We’re thrilled to welcome Karl Isaac, a veteran in the branding and marketing world to the Adobe fold. Karl joins us from Landor, a leading global brand consultancy/agency, where he was Executive Director of Digital Branding focused on delivering brand engagement across websites, applications, digital marketing campaigns, social media, and emerging technologies. Karl has close to two decades of experience and has made his mark on some of the world’s most high-profiled brands. He has a BA in Design from Hampshire College, a Master of Architecture degree from UCLA, and an MBA from Duke University, where he focused on high-tech marketing and entrepreneurship.
Curious about his background and his decision to leave agency life for Adobe, we interviewed Karl. Here’s his story…
Q: We see that you studied design and architecture. Tell us how you ended up in branding.
A: Yes, I started out in architecture as a designer and wound up running a small design firm in San Francisco where I used technology to transform our business. I found combining design, technology, and business exhilarating. And that’s when I decided to focus on high tech. While at Microsoft, I was fortunate to bridge into a branding role and was hooked. Branding reminds me of architecture in that it requires an understanding of contemporary culture and combines so many different fields – strategy, design, insight development, semiotics, history, research, rhetoric – to solve challenging business problems.
Q: Was it a difficult decision to leave the agency world? What will you miss most?
A: The agency world is a blast, yet it wasn’t a hard decision. I have an amazing opportunity here and much of what I love about agency life – studios abuzz with creative energy – is alive and well at Adobe. I’ll miss the team camaraderie formed when working as a tight-knit group on outrageously ambitious projects against impossible deadlines – I’m pretty sure I’ll find that here too.
Q: What are some highlights of your career?
A: I’m fortunate to have worked with talented colleagues on a variety of really cool projects throughout my career. On the agency side, a couple of highlights were running Landor’s digital branding practice and at Razorfish, driving the digital brand launch campaign for Bing.
A standout experience from my years at Microsoft was launching the Microsoft Dynamics brand, which is one of the core strategic brands at the company. It’s not every day you get to rebrand a billion dollar business.
Community service is also important to me and so another highlight was teaching Spanish-speaking adult immigrants blueprint reading as part of an experimental bilingual education program where they learned English and a new skill at the same time.
Q: What trends are you seeing in branding? How can companies take advantage of these trends?
A: We’re in an amazing time for branding. New technologies are giving consumers and brand-builders alike unprecedented opportunity to connect with one another, which in-turn requires we reconsider conventional wisdom about branding that’s largely based on consistency and control. Three trends I’m seeing that companies can take advantage of are:
1. Curation – brands engaging customers in tailored, content-rich experiences is starting to be recognized as contributing to rather than distracting from sales. Online purchase behavior is no longer just about efficiency and fewest clicks to a shopping cart. Examples such as Pinterest, katespade.com, and JCREW’s Liquor Store show that fostering more intimate connections via a tailored experiences can drive business results.
2. Immediacy – brands now have the opportunity and tools to capitalize on in–the–moment activities. After Angelina Jolie’s now famous right–leg pose at the Academy Awards @angiesRightLeg twitter account was launched and gained thousands of followers while the show was still being aired. For brands, this raises both challenges and opportunities. To be timely and relevant, nimble and responsive, companies need to reconsider processes predicated on defensive principles and build brands by going on the offensive. We now have the tools to create, deliver, and optimize brand-building activities on a more immediate basis and the brands that are most relevant going forward will be the ones that learn to capitalize on unexpected opportunities as they arise.
3. Social as a model – Brands such as Airbnb, Rdio, and Square are building social into the very fabric of the customer experience and gaining tremendous traction as a result. Square is particularly exciting in that its approach to branding is based on amplifying rather than intervening in the connection between its customers (merchants and consumers).
The success of these kinds of experiences requires a hard look at traditional brand building principles (e.g. purchase funnel) to preserve the best of what’s worked in the past while charting a new course ahead.
Q: What attracted you to Adobe?
A: I’ve been an Adobe fan for many years and have been inspired by the impact its had fueling creativity and innovation. As our economy has shifted from an industrial era, to an information era, to an idea era, Adobe is in a unique position to help people create, deliver, and optimize powerful ideas, which really creates an exciting future. I was also attracted to Adobe’s commitment to community through amazing programs like Adobe Youth Voices and through its support of employee volunteerism.
Q: What are you hoping to accomplish in your adventure with us?
A: I’m hoping to ensure branding is employed as a strategic business asset here at Adobe and used to inform not only the way we communicate but also the kinds of product decisions we make, experiences we build, and ways in which we service our customers. Fortunately, I’m starting off on a great foot, there’s so much to love about the Adobe brand.
Q: Something more personal…What’s your favorite movie? Why?
A: I’m a huge movie buff, so it’s a really hard question to answer. I’ll share that I’ve been on a kick lately watching documentaries about the early-mid 70’s. I find movies such as When We Were Kings about Muhammad Ali’s famous “Rumble In the Jungle” and “Man on Wire” about the high-wire walk across the Twin Towers inspirational and mesmerizing. I guess I enjoy gaining a deeper understanding of the culture and dynamics that shaped my childhood and am inspired by the audacity of moves like Ali’s ‘rope-a-dope’ and the vision of planning the tight-rope walk even before construction broke ground on Twin Towers.
Q: Tell us something interesting about yourself.
A: I designed and built an award-winning solar powered dog house made entirely of found and recycled materials. That was pretty fun.
Follow Karl on Twitter @karlisimo