will happen.’

Andrew Hoyne, whose work includes the iconic Triple J drum logo, and a redesign of that most Australian of products, Vegemite, knows that the brand stories that pack the biggest punch are those that are true to the product and the company’s mission. And when he first met Bolinda’s founder, he knew they could make beautiful brand magic together because Bolinda had all the necessary ingredients in place.

‘Rebecca first came to me and asked me to work on an audiobook brand for kids called Backseaters,’ he says. ‘But after that, I said, “Look, you really need to rebrand the entire company.” Rebecca agreed wholeheartedly, even if there was a bit of pushback from some of the stakeholders. But Rebecca persevered because she wanted to position the company in a more progressive space.’

‘A fulfilling mind-theatre experience’

Like Rebecca, Andrew believed in the brand’s potential. But he knew they had a long way to go. ‘Twenty years ago, audiobooks were not considered an entertainment category,’ he says. ‘Most people hadn’t even heard of audiobooks. They were seen as a solution for people who were sight-impaired or elderly.’

In the world of branding, this is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow: an untapped audience. But accessing a new audience is no easy task. ‘The first thing we needed to do was to radically change the way people think,’ Andrew explains. ‘We needed to introduce the medium, and encourage people to think of Bolinda as a way to be entertained, and to learn.’

The solution? ‘The idea was so simple: a talking book. That’s where the “book in a speech-bubble” logo came from.’

One of the biggest hurdles in branding is coming up with a way to stand out from your competitors. In the ancient world, there were as many winemakers as you’ll find in your local bottle shop. So vignerons from different regions stood out by packaging their wines in distinctively shaped amphorae, just as winemakers today distinguish their product with labels.

But Bolinda faced a different challenge. The company didn’t have to steal attention from its competitors because there weren’t any. In an age where audiobooks have become ubiquitous, it’s difficult to imagine. But twenty years ago, Bolinda and Andrew Hoyne had to create demand for a product we didn’t yet know we needed.

That meant looking further afield for branding inspiration. ‘Rather than limiting ourselves to audiobooks as a category,’ Andrew explains, ‘we looked more broadly at book publishers. One that stood out was Penguin. No other publishing brand seemed to have cottoned on to the fact that Penguin used to have orange spines. It’s instantly identifiable.’

‘I recognised that as a missed opportunity. So we capitalised on that for Bolinda. And we haven’t looked back.’

A temple of learning

Andrew understood that the key to success was changing the way people thought about audiobooks. ‘We followed up the first rebrand with retail campaigns targeting seasonal activities and partnering with major retailers to convey the power and the potential of audiobooks.’

‘With these campaigns,’ Andrew recalls, ‘one of the things we did was to use literary quotes as a way of repositioning the thinking about audiobooks – to bring them into the canon of literature and entertainment.’

‘One of those quotes came from prominent African American journalist, Carl T. Rowan, who wrote: “The library is the temple of learning, and learning has liberated more people than all the wars in history.” That’s an important one,’ Andrew says, ‘because it captures one of Bolinda’s key messages.’

Bolinda already knew that librarians had the potential to be their brand’s best cheerleaders and PR agents. ‘It was crucially important for us to pay due respect to libraries and librarians,’ Andrew explains. ‘Not just as important customers of the brand, but as conduits to engage people in understanding the power and potential of an audiobook.’

‘We knew this was how we could broaden the traditional audience base from people with sight impairment, the elderly, and truck drivers to, well …’ he laughs, ‘everyone!’

And it paid off. ‘The power of getting the Bolinda brand out into the library and retail markets in such a dynamic way meant that we got a lot of traction and created many followers in a really short amount of time,’ Andrew says.

‘People started to see audiobooks differently. They saw them as something you could consume and engage with anywhere, anytime.’

‘And these days,’ he continues, ‘the traction we were aiming for has actually been achieved. Bolinda is no longer in a niche category. The company is completely mainstream.’

Intangible dreams

It’s one thing to get ahead. The difficult part is staying there. And Bolinda has worked hard to remain ahead of the curve.

‘Bolinda has been able to engage the market with its own narrative through its constant activity and activation of their brand,’ Andrew says. ‘It has such a strong retail presence, and has always been brave enough to test different formats.’

The dawn of the digital age saw the arrival of a raft of new formats. And technological breakthroughs mean that all of us have a device in our pockets or handbags that allows us to take in an audiobook any time we like.

This posed new challenges – and opportunities – for companies like Bolinda. How do you brand something that only exists in the digital space? How do you sell something that is fundamentally intangible?

If you’re buying something that you can’t actually hold in your hand, trust in the brand is everything.

Across the globe, libraries were also struggling to adapt to the new technology. Lending libraries emerged as a big thing during the Enlightenment in 18th century Europe. It was a revolutionary concept that changed the world. Printed books were available to the public to borrow. The idea was that society could be improved if people were given access to knowledge and education. In the twentieth century, audiobooks on cassettes, and later CDs, slotted into this process very nicely.

But it looked like the digital revolution might leave libraries behind, because how can you ‘loan’ something that doesn’t exist in a physical form?

Bolinda found a way, pioneering the concept of digital borrowing, and launching the BorrowBox app in 2010. ‘What’s great about Bolinda is that they’ve really looked at the potential of digital downloads and engaging people through libraries with apps,’ Andrew explains.

‘For a privately owned business, Bolinda has always been ahead of the game. While there are global behemoths in the category now, Bolinda stands out because it has created a name for itself as being one of the most progressive and sophisticated independently owned companies in the world.’

Branding the world

Andrew Hoyne believes that, for Bolinda, this is just the beginning. ‘More than anything? I really want to see Bolinda continue to grow and thrive. I want to see it take over the world.’
He fully intends to be with them on the journey. ‘I’m really proud of the work we’ve done for Bolinda. It’s really exciting to see that the brand has stood the test of time.’

‘I’m quite lucky to be dealing with the founder and the CEO of the company,’ he says. ‘It’s not often that you get that opportunity. We’ve got a special relationship that has allowed us to have really open and honest conversations. And I think that shows in the quality of the work we’ve been able to do together.’

These days, Andrew can’t imagine life without Bolinda’s audiobooks. ‘One of my children’s absolute favourite things to do is to lie on their beds listening to an audiobook.’

‘And it’s transformed me,’ he says. ‘I find myself listening to audiobooks in the car, or waiting to catch a flight. I share them with my friends and family. And it’s amazing to think that two decades ago, I’d barely heard of audiobooks. But they’re part of my life now.’

‘It’s a privilege to work with a brand like Bolinda. I love what they do.’ Andrew smiles. ‘And I count myself extremely lucky.’

Written by – https://meaghanwilsonanastasios.com/

Learn more about Hoyne design – https://hoyne.com.au