(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Language Translation Technology? SDL Case Study.

Throw a half dozen brilliant word-nerds into the same room and something amazing is bound to happen. Correction—something amazing already was happening. SDL was revolutionizing brands, including nearly 80% of the world’s top companies, and they had been for over 20 years. But, (just between you and me) the word-nerds saw major untapped potential in SDL.

As Silicon Valley’s leading language translation company, SDL was using amazing technology to make a big impact on business around the globe. They were furthering the art of communication.

Under new leadership and armed with a plan to unify the content and language sides of their business, SDL asked us to navigate their brand refresh. The upcoming changes wouldn’t just affect their core offering, but would also steer SDL in an exciting new direction. After two decades in the industry, they knew they needed a fresh perspective if they were going to make the most of this opportunity to showcase their prowess as the global innovator in translation technology.

(They had no idea what was in store for them.)

Back to the room full of word-nerds. House of Who let our linguistic freak flag fly, collaborating closely with the SDL marketing team to get down to the nitty gritty (each and every phoneme, if you will) of this vital but not-quite-recognizable international powerhouse. We engaged in hot diction debates, dabbling in diphones and detecting dramatic (if dormant) destinies. Selecting delicately from our tool kits, we constructed architectural frameworks, built stories, and shone the mirror of #brandtruth upon SDL.

What did we discover? SDL does far more then “translate stuff” and far-far more than take customer’s content global. They deliver understanding.

The essential value of SDL was neither their technical nor linguistic expertise, but a combination of the two that has the power to make not just top-level comprehension but universal understanding a reality. Imagine a world without language barriers—one where nuanced, personalized content is available to anyone at the click of a button. The potential for brands and benefit to customers is staggering, especially in our ever-so-global world.

In November 2016, we attended the SDL brand launch event, SDL Connect, where we saw our vision come to life. As self-professed word-nerds, House of Who believes that SDL has the power to change the world through language technology because all people have the right to equal understanding. With their new, accessible, more human brand, SDL is well on their way to achieving this.



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"The new brand announced today truly excites and inspires me! I especially resonate with the part about connecting people together across the world! What an impact we are making in the lives of others! Kudos to all of you who worked tirelessly on the branding--you hit a home run!"

"A brand new style with a crystal-clear message for the world"

"Initial response to new look was very positive, clean and modern look!"

"new SDL logo and the importance of the asterisk rocks. Simply superb."

"Very, very nice new look, SDL. It feels good and right. Well done, to the entire team who worked on that."

Forget "Being" Authentic

Being authentic is a trend that life coaches, media pundits, and marketing agencies tout like a commandment of new business branding. To be authentic sounds like a great idea, but what does it mean in practice? Striving to be authentic is pretty much an oxymoron.

Authentic derives from the Greek word "authentes." Back in the day, it meant acting from one's own authority. It was a compound word combining "auto" (self) with "hentes" (doer or being). "Hentes" is derived from "sene" (to accomplish). Meanings of words change, especially from Ancient Greek to the present day, but what stands out is that authentic meant a combination of "being" with "action true to oneself."

Authenticity matters in terms of action just as much as in being. Action reflects what a person or brand does in the world. Being signifies how they experience themselves and the world.

As Seth Godin wrote, Mother Theresa was filled with self-doubt. But she was an authentic saint because she always acted like one. Her being was in the world and full of self-doubt, but her actions were saint-like. We are complex people with all sorts of actions that we could choose to be authentic to. To which self shall we be true? The one who buys a carton of ice-cream and curls up on the couch at night with a feeling of lonely despair? The one who flips off a stranger that cuts us off on the road? The one who helps a mom with a stroller but ignores a homeless beggar?

Brands, entrepreneurs and artists are better to act in line with their mission, vision and their particular motive to make an impact in the world, rather than their fleeting feelings. Fear that accompanies the doing comes and goes. Actions tell a truer story.

Acting with integrity, truthfulness and consistency is authentic action. People respect it because it is genuine. To be genuine means to be true to your origins, whether it makes you look and sound cool or not. W.L. Gore (makers of Gore-tex and other fabrics) acts with integrity in the long-term interest of its employees and doesn't worry about staying trendy. Nor do young influencers brag about being affiliated with the Gore-tex. However, the company's products, actions and culture have landed it on the Fortune's 100 Best Companies to Work For list every year since 1998. W.L. Gore's authenticity is a combination of its trustworthy products (action) with a culture of respect and care (being).

People selling the "be authentic" model often sell the concept in tandem with achieving an ulterior motive, such as being a better leader, being more charming, being more attractive and so on. Authenticity should be divorced from gain or goal. Action born from one's self is vulnerable, has integrity and stands on its own. That takes courage. So take action that includes your whole being and let go of the results. Trust that acting in line with your core values and beliefs is authentic expression. Eventually, people will notice and respect you deeply for it.





Brand Silencing: What Emerges When You Sit Still?

In silence, the essence of your brand emerges.

This isn’t about the verbal and visual cues of your brand - like logo, name, mission statement, and so on. This is about your brand's negative spaces. Your brand communicates a lot more than you may realize in the silent intervals. It’s time to investigate the silence.

Silence reveals what busyness hides. Imagine you are in a butterfly conservatory. The hot, sticky air is pure silence,  broken only by an occasional leaf dropping. In that stillness, a butterfly passes behind your neck. You know this happens without seeing, hearing or touching it. Over time, the varying rhythms of different butterfly flying patterns become apparent. Listening deeply with all your senses, you can feel how an American Snout Butterfly flits versus a Blue Morpho Butterfly. In that stillness, you find how aggressively some butterflies attack a flower, or how gently they land on a branch. In silence, we finally get to observe that which busyness hides.

More powerfully, silence uncloaks the dance between the flower and butterfly. Flowers send out all sort of brand signals: scent, color, ultraviolet light, shape, and other cues. The silent flower attracts the pollinators. It has the power, not the butterfly. Yet not all flowers attract to the same degree, even if they are the same type, just like not all hip-hop artists, or shaving supplies companies attract to the same degree, despite their shared genre.  The attractiveness of a flower is a combination of size, scent, visuals, ultraviolet signals, and so on. But there is an ineffable quality that makes butterflies fight for a specific flower even when other flowers of the same type are available. Like a brand, that ineffable quality is the flower’s value.

Butterflies, bees, hummingbirds and other sentient pollinators seek out flowers with the best value. But how do they know? Return to silence. When we really sit in silence, observe with that depth of awareness that nature gifted to all of us, then we know. In our gut, we know. Our heart knows. When you sit in the silence of your brand you feel the essence that is beyond visual or verbal description.

There are countless experts advising you how to refine and define your brand’s essence. Many of these consultants are expensive, a few might even be useful. But to truly understand your brand start with your experience of it. One powerful way to do this is to literally be with it in silence.

Assignment time: Go somewhere with minimum stimulus and maximum silence. Take only paper and pencils, or maybe crayons are your thing. Leave behind everything electronic as well as anything related to your brand. Instead, imagine your brand growing out of you. Literally. What are the first things that come up? What images? What feelings? What random associations? What smells or sounds? Who do you see attracted to you? Who is repelled?

Capture these impressions. They come from your creative mind, a shy and slippery side not attached to the overt authority that logic and strategy often exert. Those can come later, if at all.

What does your creative mind reveal to you about your brand? If it’s not what you hoped for, celebrate it. Even the butterfly started out as a caterpillar that cocooned itself in its own, deep silence before emerging into a colorful, compact burst of energy powerful enough to start hurricanes - hurricanes that change the conversation, that move product, become indispensable, beloved, respected, integrated into the world we are becoming.

From guest contributor, Ian Boisvert




Existential Branding: It's time to get Deep


Have you developed the world’s coolest product? We salute you. How's its brand strategy coming along? Without a solid brand strategy, your brainchild won't have the staying power that it needs to survive in the big, bad (but sometimes, really-really-nice) commercial world. Think of brand strategy a scheduled trajectory of how to express your Who, What, Where, When, Why and How.

Solid Brand Strategy is a conceptual wheel with many spokes. 6 Koan-Questions to Mediate on:
1. Know thyself... You would be amazed how many businesses and entrepreneurs jump into the fast running stream known as The Marketplace with never having bothered asking the most fundamental question of "Who am I, and why am I here?" I don't mean existentially, I mean your business. To make money? Because it's better than vending popcorn? Because you have an MBA from Stanford and gonna use it if it kills you? Ok, well, your customers don't give a crap about your personal motivations. They want to know how does it benefit them, their community, and the world?
 Plan for: Who are you and why does your brand matter? Why must your product exist at this place and at this time?

2. ...and thy battlefield. This goes beyond performing a competitive audit of your specific industry--which of course you must do in order to truly know how to distinguish your brand from others. But take it one step further and identify any obstacles that might get in your way: competition, yes, but also over-ambition, limited funding, laziness, time, fear of failure, fear of success, a product that no one knows what to do with, being before your time, and so many others.
 Plan for: What are your brand's identified obstacles and how will you overcome them?

3. Test the waters. Once you have identified your unique identity in the marketplace, the next step is to define how you will connect to the clients who are a match to your brand. In order to know this, thorough market research and sincerely understanding (and I would suggest ‘respecting’) your audience is necessary.                                                                                                                                   Plan for: Who are you selling to? Do you know their mindset and lifestyle? How will you reach them? And...do you consider them more than suckers with credit cards?

4. Stay in the game. Develop an implementation process (aka marketing strategy) or brand plan that comprises short-term, mid-term and long-term markers of expectations and actions that you can reference for guidance as you move forward. Making sane, stepwise business decisions that reflect your business plan will give your brand a steel edge over those that expand willy-nilly.
Plan for: Where is my brand headed? What's my brand vision? Do I structure enough to leave on but flexibility enough to adapt [the kids are calling it ‘pivit’ these days].

5. Prevent mid-life crisis. Invest in a strong, cohesive brand identity with a name, logo, brand voice, messaging etc that contain elements of unique appeal yet also timelessness and cultural relevance. For the love of goodness be yourself, not a trend. A good branding team can help you define this sweet spot. By understanding your unique brand at the outset, you prevent the expensive and exhausting crash-and-burn identity crisis that accompanies many startups that hastily launch with a disorganized & inauthentic identity.                                                                                                                    Plan for: Going through a brand process. The process is the product, friends. If you can’t afford to do it with an expert, have you done research on how to do it yourself properly?

6. Fight premature aging. Develop brand longevity by understanding and incorporating your version of innovation into your product’s trajectory. Just as humans evolve, so do products. If you want your product to have staying power, it must have either an enduring, iconic value in the marketplace (i.e. Skippy Peanut Butter, Tony Bennett, Volvo, Sierra Club) or a built-in evolving utility that reflects cultural trends and ‘seasonality’ (i.e. Starbucks beverages, Lady GaGa, imports/exports, vaccines, farm-to-table businesses.)                                                                                                                      Plan for: What might my brand’s evolution look like? What are the “annual” and “perennial” aspects of my brand?

Think of brand strategy as preparing for sending a ship off on a transatlantic voyage. You gotta think Deep. You already have a knowledgeable captain (or co-founder captains!) at the helm with a vision. You have a strong team for support, each offering their unique skills to make the ship run. But if you're missing the map--you will never make it to the other side.

We all know the statistic. 50% of businesses fail in the first five years. While an adventurous spirit is necessary in any venture, Who is getting on board with the folks that have a map. Yes, yes we are.

(Need help building your brand strategy. Talk to Who. It’s what we do.)


Contributors - Whitney Bakaleinikoff, Kerri Lowe, Shannon DeJong

Attention Is a Gift

“Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.”

~Simone Weil

“Do I have your attention?”

It’s a question that we as people (and as brand leaders) are asking all the time, constantly checking in with the people around us: Are they listening? Did they understand what I just said?

We usually do this automatically. We see a slightly confused look and give a definition or further explanation. We see heads nodding, eyes wide, and are energized to keep going, maybe even play with our audience. We see attention drifting, an unconscious reaching for a phone - and we either get to the good stuff or wrap it up. In the real world, we are constantly analyzing and manipulating attention.

On the listener’s side, attention is a gift we give another person. Face-to-face, we know that giving our attention to someone who is speaking to us is the most gracious, generous way to behave, while withholding our attention is often deeper than bad manners, it’s hurtful.

But what about our communications online? Do people give their attention out of a sense of responsibility?

Of course not.

If you've ever taken a moment to think about your own web-use, you’ll know that humans are fairly good at ignoring what they do not want.

With all of the options available, brands can no longer force attention to a product, or a service, or even an idea. We can only invite it.

If attention is a gift that potential customers can choose to give us, (or not) perhaps the best way to start that transaction is with a gift of our own. Giving does inspire giving, after all.

If you want the gift of attention from your audience, you need to give them the gift of attention.

Attention to what they’re looking for - what will delight them - what questions they have - how you can help. These are the kinds of inspired gifts you should be giving your current and potential customers.

You can be the Uncle who goes to the $5 CD sale rack the day before Christmas and makes some awful guesses about what your family wants - or you can research, ask questions, be on the lookout for hints about what they want - and be the giver whose gift receipts are never put to use.

Your choice.


This post was inspired by “Attention is a Gift” - an article and e-book developed by Brian Solis and Gaping Void in association with LinkedIn. 

When We Fail

I just totally bombed.

I had a client presentation, and they disliked names so much the CEO couldn't even give me feedback. I explained that in Round 1 we're not necessarily looking for the answer -- it's mainly to "take temperatures." His temperature was cold.

"I don't have anything to work with here. I need to take a day to sit on this."

I did my best to remain positive and confident. I have been through this process hundreds of times, and I know the drill: names are built, not born; "I'll know it when I see it" is a common misconception; the presence of a name arrives over time, like getting to know a new lover. Some of us fall in love immediately, others need time to warm up.

But this wasn't about the client "not getting it." The creative really wasn't what I would have wanted it to be. Not because I didn't think there were some good names in there--in fact, there were some great names in there. But not for him. I failed to know my client.

I got off the phone with a mixture of emotion. Mainly shame and anger. Shame that I had disappointed, anger that I had set myself up to disappoint.

The creative wasn't right because I hadn't given myself time to really understand what he was looking for. He was a Silicon Valley start-up, like many of my clients, which means a certain culture and pace. This should have framed my reaction to work off-process, under time, under budget.

"They're from Silicon Valley! Of course they want me to work off-process, under time, under budget"

It's something I love about the valley: the drive and enthusiasm to "get it done yesterday." But when we promise good, cheap and fast, we sell ourselves short. And that sells our client short.

"Don't' take it personally, don't take it personally" I repeated internally...but I did take it personally.

I give my all to my clients. What I offer is more than great creative; part of what I offer is me.

My mentor chimed in: “I tell myself I will never short change the process in order to avoid saying "no" again. I defend the work as good for the time and budget, even if I'm inwardly full of self doubt. Other than that? (shrug) Never a good answer for a subjective process and product.”

She’s a Naming Director at one of the globe’s leading tech companies. To know she’s had the same #fail, the same doubts, the same shame was some kind of comfort.

But I still wondered: How do we either prevent this kind of thing from happening… or, even better, use it to our advantage?

There's a give and take; yes, we have to be flexible, and yes, we have to be nimble. But we have a process for a reason. In fact, part of what my clients pay me for is because I know intimately about the naming process. This process sets up our work so that once we break the ice, we keep getting warmer and warmer until the name arrives not scalding hot - but just right.


Looking back, I'm grateful to this client. He taught me a great lesson in simply not compromising on what I know I need to do stellar work. And how in the end what serves me actually serves my client.

If you're not working with win-wins -- something is wrong.

Now, with a team behind me and confidence in the strength of our process -- not to mention deep knowledge in setting clear boundaries and expectations -- I can create even greater success for WHO and for WHOMEVER we work with.

Everything is a lesson. Every unpleasant moment a chance to analyze and do better.

What moments can you reflect on from the last year? What can you do to make sure that when you "fail" you grow instead of freeze?


Top 10 Tips for Emerging Artists

Bruce Lee would have also been a kickass brander: “Always be yourself, express yourself, have faith in yourself, do not go out and look for a successful personality and duplicate it.”

1)    Be you. The greatest thinkers, innovators and artists throughout time are the ones who have dared to offer their unique perspective to the world.

2)    Don’t cave in to conformity. #Consensus thinking is a poison to originality. Consider it a test of your resolve to honor your vision even in the presence of naysayers. And yet…

3)    Expand your vision. Don’t be afraid to improve upon your original vision. Be open to what your creative support team has to offer.

4)    Surround yourself with other smart creatives. Creativity is a fire that feeds upon itself. Tend to yours by seeking out other creatives who are fired up and going somewhere.

5)    Take yourself seriously. Plenty of talented people fail to launch because they don’t value their value. Assume a healthy level of self-importance in order to fly.

6)    Give to get. Many artists resist the effort that is required to launch. Consider that the process of launching can actually be energizing and easy when you have the right tools.

7)    Keep creating. Remember to keep practicing your craft even when life logistics leave you feeling bone dry. #Practicing your craft is like taking your soul vitamins.

8)    Develop a selfless attitude. The more that you can recognize that your craft is a gift to others, the more motivated you will feel moving forward.  

9)    Ask for help. You’re not expected to do this alone! Recognizing your limitations is actually a strength that enables you to magnetize the resources you need.

10) Have fun! Most important to your success is the element of fun. Find a great team to help you, be open to the magic of taking risks, and enjoy exploring your genius. 

Looking for a switched on, fired up and savvy creative team to help you launch? Visit hereiswho.com to begin taking action on your genius. 



Modern Culture. Branding Industry. Business. What You’re Eating for Dinner Next Wednesday. All these things keep us looking forward, forward, forward.

Not a bad thing. Keeps us from crashing into that tree straight ahead there –

But the deep value of...