Behind the strategy: KOKO.

Taking KOKO from a music venue to a global media brand.

After a fire destroyed their venue in 2020, KOKO decided to relaunch their brand with a focus on the future. They wanted to hold onto their heritage as a beloved music venue but also show how much more they had to offer. They needed a brand to signal a new era and help grow their reach throughout London and the world.

Honouring the heritage, enhancing the future.

Launched as a theatre in 1900, KOKO had a 120-year legacy as an independent venue. The stage played host to artists from Charlie Chaplin in the 1920s, to Prince, to Madonna’s first ever promotional gig. But looking to the future, they were ready to go beyond the venue and offer a 360° music experience to a worldwide audience. They wanted to give audiences a better platform to discover new music as well as get closer to the artists they love.

Their aim was to host over 1,000 artists a year from around the world, and bring audiences closer to the shows. This meant live-streaming performances and behind-the-scenes content, starting a radio station, and creating KOKO original productions. Their role in the physical world was growing too; as well as the iconic stage, the new building would house a café, pizza restaurant and member rooms to create a captivating experience for artists and fans.

We worked with the KOKO team to create a well-defined strategy and a revolutionary identity. Our goal was to embody KOKO’s attitude and capture the hearts of the musically savvy and culturally curious.

Principles for the future KOKO

Before starting the new brand, we jumped into the world of KOKO. We studied their history, spent time in the venue and worked with the KOKO team to understand their vision for the future. There were four main insights that inspired the brand:

1. KOKO changes the game with purposeful rebellion. The brand needed to reflect this defiant confidence in taking risks and never standing still, all for a greater purpose.

‘Rebellious’ was already part of KOKO’s brand framework, but this word is often associated with anarchy and destruction. KOKO wanted to defy these connotations. The fire had destroyed their past, and now they wanted to create for the future. In the face of cuts to education and venue closures, KOKO pushes back against restriction. They fund up-and-coming artists through their charitable foundation and champion artists that other venues refuse to.

2. KOKO built a world beyond the venue, but needed audiences to feel like they are always in the room, no matter how they access the brand. Their brand needed to channel their values and energy through every part of their experience.

In the wake of the pandemic, lots of services have found new ways to make music discovery easier. But it was on audiences to craft their own experience by jumping between multiple platforms. There was no cohesion between physical and digital experiences. KOKO offers a better alternative for audiences, closing the loop and creating an immersive world of content.

3. KOKO gives London something it culturally needs. We must infuse the brand with a sense of credible authority and make it a passionate voice you can trust to guide you to the best music out there.

London has historically been the perfect place for musical invention. But more and more closing venues has stunted the growth of the music scene.This is also happening online; formulaic algorithms make it difficult for new artists to kick-start their careers and for listeners to discover new music. KOKO had the opportunity to be a new cultural voice, bringing their passion and support for the sector to both digital discovery and performances.

4. KOKO is the place for luxury that carries heart and meaning. The brand needs to reflect the intention and craft behind the experience.

When we visited the KOKO site, we were struck by CEO and Founder Olly Bengough’s care and passion for every aspect of the brand experience. From the materials chosen for the bar counter, to the retro aesthetic of the café, to the online interface, everything about the KOKO brand had clear thought and intention behind it. There was a sense of luxury but not elitism, accessibility over exclusion, meaningful decisions over flashy statements.

“We wanted to do justice to KOKO’s craft, care and cultural impact. By centring their strategy around purposeful rebellion we were able to convey their attitude and also bring their inspirational influence into the future. Their brand is ready to re-introduce them to the world, but they are also set with a strategy that will continue to guide the brand in all that they do.”

Claire Langer, senior strategist

Creating a platform for rebellion-fuelled creativity.

We built a new brand strategy based on these core findings. At the heart of the framework is the idea of purpose-driven rebellion. It’s an attitude to guide the brand, a spirit that has always and will always live in KOKO, setting them apart from the rest of their industry as the one who will stand up for what’s right.

Our other brand principles were directly informed by our findings around a 360° experience, being a cultural informer, elevated intention and luxury. We knew the brand needed to be a stamp of quality. One that, when you see it, lets you know you’re in for a carefully curated experience.

These principles were the inspiration for the rest of the brand. We asked ourselves what rebellion looks like, especially when it’s for a greater cause. The result? A striking, impactful and timeless brand system that makes every interaction meaningful and provides an unmatched experience whether digital or physical. It positions KOKO as a credible, trustworthy, inspiring source of music discovery whilst embodying the energy and attitude of live music.

“The thing that’s most important when setting out on a project of this cultural importance is understanding the context within which it exists. So we look into the audience, the culture and the category, as well as assessing the challenge we’ve been set. We go wide to discover as much as possible and then stand back to see what we think will have the biggest impact on how this brand shows up in the world. This can be anything from a new wave of technology that we need to prepare the brand for, or an audience need that our brand can help answer.”

Claire Langer, senior strategist

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