Author: Jen Derks

Our Brand Session Obsession

We talk a lot about Brand Sessions over here now because we absolutely love doing them. We love the pace, the experience, and the results. 

A Brand Session is Four Fin’s three-week branding service that we formulated in early 2018, formerly known as Brand Camp. It’s our flagship service and usually how we get acquainted with new clients. While many of those clients continue with Four Fin to paddle out and make waves, it all starts by defining the brand core. 

We created Brand Sessions as a way for us to set our clients’ brand foundations without 4+ months of development. Most businesses don’t have time for that. While the process has shifted a bit since we started and we’ve renamed the service to better align with our brand, we’ve seen great results. We look forward to adding more progress-driven brands to our roster this year while continuing to improve the experience.

So, what is a Brand Session? 

It might be easier to define by defining what it’s not:

A DIY branding tutorial, group coaching, or an online offering.
There are plenty of resources out there for those wanting to tackle their brand refresh in-house. This is a professional service for busy founders, CEOs, and CMOs who want their branding done right without attempting it themselves, capitalizing their team’s energy in the process, or waiting 6+ months to see the results.

A service for new brand visuals alone.
While the visual results of Brand Sessions are easier to see, this service goes far beyond a new or refreshed visual identity of logos, colors, fonts, etc. We are experts at defining a brand from the inside out; with strategy exercises, work sessions, and what we internally jokingly call Brand Therapy. You will get to know your brand better throughout this process and that clarity informs much more than your look. 

Superficial.
While our branding service is quicker than most, it doesn’t lack quality. We cut out time-thieves like fine-tuned presentations, time redirecting junior-level talent, research to validate what you already know, rescheduled meetings, design overthink, and an especially dangerous time-killer: backward motion due to personnel changes or stalled progress. 

All you need.
Brand Sessions are foundational, setting the course for what your brand will become when you win the hearts and minds of your audience. We do not win the hearts and minds of your audience in three weeks. That comes next.

We guarantee your Brand Session will make you smile.

Brand Sessions are introspective and aspirational, resulting in a clear guide for what will be your true brand-building efforts: external marketing, brand experiences, product releases, partnerships, employee onboarding, etc. We help clients with all of those initiatives as well, but they are not near as effective if the guidebook hasn’t been written yet. 

So, a Brand Session is step one, and if done right, every step you take afterward will feel lighter and more exuberant, almost like you’re skipping toward brand success, and skipping is contagious. 

We’d love to chat if you think you are a good candidate for a Brand Session, or know someone needing to undergo a brand refresh. While it’s not right for every company, many have found it to be the perfect fit. We are starting to see that we’re not the only ones who love it. 

Cue the reviews

FINterview Series: Hillery Kemp

Meet Hillery Kemp, Four Fin’s Brand Strategist and gifted marble collector. 

What lights you up?
Truly well executed brands, Ah-ha moments, paper and stationery, finding marbles randomly, and inspiring people/companies making our world a better place. 

Who do you look up to?
Anyone who marches to the beat of his/her/their own drum. By that I mean the ones out there who don’t settle for the status quo. The ones who know what to prioritize in their lives — be it family, travel, creating something incredible — and go do it. The ones who are unafraid to say no. 

Favorite thing about Four Fin?
Our posture for openness, transparency, and clarity. I can also be myself around here and I can’t say that about every job I’ve had, but maybe I am just growing up and growing more comfortable in my own skin. 🙂 

Dream Client?
Oh my. LEGO and Cotopaxi come to mind. I am always in awe of the brands that do it right. FROM is pretty cool too!

Connect with Hillery on LinkedIn

The “safe” choice for your rebrand actually holds a ton of risk

Courageously choosing a brand that sets you apart is not easy. Even if your stakeholders agree that it’s time for a bold change, there still might be the feeling of being unsure how it will be received.

Will our audience hate it? Will it be too out there? You might weigh the options of spending on focus groups. You might present the new brand concept to your board or investors to get their feedback. You show it to a broader internal group to get feedback. Everyone has an opinion. Some absolutely love it. Some are impartial. Others want to see what alternative options there were that lead you to this choice.  

Caution: This is where dangerous decisions are made. 

In some instances, in business and relationship building, it’s great to compromise. It’s great to meet in the middle, find common ground and please as many people as possible. In other instances, it waters down strong approaches. Chris Voss champions this concept in Never Split the Difference.

When it comes to branding, the truth is, you don’t need everyone to love it. You need a group that loves it. You need a loyal following that will help spread your brand organically. You don’t need everyone to be on board. If they “love” it, it will be because they relate to what you’re trying to do. They will be excited that you “get them.” This is true internally too. Employees that grab on to your brand will help your business grow much faster than employees who “are fine with it.”

As the old marketing adage goes, “appeal to everyone and appeal to no one.” If we’re taking stock of the risks of growing a business, “appealing to no one” should be high on your list of pitfalls to avoid.  

Tl;dr

If you compromise and settle on a brand strategy or visual identity that is safe… it will inspire no one. Instead of a core audience who organically promotes your brand because they strongly relate to it, you’ll have a larger number of people feeling mediocre about your brand… and that’s the riskiest move you can make.

Should you Invest in Branding?

When you are ready to move past your company’s humble beginnings, and develop a lasting brand based on strategic core concepts, the first question that often comes up is, “What does working with an outside firm cost, and will it be worth the spend?” 

The answer can vary from $5,000 to $100,000 depending on the firm you work with. Yeah, I realize that’s a big range. We can tell you that our foundational Brand Strategy and Identity Design programs start at $10K and go up depending on your specific goals, needs and challenges. 

We’re not about to tell you to invest in professional branding without a strong business case behind it, so we made a handy flowchart to help you decide if now is the right time for you. 

Every brand is different. This is meant to be a reference based on our experience. When you are in the right stage of growth, and choose to invest in a re-brand, it pays off.

Some of the results our clients have shared with us are below:

  • A new million dollar partnership was made due to increased trust in the vision and future of the company. – Water Purification Technology Client
  • Prices were raised due to the company reaching a new level of clientele after a re-brand effort. – Consumable Goods Client
  • Teams are re-invigorated and inspired to drive their company forward. – Multiple Clients
  • New levels of talent are attracted to the company. – Multiple Clients

It’s impactful to see the returns for our clients, which is why we love what we do. We hope you found this chart useful. If you are still not sure whether a rebrand is right for you, we’d love to learn more about your specific challenge. Reach out and let’s chat. 

Visual Identity: The company your logo keeps

There are a lot of ways to define “brand” and, even, to build them. Hopefully this post will help you understand what we mean when we talk about your “visual identity.” We’ll break down why it’s an important element of your brand, and why it’s so important to think big picture about design. 

So, what do we mean by “visual identity”? Is that the same as a “brand” or “logo”? Isn’t “branding” what we focus on at Four Fin? The visual identity is only one part of how we define and approach branding. Let’s start there first. 

Branding

We believe a brand should inform everything, beginning with the brand strategy and rippling out through core elements and experiences.

So, in that sense, the brand is the heart of the company– full of passion, driven by emotion, tested by values, and relentlessly in search of authentic connections. Any action your company takes, policy it initiates, conversation it has with consumers – should all come from the core brand, working in unison to move the brand from something unseen below the rib-cage, to something worn proudly on your company’s sleeve. 

Once you understand that the brand is the core that informs everything, you also understand how the visual identity cannot be created without uncovering it. The ‘visual identity’ is simply the visual representation and communication of the brand to the world.

“Oh, so by visual identity you mean the logo right?” Yes, and… 

Logo

The logo is one part of a cohesive visual identity, and we’d argue, not the most important part. 

Take your favorite brand. Go to their website, and cover the logo with your hand. Is it still the visual identity you know and love? Does it still give you the feelings of the brand it should?  Now, go find a company you’ve never heard of, and look ONLY at their logo. You get very little from it. Partly because you don’t know them at all. That’s the point. 

“Brand building” is the act of communicating, servicing, interacting, listening, and forming a relationship with your audience. So, the logo only serves to help you identify the brand you’ve already grown to know and love (or hate).

Visual Identity

A visual identity however, is where the magic happens and a keystone of your brand’s core elements (cue back to rad chart above). We thrive on developing them and really appreciate a job well done by the masters. (#redantler comes to mind). 

Below is a list of assets and elements that can be curated and created to form the visual identity for a brand. When done right, they come together to form the perfect harmony – like longboards and summertime. 

  • Logo and Logo set (yes, more than one)
  • Typography (Fonts)
  • Color palettes
  • Images
  • Textures
  • Illustrations
  • Animations
  • Patterns
  • Simple shapes

The AccessParks visual identity combines bold fonts, dark colors, and inspiring photography.

Once established, your visual identity allows for the brand’s core experiences  (website, social post, ad, collateral, etc.) to take shape, consistently. We already know that when these experiences are well designed with a clear message, they have more potential to grab the attention of your audience. The kicker, is that when these experiences are also consistently designed with your brand’s unique visual identity tool set, they strengthen recognition of the brand. 

Visual identity elements improve effectiveness of any visual communication, and act as brand identifiers, all at once.

So bad-ass, right?

Our point: nail down some guidelines for your brand’s visual identity (beyond selecting fonts and colors) so that your visual communications also become brand identifiers as much, if not more, than the logo is.

tl;dr

Your brand is the heart of your company. It’s formed by building relationships through actions, decisions, initiatives and communications. Your visual identity is how you consistently design your communications. Creating your visual identity starts by defining the visual assets and rules to help you stay consistent: think fonts, colors, images, logos and sub-marks. Then following those rules over and over to create an identity that has recall and brand recognition.

Brace Yourselves, the Fins Have Rebranded

You may have noticed if you’re a Fin fan, that recently, we have been slowly rolling out our new brand across our marketing channels.

A branding firm doing a rebrand? So meta.

I get it, but this is big to us. It signifies a new era for Four Fin that’s hard to put into words, but I will sure try.

Started as a designer, now we here

8 years ago, when I started Jen Derks Design, there was a lot I didn’t know about growing a company, let alone a branding firm with four badass employees and an inspiring nationwide client roster. But that was okay. I was a good designer, wanting to do good work for good people, and raise some good kids with my good husband. Check. Check. And check mate.

Fast forward to today. Four Fin is a team of five with a list of well vetted partners, dialed-in business systems and tools, and a successful 2-week branding service called Brand Camp. We have a transparent office culture we’re proud of, health benefits, retirement, clients who are crushing it, an official @pandr office mural, and most important of all, a beer and La Croix fridge. I mean, we’ve officially ‘arrived’ with that last one.

We’ve also seen the impact of our work: Solopreneurs gaining confidence and momentum in their early days; small companies of 2-5 growing to exceed multi-million dollar revenues; and most recently, a start-up client announcing a $125 million dollar exit.

Shoes too small

Because of all of this growth, over the last year or so, we started to feel our Four Fin brand no longer represented us. 

We didn’t want to send visitors to our website anymore because “it didn’t feel like us.” We couldn’t quickly explain who we were and how we were different. We realized just how our clients feel when they come to us for help (talk about great UX research). It was clear, we were holding ourselves back by not doing what we do for others, investing in the brand.

Evolution, not revolution

So, who was Four Fin? Cue the strategy/therapy sessions. We realized that what matters most to us has always been there but we just had never put it into clear words. It isn’t learning new marketing tricks, competing for likes, or designing things that look cool for cool’s sake. The reason we love what we do lies in this purpose:
Connecting genuinely with others to help them see differently and live out the best, most contagious version of their story.
This is what we do every day at Four Fin with our clients, and with each other. We also know that we want to do this in our own way—as partners, above the weeds, fast and fun, thoughtful and honest.

The new Four Fin

With this clarity, and other strategy pillars defined, we were able to craft a new brand that speaks more true to who we are and how we work. The personality on our website matches the personality you’ll meet on that first phone call, or tenth meeting, because the whole team is clear on what it means to be a Fin. Our brand personality is defined as:

Direct   Confident   Informed  meets  Casual   Upbeat   Collaborative

A slab-serif typeface and deeper hue of Four Fin blue give the brand a casual,  confident and direct tone: Clear is kind. BS has no place here.

The logo for the name Four Fin was carefully crafted to make sure the letterforms were arranged in a fun, upbeat way, as if they were enjoying their successful collaboration.

A secondary mark was created for a more casual representation of the brand that nods to our surf-inspired name. We all thought turning a ‘Four’ into a surfboard for the ‘fin’ to catch a ride on was very clever. Killed it Kendall!

Alongside new marks, fonts, colors, images and visual language was a new upbeat and informed tone of voicelike a trusted friend who drops truth bombs in your best interest and has no problem poking fun at themselves. You’ll see it in our copy, and on the phone with us when you call to say hi. We think you’ll enjoy getting to know us.

Onward

Take a look around our new website and get to know the new Four Fin. An updated newsletter will hit in a couple of weeks so sign up to see it, and our social channels are always poppin’ with good conversations—don’t be shy out there!

Meanwhile, we’ll be over here—enjoying every branding project, every human interaction, and every gift this work provides as we head into the next 8 years of branding companies with passion.

Thanks for riding along with us to learn about this moment in Four Fin’s evolution. We wouldn’t be here without you. 

Making Waves: Allison Evelyn Gower

We’re taking a light and fresh approach with this installment of Making Waves, as we interview one of our favorite partners, the witty and talented Allison Evelyn. Because one of her many talents is concise messaging, we decided to give her limited room to answer our questions, in the form of a mad-lib. We hope you enjoy her humor.

1. You got started writing copy because   words are magic    and it was all    rumpus    from there.

2. Copy is to design like    a helpful, welcoming host    is to    a 5 course dinner party   .

3. You are the    Emma Stone    of copywriting, because you    are direct yet sassy    .

4. If you didn’t live in San Diego, you’d live    in The Shire #Hobbiton    , but never    the coldest city in the world: Oymyakon, Russia    .

5. Tone of voice is every brand’s    shimmering personality + way to connect with the right people   , so use with   careful intention   .

6. When writing copy, you always   unroot the company’s “why” & ultimate goals    first, and you consider your efforts successful when the client    exclaims, “Yes, that’s what I was trying to say!”   .

We hope you enjoyed this short and sweet Making Waves interview. Stay tuned for our next installment with local creative genius and the founder of Sock Problems, Ryan Berman. Don’t want to miss it? Sign up for the Surf Report!

Branding your Business: Charge and Recharge

We say that we are “a hard-charging branding and graphic design studio.” What does that mean? Well, inefficiencies drive us crazy, we treat our clients’ needs with respect and urgency, and we enjoy music and positive energy. We approach projects and challenges with a can-do spirit and best-intent attitude, excited to push our client’s brand forward. We charge hard.

We also recharge hard.

I don’t mean we play ping pong or blow off the afternoon, though we have been known to go on creative breaks. What I mean is, we take time to pause. We start every week in our Monday meeting reflecting on the week prior, celebrating successes and learning from failures. We seek feedback from our clients. We listen to what they are dealing with to better craft our offerings. We immerse ourselves in the community and celebrate those who are making waves so that we can have a pulse on what’s happening around us.

Growing up surfing has taught me to value the re-charge as much as the charge. Obviously, riding a glassy left is really fun, but the pause is also impactful. Call it reconnecting. Call it observing. Call it what you want, but sitting and feeling the movements of the ocean, becoming in-tune with the currents and swell shifts, is a skill in itself. That skill leads to the fun times ahead. When you know the ocean on a deeper level, you land more waves and the right ones.

So how does this all relate to company branding?

Basically, you don’t know everything that will help you charge, unless you also recharge. We know that our brand design agency doesn’t know everything either. Strong designers realize this. Designers are curious by nature. We want to know the landscape and context for the work we are doing. We don’t have an in-house research team, so we look to you, our clients, for that insight. We know that if you recharge occasionally, you’ll know a lot about your market, your customers, the chatter, the politics, the waves of consumer habits, feedback from your employees, etc. It’s all deepening your understanding and awareness. When you take it all in and use it to shift your brand, you’ll move toward the right spot for the waves coming in.

So, yes, we look to you for insight. Then we help your brand charge forward – based on this insight. It might be that you decide you need a brand refresh. It might be that you’re feeling like your messaging isn’t hitting it. It might be that you want to branch into a new market. It might be that you aren’t SURE why, but somehow your brand doesn’t seem to hit the mark. Sometimes, we meet a business owner or marketing director who only charges. They’ve come to us to keep their brand charging forward, but they haven’t recharged recently. We might suggest that they do so. It’s an important part of the process.

Hold The Door Open

Look, this lesson is as old as they come, and it’s for everyone, everywhere. But, it’s critical in branding and in surfing. Be kind. Be a good neighbor. Hold the door open.

In Branding, Actions Speak Louder

People are smart. If you have a positive brand and you say “we care about our customers!” but then they get a $5 charge for their paper invoice, they’ll see right through you. Nothing you can say about customer happiness as a company value will change their minds. If you actually cared about them, you would realized how annoying a $5 charge is for a paper invoice, and find a way around that particular line item.

Reputations are harder to “fix” these days with the free-sharing of information instantly. Make one bad move, and it will take a while to gain trust back. PR companies have their hands full in crises moments, god help them, and many would likely back me up in this genuine request: don’t be ridiculous in the first place please. Live and run your business with integrity, based on the values you project, and you’ll reap the benefits, smaller PR retainer costs included.

Keep the Vibe High – Get More Waves

This is true out surfing as well. I’ve always wondered how one can be SO upset doing something that they tout as a favorite activity, and yet, there are those out surfing who seem to have a bone to pick with anyone in their way. If you get mad while surfing, chill out. I do have empathy for you and the circumstances that led you to this state of mind, but this place can heal you if you let it. Pack that ego away and let the ocean remind you of what matters. 

I actually love the camaraderie in the water once you break the ice, and I actively show it, saying “nice wave!” to strangers. More often than not, it’s well received. “Grab this wave, it’s yours!” they’ll say 15 minutes later. Thanks new friend. Don’t mind if I do.  

You get what you put out into the world. So if fear tactics and manipulation are your game, in business or the water, be ready for the payback. Find the part of your company, or brand, or sport of choice that excites you the most, and double down on that. Share it. Light it up, and open the door for people looking to do the same. 

Keep it positive out there everyone! And when you’re ready to find your brand’s inner light – give us a call, we can help you dig in!

Making Waves: Karim Bouris

So, you are the Director of Multi-Sector Alliance at Partners for Progress San Diego. Can you break down what “Multi-Sector Alliance” means for our audience?

There are groups of people in San Diego who have a lot to say about the policies that affect them and who want to be involved in the process. Sadly, though, they aren’t given the right structure or the opportunity to do that. The multi-sector alliance basically just means that I bring these new voices to the table to shape San Diego County: small businesses, academia, veterans, for example. On the surface, these groups seem disconnected, but together they can advance an agenda based on equity to disrupt the status quo. I really have the best job, because I work with fearless people who like rattling some cages and speaking up on what matters.

What are your hopes for the newly formed Business for Good San Diego?

To change the perception of what businesses care about. The idea that they’re just motivated by making as much profit as possible is so inaccurate. The owners who are a part of Business For Good are deeply invested in how well their employees are doing and how healthy their communities are. That makes them huge agents for change, and Business For Good gives them the opportunity to match their values with their acts.

Best Taco in San Diego?

Easy – Tacos El Gordo in Chula Vista or La Fachada in Logan Heights!