One of the most rewarding parts of working in a small design firm is the diversity of projects we take on. Over the course of a year, we’ll find ourselves in a pizzeria hand-stretching mozzarella, working with community leaders to rebrand the neighborhood surrounding an infamous insane asylum, fishing for halibut on a skiff in Alaska, and talking to a team of scientists about energy independence and yeast biology. It’s given us a chance to travel, meet new people, and constantly learn about industries that we’d otherwise know nothing about.
While most of our work is in the food and beverage space, it’s the outliers, the “non-CODO-y” projects that often end up being the most fun to tackle. One such project kicked off with a simple email from Josh Heyen.
“I don’t know how interested you guys would be in adding a biotech company to your portfolio, but we just finished defining our vision, core values, and mission statement, and would like to somehow capture Xylogenics as yeast genetics craftsman with the qualities inherent in all good craftsman.
Let’s grab a coffee or beer sometime soon to discuss.”
We often get emails like this. Not someone asking us to brand and position their biotech company, but rather, people who aren’t sure we’re a good fit for their project. “We’re mostly B2B, but aren’t sure if this is something you guys would want to tackle.”
Energy can be a touchy subject as it falls in a stormy nexus of foreign policy, domestic jobs in heavily regulated industries, environmental issues, and national defense. While the United States is mostly powered by oil, coal and natural gas, there have long been calls for a Manhattan Project-like effort to develop new products, technologies, and a wholesale paradigmatic shift to a sustainable, energy independent position moving forward. Answering that call, all across the country, are enormous, publicly-traded corporations, grad programs, entrepreneurs, and small biotech companies alike.
Xylogenics, based out of Indianapolis, Indiana is one such company. Founded in 2010, their bread and butter is applying a systems biology approach to yeast fermentation. This technology has applications in all sorts of industries, but the most exciting would be producing biochemicals, brewing, and ethanol production (i.e. domestic fuel). To put it as simply as we can, they work with specialized yeast strains that consume organic waste (corn stover, grass clippings, etc.) and convert it into fuel.
I’m not sure what I was expecting when we first toured their space, but their office is more akin to a tech startup than the cutting-edge science lab we were envisioning. One room is packed with a quarter million dollars worth of scientific equipment, while the next room contains a spartan hodgepodge of chairs and desks, many of which have sleeping bags underneath. The word “scrappy” comes to mind.
Comprised of PHDs, scientists, chemists, home brewers, farmers and pharmaceutical ex-pats, each member of the Xylogenics team is engaged, extremely creative, and passionate about what they do. And they’re all on the cutting edge of a technology that could potentially shake up the entire economy.
Josh knew marketing was an important tool for Xylogenics to differentiate itself in a contentious market space. With a drilled down list of around 250 prospects, branding and positioning becomes crucial to standing out and winning biofuel dollars.
Working closely with the Xylo team, we identified a few key audiences. The first is a blue collar, beer drinking, tractor riding ethanol plant manager who would actively use Xylogenics’ yeast products on the front line. The second audience was a more tech savvy, scientifically-minded, analytical type who appreciates sound science and staying ahead of economic trends. These folks would be higher up the chain than the front-line ethanol plant managers; think potential partners and investors.
Beyond this, a few broader goals emerged:
– Position Xylogenics as “Scientist Craftsmen”
– Speak directly to engineers and plant managers
– Humanize the company and its team (something that’s often lost in this high-tech, high-dollar industry)
From here, we dove into identity development and arrived at a few different approaches. The first option was heavy on the blue collar aesthetic, drawing inspiration from vintage oil and agriculture signage. Aside from looking cool, this direction carries messaging of Xylogenics as a dependable and competent partner (from lab to field implementation). It also solidified their brand essence; ‘Blue Collar Scientists.’
The second direction was a more on-the-nose look at the science and synthesis side of what Xylogenics does. Using the ‘X’ from their name as an abstracted synthesis process (something goes in, something comes out), this direction was wrapped in an approachable, “vintage NASA” aesthetic.
After much discussion, the more blue collar direction won out, and from there, we finalized Xylogenics’ brand identity, icon system, stationery, print materials, and responsive website. The website, which was fully-custom designed and responsively developed on WordPress, has a few cool features like a breakdown of Xylogenics’ core specialties and a lead gen gateway to view proprietary information on their flagship product, SyMMETRRY.
This ended up being a strong choice and has resonated directly with ethanol plant managers, looking right at home emblazoned on a jumpsuit or hardhat. These people are no-nonsense types who would see slick, overly corporate branding and immediately be skeptical. But time and time again, Xylogenics has provided real value from the lab all the way to field implementation.
Is Xylogenics the typical CODO client? No. But what we’ve found over the course of our career is that the most important thing to look for in a potential partner is not necessarily what they do, but how they approach it. We love clients who are passionate about what they’re doing; they’re the folks who want to be involved and engaged throughout the entire creative process. For what it’s worth, this was our first venture into the biofuel industry, and we could not have asked for a better partner.