Franke+Fiorella, a small Warehouse District agency, occupies a critical niche in the marketing world.

They are the people behind the brands and brand names that are part of everyday life. They create and design logos that become the essence of corporate identity.

Franke+Fiorella's work can be seen at Cargill, 3M, Medtronic and the MacPhail Center for Music. They've designed a bright-colored invitation for the annual gala of the Children's Cancer Research Fund. They redesigned the website for Cramer Studio to showcase the company's industrial design for furniture.

Recently, Franke+Fiorella's work for Plymouth-based plant nutrient giant Mosaic Co. was honored for design excellence by the national organization Graphic Design USA from among 8,000 contest entries.

Established in 1993 by husband-and-wife team Craig Franke (pronounced Frank-ee) and Deb Fiorella, the firm largely flies under the radar and often lands assignments by recommendation and word of mouth. It has nine full-time employees and hires contractors as needed.

Their first office was in Fiorella's basement. Franke and Fiorella, who met at another branding agency that no longer exists, moved to their current N. 3rd Street address in 1999 and got married.

Fiorella is the brand strategist; Franke covers the creative side.

"It's a little bit of science, a little bit of art and a little bit of strategy" Franke said of the brand identity process.

"We need to make sure that we are clear on the company's overall objective," Fiorella said in an interview last week. "We need to know what is important to the target audience where the emotional reaction happens. You're not just buying fertilizer [from Mosaic]; you're buying success."

Franke+Fiorella's work for Mosaic included design of Mosaic's 2011 annual report, which underscored the contributions of the company's employees to Mosaic's bottom line. The report was called "It starts here."

"Our goal was to help them express the essence of who they are, that they are an ethical organization that cares about their people and are accountable." Fiorella said. "They are helping the world grow the food it needs.''

For the seed company Syngenta, Franke+Fiorella developed a brand identity for a Syngenta technology that's being marketed to the biofuel industry to improve productivity. From that assignment came the name and brand Enogen.

"They called and had a brand they wanted to launch in the renewable fuel space. We researched and developed the name. We did a linguistics check to make sure the name translated well in other countries. We did a competitive audit," said Franke, noting the final product was a combination of technology, nature and growth.

"We vetted a number of firms and they stood out above the rest," said Tim Tierney, Syngenta's ethanol business and accounts manager. "Most branding agencies are really good on creative but not very strong on strategy. Or vice versa. With Franke+Fiorella, Craig is very strong on creative, and Deb is very good with strategy."

Franke+Fiorella's first client was 3M, where Fiorella had worked in marketing communications, and 3M remains a client today. The 3M work ranges from product label design to a logo for 3M's annual sponsorship of the Minnesota golf tournament stop on the Champions Tour.

In some respects, Franke+Fiorella are social anthropologists who use their client's data and independent research to study the target audience.

"We want to see if we can put a new light on things," said Franke. "It's pretty much observing the world around us."

"We call it listening between the lines," Fiorella said.

David Phelps • 612-673-7269