In the world of marketing and branding, it helps to have a strong connection to your subject matter, since much of your job revolves around helping people create emotional ties of their own.
That’s certainly the case with Red River College alum Kyle Romaniuk, who as president of creative agency Cocoon Branding oversaw the recent rebrand of long-running children’s charity The Rainbow Society, now known as The Dream Factory.
Romaniuk, who graduated from RRC’s Graphic Design program in 1996, has been serving on the charity’s board since 2009. But his connection runs much deeper than that.
After being diagnosed with cancer at the age of 12, Romaniuk was on the receiving end of his own dream come true — a chance to swim with dolphins, made possible by The Rainbow Society. He sees his current work with the newly-revamped organization as a way to give back to a particularly worthy cause.
“My whole family was encouraged to participate in my ‘dream’ … so for my parents and my sister, I know it’s one of the highlights of their lives, as well as mine,” says Romaniuk, whose dream took him to the Dolphin Resource Center in the Florida Keys (the same place where TV’s Flipper was trained).
“It was during one of the most difficult times of our lives — while we were all trying to deal with the cancer of a child, which is hard enough on a kid, never mind how hard it would be on a parent. So it was an opportunity we all got to experience together, get our minds off the illness and treatments, and just escape in the dream.”
Thankfully, Romaniuk’s cancer went into remission after two years of treatment. That left him plenty of time to devote to his twin passions as a teen — marine biology and advertising art. Though he considered a career as a biologist, his longtime love of creativity won out.
“I was always into art growing up,” says Romaniuk, whose father — a commercial bookbinder — first exposed him to the elements of design.
“My parents tell me that when I was a little kid, I would always be busy playing during TV shows, but that I would stop playing and pay attention during the commercials. That’s when they knew I would go into advertising.”
After high school, Romaniuk enrolled in RRC’s Graphic Design program (or Advertising Art, as it was then called). He graduated with his Advanced diploma, having completed the third optional year of the program, and remembers being especially impressed by an instructor who was focused more on the process of learning, than on improving technical prowess.
“He saw his role as teaching us how to learn for ourselves, since he couldn’t predict what we would need to learn in the future for a rapidly changing industry,” says Romaniuk. “That was one of the first times I was really able to comprehend why school was so important. There’s definitely a lot of technical skills you need to learn in college, but it’s the skills of learning that is the key to continuous growth.”
Romaniuk began doing freelance work in his second year, and after graduation teamed with a classmate to launch a new company called Gator Designs. Eight years later, Gator was rebranded as Cocoon, an agency that helps clients transform their function-driven business into a brand with a strong emotional connection and higher purpose.
“First impressions are really critical,” says Romaniuk, who over the years has collaborated on successful projects for such clients as Scotiabank, Red Bull, and Grant’s Scotch Whisky. “Any time you look at a business — big or small, local or international — you have a feeling about what that business represents to you.”
“Branding is really a more sophisticated way of talking about your business’s image and reputation, and consciously shaping and guiding what you’d like people to think of you.”
A name change wasn’t originally in the plans, but while working to enhance the organization’s relevance (and differentiate it from similar charities), he and his team kept returning to its brand strategy and emotional purpose — that of creating a sense of joy for kids with a life-threatening illness. Cocoon developed the new name The Dream Factory, the whimsical airship logo, the brand’s identity (look and feel), and the heartwarming tagline, “Sometimes kids deserve to get carried away.”
Not surprisingly, the new brand was well received by the folks at The Dream Factory.
“They didn’t know what to expect … so when the reveal took place, they were all probably a little relieved, but also inspired,” Romaniuk says.
“Grace (Thomson, Executive Director of the Dream Factory) said she didn’t think there was a dry eye in the house.”
Click here for more information on the Graphic Design program at Red River College.