Category: Branding Insight

Want to Grow? Take up Space.

Jacob Repko, Unsplash

With windows rolled down, driving down the Coast Highway during last Saturday’s perfect sunset, I found myself BLASTING Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love.”

My heart – pounding with joy
My voice – screaming until it hurt

After a cabin fever-inducing winter here in SoCal (so. much. rain.), the sun is shining again and something deep inside is craving to come out, to stretch, scream, sing, dance. Something deep inside is yelling ‘Take up some SPACE, there’s room, YOU NEED IT.’

Turns out, so do brands…

During our weekly team meeting, I shared the Zeppelin tune, and how the music reminded me to take up space. Take Up Space. This got us all talking. I challenged the team to think about which brands are truly taking up space in today’s culture. What does taking up space even mean, especially for brands? In hearing our team’s responses on brand’s they felt lived this out, three themes arose:

Get out of your own way
How easy is it to go along with the status quo, especially the status quo of your own thoughts? I often forget that things don’t change, evolve, or improve unless I get out of my own way of thinking. Same goes for industries. When you think of venture capital and law, what comes to mind? Stodgy, conservative dudes in suits, right? One look at Maveron’s website and you’ll do a double take–this is a venture capital firm? From the design to the tone of voice, any startup will remember the bold, completely unexpected experience this company delivers and more likely than not, want to be a part of it. Also, WilkMazz, bravo for not scaring us away like other law firms usually do. Who said lawyers have to be buttoned up all the time? Turns out, they can have a strong gif-game too.

Do your own damn thing
AKA, do what you do best – be yourself. When so many of us think we have to act or be someone we’re not (I’m totally guilty too), why is it so refreshing to see someone just being themselves? Authenticity is an obvious pillar for subculture branding, but it’s amazing to see Van’s take, celebrating this among their sponsored female skaters who they’ve dubbed the “Vanguards” in a recent campaign. Similarly, female shaving brand Billie is on a mission to show the world the reality of female body hair through its “Project Body Hair” campaign.

Stand up and stand for what you believe
Hearing Robert Plant belt out song after song is no truer expression of speaking his truth for Led Zeppelin, but brands don’t always need to scream to be heard. The next time you head down the meat aisle at the grocery store, you’ll probably find GoBeyond plant-based protein products (think brats and burgers). Their bold look and feel, as well as their clear mission and values don’t shy away from the fact that they believe in a better way to feed the planet. The pure simplicity of consumer goods company Brandless – from their name to their packaging and pricing model – speaks a clear testament to their belief in providing quality, affordable goods without the markup.  

Since I’ve clearly committed myself to the quest of understanding why taking up space is not only good, but required to move forward and progress for both individuals and brands, it’s important to note what taking space does not mean: Yelling for yelling sake; doing it for someone else; or trying to get attention out of fear of being forgotten.

If we take a moment and recognize the root of what we’re doing here–leading with heart and intention, which is core to what we do at Four Fin for our clients–thinking about how our brand should take up space is a purposeful exercise allowing us to know ourselves and our businesses better.

Happy International Water Day. We’re Raising Our Fins to charity: water, the “Nike of Nonprofits”

Whoever said non-profits shouldn’t invest in their brand early haven’t met charity: water or its fearless founder Scott Harrison. Without a dime to his name, Harrison began raising money in 2006 to build wells in developing countries with a mission to bring clean water to everyone on earth. This mission was large, and he knew he needed a good brand to capture attention, hiring a designer as one of the first employees. 13 years later, over 9.5* million people have/or will have access to clean water thanks to Scott’s mission, and his bold model for charity: water’s success; give 100% of public donations to water projects, show proof of where all funds go, and create a brand that captures hearts and minds (which obviously is music to our ears).

Since day one, Harrison knew he wanted charity: water to be the Nike of the nonprofit sector as he cited in a talk here in San Diego this week. Without a strong brand, he knew it would impact his ability to reach his mission. Check out charity: water’s website (stellar storytelling) or see their presence on social media (close to half a million followers on Instagram) and see just how important brand is to this organization.

Thank you for doing what you do, charity: water. You’ve built a phenomenal brand worthy of your phenomenal mission.

*charitywater.org

 

Yes! An amazing time for design and designers

Earlier this month, I had the privilege of attending Y24, a regional design conference hosted by AIGA San Diego. The lineup was jam-packed with inspirational talks and great conversations with some truly creative folks.  

The theme of the conference was “Say Yes”. A theme that led many of the presenters to share their personal journey of Yeses (and Nos) that ultimately led them to the stage of the Y Conference. The presenters were heartfelt, inspiring, and honest about their struggles and successes. Doug Powell, VP of design at IBM, decided to take a different approach and totally ignore the prompt (fitting that IBM’s slogan is #thinkdiffernet). His presentation focused on five trends in the field of design and business. Trends that not only get the Fins excited about being designers today but also show how the landscape of business is shifting toward crafting experiences, internally and externally.

“This is an amazing time for design and designers.” – Doug Powell

    1. Design is happening in surprising places.
      • It’s not just start-ups, the US government is investing money into design and so are small US towns, cities, and associations (we’ve seen this in our leads over the past 2 years and are currently rebranding Redwood City Improvement Association).
    1. Design Operations has emerged as a distinct role.
      • Design Operations is a thing? Guess so. Imagine bringing design-thinking into the world of processes and spreadsheets. Pretty killer combo. Jess, our Director of Ops, certainly thinks so!
    1. We finally have data that proves the value of design.
    1. Design is booming in Asia.
      • Always a telling sign of trends in the world. Competition abroad challenges and elevates the field at home.
  1. Designers are becoming leaders in non-designer roles.
    • In the past few years, there has been a trend of designers stepping into leadership roles –  big to small organizations are adding Chief Creative Officers to their C-level staff and, even more telling, creatives are stepping into leadership outside of design.

Powell believes that “this is an amazing time for design and designers.”  We believe him! The words “design-thinking” and “branding” are almost as ubiquitous as the word “brunch.”  Design is infused in our culture, thanks to companies like Target and Apple, and today’s consumers and business partners are hyper design-conscious. And for good reason. Just like a first date, it makes a good impression if you invest in self-care.

From start-up founders to executives of 30-year old companies, more and more business leaders are realizing the power of design. As a creative branding studio, we love helping businesses discover what design can do for their company. Whether it’s designing a stronger brand from within, or designing an effective online user experience mindful of short attention spans – whatever the challenge is, every business needs some level of design-thinking. Consider this, is your biggest business challenge right now actually a design challenge? We’d love to learn more.

Let’s chat.

Creative Mornings Inspired Us Once Again

On September 28th, we had the opportunity to hear Organizational Consultant Danny Kim speak to the Creative Mornings San Diego community. He schooled us on our collective addiction to tech, JOMO, and the productivity of disconnecting. JOMO, in case you haven’t heard that term, as I hadn’t, is the “Joy Of Missing Out.” Presence, disconnection, focus.

The importance of being present.

At the end of his talk – where Danny made the attendees acutely aware of our addictions through audience admissions, forced disconnection from our devices, and sharing his own stories – he specifically pointed out how nothing beats sitting across the table from someone, looking in their eyes, and keeping tech out of it. He discussed holding meetings and coaching sessions that involved standing up in a room together, using stickies, pen, paper, and whiteboards.

That’s when my heart clapped.

This same line of thinking is why we are so passionate about delivering Brand Camps. The focus. The commitment to the mission by all parties. The truth that comes from real conversations, body language, and present mindsets. During Brand Camp we encourage our clients to squash all other distractions; to turn off their email, phones, and notifications; and to take this time, that they’ve committed to, invested in and need for their business and use every minute of it. During Brand Camp, we request that our clients stay disconnected for the whole sprint. Even in their “downtime,” we provide them additional branding exercises so that their minds stay free from distractions for the entirety of the time they are with us. We have found the results of this presence really astounding.

Presence is a state of mind

While nothing beats the physical presence of all stakeholders in a room, Brand Camps can happen anywhere, from a conference call in San Francisco to a Zoom meeting in Austin. The important factor is mental presence. When working with remote participants, we turn up the right technology that will connect and engage us, while ensuring we turn down that which takes away from our ultimate goal: a strategic brand ready to make waves.

Because of this collective mental presence, not only does Brand Camp produce better results in a shorter timeframe, but it’s fun. If branding your business isn’t exciting, what is? Don’t take it from us:

“It was an incredibly FUN experience to watch them all work and to feel like we were a part of the process. We laughed a lot and had an amazing time collaborating with this team on our project!” – Jennifer, Stealth Ice Cream Company

Running, growing and promoting a business is hard, and your attention is easily divided. We invite you to join us for some work sessions, turn your phone off, and see your brand take shape from concept to visuals.

We promise, missing out will not only be ‘joyful’ – but also highly beneficial.

Surf’s Up is an Attitude

We just had a new business meeting for a lifestyle brand where we discussed the “borrowed interest” of a non-surfing consumer who supports surf brands. Why would a non-surfing customer want to shop from a surf brand if they don’t actually play the sport?  Because of what the culture of that sport represents. When you work to define the concepts behind a lifestyle brand, it’s more important to hone in on the attitude, values, and culture of your brand than it is to champion the life you live or don’t live.

I don’t go to Mexico nearly enough to be an authentic supporter of the “CaliBaja” lifestyle brand, but I do believe in the message and values of the brand. I wear the sweatshirt as a representation of that belief. I don’t “Live a Great Story” as much as I did in my 20s, but the suggestion to always check in with your story, and get out there to do something that fills it in colorfully is definitely a mentality I appreciate. Supporting and following them reminds me to live life to the fullest, however that looks for me now as a business owner and mom of two.

If I fractured my body in some debilitating way that left me unable to surf, if I had some terrifying fear of the ocean, or if I just never had an ocean-loving family and good friends to introduce me to the sport, I’d likely still buy into it. In fact, many of my good friends are “surfers” who don’t actually surf. They’re not posers as they never say they are surfers, but they exude the lifestyle, the spirit, and the attitude – hence our friendship.

You don’t have to be a surfer to work at Four Fin, but you have to have the right attitude. Positive vibes, grounded spirits, challenge-seeking thirsts, and a passion for clean lines. In fact, the surfer attitude is something we talk about a lot here at Four Fin. We even wrote a blog series on how branding is like surfing. Need some convincing? Read for yourself.

• Positioning

• Trust Your Gut

• Form Follows Function

• Hold the Door Open

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 nice. 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 will change their minds. If they actually cared about you, they 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 free-sharing of information instantly. Make one bad move that shows your company’s true ugly, and it will take a while to paint the pretty back on. 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 mean in the first place please. Live and run your business with integrity and you’ll reap the benefits, smaller PR retainer costs included.

Keep the Vibe High – Get More Waves

I’ve always wondered what an asshole is doing out surfing anyway. I mean, how can one be SO upset doing something that they tout as a favorite activity. If you get mad 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. Or, you can just go on being an ass and stay broken. Your call. I get that there are dip-shits out there “taking” your waves. You know why? Cause they saw that you were being an ass.

I love the camaraderie in the water, and I actively show it, saying things like, “awhooo! nice one!” 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 focus on it. 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!

 

Form Follows Function

How Branding is like Surfing: Form follows Function

In the design world, strong designers understand that “form follows function.”

In other words, if it doesn’t do its job, no one cares how cool it is. Obviously, here at Four Fin, we value the power of art and pleasing aesthetics, but design is more than aesthetics. Design is problem solving and that has to start with function. What will the website need to encourage people to do and feel? What are the marketing goals of the print ad? What’s the most efficient and pleasant way that a user can grasp the heart of the brand from this brochure we’re designing? These are the questions we ask ourselves.

This concept of “form follows function” is just as strong in other facets of life, and naturally… here we go talking about surfing again…   

1. A pretty surfboard, shaped by an amateur – won’t last a year in your quiver.

2. A basic or ugly surfboard that’s expertly shaped for your surfing style – you’ll grow to fondly nickname it ‘old trusty’.

3. A gorgeous surfboard, expertly shaped – #boardgoals. When you pull it out of the bag – where it’s kept because it means that much to you – you know what it will feel like to ride (amazing), and its beauty gets you every time. Literally – the board makes your heart swell.

You can’t surf on a shit board

Not many surfers can spring for option 3, and if they had to choose between the first two options, good surfers choose option 2. You know, so they can surf, and have fun doing it. Function first. Form follows.

Designers are not Artists

Are designers artistic? Yes. Are they artists? No. That’s because artists think ‘form’ first, and we love (and envy) them for it. Have you ever seen an ad or poster, so slick and creative, and you can NOT remember what brand it was for or what it was trying to get you to do? Or maybe, you pinned it for eye candy, or even framed it and put it on your wall. It’s a real work of art! But, you never took it seriously for its intended purpose. Familiar?

That’s because at some point, somewhere in the world, a well-meaning and talented graphic designer was given a job, and they put form first. They nailed the form. This designer likely should be an artist instead. When they do change careers (own your true gifts, talented people of the world!), we will buy and hang their art on the walls of our office. Their commitment to form, will inspire our creativity as we think about brands all day, function first.

 

Trust Your Gut

In branding and in business, sometimes you have to pivot. Sometimes you have to hold true to your values. Sometimes you have to invest yourself in building your brand where you feel the most energy and potential.

You might be grappling with some of this right now. Let me tell you a secret. You already know what to do, and you have from the moment it popped into your head.  One of my favorite quotes, that recently adorned our office felt board, is “Told you so. – your intuition.”

Life moves fast, and business moves even faster. If you spend time ignoring your gut (or worse, being scared of what it’s telling you to do), you’ll likely fall behind on really moving your brand forward. Or worse, your waffling will give off the wrong impression. Your audience will see the inconsistency, and lack of direction. Your brand will suffer. Of course, we believe that a guiding light for a lot of small businesses IS their brand. We constantly harp that you have to stay true to your brand to build a strong and consistent image.

Let me give you a simple example. Let’s say you make widgets. You’ve positioned the widgets as quality widgets. You spent a great deal on R&D and design of the widgets and are confident that your audience needs this level of quality and will be happy paying the high price. You’re releasing the widget in the world and deciding how to market them. You meet an eager and convincing online marketing consultant who promises leads. “I’ve cracked the sales funnel code. We get their attention with an introductory discount and then as you gain traction, we’ll cut the discounts and your followers, now in love with the product, will be okay spending more.” It doesn’t sit right with you. Trust your gut. The audience you’re going after cares about the quality, not the price. If lured initially by price, the second you increase price, they’ll fire up the google engine again to find something cheaper. They’ll be offended with your brand at the same time. This might appear an obvious example, and the decisions you face might be more complex, but the premise rings true. Know your brand, be proud of what it stands for, and stand with it. 

So what if your “brand” conflicts with your “gut”?  

If it’s done right… that brand will be modeled after what’s already in your gut. If you build a truly authentic brand, it will be based in part on the values of the visionary leader. It will keep you from chasing shiny objects that aren’t true to your brand. So, if your gut says something is off, you can confidently listen. 

Before I even ran a branding business, I’ve had a lot of training in this gut-feeling awareness that has helped me make key decisions quickly. In surfing, you have to trust your gut quite often.

Paddling out.

Do I paddle faster and try to get past that almost-breaking wave, or do I pull back and duck dive the white-wash? Anyone who’s found themselves trying to duck dive a wave RIGHT when it’s breaking on top of you knows why that’s an important decision. And one you have to make instantly.

Catching a wave.

There’s a frequently used word in surfing, and actually all extreme sports. Commit. If you are paddling for a wave and it’s looking promising, and you’ve made the gut decision to go for it, you’d better commit. Once the wave takes hold of you, it’s not a time to question your gut. Likewise, if you’re paddling for a wave, and have a gut reaction that tells you to back off, but you stumble a little on listening quickly, you’ll find yourself putting on a good wipe-out show for those on the beach.

Deciding if you can hack it.

All surfers have been there. Standing on the sand during a particularly large swell. Sizing up the surf. Deciding if you’ve got the strength, courage, and lung capacity to attempt to paddle out. You might catch the best wave of your life. You could also tour the local ER.  

I don’t always trust my gut, and when I get too in-my-head, it’s typically never positive. I wipe-out. I pick myself back up. I breathe. Then I apologize to my gut for not listening. “Hey gut, you were right about that client. They obviously weren’t right for us. Had I listened to you, we’d have more space for the right type of growth. Thanks again for always watching out! Forgive me and keep up the clear signals for future decisions.” 

Our gut knows what’s up. It will save us from a mouth full of salt water and deter us from poor business choices. Building a brand that is authentic to you, then learning to trust your gut is a liberating exercise. Go confidently in the direction of your brand dreams. And bring your gut with you.

Words to Brand By

We are always thinking over here. Throughout the year we gathered our thoughts for our followers on what makes a strong brand, and shared them on Instagram. We’ve revisited our own brand quite a bit this year and are ready to slay 2018 by helping others make waves with their branding.

Are you ready to make your brand clear?
If you’d like to learn about some of the principles to help align your brand, take a look at our #wordstobrandby or if you want to know what the hell we mean by all those buzzwords, and how they could apply to your brand, then give us a call and set up a free 30 min consultation. Make next year your year to own a fresh brand perspective!