Aimee Shah: Inside conscious branding

Sunetra Senior Wednesday 21st October 2020 07:36 EDT

Aimee is currently a senior strategist at Wolff Olins: a top global branding consultancy. Working with brands across the world, the young expert has helped shape the commercial, cultural, and creative impact of a variety of contemporary names on the consumer consciousness. These include popular tech companies, retail chains, and established arts organisations. She shared some incisive wisdom about how branding as an industry has evolved, especially in the time of the explosion of tech: “Branding is no longer a one-dimensional, visual practice. People interact with brands in so many different ways: from what they see and read, to what they hear and smell and touch, to UX, social media, company cultures, physical spaces, events, sponsorships - the list goes on. So, branding as a practice has to be multi-dimensional and wholly immersive.” So, branding is about creating a relevant personal experience.


No wonder then that the appeal of the profession lies in connectivity and creativity for Aimee; developing inventive solutions to big organisational challenges and communicating these in a way that people can connect to. “At Wolff Olins, we have the privilege of working in a really hands-on way on projects – often travelling (pre-pandemic, of course!) and being on the ground to understand customers and get to know the organisation from the inside out.” This, Aimee says, helps teams distil down to the core insights and core idea that drives a project forward. “Brands are so live and responsive, and it’s important that a brand platform can stand the test of time. Getting to really know the organisations and industries that you’re working with is so important to this. If you have a fundamentally strong concept, it can adapt in step with its context. It’s all about building coherent but flexible systems that can adapt to different audiences and situations.”

Aimee is also extensively involved in local charity work, driving food sustainability. She is an Ambassador, Squad Captain and Food Waste Hero for the organisation Olio, which facilitates food-sharing within local communities. “I’ve been increasingly involved with Olio during the pandemic, helping to tackle food waste and food insecurity. Covid-19 has created a lot of food insecurity. With people’s salaries cut and jobs being lost, access to regular and nutritious meals has become a growing issue.” As well as encouraging food sharing at an individual level, OLIO tackles food waste at a retail level. “Through Olio, I collect surplus groceries from supermarkets and other food retailers and redistribute them within my local community. It’s about creating a virtuous cycle where the extra food can help eradicate a lack of it somewhere else.” The socially conscious marketer also spends time volunteering at soup kitchens where she assists with prepping, cooking, and packaging hot meals. Finally, Aimee emphasised the need for sensitivity in branding, particularly at a socially challenging time like this: “Profit cannot be the only driver. We’re big believers in building conscious brands at Wolff Olins - brands that are both responsible and responsive. It also just makes for more exciting work! We’re not just creating slick systems – we’re creating brands that are conscientious, alive, awake, aware, constantly morphing.”

What have been some of your proudest projects at work?

I’d say my recent work with TikTok creating a new European brand strategy, global Creator strategy, and global identity system has definitely been an exciting one. It’s been thrilling working with a brand with such enormous cultural impact. We also developed the campaign framework for the recently-launched 'It Starts on TikTok' campaign, which celebrates the diversity and vibrancy of TikTok’s Creators and the domino effect that their creativity has on culture. It’s been really fun biking past Piccadilly Circus and the IMAX and seeing the work up on the billboards there!

My work last year on the merger of Vodafone and Idea is another project I’m very proud of. The new brand that we created is called Vi. Vi (pronounced as “we”) reflects the collective nature of Indian society. It exists to help you get ahead – through a wide range of partnerships that go far beyond connectivity. To activate this idea, we developed a brand strategy, experience principles, messaging guidance, and employee engagement strategies, as well as a new customer experience, radically simpler tariffs, and a dynamic visual identity. The work recently launched across the whole of India – from big cities to tiny villages.

In addition to the many clients I’ve had the pleasure of working with, I’m also part of the core Black Lives Matter taskforce within Wolff Olins, opening access to the creative industries for graduates from underrepresented communities. We’re creating virtual course content on specific branding topics and offering one-to-one mentoring for bright young talent. This will hopefully give graduates an insight into our world and help them get their foot in the door of the industry.

What are your other passions?

I’m a massive foodie! I love to cook, eat out, and attend supper clubs and food festivals. The food scene is one of the things that I love most about London. I also love to discover new restaurants abroad – my holidays are essentially just food pilgrimages!

What’s one misconception about branding people have that simply isn’t true?

I think people think it’s quite static and mono-dimensional: a logo and a design system. I suppose that’s understandable. Even the term ‘branding’ conjures up images of stamping things or putting a mark on things - but it’s so much broader than that. It’s this real blend of strategy and creativity, with a lot of emotional intelligence at play as well.

What’s been one of your biggest challenges working as a brand consultant?

It can sometimes be tricky building consensus within client teams. Not everyone wants the same thing, and it is up to you to find that core idea. However, this is also one of the most exciting parts of the job. When you do arrive at the final concept, it’s highly rewarding.

How has your branding work complemented raising awareness for charity?

They both involve the ability to tell simple and powerful stories. You need to be able to distil a complex challenge into a concise communication that people will understand.


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