The TIV blog. Graphic design and marketing.

The TIV blog is a glimpse into the process, interests and personalities that make up the TIV team. TIV contributors are Brandt Hoekenga (creative guy), Britta Foster (conductor), Christy Hoekenga (business choreographer) and Blythe Carrillo (marketing curator).

Is the Magic Gone From Branding?

The word branding is everywhere these days. It has become a buzz word present in most business conversations. And it seems like there's actually a fair amount of understanding behind the term. People have been educated and understand that the logo is absolutely a huge part of a brand, but it's nothing more than a figure head with an entire organization of branding components at work underneath.

I've heard concern from others who specialize in branding like TIV does. They're concerned that the mystique is no longer there. And without the sense of magic, how are branding companies meant to charge appropriate fees? What will they use to justify the cost if clients already know what goes into branding a product or company?

I have the opposite opinion. To me saying companies will devalue branding because they understand it is comparable to saying people will start building their own cars because they understand the internal combustion engine. If anything, the knowledge of branding and all that goes into creating a memorable brand has increased the need for companies like TIV who not only put that knowledge to work, but do so to great effect.

We've entered an era of truthful marketing. I wrote about the key to marketing to millennials in another blog. It's honesty. It's not making up a story, it's telling the story your brand lives and breathes everyday. So the fact that people have decoded branding is only natural. We don't want to be fooled into liking something. We want to be told why a brand is incredible and decide whether or not we agree.

OpenTable went through a recent rebrand. And rather than just launch a new logo and try to convince everyone how great it is, they put the entire thinking behind the rebrand on their website for everyone to see. Talk about eliminating the mystique. But talk about truth in marketing, too.

When it comes down to it, people who think that just because they understand what goes into the process means they shouldn't have to properly compensate people who are great at branding are not clients any of us are looking for anyhow.

- Brandt Hoekenga

10lbs of Stuff in My 5lb Purse

A day in the life of a mom, a marketer and a non-profit devotee...

I am covered in paste. Again. This always seems to happen when I spend time in kindergarten, which I try to do every Monday morning. Holding this space sacred is hard. It seems like there is always a work meeting that comes up that I have to decline or move around. But it is a big deal to my daughter. A really big deal. And I am aware of the fact that before long she will no longer think I am cool enough to be around her friends let alone volunteer in her classroom (hint: I have a teenager too!) so I work hard to make this time of the week sacred.

But I digress… did I mention I am covered in paste? Normally this isn’t a big deal. I always seem to get the gluing or painting project so after I finish I head home to remove my ‘kindergarten uniform’ of jeans, t-shirt and very comfortable shoes. But today was different. There was no time for home. My day was literally packed solid with kindergarten, work meetings and meetings for my ‘heart projects’ as I label my non-profit work. Today I had worn a dress and heels to kindergarten.

As I ran out of the school rubbing paste off my hands and arms I really did try to make sure I didn’t have anything glued to my dress or my legs or my shoes but I was running (as usual) trying to fit too much into one day. Walking into my work meeting I figured full disclosure would – as usual – be the best policy so I fessed up about my pasting adventure and solicited help finding any missed objects glued to me (just on my shoes luckily) along with some magic marker on my dress. Nothing I could do about that now!

Funny enough this moment of humanity got my meeting off to the perfect start. My client and I are just getting to know each other but like me she is a mom trying to balance it all, and we felt an instant kinship and understanding about how hard this balancing act can be. We jumped right in reviewing packaging and discussing next steps for her website and other brand materials. Great meeting (paste and all) I decided as I headed to my next meetings, the first of which included lunch – thank goodness.

The last stop of the day was running a board meeting for one of my heart projects – Gallo Center for the Arts – where I am in the home stretch of finishing my term as Board Chair. It is a lively board with lots of big personalities, which always keeps me on my toes. I wish I could use the clapping trick that my daughter’s kindergarten teacher uses. Clap, clap… and the kids clap, clap, clap back and close their mouths. Just doesn’t seem to work with this group. Today was a key meeting because in a addition to lots of other important topics we were discussing an upcoming event that is critical to our annual fundraising goals. I needed the board dialed in and focused on the fundraising goal as they had to each go out and make individual asks. We discussed strategies and shared tips and I made sure to greet or say good-bye to each board member – another great tip from kindergarten where kids demand this individual attention.

After the board meeting I ran to my car to head home checking voicemail as I drove (not email – I promise!) trying hard to remember what I was going to make for dinner. Luckily I had done all my planning and shopping over the weekend – otherwise dinners become a hodge-podge of whatever I can find in the pantry and fridge. Not usually a hit with the family!

As I walked in the door greeted with a huge hug from my daughter (6 year olds are so awesome) I was thinking about a phrase a good friend taught me about, “Putting 10lbs of stuff in a 5lb purse.” (She’s from Texas – don’t they just have the best phrases?) Anyway it’s a great visual and I use this phrase all the time when explaining my crazy world to people. But truth be told I wouldn’t have it any other way, I love stuffing 10lbs of stuff in my 5lb purse!

5 Recommendations for Young Freelancers

16 years ago I started doing freelance design work. That makes my design career old enough to drive. And somehow it has never crashed. People ask me a lot, especially freelancers or aspiring freelancers, my secrets to success. And those who know me well know I don't have any secrets, so I'm happy to share any information that may help. It seems like numbered lists are a popular way to break it all down, so I'm going to give that a try...

1. Don't be a flake

I would attribute at least half of my initial clients to other designers being flaky. I was blown away by the number people that would tell me about a designer that started a project and then fell off the face of the earth leaving the project half completed. Meeting deadlines, responding to clients, and doing what you've promised all seem like no-brainers to me. But I'd like to thank all the flaky designers out there who don't abide by these no-brainers for launching my career.

2. Don't be too big for your britches

Look, we're doing graphic design here people. It's a certain skill set, but it's not brain surgery. If you come into a project as though you know it all, you're never going to grow and you're going to attract similarly unpleasant clients. Elliot Begoun from The Intertwine Group wrote an outstanding article about entering every project with a beginner's mind.

3. Your discounted price will become your regular price

No matter how you try to frame a discount extended to a client or how clearly you tell them "This is not my normal rate...I'm helping you out" your discounted rate will inevitably be viewed as your normal rate. I'm not saying you shouldn't give discounts, but only do so if you're prepared to always extend that discount to that client. Same with trade. I realized early on that I couldn't pay my rent with sushi, so there was a point when that trade had to stop. But the transition from trade to cash is almost tougher than pitching a new client.

4. Don't stop when you think you're done

We all have those amazing ideas that pop into our heads early on in a project. They're incredible! And sometimes they are the right solution to the project, but not always. So do your job and push yourself to do more versions and create more iterations. I've found some of my best work at the end of a long and difficult project when I thought that lightening strike in the beginning was the perfect solution.

5. Prepare yourself before you make the move

If you go out as a freelancer without any contacts, any networks or any advocates out there singing your praises, you're setting yourself up for failure. The freelance thing is romantic in your mind, but if you don't have the word of mouth out there and the hard work to back it up, then the romance will fade quickly. I worked an in-house job for years while I did freelance at night or on weekends. Moonlighting is tough, but it's worth putting in the time.

6. Over deliver

That's right, I said 5 recommendations, but if you want to be successful you must always over deliver. If your clients don't feel like they walked away getting more than they expected they're way less likely to spread the word.

- Brandt Hoekenga

What Goes Into a Delicious Photo Like This?

At TIV we've been Art Directing and Food Styling for a good 10+ years...long enough to really understand the process and how best to represent a brand through great food photography. Like most of our services we approach food photos as a team. Brandt Art Directs and Prop Styles, while Christy develops the recipes and Food Styles.

A lot of people ask us what goes into a delicious photo like this, so we thought we'd share the TIV approach to food photography:

BRANDT: I start the process by discussing the brand with the client and what type of photography would make the most sense. Are we going for fancy? Are we looking for approachable? No matter what it has to have a Pavlovian affect on the viewer. We need drool here, people.

CHRISTY: Once we have an idea of the products we're promoting, I get to dream up new recipes. Some are traditional and some push the boundaries a bit. I literally keep a notepad by my bed incase I have an idea in the middle of the night. Then I start creating actual recipes and testing them out.

BRANDT: While Christy is trying to fatten me up testing recipe I start developing a mood board for the client to review. It might have actual dishes or linens and comparable shots we like or it could be more about textures and color pallets. I also share this with the photographer to make sure she knows what we're looking for in lighting, angle of the shot, etc so she can prepare. By the way, whenever we can, we work with MJ Wickham, but she doesn't get to talk on this blog. Sorry, MJ. About a week or so before the shoot we go prop shopping together. We get a lot of odd looks from store clerks when we buy one of everything. 

CHRISTY: I spend the day before the shoot food shopping. I have to find the best looking ingredients for each recipe. Typically it takes me most of the day and takes me to 3 or 4 stores, depending on ingredients and the season. 

BRANDT: On the day of the shoot we wake up early and Christy starts doing any prep work that she can. We never know how quickly things will move so having ingredients chopped, items that can be cooked ahead of time cooked, etc. can be the difference between a great and amazing photo. While she's working on prepping I start assembling sets. I review the recipes again and look for ingredients that we can emphasize through prop colors, plates that will best show off the recipe, feelings that can be achieved through textures, and flatware or linens that can help set the tone. MJ sets up the cameras and lighting.

CHRISTY: The shoot day is intense. We always have a set number of shots we need to get, so I'm balancing prepping the dish we're shooting, pre-work for the next shot and trying to keep track of time so we don't end up working all night. It's amazing how quickly the time goes...and how tired my feet are by the end of the day!

BRANDT: Christy is a foodie all the way. So she really gets what makes something not only taste great but look delicious. I've watched food styling go from an almost plastic perfection (can we move that grain of rice a bit?) to a much more approachable look (throw some crumbs on the table cloth). I love seeing the context that the food is in so it not only highlights the recipe but the experience of eating.

CHRISTY: For the most part I use traditional tools to cook the dishes. But I do have my tweezers and Q-tips for making slight alterations on-set. I like the food to look the way someone who makes the recipe at home can achieve, so I never use anything that's not actually part of the dish.

BRANDT: Usually the day after the shoot MJ sends over the files. I won't date myself by talking about polaroids, but digital photography has made the turnaround incredibly fast and the results exactly what you expected. I download the files and Christy likes to choose and retouch the final shots.

CHRISTY: Every once in a while I have to remove a toothpick used to hold up a piece of food or help a leaf look a bit fresher after sitting under the lights on set. But for the most part I just make sure the color levels are right on the photos and get them cropped and off to the client. 

And there you have it. Food photography de-mystified! 

I Could Tell You But I'd Have to NDA You

We just wrapped up a project for a major clothing brand. We did work a couple of months back for a car company. Oh, and have you seen our work for those whiskey brands that reside on every bar I've ever been to? No? That's because we're not allowed to share it!

Why, you ask, would we not be able to share our work? How in the world could we work on such enormous brands and not be able to brag about it? Because we did the work as freelancers for a large agency.

The Downside?

We can't use the work in our portfolio. That's it.

The Upside?

There are tons of reasons why we love this kind of work. Put your ego aside and tell me any designer wouldn't kill for the chance to work on some of the world's amazing brands. Even if you can't brag about them, the opportunities to learn are unending. And frankly, none of the big guys are going to work with a boutique agency like TIV, so it gets us gigs that would otherwise be unattainable.

The really big brands of the world spend an extensive amount of time and effort protecting their brand. This means I have an amazing library of brand standards, play books outlining rebranding efforts, campaign overviews... All sorts of incredible resources that a guy like me can learn so much from. They consider every detail that goes into a brand and that's helped me immensely in developing my big picture branding skills.

It's also hugely important to be able to work within the confines of an existing brand. Learning to be creative while following the style guide of a brand is not always easy, but is an essential skill no matter who you're working for. It also helps guide one's thinking when you are the one creating the brand and style guide.

So, yes, I would love to tell you about the poster I did for that hugely famous beverage company. Can't do it. But give me a chance to show you what I learned from working on the brand? I'm all over that!

TIV was founded in 2009 and is family owned and operated. Our four partners came from the wine industry, a natural foods company and a more traditional CPG company. Today we work with clients in a variety of industries. Find out more at:

Should a Designer Have a Style?

I always prided myself in being able to emulate almost any style. I worked with Guy Fieri for years, and that was well outside my natural design aesthetic. I've created digital paintings in the style of Jasper Johns for a wine label. I'm constantly given examples of the style that my clients would like to use as inspiration and I think that's a good thing.

As a designer you always have to walk that line between what you like and what's right for the client. Sometimes that ends up being what the client likes vs what you like. But in my opinion if a skull and crossbones made of kitchen utensils is right for the brand, then I'm on it (you know who you are).

Through the years though, I've found more and more clients citing "your style" as why they've pursued working with TIV. And I find that interesting since so often I'm emulating another style. Here are the conclusions I've come to:

My Fingerprint

In a creative endeavor like branding and graphic design, you're foolish if you think your fingerprint isn't on everything you do. Even if the thread that connects one project to another is barely visible, it's impossible to do great work if you don't leave your mark on it.

My Progression

Looking at old work is painful for a guy like me. At the time it was the best thing I had ever done. But now, all I can see is everything that I would have done differently if I had the project right now. I hope that's because I'm getting better and better. But regardless of the perceived quality, I'm definitely becoming more and more comfortable with my style and the progression of that style as a natural solution to some extremely varied design projects.

My Preferences

I don't put work on my website or out into the world that I don't like. I could have done the rebranding for Hershey's, but if I didn't like it I wouldn't include it on my site. So what I like and what is most naturally my style shines through all of TIV's promotional materials. And as such, we promote my style, even if not intentionally.

So I guess the answer to my question is, "Yes, every designer should have a style." And every client should look for a designer based on style. It makes the work more natural and the end results inevitably better.

Designing for Millennials

Here's a fun game... say the word "Millennial" in a room full of designers and watch them scatter like cockroaches. Somehow the word and moreover the challenge it represents has become super-scary to those of us trying to appeal to the demographic.

For those of you who live under a log, Millennials are those consumers born from 1977 to 2000. And the reason they elicit such fear in designers and marketers alike is that they're seen as a moving target. For instance, wine industry big boys are totally freaked out because they don't see any brand loyalty in the generation. It's a latest-greatest mentality and that makes growing a brand extremely difficult.

But I'm not sure I buy it. Here are some terms that I've found peppered throughout research on the internet describing Millennial values and what they're looking for in a brand:

Fits Their Personality
Would Recommend to a Friend
Has a Sense of Social Responsibility
Says Important Things
Shares Similar Interests

To me it sounds like we're describing a significant other, not a brand (well, maybe not the 'would recommend to a friend). But I think that's exactly the point we should take away from this type of research: Millennials want a real connection with a real brand.

So how should a designer apply this to projects where Millennials are listed as the target audience?

It's simple. Be true. Don't try and convince the audience what they want...just give them what they actually want. This demographic is very aware when they're being marketed to and if you're trying to trick them into liking something that doesn't jive with their core values then you're going to lose them before you can say "selfie."

- Brandt Hoekenga

A Branding Lesson From My Kindergartener

I often bring in our mail with my kindergartener.  It’s fun because unlike me she is still thrilled by the pile of catalogs and bills.  Last month it was particularly fun due to all the crazy and excessive holiday mail we were getting.  One day as we were walking back in to the house lugging the huge stack we had just collected she pointed to the catalog on the top of the pile and said, “That one is for me Mommy. That’s from Target.”  I was slightly taken aback since she is just learning to read so I asked her how she knew and she told me, “It’s red. It’s a red bulls-eye.”

Wow. Talk about great branding.

One of my first bosses after I got my MBA was often called the Brand Cop behind his back. It wasn’t meant as a compliment but it was true. He was very intense when it came to guarding the integrity of the company logo and identity. As a young marketer I was often frustrated when he wouldn’t let us add flames to the logo to ‘fire up’ our sales team at a sales meeting or manipulate the layout on a new package instead of following the same boring old format.

Today almost 20 years later I find that I have become the brand police for many of my clients.  Clients often ask me whether we really ‘have to stay consistent’ and I find myself reminding them that it is important for us to use the same color and font and structure so that we make it easy for consumers to recognize and shop and connect with our brand.  

While I understand the temptation to mix things up and play with fun new fonts or change the color of our logo, I have also come to realize that every single time a consumer interacts with our brand it is an opportunity.  It is an opportunity to either make a deposit into our brand equity or make a withdrawal out of our brand equity.  Using a color, image or font that is instantly recognizable makes it easy for our consumer (or potential consumer) and is key in the hectic world that we live in.

Implementing discipline around your brand usage can be challenging especially in large organizations or organizations with many ‘cooks in the kitchen’.  For example, we work with a private school, which is blessed with lots of enthusiastic parent volunteers who are always creating fliers and materials for their events.  Reigning in their creativity felt a bit heavy-handed but was also incredibly important.  One tool that we recommend to our clients is a Brand Style Guide, which we create specifically for their brand.  This document clearly outlines exactly what is and is not allowed and can be shared with a large audience to make sure everyone is on the same page. It was the perfect solution for our private school client.

I am always looking for a quick an easy way to illustrate why this concept of consistent branding is so important.  I think I might start telling the story of my daughter to demonstrate how powerful branding can transcend age and even the ability to read.

In the meantime, I have had to figure out driving routes through our town that avoid passing any of the Target stores because whenever she sees that big red bulls-eye logo she is convinced she needs to stop and shop! Powerful branding at work.

- Britta Foster

TIV Self Promotion

At the heart of a great service industry brand is the personality if its owners. We firmly believe that the one who really knows the answer to the question is you. Or in this case it's us. In the ever-changing world of social media, TIV is a very capable partner. We have proven the ability to formulate a successful social media campaign, implement the components that make the campaign successful and work the stats to adjust and optimize the campaign. We do this by focusing on the personality of the brand and the results are great.

We would be foolish not to do the same for ourselves, right? Absolutely. We spent a good chunk of time a while ago really digging into TIV's social media. We came up with what we thought would be compelling content. We sprinkled it all with the typical TIV voice. Of course we made it look outstanding. And the result? Not much. 

Why? We were following the same process we used with great success for a number of clients. Why was our self-promotion falling flat? The answer is because we were not following the full process. We skipped the part where we focused on the personality of the brand...the people that make the brand what it is. And in a service-based business like ours, we are the TIV brand. 

There were a few important oversights:

- We are social media watchers. We rarely start the conversation. Sometimes we'll contribute to a topic. But our personalities are not those that would start a topic just for the sake of starting a topic and have it feel anything other than contrived. And we can't stand contrived. 

- So much of social media feels like making small-talk at a mixer. Throw a comment out there. See if it starts a conversation. Respond to a topic that's designed to do the same. We had a brief stint where we became members of the local chamber of commerce. We started attending mixers. It was pathetic. We ended up in the corner talking to each other! I guess you have to be who you are...and we are not 'mixer' folks.

So why are we so good at promoting other people?  Because that's our personality. We love to help businesses be successful. We thrive on helping to figure out how to gain a better foothold in an industry. Its our personality. But self promotion is not our personality...lesson learned!

- Brandt Hoekenga

A Great Reminder

We go through periods when it feels like we spend more time working on proposals then on actual client work. It can be exhausting, but it's essential to continue lining up the next gig even while in the thick of big projects.

Yesterday we had a pitch meeting. We were chosen as one of three agencies to proceed to the interview phase of a branding project for the City of Santa Rosa. Based on the number of participants on the initial RFP call, there were a lot of agencies invited to submit proposals. To be picked in the top three was no small feat and we were feeling proud!

In preparation we worked on our responses to possible scenarios. And in doing so, along with participating in the actual pitch meeting, my pride grew! I realized the TIV business model makes complete sense. I remembered why we do things the way we do.

It's easy to start thinking about expansion and how fun it would be to manage a team of creatives. How cool it would it be to have a fancy building and be a partner in a big agency? But all it takes is a day like yesterday explaining the beauty of TIV to remind us that keeping things slim and efficient is not only beneficial to the client, but feeds the fires that really make our work great.

Regardless of whether we're chosen for the new project or not, developing this proposal has been a great reminder of why TIV is great just the way it is.

- Brandt Hoekenga

Take the Time to Grok

In 1996 Steve Jobs in an interview by Wired magazine said:

"Design is a funny word. Some people think design means how it “looks”. But of course if you dig deeper, it’s really how it “works”. The design of the Mac wasn’t what it looked like, although that was part of it. To design something really well, you have to “get it”. You have to really “Grok” what it’s all about. It takes a passionate commitment to really thoroughly understand something, chew it, not just quickly swallow it. Most people don’t take the time to do that."

I had never heard the word "grok" until my partner sent me this quote. Wikipedia defines it like this: "Grok means to understand so thoroughly that the observer becomes a part of the observed—to merge, blend, intermarry, lose identity in group experience."

We've had the opportunity to work with some incredible clients lately. The work produced is some of the best we've ever done. The weird thing is that our final wrap-up meetings have been sad. No one celebrating being done with the project, even though we're thrilled with how it has turned out.

It's because we genuinely enjoy working with these clients. And they genuinely enjoy working with us. We've truly become a part of their team...we've chewed on their brand, not just swallowed it. We've had real, honest conversations with them. We've made friends with them. We've taken the time to become part of the observed.

Love him or hate him, Steve Jobs hit the nail on the head with this one.

- Brandt Hoekenga

You know you need a new website if...

Your Website Design is not Responsive

Every site we build is responsive these days. A responsive website changes format and layout based on the device you're using to view the site. With more and more people viewing websites on phones, tablets and other devices, having a website that is responsively designed is essential. Check out our site ( on your computer and then on your phone and you'll see how responsive design works. 

You Don't Have a Blog

Blogging is not only a great way to reinforce your branding and share important information about your company, but it's a powerful SEO tool. Today's web platforms incorporate blogging tools seamlessly and offer apps to blog on the go. If your site doesn't have a blogging option it maybe time to upgrade.

You've Lost Your Focus

I often say the best thing about a website is that it's never final. I also say the worst thing about a website is that it's never final. As a website ages and new initiatives are highlighted, new products introduced and new information added, it's easy to end up with a Frankenstein site. Often times it makes more sense to start fresh with a well thought-out site map than adding a page here and there and losing your site's focus.

You Want to Make Regular Updates

Every site we build has a CMS (content management system). People want to make updates on a regular basis and they don't want to rely on a programmer to do so. Today's web platforms make a great CMS extremely affordable and easy to use.

Your Brand Isn't Represented Anymore

Brands are like people. They evolve. If your brand isn't represented in your website anymore than you're losing the value of what can be one of your most powerful marketing tools.

-Brandt Hoekenga

Do you identify with your identity? Do you need to?

One of the most difficult things to do in life is to step back and take an honest look at yourself. I'm a firm believer that you should treat your brand like a person. No need to send your brand flowers on Valentine's Day or anything, but it's important to be aware of your brand's personality. How does that personality come through in the tone of your copy, the look of your materials, the playful nature of your social media campaign? 

All those aspects along with your logo and other key designed elements go together to form what we refer to as your company's identity.  Identity can be about key colors, key imagery or key typography, but most of all it is about consistency.

So do you have to identify with your identity? Can a buttoned-up, suit-wearing guy manage a brand that glorifies flip-flops and ultra-casual apparel? Sure. But only if that suit can truly step back and take an honest look at that brand.

What it comes down to is the difference between liking something and knowing what's right for a brand. This is one of the most difficult things a person in any creative field can come to terms with. I love this style, but it ain't right for this project. Add it to the list of the world's best designs that will never see the light of day.

So I guess my answer to the question posed is, "No." You don't have to identify with your identity. But you need to understand it. And you need to make sure that your personal preferences don't take precedence over the personality of the brand.

Maybe next Valentine's Day you should buy your brand daffodils. You're the one who likes roses, buddy.

- Brandt Hoekenga

TIV's Theory of Relativity

At TIV it’s all relativ.

We’re in the business of helping companies build their brands and promote their services and products. We talk about attracting and keeping customers, finding a target audience and positioning against competitors. We stress the importance of knowing where your customers come from, exploiting techniques that are working and remembering not to stray too far from your tried and true marketing efforts.

Sometimes clients turn the tables on us. What’s worked for TIV? What do you do to promote your business? How do you sell your services?

TIV’s Theory of Relativity.

click on image to enlarge

Don’t worry, we aren’t going to embark on a physics lesson. And anyone who knows the ins and outs of Einstein’s special relativity and general relativity won’t appreciate our tongue in cheek interpretation and application.

The concept is simple. At TIV we believe the number of personal relationships with clients, the quality of work and the volume of work are all relative.

Our business has been built on referrals, and Brandt has always touted that he could tell you where each and every one of the businesses we’ve worked with over the years came from. So we put him to the test. Do we really have a personal connection to almost all of our clients? Where did these relationships begin? Did the jobs we really nailed lead to more work with new clients?

Sitting at his computer he set out to map the business. How did it grow? What were the seeds that sprouted? Where and how did the core beginnings split into branches and which of those flourished and continued to split and grow?

Being the Creative Guy that he is he put every client into the visual you see above.

Can you find your business in the tree? Do you remember how you found TIV (or Hoekenga Design pre-2009)? We remember you. And we want to say thank you.

Thank you for referring us to friends, family, coworkers and acquaintances. We will be continuing to invest in our relationships with our clients and doing our darndest to provide the quality, highly creative work you’ve come to expect. You’ve helped us build a thriving, family business and we honestly love the relationships we’ve built over the years.

So, here’s to 2014 and more branches and growth.

- Brandt Hoekenga

You Are Calling From Where?


As a working wife and mom I find that my creative problem solving skills are my most handy asset.  They have saved me many times as I have searched the pantry and refrigerator at 5:30pm trying to come up with something - anything - to feed my family for dinner.  And yes, not every dinner has to have a vegetable and yes, pancakes are a legitimate meal solution. 

When it comes to my physical work location I have also have had to employee a variety of creative solutions.  I technically have a home office with an actual desk.  However, the reality is that I am rarely there and if I am there I often have a dog or two under foot, a child running around and a washer and drier buzzing.  This can make for fairly entertaining conference calls with my clients as I apologize for the sudden barking dog or yelling child.  As a result more often than not you will find me hidden away in my bedroom with the door locked (don’t worry I have a great support team including my husband who keeps an eye on the kids when they aren’t in school) or sitting in my car parked in a random place as I stop to try to get work done in between drop offs and pick ups.  I once confessed to a client that I was calling from my closet because things were ‘crazy out there’ and when we finished the call I admitted that I was probably going to stay there a bit longer before I entered the fray!

Grabbing every possible moment to squeeze in work between client appointments and kid duties means that I have learned where I can park so no one is alarmed by my lingering presence and I have also learned which businesses offer free Wi-Fi.  I know that I can buy a bottled water at Starbucks (I don’t drink coffee so that’s not really an option) and sit there for hours working away on my computer as I wait for my kids to finish up their appointments. And I just learned recently that if I park close enough to the Starbucks I can actually use their Wi-Fi from my car! Hello!?!?! How awesome is that? No need to buy their overpriced water then!

At the end of the day any of us who are parents or have families (yes, even the four legged kind) find ourselves doing a daily juggling act.  We try our best to keep all the balls in the air, to make sure we are keeping it together and that we are getting everything done.  This often requires a unique form of creativity.  In the end I know that my clients appreciate my problem solving abilities and are grateful that I understand that they are also doing their own juggling act.  I know that this push and pull actually makes me better at my job and more valuable to my clients.  So next time you are at Starbucks look for me – I’m the one in the car parked right next to the door, lap top balanced on my steering wheel, ear buds in my ears as I talk to my clients.  Tap the window and say ‘hi’.  I’ll even share my free tap water with you….

-Britta Foster

First Date Jitters

I had a meeting this week with a potential client.  As I was preparing for this little get together it struck me that initial client meetings are the work equivalent of going on a blind date.  Here you are getting together with someone who you probably have never met – at least not live – and just like a blind date you try to anticipate what they will like, how formal they are and what questions they might ask.  In our personal lives that might translate into worries like, “What should I wear?” or “What if the conversation lulls?”  And while I admit these questions sound fairly personal the reality is that initial client meetings are fraught with the same challenges. I honestly do spend time trying to decide what to wear, wondering if my potential client’s culture is casual or more formal. Should I dress in jeans to communicate how creative and down to earth I am or wear something more business-like to show that they can trust my sound judgment.


Just like blind dates are often set-ups many of my initial client meetings fall into that category as well.  Our company is blessed with many great partners and clients who like us enough to “set-us up with” or refer us to potential new clients.  While this does take some of the stress out of the initial meet and greet it also adds a layer of stress because just like in your personal life you certainly don’t want to let your friend down! And let’s be honest how awkward is it if your friend really thinks they have made a great match only for you to realize it is not a good fit after all? Awkward!

Truth be told I haven’t gone on a blind date in a long time – happily monogamous for 8+ years – love you honey! And if the real, real truth be told I am not actually sure I ever went on a true blind date.  But I am told by reliable sources that these days thanks to the Internet and social media there is a lot of pre-investigation that you can do on your potential sweetheart. This is also true of potential clients. Time spent on their website learning their story or perusing their Facebook posts and tweets is great ground work to prepare for that first meeting and could help with those potential conversational lulls.  It also gives you a sense of who they are, what they care about and their voice.  But just like a blind date some of that can be misleading and can never substitute for that first in-person encounter.  And we keep carrying this metaphor out does that make RFP’s the work equivalent of dating sites?

Let’s face it… at the end of the day just like on a blind date, at a potential client meeting what we are all looking for and hoping for is chemistry.  You know, that magical feeling that you get when something is just right.  It’s a sense that this partnership is a ‘fit’ and that together you are going to do great things.  When we are lucky the chemistry is mutual and the relationship commences.  If not - if one party doesn’t feel the chemistry or perhaps finds better chemistry elsewhere - then you do just what you do in the real world.  You remind yourself that there are lots of fish in the sea, you get back on your horse and you head to your next blind date hoping this time you will find the perfect fit.


Playing Nice

I recently sat down at my computer, with an invite to my 3 year old daughter’s friend’s birthday party in hand, to check a detail about the event on the venues website. It’s a children’s gym, a place that she has only been two times before – both times for birthday parties. As I pulled up the website she crept up behind me and exclaimed, “I know that place, it’s the gym for birthdays! Who’s having a birthday? When do we get to go…..” the questions, volume of her voice and energy steadily increasing as she got more pointed, “When? Who? Let’s go right now! We need to get a present!”

I sat trying to calm her down and explain that it was over a month away, when I turned back to the computer, dumbfounded that the only thing on the page, that told her all she needed to know, was the logo. It’s a fairly distinct logo – typeface, colors, nicely contained in a circle so it overlays content and images well, and a fun-loving monkey hugging the entire thing. But, she’s 3. She’s 3 and she recognized the company by their brand mark. She can’t read – so that’s not how she identified it. She knows her colors, most of her shapes, some of her letters, definitely her animals. So technically it could be any one of the components other than the actual words.


I’ve thought about breaking the logo apart to see what exactly it was that resonated with her. I want to attribute it to the cute monkey. But the marketer in me tells me it’s not anything individually, it’s how it all plays together.

I think what struck me most about it was that she’s literally only been to that particular children’s gym twice – each time for 2 hours - that's 4 hours total of exposure to the logo. The experience was so striking to her, so memorable, that her little steel trap of a memory soaked it all in – including the branding.

In all actuality even as a 3 year old she knows a ton of companies by their branding. Many more than I even want to acknowledge. She knows what she likes and doesn’t like, and she knows which products we as her parents are loyal to.

It’s reminders like this that enforce the work we do. How forming a company’s identity, coupled with the experience around it, can result in the lasting impression and the loyalty we all hope to gain with our consumers.  If we can find the magic of the colors, the text, the tagline and work to make them all play nice together even 3 year olds will have brand recognition – which you would think would translate even better to a target demographic with a higher age range? Or maybe the magic really is the monkey hugging all of the pieces? You tell me.

 -Blythe Carrillo

Bottle it up

We had a great meeting with a potential client this week. The kind of meeting you feel like you could sit at for hours and just soak in the passion and knowledge of the business owners and staff. It’s a Natural foods company, which felt familiar and a bit nostalgic for me. Prior to coming to work at TIV I worked at Traditional Medicinals, the herbal medicinal tea company, for 8.5+ years.

The meeting this week felt like my first couple of years at Traditionals – where you are honored to be in the room with the participants and you feel like at every exchange you walk away with new knowledge, new things to try and the hope that you can make some small changes that will make you a healthier person whose choices can affect change in the world.

It was inspiring. And I find myself now trying to figure out how to bottle that feeling. How can I instill that excitement and energy that I’m still buzzing with in all of my work? Is that even possible? Or do you have to save that feeling for the occasional instance otherwise it’s just the norm? 

The beauty of working at an agency is that you work with so many clients in such diverse fields that I feel like I am learning at every stage. So that’s pretty exciting. The other thing is ultimately our clients choose us but we also choose our clients – we know who we will have good chemistry with, who we will work well with, who will teach us but also learn from us – that’s pretty empowering.

I’ve said it a million times in the past couple of months – I’ve really got a pretty awesome gig – but, I still find myself trying to dissect this feeling, this buzz and stuff it somewhere to keep for those tasks that are a little hard to motivate for. I haven’t figured out the secret yet, so if anyone has any leads on bottling facilities that you think can help me – please pass the contact info over ASAP.

-Blythe Carrillo