Motto®’s Sunny Bonnell on their new brand, doing big things and helping leaders craft their vision
Any studio founder will tell you that launching your own company is no easy feat, and the story of Sunny Bonnell, Ashleigh Hansberger and US branding company Motto® is one we think is particularly captivating. Starting with a small budget and big ideas in 2005, the duo set their sights on bringing their visions to life, and never looked back since. Talking with Sunny, we find out how the studio has grown and evolved over the years, encapsulated in their refreshed identity and website, alongside the numerous impressive endeavours of their female-led team.
PT Hi Sunny! How are you?
SB Fantastic, thank you for asking!
PT Can you tell us about how Motto started out?
SB In 2005, in a small coastal town, we started Motto®. We were twenty-something, college dropouts, had $250 in our bank accounts, and no prior business experience.
From the beginning, we were swimming against a rip current of doubt. People said we were too young, too female, too inexperienced, and too broke to succeed in a world where admen made the rules. People like us weren’t leading the way. Motto® would be different, we decided.
So, we set out to create purpose-driven work where brands had something to say, not just something to sell.
We turn vision into value and brand into business impact.
PT How would you describe what you do at Motto®? What type of projects and clients do you focus on?
SB Motto® is a global branding agency that powers the world’s most innovative companies to champion big ideas and leap to what’s next. We specialise in leadership alignment, rebranding, brand transformations, and new brand creation for innovative B2B/B2C companies. We work with founders, CEOs, and executive teams to realise their most significant opportunities. Triggers like leadership changes, shifting business models, market expansions, and product innovations are perfect challenges for us. By anchoring vision and brand to a big Idea Worth Rallying Around™, we turn vision into value and brand into business impact.
PT Why did feel like it was the right time for a Motto® brand refresh? What did you want to communicate with the new look?
Our visual identity had grown tired, and our brand architecture needed definition. We got caught in the trap of being too busy building other people’s brands that we ignored our own. While our reputation as one of the top branding agencies grew, our brand identity didn’t represent where we were going.
The past two years marked extraordinary growth from every angle. We wrote a bestselling business book called Rare Breed, A Guide to Success for the Defiant, Dangerous, and Different (HarperCollins), expanded our team globally, attracted iconic clients like Microsoft, Virgin, and Google, became internationally recognised keynote speakers, and launched a leadership programme called VisionCamp®.
Our strong reputation has carried us far but our vision for the future requires a new way of presenting ourselves. Toward the end of 2021, we embarked on a year-long journey to evolve the Motto® brand strategically and visually.
Every brand has a signature idea at the heart of the business that makes it famous.
PT We’ve heard from many studios that rebranding themselves can be pretty challenging – how did you find the experience? Who worked on the rebranding project?
SB The springboard for the rebrand began with defining our big idea. Motto® has become synonymous with our tagline, Ideas Worth Rallying Around™. We believe every brand has a signature idea at the heart of the business that makes it famous. It is powerful enough to rally everyone from customers to employees to investors. An Idea Worth Rallying Around™ reminds people what’s essential to their business and anchors it to a significant idea. This is a large part of our work.
So, what is Motto’s Idea Worth Rallying Around™?
Turns out, we hadn’t succinctly defined it. And there it was, sitting in plain sight: Do Big Things™. It’s our rally cry and drives everything we do.
This a-ha moment united our purpose, vision, and big idea together. Then, we brought it all to life in an immersive brand system that reinforces our differentiation: shaping and executing vision at the leadership level and doing it with fast-growing companies.
Rebranding Motto® was challenging. They say anything worth doing is never easy. Thankfully, we had a clear vision and a fantastic team to execute that vision. We landed on the Motto® flag symbol and Motto® logotype immediately. The flag symbolises planting your beliefs. We explored our brand language for almost a year before landing it. Our Creative Director Nathan led the effort, and his vision complemented ours. He understood our quest for getting it right and also has high standards.
Together, we spent months dialling in typefaces, finessing colour palettes and refining the design system. The collective brand identity was designed by our incredible internal team, and we assembled a talented crew of designers and developers for the website.
PT Your new website is great! What was your leading vision for it?
SB Our old website also began to show its age. The vision for the new website was bold. It needed to fit our new brand architecture and highlight our work, workshops, speaking and books. We incorporated motion on every page with micro-interactions to elevate the experience and make it feel architectural. For example, we reversed the Motto® signature black website to cool grey/white. It opened up the brand to be more approachable. We paired that with clean typography, graphic imagery, video, and creative interactions. Our page transitions have our flag waving. In each decision, we reinforce who Motto® is, what we stand for, and why we matter. The result is an award-winning website that launched with thousands of rave reviews, comments, likes, and shares. It reassured us that the new Motto® brand and site experience is inspiring and admired.
PT Since its inception in 2005, what have the biggest changes been across the company?
SB Over the past 17 years, our company has evolved. We’ve grown from a two-person, purpose-driven design shop to a globally recognised branding agency to a strategic brand consultancy for fast-growing innovation companies. Today, Motto® plays the role of vision partner and strategic guide to founders, CEOs and executive leaders. Together, we make vision visible through culture and brand. Our most meaningful impact is felt inside companies, not just seen externally. Internally, our work forges meaning in the belly of a business and shapes the culture for how they do things. We align everything around vision and help our clients articulate what they’re fighting for. In that sense, we weave brand-building behaviours into a company’s DNA. We define and manage brand meaning to help companies attract top-tier talent, reach new customers, and execute the brand across the most impactful parts of their business. We are much more than a traditional branding agency.
Today we’re still 0.01% of all creative agencies owned by women.
PT Since you first started out, what do you think have been the most positive changes within the design industry?
SB The most significant positive change is that there is more inclusivity for women, people of colour and LGBTQ+. When we started Motto®, there were very few female-owned agencies. Today we’re still 0.01% of all creative agencies owned by women. While we see more women running and leading companies, there is still work to do. We are big champions of that diversity and see ourselves as a voice that champions more women, people of colour, and LGBTQ+ at the top.
PT For any potential future applicants to the studio, what would you say the ideal skills or characteristics are to fit in with the Motto team?
SB People who do well at Motto® tend to be daring, team-oriented, obsessed with excellence, candid, proactive and optimistic.
PT How would you say 2022 has been for you?
SB Tiring and inspiring! We feel we have the most incredible team, indeed, all-star players. We are so thankful for their support, and we are all really in sync. We can feel it in the camaraderie and work we do. From the brands we are building to the awards we are winning to the momentum in our innovation, it’s incredibly rewarding. Our social media growth has tripled, and we are working with more incredible, visionary clients.
PT What project from 2022 are you most proud of?
SB We’re working on a rebrand of Goodnotes, which will be revealed in 2023. They just won Apple’s iPad App of the Year for 2022. I’m most proud of our recent work for Ninjas in Pyjamas, Hopscotch, Andela and Google. Each one of these brands have achieved huge success through our work, including Unicorn status, partnerships with RedBull, expanding globally, and hiring the top 1% of talent.
PT Finally, can you tell us about anything that you’re particularly looking forward to next year?
SB We are launching VisionCamp® and also may have a new book and podcast up our sleeves. Excited to share.