FINterview Series: Rebecca Tall Brown

FINS_Square_Rebecca
What did you want to be growing up? 

I wanted to be President. My hand was perpetually raised in school, volunteering for anything that would get me out of my seat and into a new experience.

Favorite book or movie?

l always stop to watch Denzel’s portrayal of Frank Lucas in American Gangster. He built community and gave his family upward mobility which was all foiled by {spoiler alert} a full-length, $100k chinchilla coat.

Favorite thing about Four Fin?

Learning alongside other talented people who are also dedicated to great work – every time. The “get it right” culture prioritizes our clients needs. It energizes me daily.

What do you like to do in your free time?

Walking my sweet senior pups and catching stand-up comedy and live music with my husband, Erick. We went to the Sunset Bowl this autumn for our first live-show post Pandemic and it was magic.

San Diego Design Week Impressions

SD Made Factory
SD Made Factory

San Diego Made Factory

This year we at Four Fin were fortunate to be able to attend a number of SDDW events: I chose a couple of virtual ones in the middle of the workweek and a couple of live events over the weekend. Here’s a brief overview of what I experienced. 

First up was General Assembly’s UX Design 101. It’s always good to brush up since it’s an ever-changing industry, and I did learn a few new tricks. Daniel Huss was an entertaining presenter, who sprinkled solid UX axioms with witticisms and amusing examples. Some takeaways included: 

  1. Ask open-ended questions. Start with a small amount of questions but dig into them by asking why after the initial answer.
     
  2. “Love the problem, not the solution.” This is so important for every designer to remember (and so easy to forget). There are many possible solutions and it’s best not to get too attached to any one. We love to explore this maxim during Brand Sessions.

  3. Silence is the best tool because people want to fill the awkward silence, and therefore they’ll elaborate more. Allow gaps. Who knew being awkward could be a bonus?  

As some of you may know, I’m one of two Fins who moonlight as design educators (can you guess who else does?) so the next session that caught my eye was the live portfolio review with the lovely Julia Masalska. She had plenty of good tips for building a strong portfolio including:

  • Let your personality show through
  • Create case studies
  • Present a shocking fact about the problem you’re solving
  • Make it functional
  • Don’t overuse free mockups
  • Be creative with presenting your work
  • State a clear intention: do you want to get hired? Full-time? Freelancer?

These are helpful tidbits not only for recent grads but also more seasoned designers who are updating their websites. Her presentation was followed by a live review of a few portfolios by Erika Lauro, Talin Wadsworth and Temi Coker. One to watch is Antonio Mustico. Rising star, for sure! 

We’ve always been fascinated by shipping container homes, so my next stop on Sunday was the Work-from-home Life In A Shipping Container tour by Noble Intent Studio. The workspace was small in size but big in creativity with a view of the garden through the floor to ceiling windows. Next we got to see the guest house portion of the container. We loved the plywood floors, which apparently shipping containers come with, and they just sanded and stained them. If you missed this one, you can check out their instagram here

My final hurrah was the San Diego Made Factory tour. It was welcoming and vibrant, with mimosas and music and art and vegan snacks. There was so much visual eye candy (special shout out to Alyssa Rose for the beautiful abstract paintings). Conversations were flowing and inspiring, and I even got an impromptu tour of the upstairs workspaces, led by Raygun’s founder, Stacey Edelstein. We’ve been a fan of their work for a while here at Four Fin, so it was a treat to meet her and see where their magic happens. As an added bonus, we got to peek in our client Sam Mazzeo of Better’s office window. Lastly we checked out the basement, where Humble Design calls their home. I’m in awe of what they do to transform empty spaces into fully furnished homes for people emerging from homelessness. 

San Diego Design Week was a good reminder of the creativity that San Diego houses all year long. We promise we won’t wait another year to seek out more local inspiration and you shouldn’t either. 

FINterview Series: Aaron Van Fossen

FF_AVF_LinkedIn (1)
What is the most uncomfortable thing you have done? 

A cross-country Greyhound bus trip. Barely slept for days, narrowly missed being mugged, shared food with strangers, and used Google translate to make a new friend. Uncomfortable, but ultimately life-changing.

What do you like to do in your free time?

Lose my voice at live music shows. Live and die over the Green Bay Packers.

You’re a new Pantone color, what are you called?

Imperial Stout.

What is your dream vacation?

Japan. The food and the art. The gardens and parks. Super Nintendo World. Maybe tea with Hayao Miyazaki if he’s got time.

What is your favorite thing about Four Fin?

The great collection of people (and plants)

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


Mission Driven Finance

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. 


GIA Wellness Brand Evolution

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.


CEG Brand Evolution

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.


CPAC Brand Evolution

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?

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! 

FINterview Series: Zenia Birdie

Zenia Birdie, Account Manager at Four Fin Creative

A little intro about Zenia

What’s your favorite food?
French fries! Yes, I have a preference for which kind/shape but it depends on where I’m eating!

What did you want to be growing up?
I’m told I wanted to be a school bus driver when I was three years old so that I could go to school with my older sister (seemed like the place to be)! Then a teacher when I was in elementary school which I later realized was code for wanting to help people grow. Lately, I’ve started to think more about what type of person I want to be rather than what I want to be (because when are any of us really done growing up). To which my answer is thoughtful & empathetic, self-aware & authentic and grateful.

Favorite thing about Four Fin?
Being a contributor to one of the most equitable, unique and healthy agency cultures with transparency at its core. And it’s not just thrown around as a buzzword. We naturally live it every day with each other, our clients and partners.

What is the most uncomfortable thing you have done?
I moved to Rome, Italy for a semester in college without knowing even one person. Within six hours of landing, I knew it was the best decision of my life and couldn’t believe I almost missed it because I was afraid. Little did I know that I’d also end up meeting my future husband there who was on the same program!

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. 

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.

FINterview Series: BeiBei An

Get to know our digital designer, BeiBei An

What did you want to be growing up?

I told people I’d like to be an archaeologist as a kid because at the time I’d just learned the word, and I thought it was cool to say. (I said it with the most serious face an 8-year-old could give.) Now I think it’s not a bad choice to pursue since China, where I’m from originally, has lots of things laying underground. Later I started to watch Case Closed (a Japanese detective anime) and I wanted to be a detective. But it gave me the impression that I need to become a detective by the age of 18, otherwise, I won’t make it. So around 16, I knew it wasn’t going to happen for me.

What is your favorite thing about Four Fin?

Having autonomy here is big. I feel that I’m fully trusted and I’m free to explore and bring my creative ideas, all of which is accepted and encouraged by the team. I have space where I can make the decisions and truly own the work, and that is fully respected by everyone here. As a creative person, that’s something very valuable to have in the working environment. Four Fin’s growth mindset has also allowed me to grow into a direction that suits me the best.

You’re a new Pantone color, what are you called?

“50 shades of grey.” Cause my wardrobe is literally that. Somehow, whenever I went shopping, I ended up picking the color of grays, black and white. Recently I’m trying to add more hues to it, like orange and pink, but still with a certain amount of grays in them.

What is your dream vacation?

I have a group of really close friends from high school, but after graduation, we have been scattered all around the world: China, Japan, Thailand, UK, and the US. I really wish one day we can again gather and hang out on a tropical island for a week or two. Three of my friends have toddlers now and one of them just had her second baby, so I guess the dream will be pushed a little further out now!