Category: Branding Insight

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!

Brand collabs that go together like ice cream x skateboarding

Source: nikesb.com

Collaborations between brands appear to be the new norm. Put that ‘x’ in place (e.g., Honey x Bear) and apparently a legit collaboration is happening and we should take notice. 

Usually these partnerships make sense from a brand personality and values perspective like this Nat Geo x Parks Project apparel line. Both brands will often generate greater cross exposure and can command higher prices (which will either work in your favor or not as the comment on this post below shows).

Source: Instagram

It’s 2020 though, and I think the zany, unexpected collaborations are far more fascinating from a brand and business perspective. I say unexpected because either the collaborating brands exist in completely different ecosystems/industries or have wildly differing emotional connections with their audiences. I say fascinating because the imagination and bravery needed to create these partnerships often require true creative brilliance, hallucinogens, or both. 

I’ve discovered that the brands brave enough to make unexpected collab moves not only get twofold the hype and can command higher prices, but they stick in the memory banks of their fans. And loyal fans, as we know, are a brand’s best friend. Here are several that stick out.

Ben & Jerry’s x Nike Skateboarding

Source: nikesb.com

When I saw the Nike SB x Ben & Jerry’s collaboration for the Skate Low Chunky Dunky shoe, my head almost popped off in excitement…and wonder. How? Why? Realizing this is a total sneaker culture thing (which, admittedly I know very little about), I still wanted to know just how much hype these kicks were getting. 

A limited quantity of the shoes were released back in May, retailing at $120. One look at current resale prices three months later (yes that’s a $2,592 price tag down there) and I don’t need any convincing that the demand (and equity) for the brand is through the roof.

Source: Google Shopping

 

Fireclay Tile x Rose’s Taproom 

California craft tilemakers Fireclay recently collaborated with their client, Rose’s Taproom in Oakland, to release the Emerald Drop, a craft beer inspired by the backsplash tile that serves as the watering hole’s centerpiece. Random, brilliant, and an ingenious way to celebrate the brands’ partnership and commitment to craft + design.

Although the beer was probably produced in limited quantities, it certainly didn’t last long and managed to receive a fair amount of reviews/ratings on beer social platform Untappd. 

Source: Instagram
Source: Untappd

Supreme x Oreo

Streetwear brand Supreme isn’t new to surprising collaborations, but it’s Oreo collab might be the most surprising. And apparently surprising works for Supreme (and Oreo), because the release garnered TONS of hype (over 23k retweets alone from Oreo announcing it). A pack of three cookies commands a mere $40 from one streetwear reseller (they originally retailed for $8 per pack).

Source: Twitter

TLDR;

Whether your brand is about cookies, shoes, beer, or even clay tile, there’s another brand out there willing to collaborate. You might share kindred personalities or you might be in opposite industries altogether. Either way, collaborations bring with them increased exposure and, if it’s wild enough, exponential demand and love from your customers.

We usually don’t think about unexpected collaborations during our client’s Brand Sessions, but maybe we should given the unexpected world we live in today..

Our Brand Session Obsession

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

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

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

So, what is a Brand Session? 

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

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

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

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

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

We guarantee your Brand Session will make you smile.

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

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

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

Cue the reviews

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

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

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

Caution: This is where dangerous decisions are made. 

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

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

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

Tl;dr

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

Should you Invest in Branding?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take your marketing for a spin without flying off the highway

Tim Patch, Unsplash

‘What is consistency in marketing?’ Hearing this question nearly made me fall over in my chair snoozing. Probably a bad thing to say coming from the person who received her degree in marketing, right? I say this in all honesty though, because the marketing of today is not the same as it was when I painstakingly attempted to memorize the ins and outs of those four ‘P’s’ many moons ago (free stickers to the first person who emails me with them hillery@fourfincreative.com). 

Okay, I’m not that old, but marketing was something I studied back before ‘Content Marketing’ was a gleam in Hubspot’s eye and 11-year-old ‘Influencers’ weren’t pocketing millions in YouTube ad money. 

So, before I lost it wondering why I didn’t think of the unboxing phenom or some cool wanderlust Insta account with countless sponsorships, I sat back in my chair and asked…W T F is ‘Marketing’ today? And, if I could even get my head around it’s multiple facets, how does consistency come into play? Who is killing the game when it comes to having a solid, sustaining strategy?

Branding: Marketing’s guardrails 

Thank goodness I chose to pursue the path of branding…the holy grail of foundation-setting and, ultimately, consistency. Without it, myself and countless companies would be face down in a gutter somewhere.

Why? Because branding is ground zero for defining the core of who you want to be and how you want to show up in the world. This is what we do on the daily here at Four Fin, so I won’t overindulge, there’s plenty more where that came from (let’s have coffee). 

When we start with a core brand concept and define the core brand elements, every decision made — from marketing to social media to customer service — better be informed by the brand. Simply put, think of your brand as the guardrails that will keep your marketing engine safely on the highway. 

Marketing: Your Lambo ready to go for a spin

Wait. Do you even want a Lambo? Maybe you’re the Prius type…or a classic VW fan like me. At this stage, since we are now blazing down metaphor highway, marketing is less about what you want as a business and more about what your customers want or need…Do they need the speed of the Lambo, the zero-emissions of the Prius, or the cool factor of the classic? 

Yours truly in her ‘74 classic VW Bug

A clear understanding of what your customers want, value, crave, etc. is at the crux of marketing and this hasn’t changed since prehistoric times. What has changed, is where we are meeting customers to communicate the value our brand provides and how. Enter the mind melting, infinite list of marketing tactics in use today. Pause though, and remember that brand is here to help.

If our brand concept is clearly defined (let’s go with ‘Exploration,’ for instance), everything from our name, visual identity, messaging, and vibe will echo this concept; keeping us from flying off the highway. And since we did our customer research, we (hypothetically) know our customers value luxury, curated experiences, and nostalgia. Combine the brand concept and customer insight, and can’t you just picture our Land Rover Defender cruising through the Moab desert? (LET ME DREAM).

landroverusa.com

When brand and marketing unite to deliver authentic experiences, it’s a seamless, and beautifully natural thing to witness. Factory and adventure tours, mouth-watering Insta shots, and high-end competitions most certainly capture hearts and minds of the Land Rover customer, but doesn’t it just make sense?

instagram.com

This, of course, is just one example of a well known and established brand, but just plain smart because they’ve established guardrails with a solid foundation (brand strategy, core elements) and deliver key experiences that marry both brand and customer desire in a consistently rad way. 

So, consistency in marketing is really more about consistency of brand, and what highway we should cruise down with those brand guardrails intact to meet our customers and invite them along for the ride.

Grab the keys and let’s go!

Visual Identity: The company your logo keeps

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

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

Branding

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

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

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

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

Logo

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

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

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

Visual Identity

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

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

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

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

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

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

So bad-ass, right?

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

tl;dr

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

Brace Yourselves, the Fins Have Rebranded

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

A branding firm doing a rebrand? So meta.

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

Started as a designer, now we here

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

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

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

Shoes too small

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

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

Evolution, not revolution

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

The new Four Fin

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

Direct   Confident   Informed  meets  Casual   Upbeat   Collaborative

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

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

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

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

Onward

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

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

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

(Re-) Launching Your Brand? Don’t Forget Your Fans

A likely scenario: you’ve just refreshed your brand–the strategy, logo, website, maybe even the name. You’re proud and chomping at the bit to go live with the website and blast it all over socials. Who wouldn’t? You’ve basically got a new wardrobe and MUST put it to good use, otherwise what’s the point?! 

Before you blast off, pause for a hot minute and ask yourself, “have I truly thought through the best way to tell the world, especially those closest to my business, why my brand is evolving?” 

Assuming you already have tons of fans/customers/clients who already love you for you, showing up with a facelift might be alarming or off-putting, even to your most loyal fans. Our recent Brand Camp alum, W.D. Dickinson had the foresight to think through its rebrand launch and corresponding announcement to key stakeholders.

Transparency is key

Dickinson Farm had become a brand well known for its organic produce and related farm products, but was evolving to represent its larger vision and expanded set of offerings. With a new name and refreshed brand identity, W.D. Dickinson Farm, House, and Mercantile founder, Stepheni Norton, wanted to ensure the evolved brand wouldn’t alienate its core farm customers.

Thus, prior to introducing the newly branded website and announcing to the general public on social media, we helped Stepheni craft an authentic letter to her closest partners and farm customers. The email newsletter, sent just before the website launch, accomplished a number of things: explained why the brand was changing, helped set expectations, and gave Stepheni an opportunity to connect with her beloved stakeholders, an act that was perfectly aligned with her new brand strategy. 

The takeaway – You’re going to make waves with your new brand. Think ripple effect. How will changes, especially something as significant as a rebrand, effect the varying levels of your stakeholders? Consider what to communicate, how, and when. Being crystal clear for fans/stakeholders/customers (whatever you chose to call them) is invaluable, especially today.

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.