who are you when no one is watching?

We pass a lot of people everyday: on the bus, in the streets, at work. We are all there and we are all going somewhere. And how we look, how we dress and how we act say so many things about us. Do you sigh when you have to wait in line to get on the bus? Do you run toward the street to catch the green light? Do you smile and thank the person holding the door for you?

Small factors like these can reveal something about us for our beholders and without us even noticing, these people create assumptions about us as they observe us. A person who sighs in line is bored, a person who runs toward the street is stressed and a person who smiles and says thanks is nice.

Our actions, together with our expressions and looks, create who we are.
They create our personal brand.

Many of us aren’t aware of this. We might not think about ourselves in this way, but the truth is, in every minute of the day, we are branding ourselves. From the moment we wake up, until the moment we fall asleep. In all of the things we do, we are communicating something about ourselves and we are creating an image of ourselves for other people to interpret.

This is why I’m interested in branding. Branding isn’t just about getting a message out there. It’s not marketing, it’s not advertising and it’s not public relations. It’s so much more and it’s goes so much deeper. Branding is about finding the core – the soul – of something and be sure every small detail related to that core is coherent with the brand, regardless if it’s your own personal brand or your company’s.

Branding is about creating a long-term relationship, because branding strives after telling the truth and be consistent to the brand. Your friends and beloved ones didn’t choose you because you told them what a great person you are (marketing), because someone else told them what a great person you are (public relations) or because you been shouting out in public what a great person you are (advertising).

They have chosen you because you are that great person in your own special way.

With all the different voices shouting out their messages together with their brands in today’s society, it’s easy to get lost. I mean, think about it, how many of us haven’t been lost teenagers who tried to be “just like everyone else” or felt that something was the right thing do to “because everyone else is doing it?” As we grow up and find ourselves along the way, we realize what’s most important.

It’s not about what everyone else is doing,
It’s about being true to ourselves in everything we do.

I’ve thought about what I wish for my brand to be. Have you thought about yours?

It’s not every day you find your photo in the centerfold…

Washington Flyer covers the best of Washington D.C. and the Capital Region, including entertainment, food, recreation, nightlife, hotels, and travel. These magazines are distributed through the Washington D.C. airports so you can have some reading material on your next flight to Hawaii. (Please take us with you?)

Next time you fly out of Reagan National, check out the September/October 2014 issue which includes a story about the arts scene in the D.C. area. The intro page and centerfold of the magazine features a photo our art director, Lindsay Benson Garrett, took of Gin Dance Company.

Pantone #411

When I sat down in mid-June and wrote an email to Stokefire, telling them I’d love to be a part of their team as an intern, I have to admit that I was somewhat nervous. Not only because I’m a Swede who sought out for an internship position in a foreign country, but also because Stokefire had awoken something within me: a desire to be a part of a business where I could grow professionally and be challenged daily by tasks I hadn’t previously encountered. With my winning mentality, I was determined to get an internship position where I would gain knowledge about branding and communication strategies and where I would be able to contribute with the skills I already possessed. And something told me Stokefire would be that place for me.

I’ve always valued a positive attitude. In my opinion, you can get so much further and learn so much more if you have an open mind and an optimistic way of approaching the situations or challenges you encounter, regardless of prior knowledge. This philosophy is something I’ve brought with me during my time at Stokefire, considering the fact that I had very little hands-on experience within the branding and advertising industry.

From the first day I stepped into the Stokefire office I’ve felt that the work I do and the ideas I share are valued. Being an intern at Stokefire means you’re a part of a team where equality matters. The crew is very good at letting me take responsibility and address issues on my own, which in return makes me trust my instincts and gain confidence in the work. During these past eight weeks I’ve been scanning the web to find interesting industry related articles to post on Stokefire’s social media platforms. I’ve gotten the chance to participate in client meetings, learning more about the strategies behind branding as well as design work. I’ve been challenged to perform work I’ve never done previously, such as research related to client cases and video editing in advanced programs I never heard of before. I’ve participated in photo shoots with clients where I learned everything from how to set up lights and scenes to how to make clients more relaxed during the shoot (Tip: having someone pretending to be a cat makes any model laugh.) Besides these experiences, I’ve also gotten the job to plan and organize a workshop, and even though I’m not able to put a lot of content into the workshops’ agenda, I make sure everything runs according to the plan (which means assigning my supervisors tasks – dream of an intern!).

I’m not fully trained and I’m not a professional within the branding industry. This is just the beginning and I know I have a long way to go, but these past eight weeks at Stokefire have shown me what this industry is all about and I’m confident that I want to be in a long-term relationship with it. With eights week to go, I will continue to learn, I will continue to ask questions and I will continue to grow professionally. And as if that’s not enough, I know I’m going to have a lot of fun while doing all those things. Tate and Lindsay have a great sense of humor and an awesome attitude and I can’t really tell how many times a day I laugh when I’m in the office.

And you know what?
They didn’t even have to force this intern to write that last part. It’s actually extremely true.

Now will you please excuse me, I need to fetch coffee and match it to Pantone #411 as spec’ed by our art director…

The Secret of Great Business Trips? They’re Not All Business.

Posted by:
Tate Linden

I hear from fellow businesspeople that traveling for work is a necessary evil. Being away from family, never seeing anything other than the inside of a hotel, and eating dinner on a tray in front of a TV or in the hotel bar with clients… it all seems to pretty much suck. 15 years ago I had a mentor that helped me see that it didn’t have to be that way, and recent happenings at HQ convinced me that it was about time to share her thinking with the world. Let’s start with her rules…

  • Don’t order room service.
  • Don’t visit the hotel bar or restaurants, either.

Sounds pretty limiting for a road warrior, but in both cases you’d be paying a premium to have a generally lousy experience that would be indistinguishable from something entirely forgettable that you could have in your home town. Business travel isn’t easy, but it doesn’t have to be miserable. Because of that mentor, every time I travel I try to find a local jazz club, a greasy spoon, or a hole-in-the-wall joint that will give me an experience I couldn’t have back home. It opens my eyes to new things and increases the pool of ideas and experiences I can call on when doing creative work.

Got kids (or nieces and nephews) and a smartphone? Even obligatory sightseeing that I’ve endured countless times before can be made new with some of the recent technological advances. I traveled on one of the longest and highest tramways in America to the top of a mountain in New Mexico – and got to share the experience with my joyful kids as the view unfolded on-screen in real time over FaceTime. Every experience can be made new when you see it through the eyes of a four-year-old. (Incidentally, my first call to my kids in every city is to give them a grand tour of… my hotel room. Yep. Beds, bathrooms, views, drawers… they want to see it all. And if there’s a minibar? It’s “YAY, DAD!!! THERE’S FOOD IN YOUR ROOM!! CAN I HAVE THE COOKIES? BRING HOME THE COOKIES!!!”)

Which leads to rule number three.

  • Don’t touch the minibar. EVER. Even if there are cookies.

Seriously, man. Don’t even THINK it. Pretty sure there’s a charge for merely considering purchase.

Anyhow, Marie (our kickass Swedish media* intern) seemed somewhat disinclined to believe we actually would encounter fresh air or the sky on our recent business trip to San Francisco, so she challenged Lindsay (our kickass art director) and me to get some video evidence. After all, it’s not like we’d be able to experience much when we’re in client meetings 12 hours a day, right?

Challenge accepted.

* — Contrary to what some may believe, Swedish media is neither this, nor this.

Hej Marie och välkommen till Stokefire!

Hi, I’m Marie and I’m Stokefire’s newest intern!

During the upcoming months the Stokefire crew will have me as a part of their team, an opportunity I’m very excited about. From the very first moment I visited Stokefire’s website I got the sense that this place was something else, and after meeting Chief Creative Tate Linden and Lead Designer Lindsay Benson Garrett in person I can assure you I’m in good hands.

So who’s the person behind this post? Well, I’m born and raised in the homeland of IKEA – Sweden – where I’m currently enrolled at Örebro University (I challenge you to pronounce the first part of that name). I’m about to earn my Bachelor’s Degree in Media and Communication, but with one semester left in Sweden I got the opportunity to go abroad and be a student of a one-year long PR & Journalism certificate program at Northern Virginia Community College – something I couldn’t resist. The second semester you’ll do an internship as a part of the program, and I knew pretty early that I wanted to be within the field of marketing and branding.

The reason?

It’s fascinating and interesting how branding and marketing impregnates today’s society in all different kind of ways and how important it is, regardless if it’s about branding and market your business or simply yourself. (And by the way, since English isn’t my first language I’m not flawless when it comes to writing and choosing words in English, but I hope my point will shine through anyway).

Being an Intern at Stokefire means I’m going to get more hands-on experience within the field in which I later on wish to have a career within. But it also means I’m going to be able to work really close with Tate and Lindsay and hopefully earn more knowledge in how to think, how to act and how to approach different types of challenges you might face in the process as a brand strategist.

Also, since I’m a social media freak, I’ve been given permission to contribute to Stokefire’s social media accounts, and I will do my very best to have even more interesting material posted for those who follow us (if you don’t do already, you should!).

Oh, and also, we don’t have ice bears walking our streets in Sweden. Just to point that out. And please, come by the office if you want to hear the real pronunciation of the weird round letter with the two dots above which can be seen above. I’ll be more than happy to talk to you.

/Marie

Birthday Cake and Marshmallows

Birthday cake before and after
Happy birthday to our President, Tate Linden! To keep our brand consistent across all mediums, we presented him with a cake fit for a pyro. (That’s the Stokefire logo in matches, in case you couldn’t tell from our artistic interpretation.)

If you’re a fellow pyro in spirit, be sure to watch our video of glorious flames engulfing the sugar-fest.

Look at yourself. If you can.

Posted by:
Tate Linden

Yep. Look at yourself. Closely.

But not yet.

I’ve got three very simple questions for you to answer, and a single simple restriction. Here are the questions you’ll answer:

  1. Based on what you see now with your own eyes, How many more creases appear on your forehead when you change from slightly raised eyebrows to raising them as high as you can?
  2. Based on what you see now with your own eyes, do you think that you’ve got an attractive face?
  3. Based on what you see now with your own eyes, do other people think you’ve got an attractive face?

And here’s the simple restriction:

  • You cannot use anything other than your own eyes to determine the answers to the questions. So, no reflective surfaces, cameras, objects of any kind, or other people to aid you in your task.
Alright. Now you can look.
…Great. Now let’s review our answers.
First Question: What’s my crease differential?
I’m guessing that your answer (if you have one) was a guess based on what you remember from the last time you raised your eyebrows in the mirror or an estimate you arrived at by using your hand to search out creases – which would be cheating. The answer, best I can tell, is unknowable. Though it may be possible to guess, it cannot be confirmed without breaking the rules in some way. Reliance on something other than your own sight at that moment is a requirement. (Readers who are blind, use Botox, don’t have eyebrows, or are somehow able to remove their own eyeballs from their sockets to look at their own face are disqualified due to my lack of foresight in formulating this question and my unwillingness to spend time coming up with a better example.)
First Insight: You can’t see yourself without external assistance
Second Question: Is my face attractive?
The only things you’re likely to see on your own face with your own eyes are your nose, eyelashes, lips (if you pooch them out,) cheeks or facial hair if you’ve got any. With this very limited set of information, most of which is out of focus due to extreme proximity, and which doesn’t give you a sense of how the pieces actually work together, is it actually possible to make a reasonable judgement as to attractiveness? Using your own eyes, you can see other faces and judge their attractiveness, but when you turn those same eyes on yourself you don’t have the perspective and distance you need to make an informed judgement.
Second Insight: The parts of yourself that you can see are too close to make sense of.
Third Question: Do others find my face attractive?
Well, if someone was there to look at your face and you were to look at them you might get an inkling, but that’s against the rules. We know from the previous question that we have the ability to see and judge others attractiveness, so it stands to reason that they can judge the same for us. So, it’s possible that others could find it attractive, but in our restricted question environment we don’t know whether they actually do.
Third Insight – Part One: Others can see you better than you can see yourself
But there’s more to the question here. Once we establish that others see us better than we see ourselves, how do we get to know what they actually think? It’s harder than you might imagine. They have the ability to see us and to determine for themselves whether or not we are attractive, but there’s no verifiable way to get at that information. We could end the hypothetical restrictions and ask them, cajole them, or torture them for the answer and still we wouldn’t actually have proof. There are countless reasons why someone would think one thing and say something else, and there’s no way to be absolutely sure when one of those reasons in play. They could easily be trying to spare your feelings, trying to make themselves look good, trying to hide the fact that they’re attracted to you, or trying to give you the answer they think you want.
Complicating matters further, those who offer you their insights may not even know their own intent. Neuroscientists have shown that intent forms after we have begun execution of an action, so the person telling you whether or not you’re attractive A) may intentionally not be telling you the truth, and B) may be unintentionally not telling you the truth because they haven’t figured out why they’re doing what they’re doing yet.
Third Insight – Part Two: You’ll never truly understand what others see or think by asking them directly. 
Now let’s take these insights and see if they apply to organisms larger than ourselves, like, say, an organization.
One: Organizations can’t see themselves without external assistance.
Two: The parts of themselves that organizations can see are too close to make sense of.
Three.1: Those outside the organization are better able to evaluate the organization than those within it.
Three.2: The thoughts of those outside the organization cannot be understood by asking for them directly.
End result? We can’t see ourselves, and we can’t be sure if what others tell us is true.
I’d argue that these hold true for every entity in which the evaluators are an integral part of the thing being evaluated. They can’t see it well enough to figure out how it relates to the rest of the world, and they can’t trust the responses of others when they ask for opinions.
Anyone out there think they know how to solve the problem? (We’ve got an answer, but I’d love to know what others have come up with.)

Industry specialization: Great! Until maybe it isn’t.

When people are free to do as they please, they usually imitate each other.
–Eric Hoffer 

Posted by:
Tate Linden

We’re frequently asked by prospective clients whether or not we’re specialists in particular industries such as healthcare or technology. The answer is that we’re not. And we don’t ever intend to be. While this sort of specialization was intriguing to us in the early days at Stokefire’s, we ultimately decided it would be better for our clients (and thus our long-term success) to go in a different direction.

I acknowledge that this decision seems to run counter to the traditional wisdom given to businesses of all types. And I’m good with that.

I can’t argue that industry specialization is universally bad. Far from it. It’s a critical ingredient in successful financially oriented businesses, such as auditing and investment banking. Even if the entire organization doesn’t specialize, employers retain industry experts that lend credence to an organization’s findings. Similarly, Stokefire employs or contracts with specialists to handle behind-the-scenes jobs that require specific training and experience, such as certain illustration styles, animation, or programming. Each of these is an industry of sorts. (No one, least of all me, wants to see what would happen if I tried to do this stuff by myself.)

I’ll also grant that, for the vast majority of organizations, industry specialization may actually be a good plan. But my reasons are something you probably won’t like.

As Jean Marie Caragher suggests in her article for AICPA, industry specialization includes benefits like high profitability, economical marketing, easily identified prospects and competition, fewer geographical barriers, prestige, increased knowledge of clients, and more. Studies (including this one by Craswell, Francis, and Taylor in 1995) find a link between industry specialization and the ability to charge more for the same services.

With a list like that, it’s hard to imagine why anyone wouldn’t jump on board.

Put yourself in a client’s shoes for a moment and reread the list from their perspective. How many of the benefits help them? One could argue that industry experience helps projects run more smoothly, allows for common tasks to be done very quickly, and increases confidence that the work will meet industry standards. For accounting or other services that aren’t traditionally visible to the client’s target market it makes a lot of sense.

But what happens when the industry specialist’s work is front-and-center rather than hidden under layers of organizational process? What happens when it’s a branding, marketing, or advertising organization that decides to focus on a single industry? What happens when it’s the essence of who you are and what makes you the best in your industry that is crafted by an industry specialist?

Put on the client’s shoes again, if you would (this time as a client of an agency.) All the stuff that was desirable in the back-office is now questionable at best. Sure, the agency knows your competition, and may have even worked for them. But what does it say about the quality and importance of that work (or the ethics of the organization’s leaders) that they’re willing to immediately sell the same services to you? How could they avoid contaminating the guidance they give you with information gained from private meetings with your competitors? And if they share this information with you (overtly or not,) what would stop them from sharing your secrets?

Regardless of how they may position themselves, industry specialists serving most audiences are limited in the concepts that they can bring to you, since if they were to propose a concept that actually pulled market share from another client they might be liable for damages. An agency that gets a reputation for selling out its clients is an agency that won’t have that problem for long.

So, to my way of thinking, a creative agency that farms a single industry either doesn’t believe their work has the ability to materially change the fortunes of its clients (and thus can sell to direct competitors without worrying about conflicts of interest), or they don’t care that each new contract they get in their industry is likely to devalue the work they’ve done for others.

That’s why Stokefire doesn’t go in for industry specialization. When given the freedom to do great work for our clients we’ve enabled new industries and reshuffled old ones. To then go back to all the competitors our work has marginalized or impeded and say, “See what we did for XYZ Co? If you want to stand a chance against them then you’d better hire us.” is lacking in scruples even if it might make short-term business sense. (It’s not all about morality, though. Another reason we don’t do it is that many of our larger or more strategically-minded clients pay a premium to ensure we won’t work in their field for a period of time following our project on their behalf.)

I’ll again grant you that industry specialists may work faster or more efficiently, and that these qualities have the potential to result in lower over-all costs since they’re not billing as many research and administrative hours. I’ll even grant you that it’s a helluva lot easier to run a profitable agency that specializes in one industry. But I can’t seem to connect either of these with the sorts of outcomes creative work is capable of achieving or that clients actually need.

To those consultants who espouse industry specialization for creative agencies, and to those agencies that farm single industries for profit, I ask you this: How does your industry focus tangibly improve outcomes for your stable of competitive clients?

Anyone willing to venture in and share their contrasting views?

Tutorial: How to Win April Fool’s Day

Step 1. 

Determine your victim. 

Step 2.

Acquire large amounts of aluminum foil and surreptitiously pack it in your briefcase. Slink into the office early and unnoticed.  

Step 3.

Cover your victim’s workspace in aluminum foil. Be thorough. You will be sure to get a raise or even a promotion if you demonstrate extensive attention to detail by covering every paper clip, pencil, and individual post it note.  Extra credit if you cover the individual leaves on the potted plant or any dirty dishes left haphazardly lying around.

Step 4. 

Write an “official” note from the “management” that demonstrates that this is a company sanctioned procedure so that the victim will be appreciative of the time and expense exerted on their behalf. This is as method proven to elevate company morale and they will most certainly comply with a chuckle.

 Step 5. 

#Winning!

Step 6.  

Watch your back.

Problem Resolved

April Fools attention to detail

Design Alexandria Recap

This post was written by our lead designer, Lindsay Benson Garrett. 

Design Alexandria

We had a great time last night hosting the Design Alexandria meet up. It was wonderful to connect with local designers and developers who are passionate about creating, growing, and networking.

Some of the things that were discussed included Tate’s experience redesigning the DARPA brand. The project goal was to communicate DARPA’s dual mission of developing technology that defends America and scares enemies, modernizing the mark while also going unnoticed. Tate discussed how success was achieved on all accounts, which funneled into a wildly different project with a shared goal. We showed our work in progress on a preschool identity kit, which is a logo refresh that adds in an element of play.

Juancarlo shared a pro-bono project that he did for the Chilean-American Foundation and the things he learned while working with the non-profit. We examined the web designs before and after and discussed what he learned in the process.

Anna, a co-host, shared her process for building a website for a recently published e-book. Her process was very thorough from the start, where they mapped out every kind of site visitor with their motivations and goals, to how the site would develop a community and add new features systematically.

Joe, the author of the e-book, was actually in attendance. After celebrating his new acquired status of “published author” we had a group brainstorm on methods he can use to market his work.

Stokefire enjoyed hosting the meet up and we look forward to hosting more in the future. Stay tuned for the next one!



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