Hajj Flemings: What Is Human Brand Design?

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Shawn Lee Studios

Do truly original ideas exist in the world of business? I am not so sure the next mobile app, restaurant, or service is providing a really unique experience in the marketplace that doesn’t already exist, especially with everyone proclaiming that their idea is the Uber of ‘X.’ In his classic book The Innovator’s Dilemma, Clayton M. Christensen notes that sustainable innovation focuses on incremental improvement, while disruptive innovation focuses on meeting unmet needs by identifying niche opportunities. Most organizations and business owners strive to keep their customers happy by tweaking what already exists.

This got me thinking about Detroit, businesses in other cities, and how the web works for small businesses in urban cities. There are 28 million small businesses in America and 46% of those businesses do not have a website, minimizing their digital footprint. Creating websites is not a new thing, but could we reimagine how we help entrepreneurs that are offline get on the digital grid? Sixty-two percent of businesses don’t have websites at all because they think it’s irrelevant to their business, and the development costs prove to be a barrier for entry. This creates a great opportunity to meet this unmet need and address a very simple idea.

Case Study: The 100 Project Hack Detroit (Hackathon)

This simple idea materialized after a conversation with Chris Taylor, CMO of WordPress.com in Philadelphia, at the WordCamp US conference in December 2016. The idea was to fly some WordPress developers to Detroit and create websites for local businesses. This materialized into a Super Bowl weekend Hackathon, Feb. 3-4, 2017, where we worked on nine Detroit small business websites during a 48-hour period. Our larger goal was to get 100 businesses online by the end of the second quarter of this year. The 100 Project was a program of Detroit-based Brand Camp University in partnership with TechTown Detroit businesses.

Human Brand Design and What We Discovered

My philosophy about ‘Human Brand Design’: It is a human-centered design solution that integrates a diverse mindset, creativity, and innovation to solve challenges. The Rebrand Detroit team is looking for ways to humanizing people, brands and cities to create an experience with a digital and physical interaction.

1. Great Talent Is Everywhere

What if you were not limited to the talent in your own backyard to get a project done? A talented, geographically dispersed team of WordPress developers flew in from around the country to help put a diverse group of Detroit neighborhood businesses on the grid. The developers then had the opportunity to tour the businesses and meet the business owners. Over the next 48 hours we created websites, connected with each other, exchanged ideas and started a dialogue on how to improve the presentation and reach of their brand.

2. Diverse Mindset

There is so much conversation in the tech world about Silicon Valley that it almost feels like other cities outside of the valley don’t exist. As a part of our experiment we focused on Detroit. We found an eclectic mix of entrepreneurs who owned restaurants, coffee shops, boutiques, a market, and a ceramic studio. We wanted to work with entrepreneurs with grit that put it all on the line to start their business. We believe there are other cities like Detroit with a similar culture. The selections not only represent a variety of industries (arts, eateries, apparel, etc.), but also represent diverse ethnicities and economic levels. The Rebrand Detroit team facilitated a tour using a colorful art bus from The Detroit Bus Company, giving a glimpse of some Detroit landmarks.

3. Digital Intersection

There is a connection between the physical and digital worlds that requires a human element. The businesses we encountered were hyperlocal businesses, known in their communities and depend a lot upon word of mouth that just need a nudge to get online. More than 2.4 billion people use the internet every day, and some 90% of those have purchased something, or contacted a company online in the last 12 months. There is a digital divide that keeps some businesses from benefitting from this ecommerce reality. We believe this is the first step in fixing that problem.

Websites We Launched on March 9, 2017

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4. People Matter

In cities we design for cars, buildings, and brands, which seems counterintuitive since the actual human beings should be at the center of the equation. Our focus was to design a solution that was human centered. As a backdrop, the persona of the business owners we were designing for were people who work 10- to 12-hour days, they live in the community of their business location, and they have been open for three years or less. For example, Kay Willingham is the passionate owner of Art in Motion, a ceramic studio on Livernois Avenue in Detroit. This is a perfect example of a story that humanizes a brand or business.

5. Platforms Matter

We needed a platform to test the idea out on and so we used WordPress.com as our platform of choice. WordPress powers 27% of sites on the web and was a great solution. There are a lot of web solutions that lock you into their platform. We wanted to use an open-source solution that would allow the business owners to own their content.

We believe we can unlock the uniqueness in other cities and expand their reach by helping neighborhood entrepreneurs bring their brand to the world. This weekend experiment was made possible by a group of people who were passionate about helping the businesses and that coupled with a rich experience of Detroit, was their only reward; no one was financially compensated. Automattic (parent company of WordPress.com and Design.blog) flew developers out to work on the weekend and give their time, and my team worked as a labor of love. There was no cost to the selected businesses. This was the price we paid to prototype our idea and I love the feeling and the emotions that every entrepreneur shared. This is just the beginning.


❔ Whois

Hajj is a leading brand strategist, speaker and tech entrepreneur that travels nationally inspiring people and brands to build, launch and grow their ideas. Hajj was featured in CNN’s Black In America 4: The New Promised Land: Silicon Valley, which was viewed by over 1 million people. The documentary chronicled the journey of Hajj and seven other entrepreneurs from around the nation as they lived in Silicon Valley launching their startups. He also founded the Brand Camp Summit in Detroit in 2008 and expanded it to Boston and New York. In 2015 Hajj founded Rebrand Detroit, a project that focuses on making Detroit a place for all people. http://rebranddetroit.co

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