How Branding is like Surfing: Positioning 

Out in the surf line-up, the most important thing you can do is paddle into a good position and keep adjusting to stay there. This is true of brands too. Companies extend a decent amount of energy getting into the sweet spot of their desired audience’s attention and needs. In surfing and in branding, there are a couple of ways to approach positioning that take this analogy a step further.

Hit it where it’s hot. 

When the waves are firing, there’s an obvious spot to sit to land a big one. It’s right next to everyone else. Sitting right next to nine other people will make it more difficult to catch a set wave, since only a few will win out during a three-wave set.

Now, you might decide that you can sit in that spot because you’re clearly a better surfer (or have a better product/offer/business) than those nine. If you are deciding this from a place of objectivity and not a place of ego, you might be right. And, if you decide to take that calculated risk, then go after those three precious set waves, or consumers in a crowded space. Go after them with confidence, and paddle hard.

Also, in this situation, staying connected to the oceans energy and reading the shifting swells will help you know where exactly amongst those nine you’ll need to be. Just as absorbing the energy of your consumers and reading the shifting trends and feedback will help you fine-tune your messaging. Always watching, always fine-tuning, always shifting.

Find a sweet spot.

Sometimes, if you look at the whole scene before you head out, you might be able to find a corner or reform that’s breaking a little further inside that no one noticed. They’re not perfect, they’re likely more varied, but the point is that you get a bunch, because no one else noticed them.

If you look at the whole scene before deciding where to position your brand, you might find this little pocket yourself. The B-list of waves, that doesn’t break out where the A-list breaks, but is perfectly comfortable riding small on the inside, and taking you with them.

If you’ve gotten this far, maybe you’re thinking, cool analogy. But, I’ll be honest, it’s not perfect.

Branding has an advantage surfers wish they had. 

When you are surfing, you are working with the forces of Mother Nature, and that sexy powerhouse will place those waves wherever she damn well chooses. You have to position yourself according to her rules. When you are positioning your brand, you can create waves where they weren’t before. The ‘waves’ in this analogy are followers, adopters, consumers. These waves have forces of their own, and can be drawn away from their normal spot if they are intrigued by your energy. In fact, it’s the often a great way to get them. Shine like a unique and unavoidable beacon from a calm and unsuspecting spot, way past the line up, and watch the wave patterns shift.

I wish I had that power in the ocean.

Do you know your brand’s position? Are you charging hard next to nine others in the line up, or are you beaconing greatness from the calm? I’d love to grab a coffee and chat it out with you.

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This post is one of a series of posts from Four Fin’s Founder and Creative Director, Jen Derks, on how branding is like surfing. Follow us on instagram for updates on our blog post releases, studio happenings and client work.  

Design Values and Client Partnerships

I recently came across this article and thought it was worth a share as it’s incredibly relevant to some of our core values at Four Fin. I’m officially making it required reading for every new design hire. The article speaks to solo in-house designers at companies of non-designers, but I believe the lessons shared are universal. We approach our client-relationships with a partnership mentality, and we’re often our clients’ only designers. We’re batting on their team, in-house or not.

“Don’t be the smartest guy in the room”

At Four Fin, we believe that creativity and ideation are not the designers’ tasks alone. Everyone, whether they are the client or work for the agency, is valuable in the process of better understanding user experiences, seeing a challenge from a different perspective and bringing in varied expertise. Our Account Manager regularly contributes ideas to our work and our design staff has no issues bringing those ideas to life to test them against the others. Our clients know their users better than we do and that experience is invaluable. The point is, it’s not about us. The best idea on the table could have come from the client’s new intern, we just care that it’s the best idea related to the goals of the brand.

“Let good enough be good enough.”

This principle might seem to counter your perceptions of what a design firm believes. Don’t get me wrong, people come to us when good enough isn’t cutting it, and we value the power of iteration and nailing details. But there is a lesson here. Our clients’ success matters to us and it’s important to me as we grow that we retain a high level of respect for their goals. When a brand is in the early phases of development, we recognize when design perfection should not be the goal, and we comfortably adjust our own standards (yes, really) in order to achieve what is needed for phase 1 (e.g., get that simple landing page up, or fill the feed with relevant stock images until photoshoots can be scheduled). If we maintain this thinking and strategy in supporting our clients through phase 1, we then have more success in helping them grow and get to phase 3. This is when we grab the coffee and pump the Sonos – with design perfection as the goal.

Does your company lack an in-house designer? Is it possible we could fill in, with the same mindset as a designer on staff, but with more resources and flexibility? Let’s find a time to talk it over.

Making Waves: Drew Auker

Drew Auker

The Auker Group

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. So, you’ve been consistently named “Top 1% of all REALTORs in San Diego County.” What has led to this distinction?

I did what some really brilliant mentors told me to do. Fast forward three years of doing that and having my focus on people and not selling houses… and low and behold, I sold a ton of houses.

  1. What’s the coolest home feature you’ve seen?

 I’m still a sucker for a master bath shower with a panoramic view and a door to the outdoors.

  1. What’s your favorite secret spot in San Diego?

Red House Pizza in University Heights. (Although I don’t know how much of a secret it is… they’re always packed!)

 

Fear and Improv: Part 1

Now, I will be the first to tell you, I am not funny. I mean, my friends think I am funny. Or at least they laugh when I say things sometimes. I also, alongside most people on this planet, get a colony of butterflies in my stomach when I am met with public speaking. At Four Fin, a regular question our CEO asks us is, “What is something you did this month that made you uncomfortable?” A few months ago I decided to really test that and I signed up for an Intro to Improv class. The last time I was on a stage was probably 4th grade when I dyed my hair red to play Annie in “Annie” [side note: “temporary” fire-red hair dye is not so temporary for blonde haired folks]. Flash forward 16 years, I am back to my natural hair color and sweating profusely in my Prius before my first improv class. Fifteen minutes of forced slow breathing and a non-stop internal monologue, I was almost ready. I did a power pose, lied to myself that I would be a NATURAL, and opened my car door. Safe to say, I was not a natural.

The Lessons:

Lesson One.

Improv is hard. Some people are quick-witted and natural on stage but most of us are not and the only thing that helps is practice. I had this realization on my first class when I started sputtering out gnomish in response to my scene partner’s question.

Lesson Two.

I can speak gnomish!

Lesson Three.

Improv is essentially preschool for adults. We play games, pretend we are flying to the moon on a secret mission and, most importantly, act ridiculous without caring that we look pretty stupid.

So, every Wednesday night for the past few months, I have been going back to preschool. Turns out going to preschool as an adult is a lot harder than it is as a 5-year-old. As an adult, I am out of practice playing make-believe. Luckily, our improv coach has a few tools to help the incompetent adult dive back into the land of imagination. The most important thing in the improv toolbox is the phrase: Yes, and. Let’s say your scene partner opens the scene with “Let’s build a beautiful house!” You would respond “Yes and… let’s build this beautiful house out of pencils!” Yes and…  supports your partner, accepts the reality of the scene they want to create and builds on that reality. Now, that is beautiful! Yes, and… also requires listening. This is something I discovered when I started speaking gnomish on my first day of class. You see, I was so in my own head trying to figure out what to respond, I forgot to listen to what my scene partner was saying.

Yes, and … is something that directly translates into life in the real world and into my career at Four Fin. As a branding and design studio, an essential part of our job is listening. Our clients are often responsible for the vision of their company’s overall brand, campaign or targeted marketing initiative (i.e., CEOs, Marketing Directors, etc.). We value the practice of genuinely listening and saying “yes, and…” to our clients’ ideas. It is our job to bring their vision to life with an authentic brand and identity. That requires listening, building upon the ideas and dreams of our clients, and translating that dream into reality. And that, my friends, is beautiful.

Making Waves: San Diego Letters

Roxie Prima & Phoebe Cornog

CoFounders, San Diego Letters

  1. When did you team up as SD Letters, and how many murals have you painted together?

We teamed up in August 2015 and started San Diego Letters as a monthly Meetup group. After collaborating on planning events, branding the club, and promotion, we realized what a good team we made. After doing a couple freelance jobs together for fun, we realized that we had a passion for painting murals. We were both frustrated and unfulfilled with our full-time jobs so we decided to quit our jobs and turn San Diego Letters into a business in January 2016. We’ve been loving entrepreneur life and have big plans to continue to grow the business. Since we turned it into a business we’ve painted 42 murals and are excited to do our first international mural in Tasmania in a couple weeks!

  1. What’s your favorite thing about the gig?

Our favorite part about working for ourselves is the freedom to travel. We love teaching workshops, painting murals, and meeting up with our friends that we’ve had on our podcast (Drunk on Lettering) in every city we go to.

  1. Do you actually get drunk when recording the “drunk on lettering” podcast?

Yes, we actually get drunk for our podcast and most of our guests do too. The only time we don’t get drunk is when we have to record at 9am with a paper lettering artist in Mumbai!

Check out more about what Phoebe and Roxie are doing at sandiegoletters.com and see more of their work on their Instagram account @sandiegoletters  and their podcas@drunkonlettering

Being a Woman in Branding

I’ve never thought much about being a woman in my career. Sure, in college there were only a handful of girls on the ‘creative track’ of our advertising major. And, we all know about the old days of male dominated agencies, referenced in Mad Men. Great show by the way. But really, none of this ever meant anything to me. I surf, so I guess I’m used to being in a male-dominated environment. It didn’t phase me. I liked design and I liked psychology, so the path was obvious.

But lately, it does mean something. And I’m not talking about the all to common “why don’t I make the same as my male counterparts?” I’m talking about the way women lift each other up. It’s incredible. It can be seen in the success of blogger networks, women design retreats and networking opportunities. There is even a women-only coworking space here in San Diego. And while, I admit, I think it can be a bit overboard and counter-productive (I’m not a ‘girlboss’), I do think it marks a time in history where change is happening and women are more respected in the world of business. I am proud to be a part of that narrative.

I also think the design and branding world needs us. We understand the female mindset, of course. More importantly, we think and feel differently. We nurture by nature, run on empathy on practice active listening. Brands need nurturing. Clients need empathy. Users need to be understood.

I am honored to be a woman in business and in branding today, running a company built on mutual respect, radical candor, and collaboration.  When we lift each other up, we all rise. Here’s to seeing more women in our industry, not just as the designers and illustrators, but in the leadership roles as well.

Are Business Cards Relevant Anymore?

I was working with a client recently who said, “Yeah, let’s design some cool business cards too to go with our new brand. We won’t need many per person. No one will really use them anyway, it’s more for them to be excited about having a business card with their name on it.”

Hm… It reminded me of another recent occurrence I had related to this topic. The last time I was at a networking event, I was talking with another business owner who “didn’t have any cards” on him. “You can look us up,” he said.

It got me thinking about what value business cards have. Maybe they aren’t really needed? After pausing to consider change (always a good practice), I can’t get behind it this time. The concept that business cards are not needed doesn’t sit well with my branding and marketing mind. Here are my 5 reasons that I believe you still need business cards.

1. It’s a physical reminder to follow up

At that same networking event I mentioned before, I gathered about 8 or so business cards from people I had met. I came back to my office the next day, jumping right into client work and running the office, setting my stack of business cards next to my computer. Three days later, I spent 20 minutes or so following up with the people I met that day, checking out their websites if I wanted to learn more about them. The guy who didn’t have one, hmmm… what was his company’s name? Couldn’t remember.

We’ve all had that moment when we find a business card at the bottom of our purse too, and we remember that we were going to reach out. We all need a reminder here and there of our good intentions.

2. They will help jog our clouded memories

This is an obvious one, but still valid. “You know, I met a woman, I think her name was Maya. She could really help us out with this issue we’re discussing. What was her business name again? Wait, I think I have her card somewhere…”

3. It’s the first touch point of a consistent brand experience

This one speaks the truest to my heart and what we strive for here at Four Fin. Consistent brand experiences. Give the person you are talking to a peek at your brand in that initial conversation, with your business card. Is your company established and professional? Scrappy with a sense of humor? Super girly and glamorous? The design of your card can help set that tone without having to embody that persona in your talking points and personality (sometimes you just might not feel humorous, or glamorous).

4. You will empower your team to be brand advocates

Help your team get your business out there by equipping them with little leave-behinds. They might only give a handful out, but that’s a handful of people that might not have heard about you before: a handful of people that are getting the first taste of their own consistent brand experience with your company.

Your team members should all be champions of your brand. If they are not, it might be that you don’t have a brand they are proud of – if that’s the case, we might be able to help. However, If they are already advocates, then help them help the business by equipping them with something to leave behind when they talk about how much they love their jobs. 😉

5. They have the potential to be seen by others aside from the person you gave it to

The person you hand your card to might be a lower level sales person or employee of a small business, who will take your card back to their boss, or the business owner.  If this happens, they will not only be passing on your contact info. If your cards are professionally designed with your brand in mind, they will also be passing on your brand.

How does your business card stack up? Does it portray your brand well? Maybe there’s a way to reimagine it, satisfying the reasons above, but also rethinking the status quo, and delivering something unexpected like these amazing designs. We’d love to brainstorm on it with you.

Making Waves: Sarah Hernholm

SARAH HERNHOLM

President/Founder, WIT- Whatever it Takes

  1. So your company teaches teens how to be entrepreneurs.Why teens? 

Because teens make great entrepreneurs – they are rebellious, don’t like to be told what to do, think they know more than most adults (which they do!), and want to make a difference in the world. And I just LOVE working with teens. They bring an energy and authenticity to the field of entrepreneurship that I don’t often see with adults. Plus, our teens aren’t getting access to “real world” business experience in school and I think if we want to set the next generation up to be successful in the “real world”, we’ve got to give them the tools needed to thrive.   

At WIT we know that not every teen will go off and launch their own business, but every teen can benefit from developing an entrepreneurial mindset.  

 

  1. What is your favorite secret spot in San Diego? 

Wait… if I tell you it won’t be a secret anymore! OK, I’ll reveal a couple favorites … I love the bridges in the city … you can enjoy them on alltrails.com. I’ve gotta favorite bridge, but I’m keeping that a secret :)  

 

  1. If you had endless time and money – what could you see yourself getting super into? 

Happy to say that I’d just be doing more of the same. I’m incredibly passionate about engaging teens in finding solutions to the challenges facing our communities and world. When teens are engaged their confidence and sense of self worth increase…and that’s a win-win for everyone! I’d also want to reform the education system … I’m trying to do that now, but the Teachers Union is heavily funded and they fund a lot of political campaigns …but if I had endless pockets of money, hmmmmmmmm…… 

 

Check out more about what Sarah is doing at sarahhernholm.com and learn more about her WIT work at www.doingwit.org and www.smartcitysaturday.com 

 

What does it mean to be creative?

We believe, as Creative Mornings does, that everyone is creative. Our Account Manager, Jess, is often pulled in on branding or naming discussions, and weighs in on our design work with doodles and feedback. Our clients have come to us, at the beginning stage, or during the process, with new ideas and inspiration for the project that elevates the end result. Our Creative Director encourages feedback on rough sketches, sharing new ideas un-inhibited by ego, volleying projects back and forth and other traits of free flowing collaboration.

One of our Graphic Designers, Kendall, recently brought a great new phrase to us by way of her latest experiment with improv. That phrase being “yes, and.” It’s perfect. While some people might be more artistically minded than others, we believe that creativity can be harnessed and encouraged. We believe that creativity is more about feeding on all that’s around you, less about natural genius. It’s why people are often “inspired by” something.

Along this line of thought, follows the idea that creativity comes from feeling uninhibited, free to express and curious about what will happen in someone else’s creative process when we throw our ideas out there. It’s the guts to share… because once you do, and more ideas are on the table, there starts to be patterns, highlights, new tangents that arise, and clear winners. The creative trajectory of a project redirects to a path that was never possible when only the safest ideas are brought forward.

All of that said, creativity does need to be guided when you are harnessing it to create a brand or ad campaign. Without guidelines, it can run wild and get raucously off track from where you started. It can form a life of its own that might be super fun or edgy (this is a lovely zone for a fine artist, btw). But it might not solve the original brief. It can also be very subjective and hard to agree on. That is why we start all of our projects with strategy. We need to understand the goals of our creative efforts so we can consistently monitor and reign in all the uninhibited and wild ideas into something that solves the challenge, delights the intended audience and represents the brand well.

So, if you’ve always thought, “I’m not the creative type,” ask yourself the last time you freely shared an idea you were sitting on, or the last time you truly listened to someone else’s idea, not to evaluate their “creativity,” but to really soak into the idea they were sharing. Alternatively, if you think “I’m more creative than other people,” ask yourself, how many of your “great” ideas were grown from the seed of someone else’s planting.

We believe all brands should be creative…it’s one of our #wordstobrandby and by that, we mean, all brands should be given the chance to be shared and collaborated on. All brands should be harnessed from a deep well of free-flowing thought, a well that is devoid of ego and full of unsuspecting characters and new, unforeseen paths.

Is your brand ready for some creativity? Great. We have ideas. We’d also love to hear yours.

Why We love La Mesa

We work with companies throughout San Diego, but have decided on La Mesa as our headquarters for Four Fin. Why? Because, we believe in real connections, genuine people, easy parking and sunshine. It’s a straight shot on the 94 to Downtown San Diego, and quick to hop on the 8 or 125 as well. We like the creative vibe of our space, the neighboring businesses and the growing culinary scene out our front door. La Mesa is turning a corner in it’s history, to appeal to younger crowds with cool new establishments like Public Square, Coin Haus, Farmers Table, Boulevard Noodles and Sheldon’s Service Station.

Those last two are owned in part by mover and shaker, Aaron Dean, who is infusing life into the business community with his involvement with the La Mesa Village Association and his energy into a number of new local hotspots.

AARON DEAN

La Mesa Business Owner

  1. So, we’ve seen you pouring serious heart into La Mesa (we’re amped). Why this part of San Diego?  

La Mesa has always been a part of my family. I went to Fuerte Elementary decades ago. My father medical practice has been at Grossmont for over 38 years and my Grandparents were active in the community since 1959. For me I see huge potential for growth and love the feeling of being part of this community.

  1. What was the last thing you got really excited about? 

Well I was really excited and honored to be on the cover of Day & Night in last weeks Union Tribune. It was a great article not just about me but the happenings in La Mesa. It felt good to be able to talk about so many of the businesses and events happening in La Mesa.

  1. If you could only drink one beverage for the rest of your life, what would it be?

Sheldons Coffee of course…however in a few months my answer would change to Depot Springs Beer!

For more information on Aaron, and his improvements to La Mesa, you can read the latest two union tribune articles he was featured in:

La Mesa: the next culinary hotspot – The San Diego Union-Tribune

Aaron Dean has appetite for big plans in La Mesa

Thank you Aaron for all you do to foster community and encourage the growth of this town we love. See you at Sheldon’s!