Process: A Case Study on SOG Knives Part I

“We learned very quickly that SOG is more Bourne Ultimatum than boring old 007. This is a brand that works directly with Navy Seals to develop combat specific products; a brand that has been proven time and time again in the most extreme and harshest environments. We knew that they needed to own this ‘bad-ass’ portion of the market properly.”

As part of The Dieline’s new process series, United Design gave us an exclusive look into the process of creating a total re-brand for SOG knives - the true authority in military tactical knives and tools. SOG is field-tested and proven, designed, and used by navy seals. Focused on function, innovation, and military grade quality, SOG was lacking one important key: communication with their consumers. Over time, SOG’s brand visual and packaging began to look dated and lacked the visual cues that connects the customer with the product.

United also found that “product range segmentation was confusing and retail presence was in free fall; it was essential to re-define each sub-category to win back recognition from different profiles of consumers."

We have decided to split this feature into two parts: first being the initial phases 1 and 2. This segment takes a look at the brief, the immersion of United’s team into the SOG Brand - from the owners to the guys on the assembly lines, who their competitors are and most importantly, their customers. We will also look at the visual positioning and key attributes that United built for SOG after their extensive research; the building blocks of which United used to recreate this ‘bad-ass’ brand.

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THE BRIEF

A 5-year strategic plan, driven by investor’s backing, meant global leadership in the category was the ultimate goal. We were appointed to drive brand development and marketing for this forward vision. In the meanwhile, competitors were making a push on their branded packaging and image, generating huge uplifts in sales and creating impact both at point of retail and in the consumers’ minds. SOG realized that if they wanted to develop the brand enough to deliver against their business plans, they had to succeed at taking the brand to the masses - an exciting, but difficult job.

WHAT WAS THE TIMEFRAME YOU HAD TO FINISH THE PROJECT?

"Extremely fast. The timing was to launch early January 2013, and we kicked off the project on June 27th 2012 (briefed by Nando Zucchi VP of Marketing & Sales & Chris Cashbaugh Senior Marketing Manager. We spent 3 days at SOG’s headquarters in Seattle, speaking with every member of the group - from the founding owner Spencer Frazer through to the assembly line workers.

SOG’s re-branding must of been one of the fastest turnovers we have been involved with in our combined 45+ years of experience."

HOW DID YOU DETERMINE WHO SHOULD WORK ON THE PROJECT?

"United is purposefully of a certain size. This allows us to be very selective about whom we work with, and in turn allows us to dedicate all of our talent and energy into our client’s work. For SOG we had a team of 8 people involved, from start to completion. What makes us unique, is there is no ownership over a project and everything we create is truly a United effort. Further more, the owners of the company Andy Johnson and Lawrence Haggerty are truly involved at every stage. You will not find this approach at many other companies."

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PHASE 1. IMMERSION/ LEARN ABOUT THE BRAND FIRST HAND

THE HISTORY

"The story of the SOG brand began in Vietnam, where members of a highly classified US special ops unit - known as MACV-SOG - carried a unique combat knife into the jungle on covert missions. Years later, in 1986, that knife inspired a young designer, named Spencer Frazer, to found SOG Specialty Knives. His mission: to reproduce the original SOG Bowie knife and pay tribute to the special ops unit that created it. What began as a single commemorative model soon became a full line of innovative tools - field-proven by US Special Forces and honored as the Navy Seal knife of choice."

THE IMMERSION

"United spent time with the owners, every employee, up and down the company. We made sure we under- stood who they were, what they stood for as people, and what really mattered. How did they work as a team? What did they do? What did the beating heart of the business really sound like and what was it that made this brand so special?"

"We spent 3 days in Seattle speaking with every member of the group, from the founding owner Spencer Frazer through to the assembly line workers. In what must of been one of the fastest re-branding programs we have been involved with in our combined 45+ years of experience. "

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PHASE 1 / RECON: KNOW THE COMPETITION

"United went in deep. It is vital to us that we understand the company, the product and the market place as comprehensively as our clients do. To attain that understanding, we carried out a thorough audit of the marketplace including store visits, product research, and competitor and industry analysis. The team purposely spent a weekend camping out in the woods using and working with the knives and gear to get a real feel for the product. Who was doing what and how did it look on shelf? What stood out? What worked and what didn’t? Which brands owned which space? How did retailers and consumers feel about them. What did they need and want? How did it all look and feel, what did it do and who cared? We did a critical analysis of the digital landscape – blogs, websites, social media, professional and consumer. We really interrogated what was going on out there!"

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Competitors/ Leatherman, Buck, Vistorinox/ logos, packaging and POS

PHASE 2: POSITIONING BOARDS / VISUAL DIRECTIONS

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Consumer profile studies

"We learned very quickly that SOG is more Bourne Ultimatum than boring old 007. This is a brand that works directly with Navy Seals to develop combat specific products; a brand that has been proven time and time again in the most extreme and harshest environments. We knew that they needed to own this ‘bad-ass’ portion of the market properly. One key challenge was overcoming the brand’s relatively young age, but we knew that this could easily be achieved by capitalizing on their unrivaled endorsement ‘trusted and field-tested by special-forces’, which was not only in-your-face but totally unique.

Themes and values had to be realized. Aspiration, craft and desirability would connect SOG with the right kind of consumers; the ones they really needed on board. Above all, we wanted SOG to drive home the message that owning their products meant something special - representing exactly what people stood for and who they really were. A powerful consumer message was waiting to be born."

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VISUAL POSITION/ CONCEPT

United then presented 5 unique visual concepts for the approach to: the brand’s look / attitude and personality / logos / packaging / colors / imagery.

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RUGGED

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PERFORMANCE

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STAY TRUE

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CORE 

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PRECISION & INNOVATION

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Stay Tuned for Part 2 of SOG Case Study, Designed by United Design