Category: Branding Insight

Consistency in Marketing..aka how to 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.

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.