Category: Branding Insight.

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

 

 

 

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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.

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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!

 

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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.

 

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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.

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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!

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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.  

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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.

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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.

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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.

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