Branding a game-changer – how TOTEM's customer-centric thinking guided horizon8 from day one.

You’ve identified the need and the opportunity, taken the flash of inspiration and started the complex task of building your game-changing product or service. But at what point do you start thinking about branding? At what stage in the journey from innovation to realisation, from build to go-to-market, do you need to start focusing on creating a strong, positive, meaningful identity?

You’ve identified the need and the opportunity, taken the flash of inspiration and started the complex task of building your game-changing product or service. But at what point do you start thinking about branding? At what stage in the journey from innovation to realisation, from build to go-to-market, do you need to start focusing on creating a strong, positive, meaningful identity?


It’s easy to get so immersed in the build that you forget the brand – or leave it until the very end of the process as just a fancy box, a bright wrapper that tells you little about the prize within.

For Patrick Horgan of Cork-based technology solutions firm Horizon8, the ‘brand moment’ came long before the projected launch-date for their innovative digital identity platform and mobile app valid8Me.

Even as Patrick and his team were deep in the initial stages of developing what would become the valid8Me platform, they were already thinking about their promise to their clients and customers.

And that’s where Colin Byrne and the team at the strategic branding agency TOTEM came on board – early enough to get under the hood of the build, understand what Horizon8 were creating and start talking about a fully customer-centric branding plan.

“In some ways, it was an unusually complex product doing at least two very different things for B2B and B2C customers,” says Colin Byrne of TOTEM.

“There were two very distinct customer types – companies and individual consumers and it was covering a lot of different tasks in a way that had not been done before”.

“So we needed to distil that down. We needed to understand the promise of what it could do and totally understand how it would work from the customers perspective”.

It’s simple – and complicated

What Horizon8 were building was a digital identity platform and mobile app to transform the customer onboarding and Know Your Customer (“KYC”) document-sourcing challenge for regulated companies across many sectors, including Accountancy, Legal, Funds, Asset Management, Banking, Insurance and Real Estate. Horizon8’s vision is for valid8Me to become a global de facto standard for digital identity and solve the KYC and customer due diligence challenge for all businesses and consumers.

It could create a fully secure and portable digital vault – and identity key – for customers to store their key documents and cut onboarding times from a month to just minutes. Making it as easy as connecting with somebody on LinkedIn.

“We quickly understood that what it could do was take very complex, time-consuming tasks, for companies and individual customers, and simplify them to the point where it would completely change the experience,” says Colin of TOTEM.

“It was truly transformative. In terms of branding – which has to be customer-centric – we needed to get into that ideal zone where we are uniquely meeting the customers needs.”

TOTEM Branding Agency Cork - Valid8Me

We are going to need a name

Patrick Horgan says that from Horizon8’s point of view – coming up with a name was a key moment for bringing everything they were doing into focus.

But right from the start, branding and customer experience was front and centre of the process. Patrick remembers very early on in the process, going to a big potential client and pitching them a simple story-board, outlining how the digital vault model would work.

“All along, we were just doing back-to-back meetings with people, getting their feedback, iterating on the idea, then we had a working prototype, iterating on that.”

“There was about a six-month lag between the initial conception of the idea and when I contacted TOTEM, it came early on, the point where we said; ‘Right, we actually need to start thinking seriously about this as a product, the branding and how we take it to market”.

“How do we craft that messaging? How do we roll it out?” Patrick still has photographs of team meetings – very early on in the process – that show a big whiteboard with the mantras ‘Has To Be Customer-Centric’ ‘Data Privacy By Design’ ‘Serving The Customer’. When TOTEM came on board, Patrick and his team were already focused on how they wanted to present their product. But first they needed a name.

“That was a big moment and what we really appreciated from TOTEM was that they gave us options and they explained the thinking behind them. That allowed us to zero in on the best option and I think we made a very strong choice”.

Colin Byrne of TOTEM points out that it’s not just choosing a name, there’s also the question of can you use it? “We had to do a lot of research on names, to ensure that they were not already in use by another company, to see what the costs in securing and registering those names were,” he says. Colin says it’s an important factor that often gets forgotten in the rush and excitement – you need to do the field research on potential names or you could waste time and resources.

Let’s get animated

One of the early decisions taken was to commission three short animated videos to better communicate the product and its benefits to the full range of potential customers.

With a product able to tackle as many, complex tasks as valid8Me, animation could answer one of Patrick’s key questions: “How can you tell the whole story succinctly and give clarity to the messaging?” Colin and his team were able to lean on past experience with using animation. And he believes the medium can be very effective, but a very disciplined, focused approach is needed.

“You need to think about the length of the videos, the clarity and simplicity of the script, the tone of voice. Are you going for chatty and informal, or authoritative, who are you talking to?” “They don’t have to be expensive – but they do have to be effective”.

Zooming ahead of the pack

Horizon8 have a team working between Cork and Boston – TOTEM work in Cork and Waterford. So even before the ongoing pandemic brought a huge shift to remote collaboration – the branding process for valid8Me (which included working on client pitch decks, website and app content and animation) was largely conducted on Zoom and Microsoft Teams.

“It is a bit strange that we were doing this months before pretty much everybody had to move to remote working,” says Colin Byrne.

“Ideally, you do want to have those face-to-face meetings and we did earlier on in the process. When things return to normal, they will always be important.”

Finally going to market

Colin says he believes there’s a sense of satisfaction and achievement on both sides for the work they were able to do together.

For both Patrick and Colin, clear communication, tightly defined goals and a total focus on strategic, customer-centric branding – have been the key. And it’s worked. The initial response to valid8Me has been hugely positive. “We’ve been blown away by the market reaction,” said Horizon8’s Patrick Horgan.

“We’ve signed up major clients like Grant Thornton and Mazars – right down to your SME size accountancy and law firms. It’s a real mix of sectors and that’s what’s unique about the product, it works across sectors and for all sizes of firms”. Patrick and his team are now working to a monthly release program of new valid8Me features for both B2B and B2C customers.

It began with an innovative, game-changing concept – the early focus on branding and the expertise and experience of the team at TOTEM has helped valid8Me make the splash it deserved.

Colin Byrne Creative Director TOTEM and Patrick Horgan Managing Director Horizon8

Above: Colin Byrne, Creative Director of TOTEM (left), with Patrick Horgan, Managing Director of horizon8.