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Spinach branding director Leigh Banks on creating the Ichibuns brand

Ichibuns is a new and exciting Japanese-inspired dining concept. The Spinach team were responsible for creating this unique brand, which has successfully opened its first restaurant in Soho, London. We asked partner and branding director Leigh Banks to explain the project and the process for creating this unique brand.

This has been an exciting 18-month project, working from the very start through to completion. What was the initial branding brief when you were approached by the team behind Ichibuns?

Exciting is an understatement! Initially we were contacted by Paul Sarlas, one of the most respected entrepreneurs in the restaurant business, who told us about a new Japanese wagyu burger bar concept they wanted to create, and asked whether we would be interested in pitching for the work. ‘Of course!’, being our answer.

We then met Robin Leigh, the visionary behind the Ichibuns concept. Robin had recently visited Japan, and specifically, Hokkaido, where he was inspired by the landscape, the natural ingredients and amazing dishes. From this, Robin started to nurture the idea of creating a wagyu burger experience that championed the very best of Japanese produce, set in a unique and vibrant atmosphere of the Japanese burger bar scene born out of the Shōwa period. Robin’s brief to us, ‘to create a unique and untouchable brand’… so no pressure there then!

The project involved creating an entirely new brand. Can you explain the Spinach process?

Our brand development methodology follows a pretty standard approach of discovery, definition and then identity creation. Following a set process helps us get consistently good results. By adapting the process on a client by client basis, we are able to refine our approach to achieve an exacting alignment with our clients’ needs and their current stage of brand development. With Ichibuns this meant creating a brand from scratch.

Starting with the discovery stage, we focused on understanding their aspirations and business objectives, their overarching concept, as well as what their food, drink and service offering would be. We discussed and researched their target customers, understanding their needs and motivations. We also spent time looking at Ichibuns competitive landscape.

ICHIBUNS packaging by Spinachdesign.com

How does this process help with brand creation?

The discovery work gave us a solid platform to then move onto developing and defining Ichibun’s core brand platform. This is a stage that many miss out, which is why so many businesses fail to create brands that are strong and have a razor-sharp brand proposition.

The brand definition stage included undertaking a workshop with Ichibuns, where we worked with their core team to define their brand values, personality, competitive positioning, brand backstory, and unique brand proposition. Every brand definition workshop we complete is built on a bespoke basis, considering the specific profile of the client team, as was the case with Ichibuns.

Can you explain the process of these workshops?

During the workshops, we used a lot of powerful creative exercises and quantum question techniques to enable us to dig deeper than a more basic question and answer workshop. The approach enables us to get results that are significantly better, helping us find that little bit of star dust that can elevate a brand to a higher level.

Once we had completed the discovery stage and brand workshop, we created a brand platform document that summed up the Ichibuns brand. This document became the blueprint for driving the development of Ichibuns brand identity, i.e. how the brand looks and talks.

The project has involved working with some of the most innovative and dynamic restaurateurs – the brains behind world renowned and trend setting ventures Nobu, Hakkasan, Busaba Ethai. What did you learn from working with them?

We have found that when working with famed and established designers, architects, fashion designers, build contractors, entrepreneurs and restaurateurs, it is essential to ensure that all our creative visions come together as one holistic expression and unified language. There is no place for ego.

Working with the Ichibuns team, we had to be good listeners first, empathise with each other’s perspectives, then dig deeper and find out the rationale that is driving the vision. It was fascinating to see how diplomacy and respect created an environment of trust and collaboration. When creating a completely new brand and concept, there are no rules, which is exciting and invigorating. It was inspiring and energising to see so much creativity in one place.

So, the process went pretty smoothly?

Yes, but flexibility was essential and an acceptance that plans do change. A willingness to roll with it, when ideas weren’t working as envisioned, to go back to the drawing board and not be fatigued, was essential to pushing the project to greater heights of creativity.

Ichibuns created by Spinach DesignWhat would you say was one of the highlights of the process?

A special mention really should go to Robin Leigh. It was his vision for the concept, which he articulated with passion, emotion and heart. Throughout the project, Robin kept on delivering idea after idea, helping us all raise our execution and creativity. He recognised that it was and is the small details that elevate a concept to something more iconic. The Spinach team feel privileged to have worked with Robin.

Having dined at Ichibuns and experienced the space in action, what would you say is your favourite part of the completed project?

There were so many enjoyable parts to the project. The creative development and not knowing where we would end up. Working with such a range of talents and interesting people. Ultimately, I think my favourite part is seeing Ichibuns launch; throbbing, vibrant music, buzzing staff, busy kitchen, happy customers. It means a sigh of relief from us all and the warm feeling of satisfaction that after 18 months we had helped to create a pretty special brand.

Learn more about the Ichibuns brand here, and read our interview with Spinach partner and creative director Adam Thomas on the Ichibuns design process.

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