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  • designed for success

A Q&A With ZeShan Malik, Co-Founder of Melee Media

The best campaigns are those that create a world of their own. They must be visually compelling, incredibly thoughtful and have seamless design to succeed in making a long-term connection.

What is the most important design consideration when working on an integrated brand campaign for today’s cluttered media landscape?

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For a campaign to break through and stand out in today’s landscape it has to be incredibly thoughtful, visually compelling, and seamlessly designed and executed across every touch point. The very best campaigns––the ones that stay alive in our memories forever––are those that create a world of their very own, and succeed in making a long-term connection with the audience. For example, I loved the creative developed for StreetEasy’s first ever ad campaign. Especially how it depicted a bird’s-eye view of New York City apartments filled with beautifully drawn illustrations of cartoon characters. The illustrations were so intricate and genius that I couldn’t walk past an ad without stopping to analyze the incredible detail in every drawing. Another great one is Manhattan Mini Storage. Year after year, I continue to be impressed with their sharp, sarcastic copy, all from what feels like one insanely funny person.

How does technology change the way you work with brands to design messaging for different touchpoints such as mobile and tablet devices?

Technology definitely impacts everything we do, but it’s more of an external factor. Our goal with every client is to be a strategic partner, starting first with developing a deep understanding of the brand and then working to define the messaging. From there we adapt our messaging to the technologies we are working with, and determine the best solutions for implementing the ideas across platforms. For example, print adverts may work best if they feel editorial, where as visually arresting out-of-home placements with awesome copy have the power to stop people in their tracks. As for web and mobile, we often recommend featuring short, amazing copy that has its own personality but also reads as straight to the point.

It’s amazing how visual so much of our culture has become. How do you incorporate that development into your projects?

Society loves to consume visual content. We see the value of content through our own lens, what I love you may dislike and visa versa. But the fact is, with technology constantly advancing, with certain forms of technology becoming cheaper, with middlemen being cut out more than ever, and with high-speed Internet becoming more available, great visual content is king. If you’re making something great, whether that’s a video series, or a blog of GIFs, if it feels fresh, different and well maintained, it can become hugely successful. I’ve taken a strong interest in getting involved with animation and cartoons on a personal level. It’s a passion of mine that I pursued in junior high, high school, and college, but dropped once I joined the world of marketing. But as my agency has found success, I’ve started to re-engage the world of cartoons, mostly for the love of it, but partly because if the content is great, it can be successful. It took a couple of years, but I recently completed a claymation short called Aeysha (http://aeysha.tv) with my good friend Brett Harding. Hopefully society sees Aeysha as great content, and the desire to consume it grows.

Professionally at Melee, we produce a lot of events, and they often have a strong visual element to them because that’s what people want. We produced the world’s first live, crowd-curated gallery exhibition for a new Shutterstock brand called Offset. Guests of the event could literally control the imagery on the gallery’s walls. This required us to develop technology that had never been available before, and for us to loop in some of the best projection mappers in the world. We also recently produced an interactive gallery exhibition for LCD Soundsystem that featured never-before-seen photography and video of LCD that Ruvan Wijesooriya shot over the past 10+ years. Neither project would have been cool without great content and new technologies. I’m constantly trying to stay on the pulse of new trends in art, live events, and interactivity so I can continue to deliver my clients the best ideas.

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What do you consider the most common challenge brands face when designing messaging that’s meant to be shared?

The biggest challenge I see brands face is internally being on the same page for what their brand stands for. Until you have this completely down, external messaging (whether that’s in the form of an email blast, a banner ad, or an event) will always be inconsistent. We worked on a project recently where we helped a brand develop their internal manifesto. We started by coming to their office once a week and spitballing words, phrases, and sentences for how they saw themselves. From there we developed an initial manifesto that broke how we saw the company. The first page listed keywords, the next page outlined one-liners, the third page broke out groups of sentences, and the fourth, fifth, and sixth pages outlined individual paragraphs that were separate mission statements. The brand reviewed this, gave us their input of what they loved, liked, disliked, and hated, and we repeated the process. A few weeks later, with the help of an outstanding copywriter, we had a final company manifesto that laid out not only the company’s internal messaging, but their external messaging and voice. We had a roadmap for how they could explain their company to new hires, as well as how they could describe themselves in the “about” section of their website. With this manifesto in hand, we were then able to help this brand with other issues like what copy they should use for email blasts, and what copy they should use via social media. This process entailed us going through their current email and social copy and advising them on how we would restate those same posts. Then we reviewed their upcoming email and social messaging and gave them our feedback. Finally we built a book out that clearly laid out the do’s and don’ts for how they should speak to their audience moving forward. With the book in place, we hoped to empower this client to speak on their own with in-house staff. This process does not happen overnight; it takes dedication on behalf of the brand to stick with the book, and practice.

What do you believe today’s consumer is most seeking from a brand? How does your team address this through design and strategy?

The number one thing consumers seek from a brand is a consistent product that they can count on. That was number one as far back as the 1800s, and it’s still number one in today. Falling second, third, and fourth are a number of things. In no particular order they are: the feeling that a brand is listening to you; that the brand inspires you; that a brand makes you think and feel an emotion similar to how a friend would. Great branding can increase loyalty and dissuade a consumer from trying the competition.

Melee works with a lot of tech, startup, editorial, and music brands. Sometimes we’re tapped to develop a brand from the top down––which is always a lot of work, but so much fun. When we’re helping a brand with their launch to market, we typically start by doing a heavy audit of their industry and competition. Based on the opportunities and key differentiators that we discover, we develop the creative and marketing strategy. We piece everything together into a final campaign, each unique and different––from tone of voice to copy to creative––and always in keeping with the campaign objectives.

If we’re working with a very established brand, typically we’re not afforded the opportunity to redefine the brand from the top down, but rather develop a specific initiative that if successful can become a signature event or branded content series for that brand. This is also a lot of fun to do, especially because we’re always asked to dream up the wildest, strangest ideas imaginable.

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What’s next for Melee Media?

We’re launching a hackathon-style event series this summer called Brandathon.NYC. We see it as part accelerator, part incubator, part competition, part live event, where NYC’s top creatives, strategists, and copywriters come together and compete to do branding work for startups. The goal is to give startups an unprecedented opportunity to collaborate with world-class creative talent and develop their brand identity like never before.

ZeShan Malik is the Co-Founder of Melee Media.


Discover additional Designed For Success content here. Month 1 features Scott Norton, Co-Founder of Sir Kensignton’s Ketchup. Month 2 features Marawan El-Asfahani, Partner and CEO of Jacknife. Month 4 features Ayah Bdeir, Founder of littleBits.

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