From Russia with Lactose

A while back, we received a somewhat cryptic inquiry through our website. Someone in Russia was looking for help branding their dairy operations in the far west of the country. Specifically, they were after a North American style brand and identity to set them apart from their Russian and European competition.

Of course, our immediate thoughts were of a Nigerian lottery operator but, we're nothing if we're not adventurous—of course we replied. But before we did, we went full-Shaolin with our Google-fu. This person existed on LinkedIn. While there was no website, the domain had been registered some time ago. Tracked the domain owner down to see he had been written about in dairy magazines. Legit! A few LinkedIn messages and Skype sessions back and forth and our Chief Navigator (and brand developer) Darren Darcy was off to Velikiye Luki (once home to Ivan the Terrible and Peter the Great) in the Pskov Region of the Russian Federation.

The scope of the project grew from that first exchange; there was now a greenhouse brand and identity to develop as well the dairy brand and ID.

In a week.

Oh, and we had to come up with new brand names as well. In Russian. No problem. Ish.

Landing in Moscow at 0200, our most gracious marketing contact was at the airport waiting. Bags in the car, the 6-hour drive to the town was underway, stopping at a few 24-hour grocery stores for a crash course in Russian retail packaging and brand marketing. Saturday morning began with a visit to the dairy operation and the greenhouse operation.

Dairy snapshot: Most impressive. In the last two years, the company CEO has visited over 400 dairy operations around the world and has skilfully imported expertise from around the world to make the dairy company a world-class player in an arena that still tends to have a lingering cloud of old Soviet thinking hanging over it. What's also impressive is that the company is a closed system – beyond dairy cattle, their feed company grows the cattle feed, the dairy processing plant handles liquid and dried products and there’s a cheese factory that makes use of the richest milk they process.

Greenhouse snapshot: In Soviet Russia, mass production was key. Greenhouses throughout the country were each the same size, operated with the same systems and had roughly the same yields. This company is using old structures but has retrofitted them with new technologies powered by new thinking. Growing tomatoes and cucumbers, they are producing higher yields with better quality and fewer pesticides than their typical Russian competitors. Their facilities may be cold-war but their approach is anything but. Employees are mostly under 30 and management is almost exclusively female. There is a vitality of thinking that is quite captivating.

With just six days to create two brands, two names and two identities we wasted no time. Brand visioning sessions, distillations, brand architectures, tag line development, mood-boards, amendments, debates, colour treatments, naming exercises and development, presentations, more debates, identity briefs, identity sketches, identity comps, colour refinement, more debate, more collaboration, presentation of both brand positions, new names, taglines and moodboards to entire corporate staff. Yay team! While they were sleeping in Russia, the elves in Vancouver built the elements called for during the long working days in Viliekye Luki.

These were 14-hour days at minimum for all involved in Russia.

"I can't tell you how impressive this client is," says Darren. "You just have to witness it. Every single person has a dedication to the cause of building something awesome. No shortcuts. No accountability outsourcing. They are all-in. All the time. Everyone contributes. Everyone adds value. One of the most exciting collaborations of my career."

"It was very hard work and very long hours," says Masha, the marketing manager. "But it was like attending a branding master-class. A great opportunity."

Day six was a sad day. Working so closely together, and so intensely, forged several new friendships as well as mutual respect and a desire to not let this be the last project, but only the first. The last day saw a farewell dinner and an overnight drive back to Moscow for a 0700 flight out.

Back in Vancouver, we are down to the smallest refinements to both identities (Cyrillic and English versions) and are now ready to release these brands into Russia. We have since been contracted to develop the packaging for several lines of premium domestic cheese to fill the void created by Russian dairy import bans.