The Antichrist of the Brand Consultancy – Meet Massterly

A global brand collaboration. Developed, launched and managed internally. And fast. How cool is that?

We sit down with the SVP Communication & HR as well as the strategic brand advisor from Wilhelmsen Holding ASA to figure out what happened here 🙂

Interview & copy by Robert Leinders-Krog

To introduce this small story let me tell you a little about Wilhelmsen. This is a global maritime organization with more than 20.000 employees in more than 100 countries. Derived from a traditional shipping company, and having been involved in anything «ocean» for almost 150 years, this company has – willfully or not – change at its core.

Having a forty something CEO bearing the actual name of the company itself is not normal either. However, it does something to an organization. You can read more about them here. Now, Wilhelmsen has been a client for some time and we have worked together on revitalizing and structuring their brand, as well as several intelligence and strategy branding projects along the way.

You could say, we thought we were their strategic partner in their branding efforts. And then, right around some sunny day in April this year, they announced Massterly. The world´s first company for autonomous shipping operations. A combined effort with the Kongsberg Group – actually another client of ours as a side note here. Not only did they announce it, they had a brand, a clear story, a positioning strategy and a complete identity ready to go.

And we did not even know about it. In fact, they didn´t even call…

We simply had no idea that it was about to happen, how they were doing it, why, and who the heck they had used for the branding efforts. Turns out, they did not use anyone. They did it all themselves. And within a few weeks.

Of course, we have brand sprints with startups, or even bigger clients, but this is the first time we hear of such an effort, done so fast, and completely internal. Besides slightly grumpily congratulating them on the effort, we had to sit down with Kai Lundewall (strategic brand advisor @Wilhelmsen Holding ASA) and Benedicte Teigen Gude (SVP HR and communications @Wilhelmsen Holding ASA) and hear about Massterly and how they did it:

So, guys, thanks for keeping us in the dark, but wow, what an effort! Well done, how did you go about it? 

Benedicte: You trained us well! Having said that, we never discussed having an external agency involved in the process. The reason being that we had little time and very limited resources. And quite frankly, this isn’t the first time we came up with a name and an identity for a new company. We even did it before we worked together on revitalizing our brand in 2016-2017, when we established Treasure ASA.

Kai: Thanks. Sorry to have kept you in the dark, but as Benedicte says, this was initiated by the team in charge of the initial project communications. Comms people from both Kongsberg and Wilhelmsen decided to have an “in-house” naming process and gathered a small group with both comms, sales and branding expertise. And as you know, both naming and branding exercises require more or less the same approach, so after having landed on a name, we had enough “meat to the bone” and ideas to cook up a visual brand identity starter.

When did you make the decision to go at it yourselves? 

Kai: It just sort of came naturally. The combined experience of skilled communications experts, the sales angle and my own extensive experience with the creation of visual brand identities made it possible to have a thorough process right from the start. As a branding agency, you probably don’t like to hear this, but if you have the right experience, the right mind-set and not the least, set off the required time, then it actually isn’t such a difficult task. However, there are many pitfalls, and I would normally recommend anyone to get the assistance of a professional branding agency to navigate and facilitate the murky waters of in-house politics and the narrow-minded inward perspective, which you will eventually have to cross at some point. Not to mention some of the creative and graphical side of it, if you don’t have those forces on board yourself.

Benedicte: I echo Kai’s reflections, but would also like to add that cases like this doesn’t come around often. When we saw an eager and engaged group of colleagues that jumped to the tasks, I saw no reason to outsource the process. This was also a fantastic way for us to practice designing thinking as a new way of working and not least truly creating engagement, understanding and ownership for the new company.

How was the process? Did you miss the external perspective? 

Kai: As I was trying to point out, the internal perspective can become quite limiting, often resulting in dull and un-inspiring, very corporate creative outcomes. Nonetheless, it is highly crucial to have close access to that initial business intelligence, both of the market and the positioning the company/product wants to achieve. That made it possible for us to understand very quickly where the company is heading, what markets it sought to conquer, the target groups it had in mind, and the benefits and solutions it brought along. As an outside agency, that often requires extensive research and many interviews to get a grasp of. We had it all at an arm’s length distance, readily available. After some good briefings and a couple of workshops later, we had it all in place. Short distances and quick access to decision makers made it possible to do it so fast.

What did you learn from it? Will you «go lean» again? 

Benedicte: Absolutely. In fact, we are actually in the middle of a process now. I honestly think that because we just recently implemented design-thinking as an exercise and tool within Wilhelmsen, we have paved the way for the acknowledgement of creativity as something not limited to external forces, but as something that lies within everyone’s capability.

Kai: We learnt that it has a lot do with mind-set and willingness to bet on internal forces. With the right tools, they have a lot to offer. As Benedicte says, we are actually at it again, with another company being set up and getting ready to be announced in the near future. If we succeed with the process remains to be seen, but everyone involved sure seems to be enjoying the process.

What can we as a branding & growth consultancy firm learn from this? 

Kai: Don’t let go of your skilled employees. You might not want to meet them working for your next potential client. Hehe. I’m just kidding. But seriously, with design-thinking and the knowledge of creative processes being implemented in companies more and more these days, you might want to consider selling your services with a more guerilla-based approach. Not necessarily wanting the whole shebang, but coming in for short stunts, facilitating workshops and leading crucial parts of the process where an external perspective is needed.  Simplification of corporate speak into something that customers can relate to, is also needed. And not to forget, not that many companies have extensive in-house knowledge of creating full-fledged graphic identities as well as the implementation thereof.

Benedicte: And very often we experience lack of resources, especially if we have extensive projects. Although we’ve been fortunate to be in the middle of a couple of naming and identity projects this spring, this is not our everyday job. From time to time, we will still need to tap in to your experience as you do this for a living and have vast experience from different industries which we can learn from. And last, but not least, getting the external perspective is always good to avoid being to corporate and inward focused.

Are you happy with it? 

Benedicte: Employees involved feel ownership and are proud of having contributed to the Massterly brand. It creates a lot of internal pride knowing that we have done it ourselves. I am extremely proud of having the pleasure of working with engaged and creative colleagues. Processes like this creates a lot of energy and a team feeling that is quite unique.

Kai: Very much so. I think we have given the company a good start package, but now it is up to them to manage the further development of the brand. There is a lot more to be done.

So, Massterly is live – now what? 

Kai: We’re ready to take on any new task that comes our way. But we must not forget there is plenty to manage when it comes to the total amount of brands within the Wilhelmsen group. A brand advisor’s work is never done.

Thank you so much. Agencies of the world, brace for more clients like these. #goodluck.