“We don’t want to be the creative shop that gives you a new logo,” says Ashleigh Hansberger, co-founder of Motto Agency. “That’s all well and good, but we’re useful to companies that have lost their way and need to figure it out again. There’s something special about helping someone build a brand.” In fact, Hansberger and her partner, Sunny Bonnell, have worked hard to brand Motto, the agency they started together in 2003.
Motto is based in Myrtle Beach, where Hansberger says she initially faced ample discouragement. “We’re in a community with a big good ol’ boy network, so it’s not like they welcomed us with open arms. We had a lot of people question our experience, and our capabilities, everything about us.” But, she adds, “we also had a lot of people embrace our creative spirit, and wanted to work with us because of that. What’s the point in wasting your time on people you can’t change?” Hansberger and Bonnell looked outside the borders of their community to find “adventurous clients,” often small businesses, that were open to creative designs and atypical modes of storytelling.
In 2007, the company got a boost when Hansberger and Bonnell were chosen among eight winners of a contest run by the female entrepreneur organization Count Me In. Count Me In set them up with a business coach, a line of credit through American Express OPEN, and got them publicity in publications like Reader’s Digest and Business Week. Today, they work with five to six clients at a time, helping nascent and established companies pinpoint what they stand behind. Once this is identified, they can create a new, often more credible image.
On paper, Hansberger develops the message and Bonnell implements it, but in reality, Hansberger explains “when we’re working, we’re working together. We brainstorm together, sketch together, work in the computer programs together. A lot of it is straightforward problem solving, and this is the kind of collaboration that works for us.”’
Hansberger and Bonnell have also developed a strong Facebook presence, generating over 1,200 lively, talkative fans for Motto. They ask questions like, “What is your definition of a brand?” and do occasional product giveaways for their audience, which is a mix of friends, family, former clients, and people in their industry. Last August, Motto started “Behind the Brand,” a Facebook initiative that features a different socially conscious company each month. “Behind the Brand” describes the inner workings of companies like the Khaya Cookie Company. Kopali Organics, and Sweetriot, to explore the systems and faces behind the products consumers buy. “We’ve been able to develop some solid relationships from Facebook,” Hansberger said. “It strengthens the bond between us and our clients.”
Social networking is an aspect of Motto that Hansberger sees expanding in the future, even if she isn’t quite sure how that will play out. “We’ll always be designing identities, but we will probably be using tools outside of print and web design that haven’t been invented yet,” she said. “And we’re ready for that. That’s exciting.”