Capitol Studios Rebrand Strategy & Execution

client: Capitol Studios / EMI Music

CAPITOL STUDIOS

CASE STUDY

Redefining an American icon for a new generation of artists & musicians

Something had to be done...

When Capitol asked Matli Group to conduct an analysis on its business, brand and marketing strategy, there were rumors that the iconic Capitol Records Tower might be sold off and turned into condominiums. 

To the artists and musicians who considered Capitol Studios, long the symbol of both the music industry as well as Hollywood itself, to be hallowed ground, this was unacceptable.

Our analysis revealed a vast disconnect between the near-magical reputation of the studio and the actual experience of visiting it and recording there.

Certainly it still provided the most professional, expert engineers and technicians with world-class equipment in a collaborative, relaxed and creative environment – but the facilities were run down, amenities of competitor studios were missing and with empty 

offices above and lavish reception areas long ago converted into unwelcoming security desks, the overall impression was of faded glory where only a spark of greatness still burned in the basement level studios themselves. Certainly no new musician would enter the halls and feel as though they had now arrived. Compare that to Sinatra swaggering through the doors at the height of his career and it was clear the studio needed a refresh.

What follows is a 2-year engagement that re-created the customer experience of Capitol and vaulted it from a drag on EMI's bottom line to the jewel in its crown of offerings to 360 artists.

After rebranding it, updating the experience design and overhauling all brand and marketing touchpoints we helped it launch 5 new lines of business that now earn more than its core studio services... and preserve the studio as the center of the music world.

Capitol Studios sizzle video

Role: Creative VP/Exec Producer

Agency/Production: Matli Group   Edit: EMI

1: Brand Audit, Consumer Research, Positioning & Strategy

We started with a deep-dive brand audit, including qualitative & quantitative research to understand what drives the customer
Studio A Artist Lounge
 

UNDERSTANDING THE BUSINESS,
ITS CUSTOMERS
& COMPETITORS

ANALYSIS REVEALED TWO CURRENT & THREE FUTURE BUSINESSES WHERE THE CLIENT HAD OPERATED AS IF THERE WAS ONLY ONE

2: Market Segmentation & Sub-brand Development

We separated Capitol's business into two existing units – each with extension opportunities for future businesses (to come later)...
Brand Segmentation

CORE BRAND POSITIONING & VISUALIZATION

AN ELITE MASTERBRAND THAT COULD BE EXTENDED ACROSS BUSINESSES... AND A TARGETED SUB-BRAND FOR NEW ARTISTS
target: MUSIC EXECUTIVES, ARTISTS & AGENTS

3: Brand Experience: Environmental & Wayfinding

The brand experience for A-list artists did not match the perception of Capitol as the premier American recording studio
Studio A Artist Lounge
 
Capitol Records Tower Experiential Redesign
Customer journey maps, brand audit, positioning, experiential design creative direction, wayfinding and signage

Case Study: Capitol Studios

We mapped artist journeys on visits to the Tower and created personalized brand interactions that made a visit into a memorable VIP experience 
Experiential Brand Touch-points

MAKING A PHYSICAL SPACE REFLECT A BRANDS VALUES

WITH A REPUTATION FOR FLAWLESS ATTENTION TO DETAIL SERVING THE BEST IN THE WORLD, VISITING THE STUDIOS DIDN'T LIVE UP TO  EXPECTATIONS

Designing the Masterbrand:
The center of the music world, where the best in the world meet to create 

This was the positioning statement developed after all of the insights, consumer research, competitor analysis and brand affinity work had been completed...

Now all we had to do was make it visual and visceral – Without making Capitol Studios seem commercialized, trendy or inauthentic.

Our audience would be the music tastemakers of Western Culture, who were highly sensitive to anything that felt overly slick, branded and corporate.

 

4: Photography & Video Direction & Production

We shot high-resolution RED video of the camera-shy engineers to capture both spontaneous portraits as well as footage that could be used in sizzle videos...
As a bonus, this approach saved Capitol thousands in production costs.
Capturing Expertise & Passion

IMAGE-MAKING - THE RAW MATERIAL FOR REBRANDING

WHAT DOES SEGMENTATION ACTUALLY LOOK LIKE? WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO "MAKE THE ENGINEERS THE HERO"? ART DIRECTION TRANSLATES STRATEGY INTO REALITY
target: MUSIC EXECUTIVES, ARTISTS & AGENTS

All of the insights, analysis and strategy work inevitably led to a comprehensive creative brief with specific segmentation, positioning and messaging...

We art directed shoots for both the masterbrand and sub-brand with a distinct look, feel and way of framing the engineers for both Studios and Mastering for their respective audiences. To capture spontaneous and personable expressions from the engineers we chose to shoot high -resolution video with low frame distortion, which had the double value of providing footage of in-depth interviews that could be used for a series of videos.

5: Global Brand Guidelines & Style Guides

Crafting Capitol's first global brand guidelines and style guide was an opportunity to codify the elements that made the brand timeless... Beginning with positioning and a new brand manifesto...
Distilling the Brand for Scale

THE BRAND BIBLE

60 YEARS OF ICONIC LEADERSHIP IN THE MUSIC INDUSTRY DISTILLED INTO A 50 PAGE DOCUMENT – WITH MODERN HOW-TO APPLICATIONS FOR SCALABILITY
target: MARKETERS, PROMOTIONAL PARTNERS, LICENSEES

As the first-ever document to attempt to encapsulate the iconic Capitol brand – and make it relevant to current business opportunities without selling out its timeless legacy, we carefully crafted every word and image of the Global Brand Guidelines. 

We wanted to distill the new, focused positioning that Capitol needed for it's business survival and growth while paying homage to its storied past – and true to its roots as a brand that became famous for putting music first. At Capitol Studios, fame and wealth had always been treated as a happy side effect of gathering the best musicians with the best engineers in the highest fidelity studios to create magic... This workman-like simplicity was the brand's core and while polishing it, we didn't want to lose it.

6: Capitol Studios Website - The masterbrand online

Capitol Studios Site (2011-2016)

Studio A Page

A nested top-level navigation to help visitors quickly access the service they sought among the myriad services offered by Capitol to the industry

A perpetual carousel updates to show the unmatched and previously hidden world inside Capitol Studios... each image carefully selected to show the flexibility of the space from a producer's point of view

An industry populated by gearheads, each studio prominently features rare, sometimes one-of-a-kind pieces of equipment available for use

Each studio page also included a list of the famous albums recorded there – a key selling point for aspiring artists

Rotating testimonials throughout the site from luminaries of the music production world

Process & Additional Pages

A slide show of the flowchart, some wireframes and some of the final page templates that rounded out the Capitol Studios website

 

7: Capitol Mastering Website - The sub-brand online

Capitol Mastering Site (2011-2016)

Engineer Page

The Mastering sub-brand had its own color palette and illustration style to appeal to a more contemporary, up-and-coming artist market

Our research showed that the individual engineer's discography and bio were the primary decision drivers motivating artists to choose one mastering studio over another... so the Engineer pages became the most important – highlighting famous albums, artists and giving a sense of their personalities

Each engineer was featured in their studio with their preferred gear list and console specs; a key technical driver of purchase decision for producers

The individual profile of each engineer was featured as primary content on the pages

To highlight their expertise, each engineer was asked to provide thought leadership content on a rotating schedule

A cross-sell to unique capabilities, such as vinyl cutting and custom equipment builds were placed to build new revenue streams

Process & Additional Pages

A slide show of the flowchart, some wireframes and some of the final page templates that rounded out the Capitol Studios website

New Revenue Streams:
Brand, UX & Marketing were just the beginning...

With a brand as well-known and loved as Capitol – housed in a historic landmark that is symbolic of Hollywood itself, Capitol had a unique opportunity to develop ancilliary businesses that most businesses can only dream of. 

So we systematically began working with Capitol  and EMI executives to develop each of them....

 

8: Capitol's First Product Licensing Deal

Capitol was very selective with its first licensed product, wanting to insure that anything the bore its name upheld its brand qualities. Ultimate Ears by Logitech created a set of custom in-ear monitors for professional musicians
Premium Quality Licensing

CAPITOL STUDIOS & ULTIMATE EARS BY LOGITECH

DESIGNED BY LOGITECH'S RENOWNED ULTIMATE EARS TECHS – AND TUNED BY CAPITOL'S ENGINEERS FOR FIDELITY
target: PROFESSIONAL ARTISTS & PRODUCERS, PROSUMERS

Our initial growth strategy for Capitol Studios had highlighted the awareness and affinity of the Capitol brand, and now that the core brand experience, marketing and sales materials were updated, it was time to help Capitol expand its brand into new revenue streams. 

Capitol and EMI used pitch materials from Matli Group to land their first licensing deal and then we were retained to act as brand manager over the integration since there was no one at Capitol who'd ever done it before. We crafted sample packaging, ad creative, messaging parameters and an approval process which made the launch of premium in-ear phones effortless – and ultimately very lucrative. It set the groundwork for what would become Capitol Studios largest growth driver, product licensing.

9: Custom Product Industrial Design

Capitol is the last studio with the ability to engineer its own audio equipment – so we designed the product ID of their latest creation to highlight this lost capability
Custom Pro Audio Gear

THE CAPITOL CM5511 AUDIO COMPRESSOR - SYMBOLIC OF THE CAPITOL EXPERIENCE

ONE OF SEVERAL CUSTOM-DESIGNED PRO AUDIO TOOLS, MADE BY CAPITOL ENGINEERS & ONLY AVAILABLE AT CAPITOL STUDIOS
target: PROFESSIONAL ARTISTS & PRODUCERS

Traditionally every audio studio built its own audio mixing tools, but over time the engineers required to make something new were let go as audio product companies grew to dominate the market.

Capitol Studios is likely the last studio staffed with engineers who can not only repair decades-old, one-of-a-kind equipment but also craft new audio mixing gear. When one of their engineers built a prototype of a new compressor, we eagerly accepted the task of designing the product design for it... it would become one of a few pieces of equipment only available at Capitol. The design process focused on balancing Capitols' updated aesthetic with the visual language of pro audio equipment... and of course, it must be completely functional and practical to use.

10: Partnerships, Livestream & Other New Revenue Streams

As the first major brand partnership after the rebranding, iTunes Live from Capitol launched with a live stream of Paul McCartney – which kicked off with him getting his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (right in front of the Capitol Tower)
Kicking off the first parternship: iTunes Live from Capitol
 

ACTIVATING THE CAPITOL BRAND FOR GROWTH

THE STRATEGY WAS TO MAKE CAPITOL THE CENTER OF THE MUSIC WORLD... THESE ACTIVATIONS WERE THE BEGINNING
target: PROFESSIONAL ARTISTS, PRODUCERS & EXECUTIVES

In the original brand and marketing strategy we'd drawn a blueprint for how to activate the brand (after the brand experience had been updated) to create new revenues while firmly positioning Capitol Studios as the center of the music world.

So we created sales materials for events, location shoots, brand partnerships, live-streamed events and even subletting unused office space to an invitation-only list of the world's top producers. Soon, the formerly run-down Capitol Tower became the meeting place of the music elite. For 5 years running, EMI and Universal Music's VIP Grammy receptions have been held here and the Tower is frequently the backdrop for new music releases and live events.

 

And these activities (combined with licensing) now generate more revenue than Capitol's core studio business when we started.

11: Direct-to-Consumer SAAS Sub-brand – E-commerce Mastering

A new business existed for Mastering among garage bands who couldn't afford to come to Hollywood... So we created Capitol Beacon, an online mastering service for indie artists
Capitol's first Direct-to-Consumer Ecommerce Brand
 

DEVELOPING A FIRST-EVER DTC BRAND AND ONLINE BUSINESS

RELATED TO CAPITOL BUT MORE WELCOMING TO YOUNG INDIE ARTISTS FIRST STARTING OUT - AND ALL ONLINE
target: ASPIRING ARTISTS & BANDS WORLDWIDE

Our consumer insights had indicated there was a strong desire among aspiring musicians to connect with the Capitol brand, learn from the master engineers and get help in producing their first albums. But the core brand was much too premium to be accessible.

So Capitol's executives came up with the idea of offering remote mastering to artists around the world utlizing unused engineer and suite time. At a lower cost, artists could have a Capitol engineer tune their tracks and provide specific technical notes on improvement. The whole system would be via an online ecommerce portal where sound files could be exchanged.

We mapped the experience, designed the brand and all user touchpoints for the new online business.

12: Capitol Beacon DTC SaaS Website

Capitol Beacon Site (2011-2016)

Home Page

Capitol Beacon's sub-brand uses the Tower icon and Capitol script but otherwise departs in typography, color palette, art treatment, etc. to create a brand appealing to indie artists

Messaging was more aspirational and photography more candid – without as much visible treatments to feel more like images a visitor would take in Hollywood and behind the scenes

We created a simple Flash-based "Hear the Difference" app to quickly showcase why mastering your tracks makes them better... the whole site was designed to educate new artists

Additionally, we used the marquee space in the center of the page to promote the work of recent Beacon customers, helping them find new fans among artists

The "Around the Rooms" section gave a behind-the-scenes view of the Capitol Tower at work

Process & Additional Pages

A slide show of the flowchart, some wireframes and some of the final page templates that rounded out the Capitol Beacon website

The Pitch:
Transforming Brand Experience & Core Expertise into Intellectual Property

Matli Group developed several pitches for Capitol and EMI (and Universal Music Group) to grow Capitol's licensing and promotional partnerships businesses. 

Here's a look at a typical pitch deck, incorporating both market and consumer research as well as product design and roll-out visualization... We modified this to suit each company we pitched, which ultimately helped Capitol land new deals that are now their biggest growth driver.