Brand identity

Northstar Asset Management

Firedog created a contemporary brand identity for Northstar utilising a fluid and abstracted visual identity constructed from an organic, mineral like structure.

The detail within the resulting visual aesthetic calls upon audiences to look “Closer to the truth”. Northstar is a Cape Town based asset manager which provides specialist solutions for discerning investors. Their investment process is built upon an obsession for research applied to a limited number of meticulously managed portfolios. We assisted the business in the creation of a strategic framework, brand positioning, brand and visual identity, advertising and the build of a comprehensive fund orientated website.

We combined the themes gleaned from research into a positioning mind map.
We combined the themes gleaned from research into a positioning mind map.

"Long term investing”, so common in the competitive environment, is just a ruse to get clients to forgive underwhelming performance in the short and medium term.

Unearthing the core positioning

We hosted an intensive brand workshop analysing the business values with the motive for extracting the unique brand difference. We looked to define what makes Northstar different in an environment under large scale change and growth in competition. We found the previous positioning of the “life journey” was inline with general sector positioning. On bullish investigation, we ascertained that this “long term investing”, so common in the competitive environment, is really just an inward ruse to get clients to forgive underwhelming performance in the short and medium term horizons. In order to differentiate against the competition, we needed to pivot and find a unique angle.

Northstar offers a much narrower focus through a limited number of tactical funds

It became evident that Northstar has a large proportion of staff dedicated to fund and investment research. The brand stood apart from competition; asset managers which are often thinly spread and quite unspecialised. Each holding a portfolio with a shallow perspective on each product due to the extensive range on offer. Northstar offers a much narrower focus through a limited number of tactical funds, yet conversely each of their funds is far more meticulously researched and managed.

Our visual research explored all kinds of wondrous and imaginative artistic forms.
Our visual research explored all kinds of wondrous and imaginative artistic forms.

When it came to the articulation of “Closer to the truth”, we explored visual narratives which expressed a close-up perspective.

This combination of less is more, coupled with the nature of the deep dive led us to seize upon the positioning of “Closer to the truth.” The truth being factors which become unearthed after careful interrogation and relentless study. In comparison to the larger and more comfortable asset managers selling a wide stall of wares – the Northstar position is of high expertise and considered investing. When it came to the articulation of “Closer to the truth”, we explored visual narratives which expressed a close-up perspective. We began exploring macro and microscopic photography but found the aesthetic became quickly unattractive.

We presented a number of visual concepts designed to articulate the core message. All client stakeholders very quickly seized upon their favoured theme. The creative brief was set!
We presented a number of visual concepts designed to articulate the core message. All client stakeholders very quickly seized upon their favoured theme. The creative brief was set!

We found the more abstracted nature still held the notion of a “closer” look – yet allowed for more fluidity and abstraction.

More interesting and more beautiful is the deeper study of minerals and cross section of precious stones and natural materials observed at far greater levels of magnification. We found the more ambiguous nature still held the notion of a “closer” look – yet allowed for more fluidity and abstraction. In branding, it’s often advantageous to have a more variable system so that the elements can be used in more interesting ways. We researched unique artwork from varying artists who took the idea of detailed form and created imaginative dimensional objects and environments. We felt this was an exciting and new perspective which offered greater freedom and potential. We also appreciated the sci-fi nature of unknown forms and connected this with esoteric understanding which could only be accessed from deeper research, intelligence and shrewd discovery.

The resulting brand aesthetic is arrestingly unique within the asset management sector.
The resulting brand aesthetic is arrestingly unique within the asset management sector.
We found the previous wordmark was quite solid and still worked with the adoption of the new symbol.
We found the previous wordmark was quite solid and still worked with the adoption of the new symbol.

We followed through in creating a series of fluid amorphic forms using 3D software. We created highly detailed maps which contained many striations of colour and assigned these to the forms. The resulting visual identity thus creates a metaphorical connection to a highly valuable mineral asset. We enjoyed the transit this created between deep research and the rewards of discovery when a valuable business asset is uncovered. Northstar often buys into undervalued stock through confidence of research and we felt our visual identity expressed this journey in a non-obvious and intriguing way.

The brand symbol works exceptionally well when tightly cropped. It's abstract nature lends itself to looking at the detail. What is more, the stuffing of image frame conveys the impression of
The brand symbol works exceptionally well when tightly cropped. It's abstract nature lends itself to looking at the detail. What is more, the stuffing of image frame conveys the impression of "Closer."
The dark anchor colours allow not only the brand symbol to
The dark anchor colours allow not only the brand symbol to "pop" but also keep the tone suitably contemporary and un-garish.

The key brand image is supported by a secondary series of forms

The key brand image is supported by a secondary series of forms which are cropped against a black background which helps them pop in full saturation. The result is both intensely bright but also minimally serious at the same time. In addition, we also provided clipped versions which can be used on white and other key brand colours. We developed a colour palette which contained discerning and dark base primaries and a series of brights which enabled the continuation of the contrast.

The series of supporting images. The nature of 3D means that now that the forms have been modelled - new images can be created in perpetuity.
The series of supporting images. The nature of 3D means that now that the forms have been modelled - new images can be created in perpetuity.
The symbol is used in communications design and works well with the limited colour palette and classic typography.
The symbol is used in communications design and works well with the limited colour palette and classic typography.

We built a smart anchor based in-page navigation system which allowed for a reduction of page count by over 50% with no loss in perceived depth.

A key deliverable for the project was the creation of a broad information led website to be hosted on the WordPress platform. The website not only carried fund information but also used custom coded Java based charting applets. These code assets allowed for dynamic chart creation created from simple csv data tables uploaded into the back end. Time horizons, performance and returns are all automatically generated in the front end. Following the research positioning, users are also able to delve well into Northstar’s performance legacy with a library of every fact sheet readily available for inspection. We greatly optimised the overall browsing UX by consolidating what was very disparate journeys all into single key fund pages which contain all the relative information in one page. We built a smart anchor based in-page navigation system which allowed for a reduction of page count by over 50% with no loss in perceived depth.

The home page of the site articulates the overall positioning front and center.
The home page of the site articulates the overall positioning front and center.

We animated the symbol in order to create a film based ident.

As part of the brand expression, we animated the symbol in order to create a film based ident. This was used in an initial brand awareness film which clarified the “closer to the truth” positioning. The video comprised of a series of staff videos juxtaposed with abstracted film footage. The Northstar team took it in turns to explain how their various roles added context to the overall brand positioning. The brand was subsequently launched to the wider client base and sector at an evening function in the city of Cape Town. The Northstar CEO, Adrian Clayton, added further substance to the positioning and took the opportunity to link the recent positive business performance to the brand. The resulting brand and website represents a marked differentiation from the sector competition and cements the research proposition into the minds of the core audience.

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