What a great name Paul Small has. Perfect for his new real estate team, too — memorable and tied to his personal brand.
Focusing initially on the upscale Westside community of Manhattan Beach, the team handles properties across Southern California. But in SoCal the lure of the water is always present. From Malibu in the north to Palos Verdes in the south, that’s where you’ll find many of the most desirable homes.
So when Paul asked us to create a logo for his new business, we were happy to help. But how to say “beach communities” in a fresh way?
Inspiration on a phone call
One afternoon, Paul and I were screen-sharing as I showed him some initial ideas . When suddenly, I remembered a postcard I’d seen years ago. A simple image: a beach chair in the sand.
I sketched the concept very roughly while we were on the call together. And it was enough to get the idea across. Paul loved it. Certainly, it evolved as we refined it, but the seed of the new logo was planted on that call.
Like FreeAssociates, the Small Team gets results.
They might not stay small for very long.
When Hector Limón and Mariella Avenarius look out their window in San Pedro, they have a dramatic view of Los Angeles Harbor. It’s bustling with activity and bristling with the enormous cranes that inspired George Lucas to create the AT-AT Imperial Walkers for Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back.
Above it all is the majestic sweep of the Vincent Thomas Bridge that connects their city with Terminal Island. The bridge is often ghostly, shrouded in the foggy morning marine layer that cloaks our shoreline, then dissipates as the sun warms up the coast.
Wracking their brains trying to come up with a name for their new interior and custom furniture design studio, the partners looked out the window.
And Bridge + Fog was born.
We were delighted to design their new identity. A strong, simple graphic that can be molded into the underside of the clean, contemporary concrete furniture Hector creates. Something evocative. A bit surprising. Worth looking at a second time. And worth remembering.
Bridge + Fog is just starting out. We wish them enormous success and hope their logo works hard for them as they build connections for their new brand.
Leon Battista Alberti is a name you might not know. He promoted a revolutionary idea — that “a man can do all things if he will.” He felt people should try to embrace all knowledge and develop their own capacities as fully as possible.
And he lived the idea himself. An accomplished 15th century architect, painter, classicist, poet, scientist, and mathematician, as well as a skilled horseman, he was the original Renaissance Man.
Renaissance thinkers created art, music, architecture, poetry and literature. Understood physics and metaphysics. Spoke several languages. Studied philosophy. And could hold their own in conversations across a wide range of topics.
As they created, invented and executed, they found that each of their areas of experience affected others. Leonardo Da Vinci’s study of science deeply influenced his painting. Michelangelo Buonarotti approached architecture as a form of sculpture.
”Hyphenates” have always been influential
Naturally, the idea didn’t stop (or even start) with the Renaissance. And it certainly wasn’t limited to men.
Hildegard von Bingen was a 12th century theologian, writer, poet, composer, artist, medical researcher, botanist, linguist and an abbess.
Émilie, Marquise du Châtelet, was a natural philosopher — the early term for scientist — a mathematician, a physicist and a writer in 18th Century France. She translated Newton into French (with commentary), and wrote a treatise on physics.
Robert Hooke was an architect, mathematician, artist, surveyor and a natural philosopher.
Thomas Jefferson was an archaeologist, designer, inventor, naturalist, highly effective writer and a politician.
Winston Churchill was a historian and a novelist and a prime minister and a painter.
Today, in our era of specialization, there are plenty of advocates for crafting a broader education and pursuing multiple interests. There’s a reason so many people thrive with a liberal arts background. And a reason why serial career-switchers can have enormous impact on our culture. Because often the most interesting ideas come from cross-pollination.
Sometimes, we need generalists. Not just specialists.
In his new book “Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World” David Epstein explains that specialists become “brittle”. They see familiar patterns quickly, but they are rarely the Big-C Creators.
Those Creators are amalgamating broader experience. They see patterns too. But a different kind. They see the relationships within the variety of the wide net they cast. And they can find those similarities more quickly and more effectively than the specialists.
As founder of the brand marketing design firm FreeAssociates, I’ve seen this in action. When I’ve hired designers, these differences become evident — not just in their problem-solving ability but in the kinds of problems people can solve creatively.
The narrowly focused person can efficiently bang out a technically complex project, so long as it’s in the realm of their training. But the designer with a more diverse background and broader experience moves comfortably from one world to another, and finds the useful, rich and valuable relationships inherent in each new situation.
They’re unintimidated by unfamiliar challenges. In fact, that’s where they thrive.
A Renaissance of the open mind
In our complex, interconnected world, wide-ranging experience is valuable. It enables a creative person to see things from multiple perspectives, to come at the problem from different angles. The idea that “we’ve always done it this way” gets challenged. The fresh approach gets traction. The outsider’s point of view gets incorporated. And, often, the final solution is better than the “industry experts“ would have come up with.
That’s why there’s a resurgence of interest in wider exposure, broader education and more open-minded thinking to complement the narrow-but-deeper specialists who bring particular expertise, but often have trouble seeing the larger picture.
Perhaps it’s time to focus on the forest instead of just one tree. Let’s spend less of our energy on a particular branch of Populus tremuloides and more on considering the whole beautiful landscape.
Political divisions can run deep, and this local one has been festering for years.
Santa Monica and Malibu are part of the same school district, but the much smaller city of Malibu sees itself as a very different community. Many Malibu parents resented that the money they contributed to the Santa Monica-Malibu Education Foundation went to help schools all over the district, not just those in its own city.
So on July 6, the Santa Monica-Malibu School Board (SMMUSD) decided that the Education Foundation, which supported both cities’ schools, would now be responsible only for funding programs within Santa Monica. And Malibu, that bastion of entertainment money, would form a new nonprofit to fund its own educational programs separately.
To that end, the Ed Foundation quickly needed to rename itself and create a fresh, new brand identity that would help announce and embody the change within the community. With our long history of supporting the district, they asked FreeAssociates to help.
Capturing the spirit
The new logo, which we’ve collectively dubbed “the flying pencil”, represents the creativity of the Santa Monica community, where kids can truly soar through support for programs in the arts, enhanced academics and competitive sports. In the SMMUSD, 80% of students are involved in some form of music program, teachers receive enhanced training, and athletics are encouraged and kept competitive. Alumni run from actors Maya Rudolph and Rob Lowe to baseball great Rick Monday to two astronauts: Randy Bresnick and Johnny Kim — all products of a long-time tradition of academic excellence and support for the arts.
The Ed Foundation’s new brand identity was officially “launched” at a Corporate Heroes Appreciation event on August 2, complete with posters and a fold-it-yourself paper airplane version of the flying pencil. Many more elements of the re-branding are in the works and will be rolled out between now and the start of the fall semester. Take a look. It’ll be fun to watch the redefined Ed Foundation soar!
In working with some of our clients, I’ve found that, while the marketing team is all excited about a new brand or an update, the people down the line often aren’t.
Sure, there’s a little buzz initially. But the effort is almost entirely focused on communicating to customers or clients, and the folks who should live the brand every day are never fully on board. Budgets are allocated to get the word out — not in.
But “in” is where the magic happens. It’s where the brand comes to life, and it’s the real point of customer interaction.The receptionist needs to create the brand experience. The guys in the factory have to make things align with it. The customer service reps need to reinforce it. Everyone in the company should be the new brand.
Sound familiar? Then you might enjoy this little piece I wrote. And consider sharing it with whoever in your organization might want to address the problem. Hope it helps!
Working through your company’s positioning can be surprisingly difficult.
It’s like evaluating a photo of yourself. It’s a lot easier if someone else helps. Even if you’re a positioning expert.
For comparison and inspiration, we took a look at some samples from other, unnamed agencies. Like so many mission statements and similar declarations of organizational intention, most of these felt as though they could apply to a score of companies in our business. Some seemed more compelling to me, but too many made me think, “Yeah, I’ve heard that before.”
And then I remembered something important.
The goal is to find the ideas that resonate with you. That reflect your values.
It’s not that we’re 100% dissimilar from every single other firm or agency in the nation (much less the world). That’s unrealistic. But the thing that defines us is who we are and, hopefully, what we believe.
On OKCupid, there are dozens of possible people you could date — many of whom you could fall in love with and happily marry. But those dozens are just a tiny slice of the hundreds or thousands of people you may actually encounter in your life.
And what defines these few future hearthrobs is that their WHY is the same as yours. (For more on this see my post on Simon Sinek.)
So it seems this process hinges on becoming very clear about who you are. Then finding interesting, engaging ways of demonstrating your WHY so all those dates out there understand why they should have coffee with you.
This is true for almost every company. When you claim to be the “only” choice, your audience is insulted. And trust — the essence of your brand — is gone.
What you need is to be as different as you actually are. You need to be true to your WHY. Then others who believe in, or value, those same things, will swipe right. And you can get together to find out more.
Positioning. It can help your brand meet the love of its life.
The city of Gainesville, FL, is using a new buzzword to describe its decision not to use a logo and tagline. The term is “debranding” and Fast Company has reported it as a trend:
It’s an idea called “debranding,” where the focus is not on any logo, tagline, or visual effect. “Instead of brands, real people and real tones of voice will become the interface between consumers and products again,” writes Jasmine De Bruycker in Co.Design in 2016. “That’s the heart of debranding.”
Somehow, someone sounds mired in the idea that a brand is a logo — or a logo and a tagline.
In fact, a logo is a “holding tank” for people’s feelings about a company, or a city for that matter. It’s a convenient, visible repository for all the emotional connections we feel about the thing the logo represents. And those emotional connections? That’s the brand.
So Gainesville is, in fact, very much “branded,” and in a smart way. They are most definitely not trying to remove their identity. Instead, they’re working hard to create one.
They clearly have a strong style guide and a consistent graphic program. They have a voice. They have a core message. They understand who they’re talking to. That consistent style and tone becomes their logo. If they do this right, and consistently, they will be instantly identified, differentiated from other cities, and effective in their positioning.
And they’ll have a brand. A powerful one.
It involved a major rethinking and overhaul of the entire structure of their product line, brand architecture and marketing presentation.
On January 20, at the enormous Las Vegas Market trade show, the company announced the update and revealed the new line to stellar industry reaction. The brand was re-energized — and so were Sealy’s own sales staff and their national retail customers. The excited response was universally positive. We’re relieved (whew!) and delighted!
FreeAssociates was involved from the earliest stages, meeting with the brand experience team and brand managers, sales execs, product designers, ad agency and strategists to help define the brand, clarify its position, and craft its messaging.
Dozens of concepts were floated and vetted, tested and refined, through a grueling but thorough process that left no stone unturned. Over many months the design vocabulary was established and tweaked, until a powerful, unified evolution of the brand emerged.
Under the watchful eyes and thoughtful leadership of Director of Brand Experience Karl Myers and his Senior Manager Jonah Nelson, we crafted a comprehensive new branding system.
FreeAssociates has developed a refined version of the logo, color palette, the master brand style guide, point of sale displays and materials, product labeling, a feature icon system, sales guide, product guide, trade show campaign graphics and all the displays and information graphics for Sealy’s 14,000 s.f. permanent showroom at Las Vegas Market (interior designed by Jhipo Hong).
We’re truly grateful to be working with this talented Sealy team and to have an opportunity to help affect the course of their venerable 130-year-old brand.
For the full story, take a look at this article in Furniture World.