The Thinking Traveller helps people rent luxury villas all over the world. But its unique selling point was disappearing in a sea of competitors. Discover how brand design studio Without helped them get the message through.
We all love the idea of luxury travel. But during a cost-of-living crisis, you don't want to sound tone-deaf. So rather than focusing on elitism or materialism, award-winning brand design studio Without's global redesign for villa rental company The Thinking Traveller takes an altogether different tack.
Instead, it positions The Thinking Traveller as the "keyholder to places with soul" by telling real stories with soul that speak to tomorrow's luxury customers.
This approach is built on the main point of difference offered by the client. Unlike most villa rental companies, which share portfolios, The Thinking Traveller's carefully curated collection is only available through them, with dedicated support from local experts who know the areas like no one else.
In other words, they genuinely do offer 'exclusive' villas, which are true one-offs. But this message was getting lost in a generic, functional market dominated by a sea of beautiful but samey and uninspiring luxury villas.
In an era when luxury is increasingly deﬁned by unique experiences rather than material goods, Without aims to help The Thinking Traveller to stand out by replacing function with emotion and sweeping luxury statements with real stories of people and place. As creative director Roly Grant puts it: "Our job became to remove layers of marketing and surface the brand's unique soul".
Repositioning The Thinking Traveller as the 'keyholder to places with soul' rather than just a villa rental company, the team began by describing these special places in a language far removed from estate-agent-speak. For example, a 'stunning penthouse' became 'The House in the Clouds', while a 'villa with stunning views' became 'The House with the Church Bells Playlist'.
"The Thinking Traveller knows and loves the places it travels to, unlike any other villa company," explains Roly. "Uncovering the real stories – from the founders renting diving gear to clear rubbish from the sea to the family history at a villa like Don Arcangelo all'Olmo – inspired a language that's more emotional, specific and immersed than the rest of their category.
"In the sense of reconnecting them to the impulse behind this kind of travel and this kind of travel business, we've helped take them home."
This principle of creating a sense of place through emotive details runs through all branding touchpoints, from above-the-line advertising to the website, to gifts that evoke memories of your stay.
And the new written language works in harmony with photographic art direction, which goes beyond cliched architectural shots of infinity pools.
Working with photographer Lavinia Cernau, Without complemented The Thinking Traveller's archive of villa photography with new work that emphasised the emotion of escaping to special places: from human interaction and idiosyncratic details within the villas to romantic, sensual evocations of the destination beyond.
Typography was inspired by The Thinking Traveller's connection to the Mediterranean. Grand, cinematic serifs (Pangram Pangram's Editorial New) combined with a human sans serif (Klim Type's Founders Grotesk Text) blend elegance with nostalgia, evocative of hidden tavernas and sun-dappled piazzas.
"Without found and articulated our point of difference – our soul – in a beautiful and emotive rebrand," says Elena Fotiadi, head of brand and partnerships at The Thinking Traveller. "The work stands out in an increasingly homogenous market and has proven to be the perfect way to celebrate our 20th anniversary as we continue to inspire tomorrow's luxury traveller."
This is the first piece of work from Without for The Thinking Traveller since they won the business in a competitive pitch in late 2022. The global brand redesign is rolling out from May across Europe, the Americas and Asia-Pacific.