🎙 Geoff Cook on Building a Crypto Name: "The Strongest Brands Compete on Emotion"

In this week’s episode I speak with Geoff Cook, co-founder of Base, a design studio with huge clients from all industries, including The New York Times, MoMA, ING Bank and large-scale projects like JFK’s Terminal 4 and the Meatpacking District in New York. Geoff hopes to soon add crypto to the list. 

He recently wrote an article stating that "For Crypto, Branding Could be the Highest Currency,” as the success of these projects will rely on communicating complex concepts and features to gain mass adoption. We discuss that crypto is in its teenage years in terms of branding: crypto, and especially DeFi projects, are rebelling against traditional finance and web2, but they’re still seeking to belong to a group and are not expressing their own individual characteristics and values. This is making all DeFi brands look alike. Geoff says that a company, or in the case of crypto, a protocol, that wants to build a powerful brand needs to figure out the story they want to tell. They need to know exactly what they stand for, what their purpose is, and who their user is. Next comes identifying how to communicate that to their core user.

We also discuss what branding looks like in a space that’s made up of decentralized organizations, where many stakeholders have the power to shape a project’s brands, and whether blockchains that have become utilities like Ethereum and Bitcoin, can even have a branding strategy. In any case, he argues that branding can be instrumental in helping projects break through the noise. And we all know there's a lot of noise in crypto.

The podcast was led by Camila Russo, and edited by Alp Gasimov. Transcript was edited by Owen Fernau.

🎙Listen to the interview in this week’s podcast episode here:

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👀 Only paid subscribers have access to the full interview transcript below.

Camila Russo: I'm super excited to be here with Geoff Cook. First guest on The Defiant podcast to do this in-person with me. So thank you so much and welcome to our studio.

Geoff Cook: I'm thrilled to be here in Dumbo.

CR: Yay. So Geoff is a partner at Base, a design firm. When did it start?

GC: We started in Brussels in the early nineties.

CR: Okay and so maybe you won't have heard of Base, but you'll all have definitely heard of your clients. Geoff is here because he's super interested in crypto and Base is looking to add more and more crypto projects onto its incredible roster of clients. So we'll talk about what it takes to make a good brand and how that applies to crypto. And also good examples of crypto brands you're seeing. Before we get into all of that, I'd love to hear more of your background. How you got started, what led you to Base.

GC: Sure. So as mentioned Base was started in Brussels actually in the early nineties when I was still in the fashion business and I met my current partners through the worlds of fashion and, in 1999, decided to invest in the company and bring it to New York. So we've been in New York for 22 years and also now have offices next to Brussels in Geneva and Melbourne. So we're about 70, 75 people worldwide.

CR: And how did you get to Base in the first place? If you can tell a bit of your pre-Base, career.

GC: It's one of those stories that's all about luck, I suppose. So my partner's parents had one of the preeminent fashion stores in Belgium and I actually met them first and along came my partner who was shooting pictures out of the back of the fashion offices at Donna Karan. And I thought, oh, here's an interesting guy. And we became friends first and I got to know more about their business as I was learning about the branding business at DKNY, one of the, at that time, most powerful brands in the world. And I decided that it was more interesting to be on the brand side than the fashion side. So I made the switch.

“...I decided that it was more interesting to be on the brand side than the fashion side.”

Figuring Out What The Story Is

CR: Got it. So Base started as this Brussels-based design studio, and then it looks like with you on board, you made it go global and added all these huge clients. So is there a design philosophy that guides your thinking and your work and is that what's allowed you to work with such big names?

GC: You know, I think it's true that we have a very broad portfolio and you mentioned the New York Times, but also companies like MILK studios and NeueHouse. We're also working on the evolution of the New York Mets. So very disparate groups of clients. But I think that the central through line through our work is we're always trying to help companies and institutions to have greater cultural relevance. That's really our reason for being, our purpose is to really help companies to have a greater cultural impact.

“...the central through line through our work is we're always trying to help companies and institutions to have greater cultural relevance.”

CR: Okay. And so how do you achieve that? Because it's such a huge goal, to have cultural impact. What does that even mean and look like? Is it becoming a household name essentially? Something that you instantly recognize, like all the names we've been named saying.

GC: I think it really goes to the very foundations of what it means to be a strong brand. And so it starts with really understanding each company's true reason for being, its true DNA. And then really thinking about how to tell that story in the most compelling way. So that's very strategic, but I think where the special sauce comes in is in the creative and how you reflect that message or that reason for being, outwards to the public. And some companies do that better and those brands tend to resonate with the public.

“...where the special sauce comes in is in the creative and how you reflect that message or that reason for being, outwards to the public.”

CR: Okay. So it's about communicating the core of your company in a way that resonates with people.

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