Daniela Maestres, the director of Run & Hop, a branding agency that builds powerful, bold, genuine brand identities, talks about her agency, the history behind its name and the latest trends in branding.
What is the story behind Run & Hop?
Run & Hop began in a very natural, unplanned way. My business partner Valeria and I had been colleagues at a digital advertising firm in Buenos Aires, Argentina. We worked as a graphic designer and copywriter respectively. The two of us were just working acquaintances at the time, but one day, over lunch, we discovered that we were both feeling a little disenchanted with the corporate advertising/marketing world and that we shared a dream to quit our jobs and travel. A month after that, we somehow found ourselves booking one-way tickets to Australia together, without having too much of a plan or even a real friendship.
We traveled for six months around Australia and Asia and became excellent friends on the way. We accidentally ended up in one of the first digital nomad hubs of the world: Bali, Indonesia. Ubud is a little town there, which is full of entrepreneurs from all over the world. When this happened, the digital nomad movement was just starting, and Bali was the place to be. Someone there asked us to create a brand for their new business, which was an opportunity to fund some more adventures. Through that first job, we discovered that we were a great team and could produce really unique work together. We had different backgrounds and complemented each other’s skills incredibly! That was the beginning of Run & Hop. We worked very casually for a while, just as a means to test our work relationship. As our lives changed and our business grew, we decided to turn our collaboration into a proper business.
When did you start thinking about your brand name and how did you settle on Run & Hop?
Our joint project was initially called Kiosk because we traveled and work wherever we went — we were like an itinerant creative kiosk. But as soon as we decided to formalize our partnership, we knew we had to rebrand ourselves. At that point, what we were doing stopped being a fun little project to fund our travels. We found a unique combination of skills that became almost like a trademark service.
Advertising and marketing agencies tend to have playful, witty names, as it is part of their nature to work with creativity. Run & Hop seemed fitting because it was like a little tribute to the traveling lifestyle that started it all and the freedom of working without the restraints of corporate bureaucracy. But we kept finding more meanings in it; now we feel it has to do with empowering businesses and helping them leap forward. To be able to take a leap, you have to run and hop first!
Our joint project was initially called Kiosk because we traveled and work wherever we went — we were like an itinerant creative kiosk. But as soon as we decided to formalize our partnership, we knew we had to rebrand ourselves.
Daniela Maestres, the director of Run & Hop
What was the reason to get the domain name RunAndHop.com for the brand?
Although there are other valid strategies, aiming to have a domain that matches your company name, without having to do any changes, is one of the most ideal options. It makes it much easier for people to remember and find your website. Same goes for suffixes, although there are many new options nowadays, “.com” continues to be one of the preferred choices for most regular corporations. People are used to it and it’s associated with credibility. Luckily, because of our very distinctive agency name, it was easy to get the domain. Businesses with more common or popular names aren’t always that fortunate.
What is the most overlooked element of branding identity in your experience?
Both the strategic and creative components tend to get overlooked often, and they are SO important. Historically, branding has been mainly about the design component (the visual identity). But a brand is so much more than that! Sure, brand designers will do some research and even strategy work before they begin their process, but they angle it towards design, as their goal is to deliver that component.
The strategy work I’m talking about is more holistic and constitutes the foundation of the business’ identity. Doing research into the category, understanding the company and its history, developing the core key messages, creating a brand value proposition that is truly fitting, sorting out the brand feeling and voice; all of this is often overlooked. Sometimes it’s quickly put together by the client with the help of a couple of articles. People don’t realize that getting this part wrong could be a disaster for their business going forward. Also, branding designers are not strategists, so even when the designer does some of this work as part of their process or offers to include strategy as part of their services, they are most likely not trained to do it properly.
Then there’s something that we’ve added to our process, which we refer to as the “creative” aspect of the brand. It’s not usually considered part of the brand or the branding process, but we believe it adds a lot of value. It consists of developing a creative concept for the brand itself, just as you do for a marketing campaign. This is very helpful for small and middle-sized businesses which are unlikely to get an agency to develop a full-on marketing campaign. Believe me, creative concepts are a potent tool for a business to have. This came about because my background is creative advertising, and the agencies I worked for in the past were all centered around us developing award-winning creative concepts and campaigns. As a result, I learned to think conceptually, and it came almost naturally to add this on and make it a part of the branding process. The result is amazing; aside from a strategic and holistic brand, we provide the client with a powerful concept that they can use to create all sorts of content for their clients and audience.
Where do you place domain names in the brand strategy process?
We would usually address it towards the end of the branding process and the beginning of the website creation stage; it really depends on each situation. In the case of partial rebranding projects, clients might already have their domain. With new brands, renaming processes, and full rebranding, it’s always been relatively easy to find a fitting domain name independent of the strategy. I tend to keep it practical and straightforward by prioritizing the company name and .com. When those are not available, you can still come up with reasonably strong domain names as long as you know to avoid certain pitfalls.
What trends do you feel are important in the world of branding today?
It’s constantly changing! For that reason, you kind of have to keep yourself updated and educated. I am continually looking at what’s happening with brands, reading related websites, listening to podcasts, etc. These things make you aware of what’s going on and help develop your criteria. If I tell you specific things that are trending right now, in three months, when someone reads the article, they might already be outdated. No, it’s not that radical either. There are two transformations that I feel are important at the moment:
1. The transition from design-focus to experience-focus branding. This has to do with things I’ve already mentioned. I feel that businesses and strategists are becoming increasingly aware of the necessity to expand the concept of branding and make it about an integral experience and not just the visual identity.
2. The need for malleable brands. A brand is not a static thing; it’s pliable and expansive. More than ever, there’s a need to create them in ways that can adapt and transform with swiftly changing circumstances. This is easier to understand as it applies to visual identity. The time for fixed and overly structured design systems is over. Now, designers create logotypes and color palettes with tons of different applications and variations. Turning identities into living, breathing things that are in continuous evolution.
You talk about finding “your sexy beast”, tell us more about that, what does it mean? Who does it apply to?
The sexy beast is the core of our process. In a way, it’s a synonym for the brand value proposition, but most people don’t know how to look for theirs is. Most articles that explain BVPs and teach you how to get to craft it, are very superficial. Your real BVP (or sexy beast) is the combination of things that make your company truly unique and different from others. I would dare say that absolutely every company out there, even if it sells exact replicas of another product, has a sexy beast. However, finding it is not necessarily easy.
When we work on developing a client’s sexy beast, we first do exhaustive research to learn the history of their business, what’s happening in their industry, what they love about their work, why the company exists, its undervalued qualities, etc. It’s almost like a therapeutic process! Most of the time, the sexy beast has been hiding even from the business owners. This happens for a couple of reasons: the first is that it’s not easy to assess your own business objectively when you are invested in it. The second is that, due to this culture of superficial branding, people don’t even question their overly generic BVPs. Once they’ve been given a standard answer through a standard formula, they stop looking.
You work with companies who have basically outgrown their brand “company is growing and its brand does not represent it well anymore”. Is this avoidable? Can you get your brand right from the outset?
We work with all sorts of companies at all stages of business development. But we’ve found that those that benefit the most from our services are clients who’ve already “found their groove.” They have tested out their business, proved that it works, understood the value of what they provide, and who their customer is. Most importantly, they would be feeling more self-confident and proud of what they offer—this all creates the perfect storm for our process.
Additionally, because businesses usually start with limited budgets and little knowledge of the importance of branding, they generally get to that growth stage with very basic brand identities, that they’ve “outgrown.” It tends to become evident that they need to rebrand.
What are some signs a company/product needs a rebrand?
A telltale sign is when someone feels a little embarrassed when they hand over a business card or when they look at their website (or think of a prospect looking at it!) But a more obvious sign is when you suspect that your business could be doing better despite having an excellent product/service.
How do you put value on a strong brand?
I can’t emphasize this enough (and sound like a broken record), a powerful and beautiful brand is one of the most valuable assets a company can have. Not only that, the lack of a proper brand can actually harm a business. I would go to the extent of saying that exhaustive branding is one of the building blocks for growth. Sadly, not enough people know or pay attention to this. They think that saving a little money, hiring a cheap designer to do a logo, or doing the branding themselves is enough. They can’t understand all of the implications this can have, like causing lack of engagement from the target market, unclear communications, incorrect perceptions about the business, lack of differentiation and even misaligned business goals.
I can’t emphasize this enough (and sound like a broken record), a powerful and beautiful brand is one of the most valuable assets a company can have. Not only that, the lack of a proper brand can actually harm a business.
Daniela Maestres, the director of Run & Hop
How has the pandemic affected brands and branding? What are your tips on making it through it?
The pandemic has affected every industry in ways that are still hard to put into words, as it is still developing and we are trying to figure it out as we go. Work environments and dynamics, the way people consume/buy has definitely changed, and how people spend time online has also shifted significantly. This creates a ripple effect that affects brands and branding. We have to remain open and attentive to understand how to react to these ongoing changes. Drawing conclusions about it would be premature, as it will keep unfolding for much longer. I think that what’s needed at the moment in every field of life, open-mindedness, flexibility, and resourcefulness to deal with unprecedented transformations.
What’s next for Run & Hop?
As a follow-up to some of what I’ve been saying, I think that Run & Hop’s current goal is to remain open and keep evolving at the speed of change. We love helping our clients to do that too! That’s why our main purpose is to help them create adaptive brands that reflect what they have to offer, but that can also help them evolve. We’ll continue on our quest to do that!
We hope the above information will help you in making informed decisions about your brand. If you want to say hi or have any questions about naming, branding, and domain names get in touch, we’re always happy to hear from you.