Brand Strategy Q&A with Hillery

Hillery Kemp Brand Strategy
Hillery Kemp Brand Strategy

Often, prospective clients ask us how we arrive at our design choices, or how are we able to create a full brand identity in just three weeks during Brand Sessions. The answer always comes back to brand strategy.

Hillery, Four Fin’s Brand Strategist, gives us a glimpse into its importance.

What’s the difference between a brand strategy and a marketing strategy?

This is a great question that similarly goes with the classic “what’s the difference between branding and marketing?” inquiry I receive when telling people what I do. We wrote a great little number on this a while back if you need a refresher.

The strategy of a brand is the map guiding foundationally how the brand needs to show up in the world, based more on emotions than logic. This strategy is utilized by those responsible for bringing the brand to life visually and verbally (e.g., designers, copywriters, agencies, etc.) or through action (e.g., company management, employees, etc.). It’s truly the DNA for a brand, and although the components vary, they will often include the: brand concept, brand positioning, brand values, brand pillars, and brand personality traits. 

A marketing strategy, on the other hand, is a map guiding functionally how and where the brand needs to show up in the world to effectively reach target audiences, based more on logic. It is utilized by those responsible for articulating the brand’s value to audiences (e.g., marketing managers, social media and other digital marketers/agencies, etc.). These strategies often contain customer segmentation, promotional tactics and timing, and evaluation. 

Marketing strategies exist to help companies promote products and services, and are ultimately informed by the strategy of the brand . 

What’s the risk of not having a strategy in place for your brand?

Imagine building a car without knowing what kind of engine will be in it. How would you design the body style? How big could it be? How would it perform? A basic metaphor to say that managing a brand without a clear strategy is a blinding endeavour. 

If there is no framework for consistently showing up, several things happen:

  • Audiences will have a harder time remembering your brand
  • Internal alignment for both branding AND marketing activities become impossible
  • More time and resources are wasted attempting to solve brand and marketing challenges every time they come up (which happens often)

How do you create a brand strategy?

In developing brand strategies, being an outside perspective for our clients is key. It provides us with 360 degrees of context without getting too deep into the weeds of their businesses. 

At a high level, we look at the client’s business, competition, industry, and (often most importantly) customers. We understand the important factors influencing each of these aspects of our client’s brand and work to uncover the authentic space they can/already own. Capturing this ownable space are the grounds for building out the components of the brand’s strategy. 

Have a strategy-related question or could your brand use an outside-in perspective? 

Reach out to us! 

Brand Evolution: Just the Right Fit

Mission Driven Finance

Brands don’t always need to completely rework their identity to signal change or growth. A Brand Evolution (improving upon what’s existing) or a Brand Revolution (creating something completely new) is the lingo we use to describe what kind of brand solution clients embark on. Deciding on which solution is best for the brand depends on answering questions like:

Is our brand still relevant to our audiences/markets?
Has our business outgrown our existing brand?
Are there certain aspects of the brand (logo, colors, etc.) that resonate with stakeholders we need to keep?

To name a few…

Here are four clients that maintained existing visual equities, yet evolved their brands to keep up with their evolving businesses.

Mission Driven Finance

On the cusp of celebrating their five year anniversary and announcing major funding partnerships, Mission Driven Finance was looking to clean up before these big milestones. MDF tells a great story their brand evolution on their blog here

GIA Wellness

GIA had been a well-known brand in wellness consulting circles, but in shifting to a more Direct-to-Consumer model, they needed a fresh take on their visual identity beyond the logo. We partnered with GIA to make a subtle, yet impactful, refresh to the brand’s web and packaging consumer experiences. 

CEG Multifamily

After developing the brand for Unfold Development, CEG’s newest division, the 30-year-old company was ready for change. The updated visual identity incorporates graphical elements kindred to Unfold while maintaining its typographic roots.

CPA Collective

CPA Collective provides high-caliber accounting solutions and needed its brand to meet the same level of quality that the business provides. The evolved, refreshed visual identity and website express a more tasteful, experienced CPA Collective.

Are you considering an uplevel to your brand identity, but not sure if a brand evolution is the solution?

Reach out to us!

Making our own Waves

Photo by Philip Graves on Unsplash

Although we’re here to help our clients make waves with their businesses by building solid brands, sometimes we have to give ourselves credit for making a few waves. Four Fin was named one of the Top Branding Agencies In California of 2021 by Design Rush.

How’d we do it? By taking a nimble, no-nonsense approach to branding. Whether its participating in one of our three week Brand Sessions or our ongoing partnerships, our clients move forward instead of moving in circles. 

Are you making the waves or riding the waves?

Four Questions for Lovesong Beauty

Lovesong Packaging

We love helping our clients make waves with their brand because of the waves they’re making with their businesses. Their entrepreneurial spirit pushes industries and our world, forward. In our new interview series Four Questions, we dive right into the inspiration, challenges, and other topics that drive our clients to run their businesses. 

Meet Emily and Matt Bowman, the founders of Lovesong Beauty. They share some insight into launching a new natural beauty brand in our current Covid world. In describing the new company, Emily says it best;  “If you could go out into nature and pick your very favorite botanical ingredients and put them in a bottle, that’s what Lovesong is. Our haircare collection is all-natural, cruelty-free, vegan non-GMO and crafted with wind energy.”

1. What inspired you to start Lovesong?

Emily: I’ve worked in the natural food and products industry for about 15 years now, and back when I wanted to initially launch a company, there really weren’t many clean beauty brands available in the marketplace, so I definitely saw a need. Fast forward to 2020 and a pandemic hits. I wasn’t traveling for business anymore so it really gave Matt and I the opportunity to be at home and collaborate to bring our vision to life.

[Our] real goal here is to build a community of like-minded individuals that believe in Lovesong and love the products as much as we do. Ultimately, because they are better for you and better for the Earth.

2. What are the most surprising or important lessons you’ve learned since starting Lovesong?

Matt: Expect the unexpected when you get into anything. Every time we’ve gotten to a point where we thought that everything was running smoothly, we’re ready to go, or we’re ready to launch, something would come up to veer us off course, change our direction, and make us rethink things. Murphy’s law is real and it really comes down to how you pivot to tackle those issues and use creative problem solving along the way.

Also, having business partners that we can trust like Four Fin and contacts that we can lean on for advice makes a world of difference as well.

3. Why did you decide to work with a branding agency instead of hiring a designer in-house or do-it-yourself?

Emily: I definitely had a strong vision, and I knew that having really successful and talented people to contribute to the brand would make Lovesong better than I dreamed it could be. So it made sense for us to hire a design agency. Also we’re family-owned and family-funded so we weren’t looking to bring on a full-time employee this early in the game, but we definitely wanted the help and expertise of a design agency. 

I was so happy that I found Four Fin because we are both female-owned companies and I felt that in working with the Fins, we had a lot of voices that were truly the demographic for Lovesong. I think everybody’s contribution really made a huge impact in launching our brand and I couldn’t be more pleased with where we’re at today. It’s very exciting!

4. What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs out there wanting to ‘Make Waves’ with their business and brand?

Matt – Invest in what matters. For us that meant the quality of the product. We spent a lot of time selecting every active ingredient in our formulas for beauty and wellness benefits, and that Emily’s vision was realized in the product from start to finish. Also, the branding and presentation of that product was very important to us. Make room in the budget for unexpected costs and also opportunities that can and will come along. 

Lastly, we wanted to make sure that we had a clear picture of what success looks like for us, and to share that goal with as many people as possible. It takes a village and the strength of our community is everything. Having people like Four Fin and others that we’ve worked with within our community is everything.

See how we brought the Lovesong brand to life.

Your brand is either make believe, or it makes believers

Chase Baker, Unsplash

The difference can be seen in your culture. 

A big part of our brand discovery process is to uncover the good that already exists and lean into your strengths: the differentiators, the value, the heart and soul of the business, the why. That discovery process is enlightening. 

Sometimes, you find that you’re aligning your external brand to reflect what you already know and live by internally. Sometimes, thinking about how you want your brand to show up in the world makes you realize there’s work to do internally first. 

We are committed to our customers living more eco-friendly lives.” – Says the company that makes everyone commute into a city for in-person jobs that don’t pay them enough to live near the office. 

We all strongly believe that by helping green-tech startups with IT support, we’re contributing to their impact on the future of our world.” – Says the CEO of a company that runs on strict processes, entry-level talent, and little internal training on the “why” itself.

See what I mean? 

Tom Wolff, Unsplash

Your brand is only as good as the trust you build in it. 

Once we know your strengths, we can identify where the intersect is between what you want to be known for and what you can be known for. We find where you can position yourself to plant your brand in hearts, minds, and markets. Then, we build people’s trust in that position so it’s obvious to everyone how firmly you’re holding your spot.  

That trust starts within. If you’re not living it, you can’t be known for it. Period. Living it looks like passion and energy shared across the organization toward a common mission. It’s a code of ethics, values, spirit, personality, operational practices, and more. 

It’s culture. 

When a strong internal culture supports and validates a meaningful and impactful external brand, believers are made.

Not sure what you are supposed to be “living”? 

A Brand Session is a good place to start. This 3-week sprint is highly effective in uncovering your truth and translating it into a visual system ready to show the world. Living up to it is an ongoing game, but we’d love to help you get started. 

Property Branding: When Home Becomes More Meaningful

Unfold Development strives to redefine the real estate development process by uncovering the stories within existing communities and utilizing all forms of design to communicate them. Our partnership with Unfold over the past year has proven that property branding is much more than just an aesthetic exercise.

Their process starts by researching and engaging with cities and neighborhood groups to understand the roots of a place. Once a concept is realized, Unfold brings together Four Fin, as well as their architecture and interior design teams.

Melissa Meagher, partner at Unfold, describes real estate’s changing industry: “It is no longer just about up-to-date amenities and smart floorplans; it is about creating a sense of belonging, which can be curated through the materials and design elements a resident sees as they experience a place. More developers need to be thinking about this before deciding where and how a place can evolve.”

Working closely with Melissa and her design partners, we’ve refreshed the brands of 10 (and counting) communities with Unfold Development.

Meagher explains, “Four Fin has helped me take initial layers of concepts and transform them visually so that when I bring in architecture and interior design, all parties completely comprehend the direction and how we can connect residents to where they live again.”

Our process incorporated weaving greater meaning and fresh design into each property brand evolution. This came in the form of connecting the property more closely to the history of its location and building a brand around that context – from naming, to visual identity, to website design

“It is no longer just about up-to-date amenities and smart floorplans; it is about creating a sense of belonging”

– Melissa Meagher, Partner at Unfold Development

We’re looking forward to seeing these brands come to life and continuing our partnership with Unfold in helping its residents belong somewhere meaningful.

My Footer Fetish (SFW)

I have a website footer fetish and I’m not afraid to tell the world about it. 

There. I said it. Website footers are just as important (if not more important) as the rest of a brand’s website. They are essentially the go-to map of pertinent information visitors should be able to access quickly, but also an opportunity to provide a final branded experience.

I’ve rounded up several of my favorite footers currently out in the wild to share why they matter. Don’t worry, this is all totally SFW and hopefully provides inspiration for those thinking through their site’s user experience.

Take up some space.

Tall, dark and handsome, this footer for Pioneer Square Labs takes up space unapologetically. I love the large type for important links because who says footers have to have tiny type?

Think inside the box.

Blady Gros Holdings’ footer is minimal as far as information, but delivers maximum impact with design. This is a good reminder that a footer doesn’t always have to be full-width.

Simply delightful. 

Tend‘s footer is a solid example for simplicity. It’s nicely organized with good typography, but also captivates  with a mesmerizing animated bar just above.

Be my friend?

Cute illustrations and a small, but friendly invitation to be friends won me over on Palorama’s footer. What other ways can you engage your audience during this tail end experience?

One more little moment.

Finally, VOTD’s fun icon and message provides one last moment of delight for visitors. If the contact and navigation information can live somewhere else, jump on one more opportunity to send a message about your brand. 

I know I’m not the only one who loves a happy ending to my scrolling. If your website could use some love and attention when it comes to what’s on the bottom, reach out!

B2B branding shouldn’t be spooky*

*Spooky is a-ok if you’re Sam Mazzeo, Co-Founder of B2B firm Better.

Just because your target customers happen to be other businesses doesn’t mean your B2B brand has to suck. Really. We’ll prove it. 

You may not be selling the hottest new tech toy or surfboard that requires a certain level of consumer appeal, but you are selling something extremely important for B2B brands; your reputation. Do you want your reputation to be perceived as cold, boring, (too) serious or (overly) functional? Of course not!

Below are several of our B2B clients that have captured the perfect balance of emotion and professionalism through brand, steering clear of being just another boring (maybe even spooky) business to business brand.

AccessParks contracts with National Parks, RV sites, and campgrounds to deliver broadband internet to the great outdoors. The brand captures the essence of adventure and exploration, the ultimate desire of AccessParks’ end customer.

Cyclopure develops sustainable water purification solutions at the consumer, commercial, and government levels. The brand went from functional and scientific to friendly and relatable in order to ensure its mission ‘to make water safe for everyone, everywhere’ could be quickly understood.

Better is a community-focused law firm that educates and empowers early stage businesses, non-profits, and freelancers. The new B2B brand is unexpectedly fun and engaging for its industry, reminding young businesses that they aren’t alone in their journey to being better then they were yesterday.

BAM is a powerhouse communications agency for tech firms and ensures its brand is as fast moving and forward thinking as the industry itself. Movement, storytelling, and bold visuals push BAM to the forefront of their client’s hearts and minds.

When working with B2C and B2B brands, we always look for the emotional connection that will resonate with our client’s target audiences. Because at the end of the day, everyone is a consumer, whether they’re making a purchase decision for themselves or their business/employer. 

Want to talk about your B2B brand with us? Let’s chat!

Want to be an Art Director? Let’s talk to Macoe.

We’ve been getting a number of reach outs recently from designers inquiring about the team, gaining more design experience, and potential opportunities at Four Fin. Since we’re not really meeting anyone in the office as of late, we thought it might help to share an informational interview with our Art Director, Macoe Swett. She shares more on her experience and some advice for rising designers. 

How did you get to where you are as Four Fin’s Art Director?
Years of sweat and tears! JK, although I do have many years of experience. After college I worked as a graphic designer and eventually started teaching graphic design. This was really my first experience art directing, as you’re constantly doing that in the classroom. Then I worked as an art director on a contract basis with a couple other agencies. When I started at Four Fin, I came on as a Senior Designer first, and was then promoted to Art Director a few years later.

What have been some of the highlights of your design career?
Every time a client is really excited about something I’ve created for them, that’s the best feeling. One that stands out in my head though is when I designed a poster for a weekly service industry night party my friends and I were throwing in Philly. We printed up a bunch and plastered them on a wall near the venue. People loved them so much they all got stolen within a couple days.

What do you look for in a portfolio?
Good use of typography, a strong understanding of color and layout, and a bit of boldness. Technique is essential, but risks will get you noticed.

What can I do to get more experience in design while looking for design jobs?
Design yourself a kick-ass website and some promo materials. Do some friends some favors. Give yourself the projects you wish someone else was giving you, and create or expand your portfolio with the results.

What’s the best advice you can offer to young or aspiring designers?
Work for and with people whose design skills you admire. That’s key to improving and sometimes more important than money and security early in your career. Keep your interests broad and seek out inspiration from other fields as well as following graphic designers you admire. Challenge yourself to make every project a portfolio piece.

Thanks Macoe! Meet the rest of the Fins and keep an eye out for future interviews with the team.

Brand Evolution: GIA Wellness

GIA Wellness is here to tell you that hyped wellness trends are exactly that; hype. They focus on the pillars of foundational wellness from hydration to nutrition to skincare. After 12 years of successful growth, GIA was pivoting its marketing strategy to appeal to a broader D2C audience in the rapidly growing health and wellness space. 

A Brand Audit allowed us to identify challenges, opportunities, and areas where we could better align the brand (and this message of foundational health) across GIA communications. The audit revealed that no major overhaul to the brand was needed. Rather, an evolution to the visual identity (especially packaging) and messaging would assist in unifying the already established brand. 

More to share when the new packaging is launched, but in the meantime, check out other elements of the refresh making its way onto GIA’s Instagram