Tag: branding.

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.

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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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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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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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Fear and Improv: Part 1

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

The Lessons:

Lesson One.

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

Lesson Two.

I can speak gnomish!

Lesson Three.

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

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

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

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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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So you need a logo?

So you need a logo? Awesome!

We have more questions. What is your company’s promise, the vision, the uniqueness factor? Once we have these (and many other) questions answered, we work to develop visuals that tell that brand’s story. Of course, a logo will be part of it. However, fonts, images, colors, textures, custom illustrations, messaging, tone of voice, delivery methods, even employee training, etc all contribute to the success of a brand. So, we think big picture!

Thinking big picture is the best way to create a strong brand.

brand

If you try to accomplish too much with the logo alone, it will end up busy and confusing your audience. Or worse, you’ll end up in the safe zone. You know, that place you land when you’re trying not to be too fun, or too stiff, or too lighthearted, etc. The safe zone usually involves committees, and ends in Helvetica, or Gotham, and often black and white. Not a good zone. Sure, it doesn’t offend anyone, but it also doesn’t ignite anyone.

So, instead, create a logo that is a clear, yet adaptable, tone-setter. You can build the rest of the story (lighthearted and youthful, professional yet small) with messaging, images and secondary graphics.

Final thought: Think of your logo like a good pair of jeans. Simple, iconic, fitting to your personality (hipster / mom / skater / cowboy) but also a blank canvas for an array of outfits depending on your mood. It’s the outfits, complete with accessories and shoes, etc. that tell the story, create the vibe, and attract the tribe.

Do you need a logo brand?

 

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