Helping Re-Develop an Iconic Tool Brand and Visual Brand Language


INDUSTRY: Hardware

SERVICES: Research, Strategy, Design, Engineering, Prototyping

Proto Industrial Tools has been making tools for heavy industry use for over 100 years. During the 1990’s, the brand was purchased by Stanley, Black and Decker and brought under their corporate umbrella. Along the way, the brand seemed to lose some of its original luster. Proto Industrial Tools asked us to help them diagnose their brand’s development problems, re-focus their brand’s marketing message, create a visual brand language to bring design consistency across 12,000 SKUs of products and look for opportunities to bring new innovation to their marketplace.

Researching Buyers and Users

We began by conducting ethnographic design research in all of Proto’s core markets: Industrial Manufacturing, Aircraft / Rail  and Sea Transportation / Power Generation  / Military Maintenance and Heavy Truck Repair. We crossed the United States interviewing hundreds of end-users and corporate buyers at dozens of heavy industrial work sites, searching to find what mattered most to Proto Tool’s end-users and buyers, as well inquiring about unmet wants and needs that could lead to new innovation opportunities.

In addition, we accompanied Proto Tools on sales calls, observed trade events and interviewed distributors to study how Proto Tools was going to market. We studied what best influenced (or sometimes didn’t influence) buyers and looked for new ways to differentiate Proto Tools from competitors, while remaining relevant.

Using the Insights

Our design research revealed that Proto Tools needed to emphasize the superior durability their products already enjoyed over competitors’ products and innovate new ways to reduce tool safety concerns at industrial sites.

Another problem we found was that Proto Tools was suffering from a lack of design consistency, which led to increased buyer confusion and decreased brand recognition. Working closely with a development team from Proto Tools, we helped them create a new brand story and visual brand language (VBL) to help reduce confusion and strengthen retention.

Creating the Right Messaging and Visual Brand Language

Our team assisted Proto Industrial Tools in redefining and simplifying their brand messaging, focusing on the core attributes that connected best with buyers and users. The Visual Brand Language was created using a collection of shapes, colors, textures, and icons that indicated extreme strength for industrial applications, safety awareness and American heritage to these viewers.

A system of usage was then developed for these unique visual elements to encourage consistency across all Proto Tools brand touch points including advertising, products, packaging, displays, etc. Lastly, their visual brand language system was documented in a VBL Guide book which gives guidance on how to incorporate Proto Tool’s VBL into all touch points and increases development efficiency.

Logo Development Helps Recapture Proto Industrial Tool's Heritage

From its early years through the 1970’s, Proto Industrial Tools had a very distinctive logo, but changed it several times during the ‘80’s, ‘90’s and ‘00’s. The newer versions of the logo lost much of its original heritage and distinction, making it less recognizable among tool manufacturers. Because their new product development cycles were very lengthy, multiple versions of legacy logos continued to be used.

Along with the new VBL, we proposed creating a new corporate logo. We wanted to draw on the long heritage Proto Tools had and we drew inspiration from the original Proto Tools logo in the new design. The logo also needed to represent industrial strength, so the silhouette of a steel “I” beam was added. The high visibility / high contrast color palette also was chosen to help communicate safety awareness.

Implementing the VBL Across All Brand Development Touch Points

While it will take many years to implement the new Proto Industrial Tools visual brand language across their thousands of products, the new VBL has been used throughout their marketing communications. The new logo was introduced in 2013 and the VBL Guide has since been integrated into company print advertising, social media campaigns, catalogs and corporate websites.

In addition to the VBL development, we’ve also worked with Proto Industrial Tools to design new trade show exhibits, new sales vehicles, innovation of several new products, as well as a new industrial safety program focused on reducing accidental injury from tools in the workplace.

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