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Kevin Finn

Kevin Finn is a TEDx speaker, advisor, internationally recognized branding designer, and author who works with individuals and groups dedicated to creating a positive impact at scale.

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There is wisdom in learning

Kevin Finn is a TEDx speaker, advisor, internationally recognized branding designer, and author who works with individuals and groups dedicated to creating a positive impact at scale. With 30 years of international experience, Kevin emphasizes that not every business is a brand, and that businesses become brands only when society says so.

As an advisor, Kevin challenges his clients' assumptions objectively. He questions their identity in comparison to how their customers perceive them. In this conversation, he shares six fundamental questions that make up the basis of his brand advisory work:

  • What value do you provide?
  • Who are you talking to?
  • What are you saying to them?

You’ll have to listen to the episode to hear the other three.

There is wisdom in learning

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Mar 15

There is wisdom in learning

Kevin Finn is a TEDx speaker, advisor, internationally recognized branding designer, and author who works with individuals and groups dedicated to creating a positive impact at scale.

Kevin Finn is a TEDx speaker, advisor, internationally recognized branding designer, and author who works with individuals and groups dedicated to creating a positive impact at scale.

If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance less.

Kevin Finn is a TEDx speaker, advisor, internationally recognized branding designer, and author who works with individuals and groups dedicated to creating a positive impact at scale. With 30 years of international experience, Kevin emphasizes that not every business is a brand, and that businesses become brands only when society says so.

As an advisor, Kevin challenges his clients' assumptions objectively. He questions their identity in comparison to how their customers perceive them. In this conversation, he shares six fundamental questions that make up the basis of his brand advisory work:

  • What value do you provide?
  • Who are you talking to?
  • What are you saying to them?

You’ll have to listen to the episode to hear the other three.

Greg Gunn

Greg Gunn is an illustrator, animator and creative director in Los Angeles, CA. He loves helping passionate people communicate their big ideas in fun and exciting ways.

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If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance less.

Episode Transcript

Kevin:                                                 The best way I can help you is if I get out of your way because I think I'm actually hindering this, so I'm going to do the professional thing. I'm going to get out of your way, so you can move on with somebody else. I'm going to give you everything you need to do that and it's helping them. As I saying, "I respect you enough to not stand your way. I would rather spend the time finding somebody else with a better fit," rather than just finishing out for the sake of it and getting the money at the end and not liking it and probably not doing my best work and probably not going to promote it and show it. So, everyone wins.

Chris:                                                 I love that in your presentation, your talk, you don't pull any punches. Shots are fired and you're calling people out. And the thing that's going to be very unsettling for some of the listeners, they identify so strongly with the things that they make and many of them work in the visual identity space and it became sexy, or on trend, or whatever it was to start describing what they do as branding and the things they create as brands. I think it's because they thought they could charge more. They felt more important, more valuable, but so many people missed this. So, for the people who missed this whole dissertation that you just gave, sum up this idea that you have about why what you do isn't branding.

Kevin:                                                 There's two sides to this. The first is what we as designers in this identity space is branding, is communications. It is logos, it is websites, and that's all great and that's fantastic. We can't call it a brand because a brand evolves and deepens over time and we are not part of that process, unfortunately. In some cases we can be, but we need to realize, acknowledge, and that's a responsibility to the businesses that we work with, to say that, "We're going to do branding for you." It's your job as the business to build the brand using the tools we've given you and the tools we've given you. It's the framework, it's the roadmap, it's the blueprint. It's all of the things you're going to need to build your brand.

                                                      The other side of what I'm talking about is we've left too much on the table as designers, where we think that if we do the identity and the communications, then we're done, great. And I'm saying that no, we should be having long-term interactions with these organizations to help guide them as the businesses evolve. So we can, I feel, expand our offer and expand our income and expand our value if we're talking to businesses in a way that isn't stopping short of we do logos and we do websites and we do this stuff. We should be saying, "We want to partner with you as advisors to help you over time to help you and your team build your brand in a consistent way." And the start of that could be the logos and the communications and the websites, but over time we need to help you see where that goes. And I'm not seeing that at the moment, but I'm hearing that's what people are saying and not doing.

Chris:                                                 Yeah, okay, very good. Many things to break down here. So out of curiosity, when you do client work and you're meeting a prospect, a new client, how to describe what you do?

Kevin:                                                 Yep, a couple of things. First of all, I don't call them clients and I tell them that straight up, and I know this is a bit semantic, but I think it's an interesting mindset. When I use the word client and I did for most of my career, then we automatically set up they're in the power position, they're the client and we're the supplier. So, they tell us what to do and we can argue it, but they're paying us and they tell us what to do. So, I literally when I'm talking to these ... I call them businesses that I work with, and when I'm talking to them from the get go, I tell them that. I say, "You are not a client because I'm not in that relationship. You are a business that I work with and we're working together." There's an old phrase that says, "I don't work for you, I work with you." That kind of sums it up.

                                                      But I go further than that and I say to them, "My role is an advisor to you. My role is to come in to look at your business and your organization, assess it from an objective, independent point of view, and then challenge your assumptions. That's my job. My job is to ... because you're not challenging internally because you live it every day. Got to use me to come in and challenge you and see if these assumptions can get validated." And then I say, "I know we're having this conversation and you're wondering if you want to choose me over somebody else you're talking to. I don't care about that." I tell them I'm not interested in getting another job. I'm also interviewing you and I think maybe we have a good fit, maybe we don't. We got to assess that because I'm not interested in working with people for the sake of it.

                                                      I want to work with people who are nice, who are decent, who were doing meaningful things and who were interested in having a positive impact. And if that's not you, I'm fine. I will walk away from that and I'll put a little caveat there. And I even tell them, I say, "I can't afford to do that. I'm not in some privileged ... oh, I've got money coming out of my ears. I can do whatever." It's a deliberate choice that I make. And I'll say this final thing on this, and it was advice that I was given when I was at Saatchi and Saatchis was from an incredible guy called Bob Isherwood who at the time was a worldwide creative director and he said, "Only promote what you want to get more of."

                                                      Now we have a knee-jerk reaction to put onto our websites every piece of work we do because we've done it and we're going to show we did it and we work with this organization and we did these things. But his advice was, "If you do that and there's no real pattern, all you're going to do is more logo stuff. Just produce stuff." Whereas if you make a deliberate decision and say, "I will only work with meaningful people, doing meaningful things and that's all I'm going to promote and that's all I'm going to take on. Over time, that becomes all you do."

                                                      So, I have these conversations upfront and I even tell them, "I'm going to be honest with you, we don't have time to fuck around." I tell them that straight up, I use that language, I use that language because it's abrasive. It's a bit challenging. And most of the time, the beginning of my conversations with these businesses starts in the usual space and finishes in a completely different, engaging, humble all walls down. Let's just talk real people to people. Let's see what we can do. Changes everything.

Chris:                                                 This is fascinating because when people hear you say that, they automatically assume, Kevin, you're in a great place financially, you can afford tell people to take a long walk off a short bridge. You're like, "No, no, no, I can't, but I still do this." And that has even more meaning to me and it resonates even more. This is fantastic.

                                                      So, I like the language that you pick and you're very intentional by describing this. If you are a business and they're business, then it's two businesses choosing and electing who they want to work with. There's no power dynamic here. You're arriving at the same place. You also described yourself as an objective advisor who's going to challenge assumptions because it's hard to read the label from inside the jar. And that you don't need another job. But if you were pushed to and they ... it's like, "Great. I love your attitude. I love that you're just right in it and you're just super direct." But what is it that you make? Do you make something for us or is it mostly advice?

Kevin:                                                 No, I will say to them that my first stage will be to challenge the assumptions. I have a set of questions that I've designed over a number of years, where I will talk to everyone, a selection of people in the business, from all roles, all levels. And there will be individual, confidential, one-on-one conversations. Then I'll do the same with a separate set of questions with customers, ex-customers, business partners, board members, whomever, outside the business. So inside, outside the business. And I pull all of the question, all the responses together in a an aggregated ... No one knows who said what, and it's written specifically that. So it's a report that says, "Here's a snapshot of where you are today." I call it perception research. Here is what people's perception of you is. Now we have a tangible means to assess where your assumptions of yourself line up with everyone else's perceptions of you, and we can see how far, close you are of that.

                                                      And that to me is an amazing foundational position to start from. And what I've heard from businesses is they find that incredibly valuable because they don't have that information. They can't ask the same questions to their staff because they'll think they're going to get fired or promoted. They can't ask the same questions to their clients or customers. Some of them might have an ax to grind, some might not really want to answer it. Someone independent, outside, objective can ask that privately. I've had people say to me at the end of those interviews, "This was like therapy." I'm not kidding you.

                                                      So that goes in and I produce a report, but from that report I can then say to the organization, the deliverables if you like, are ... once we've got that information, what might be your strategic positioning? What is that core central organizing idea that sits the center of your business where all communication comes from? Well, this report and these conversations help me get there way quicker and with much more accuracy.

                                                      And then we've got that sentence and that positioning and I say, "Well, now does that message that we've all agreed on, does your identity reflect that?" So, for example, if the positioning was that they're a progressive and innovative and challenging organization, but they look like they're conservative and traditional and quite dated, well you need to redo your identity because it's not adding up. And then I can do the identity and then they'll say, "Well, how does this work across other communications?" Well, we have to look at that and see. Let's see if anything needs to get done. If it does, we do it.

                                                      So, my whole approach, and it's probably ... you'll laugh at me, Chris, it's probably the worst business advice I can give myself and anybody else, I design myself out of the equation unless they need ongoing advice. And this is what I said earlier about I don't try and leave anything on the table once all of the usual traditional graphic designing stuff is done, my job's done. I've designed myself out of the equation traditionally. But as an advisor, that can continue. So, the graphic design stuff, I design myself out of the equation. The advisor stuff could be ongoing.

Chris:                                                 Wonderful. Lot of things to ask and follow up here. So, could you give us some samples of the kinds of questions you might ask, the one-on-one conversations you're talking about? Because I'm sure people are like, "This sounds fantastic. I need to do this, but maybe I'm asking the wrong questions." You don't have to give it all away. Just a couple, whet our appetite.

Kevin:                                                 Well, there are six questions that I center all of the other questions around, and I have probably about 24, 25 questions in the full range. And they will come from, what's your role? How long have you been there? They're very practical things, just so we can get a sense of when they're reading their report, we can say somebody who hasn't been in the business long might have said this. So, we've got some practical questions.

                                                      But the six questions that I do ask peppered throughout, and this is something that I think your listeners and viewers will probably benefit from. First question, and these questions need to be asked in order. First question, what value do you provide? We're not talking about value for money. We're not talking about if you get a discount or some kind of offer, the value that you provide. What is that?

                                                      Second question, who are you talking to? Who are your customers? Most of the time people will say, "Oh, everyone." I say, "Fantastic. So, we're talking to three year olds and 96 year olds?" I go, "No, and of course not." So, who are you talking to? And I tend to try and say, "Don't talk to a demographic, talk to a type of person. Doesn't matter their age, their socioeconomic background, the kind of person you're talking to."

                                                      Third question is, what are you saying to them? This comes down to the traditional communications, graphic designing stuff. What's your core message? What are you saying to them? So, if you know your value and who you're talking to, what are you saying to them?

                                                      The fourth question then is if you know them, what channels are you using? So, are you just doing channels that you're comfortable with, like EDMs and social media, whatever it might be? Or have you asked them what channels they would rather hear from you through? Don't just fall back on the default, find out what channels resonate with them the most.

                                                      Fifth question then is can you live up to what you say? Most of them are like, "Of course we can. Yes." You go, "No, no, seriously, can you live up? If you've got a message that you're sending out, can you live up to it? And if so, where's the proof?" So, if we're in these conversations with the staff or with external people, we would say, "Do you think the business can live up to what it does? And if so, have you seen proof?"

                                                      And the sixth question is the hardest one. And the sixth question is, do you matter? Why should anybody care if you shut down tomorrow? Would you be missed? And the beauty of that is, and I'll go through those six questions very quickly because it shows how this works, the beauty of that is question one, what value do you provide? Question two, who are you talking to? Question three, what are you saying? Question four, what channels are you using? Question five, can you live up to it? Question six, why should anybody care? They should care because the answer to question one, the value that you provide, is the only reason they're engaging with you. And all the questions in between should align neatly with them caring that you're in existence because of the value you provide to them. So, I ask those questions scattered through the other questions that are more practical, but those six questions are a really good basis for understanding where you sit and then go test that, validate with other people.

Chris:                                                 Wonderful. So, what you're doing in this initial perception research is you're establishing a baseline into which you can compare what we think of ourselves versus what people really think of us.

Kevin:                                                 Yeah.

Chris:                                                 And so, what is the percentage of companies that you work with where those things are the same versus they're really far apart?

Kevin:                                                 Yeah, obviously it varies but I think on average, on average, organizations are relatively close, maybe 50/50. You would say 50/50 that they were like, "We thought this and oh, we didn't think that, but majority of it is right."

Chris:                                                 I see.

Kevin:                                                 And for your listeners, this is important. If you do this, whatever research that you do yourselves, or the kind of stuff I'm doing, or those six questions that I offered, and the organization gets back to you and they say, "Geez Chris, this is exactly what we knew. This is a waste of time. Why are we paying you? I'm not going to pay you. This is just totally a ... feels like it's been snake oil." And you go, "No, what this has done is absolutely validate your assumptions, concretely, not because you just think it because they've told you. So, yes, you will pay me. Yes, this is valuable. And yes, we can now move forward because everything we had before was an assumption. Everything from here on in is validated. That's valuable.

Chris:                                                 So, it's good news that you do have an accurate finger on the pulse of what's going on. And I just confirmed it with you by doing this independent research, talking to different levels of stakeholders and different time ... within and without the company. And yes, you're on target, you should be thrilled that we're able to confirm this for you, right?

Kevin:                                                 Independently, objectively confirmed.

Chris:                                                 Wonderful.

Kevin:                                                 I've had a bit of pushback on this stuff and that's how you just push back to them.

Chris:                                                 And how often are they okay with that, you said, "Yeah, now it's validated."

Kevin:                                                 Fine. Yeah, they're thrilled. They're relieved, yep.

Chris:                                                 Is there an occasion for when you'll bypass this perceptional research and get straight into the design work?

Kevin:                                                 Yeah, there is. And in fact, I'm doing that right now with a incredible small ... I wouldn't call them a startup, they call themselves a startup, I don't. It's an incredible little impact business, but I'm dealing directly with the owners. There's two founders and they've given me a lot of information and some of it has been already validated. There's testimonials from other people. And also, I've had extensive conversations with them and I have said, "I think ... " because their team's small enough, I don't need to talk to them all. So I've said, "Based on my experience of doing this stuff all the time, based on just my maybe experience in the field for nearly 30 years, I've been able to distill and synthesize my view, my opinion really quick." And I put it back to them and they say ... this has happened early this week.

                                                      They said, "Wow, okay. We didn't think we needed those words because we've been hearing them for years, but we can't fault them because they're exactly what we do." They then put that through their staff and their staff said, "We've thrown rocks at this, but we can't knock it over. Yeah, this is right." And we are now going into doing an extension of that messaging into an investor invitation deck, to see if that is validated in real time at the coalface, raising capital. So, they've got a very truncated timeframe as well. So, we're like, "Let's just do it as a test run, as a test balloon. Let's just see." But so far, it's hitting all the right notes. I'd rather not do that because I'm still assuming, but it feels like there's enough information been shared, there's enough observations, that I think were in the right space.

Chris:                                                 So, there are exceptions. If they were to say, "We actually just worked with consulting firm who did validate this. Here's 74 pages of data. Can you take that, can review it? If it's good for you, can we move on to the next step?" And you're probably okay with that, right?

Kevin:                                                 Absolutely, yeah. Again, worst business advice, I do not try and get a hook in and increase my deliverables. I try and work efficiently, I try and work honestly, and I try and work transparently and if I get 74 pages of research, I'll go, "Great, I'll use that. I'll come back and I'll ... " If I've got questions ask. But I'm not trying to say, "No, no, no, no, no. My process is I have to do this for me and you've got to pay double." I'm not interested in any of that.

Chris:                                                 I want to get back to something, but before I do, I'm going to make an assumption here, but I assume there's a different fee for the perceptional research and a different fee for the different additional services, like the identity design or the communication design that you do afterwards, right?

Kevin:                                                 Yeah, yeah. I stage everything and I say the first stage is the perception research. And depending on the size of the organization and how many people I'm needing to talk to, I weigh that up, value versus head hours because it's just quite labor intensive and just time to do it. And I say that's stage one. And then I do a stage two, which is other deliverables, positioning or identity. And then we talk about those stages are stop gaps. If they're not happy, we just don't go the other stuff.

                                                      If they want to add something in or they want to tweak something, we talk about it. So, I'm very adaptable and very flexible and I try and put in many stop gaps in for them and for me. I've had situations where I've done work and I thought, "These guys are not who they said they were or who they pretended to be." And that's a stop gap I can get out now. We're done.

Chris:                                                 It protects you and it protects them. So, you're a professional, you deliver on what you said you're going to do, but you both can elect now to say for whatever reason, "No harm, no foul, it's not a good fit for either of us. Let's go our separate ways." Perfect.

Kevin:                                                 The phrase I use again, for ... As you probably can tell, I'm a very word language person. The phrase that I use and I've used this is, "I think the best way I can help you is if I get out of your way because I think I'm actually hindering this. So, I'm going to do the professional thing. I'm going to get out of your way so you can move on with somebody else. I'm going to give you everything you need to do that, but I think I'm going to make a professional call. I need to get out of your way." I've said that many times.

Chris:                                                 I like that. It's non-violent, it's non-judging, and it's a very graceful way to get out.

Kevin:                                                 And it's helping them. It's like saying, "I respect you enough to not stay in your way. I'm going to take a hit financially to move out, but also I'm not going to use all of the money I make for headache tablets." It's like, oh God, just got to get out of the way. So, everyone wins.

Chris:                                                 Yeah, going to go straight to your therapist afterwards.

Kevin:                                                 Yes.

Chris:                                                 I like that. That's very smooth. You're a smooth guy with words. For a designer, you're just a really smooth guy and designers who are going to listen to this, creative people, even if you're not in the quote unquote traditional creative space, because we do get an audience that's quite diverse. People in different trades, like electricians and plumbers who can listen to this and you might get emotionally really charged, but it's a beautiful way to say, "In your best interest, I'm going to get out of your way. I don't need to make more money on this. And it seems like you'll be better served by pursuing other options."

Kevin:                                                 And in my head, I'm saying ... my little internal conversation is I would rather spend the time not working for this group, finding somebody else with a better fit rather than just finishing out for the sake of it and getting the money at the end and not liking it and probably not doing my best work and probably not going to promote it and show it. And it feels like back to this, we don't have time to fuck around. We've got to do the work we want to do.

Chris:                                                 Where does your confidence and your courage come from to be able to be this direct and to say, "I have my boundaries, I have my own filters as to who I'm going to work with." Where does this come from? And when did you develop this in the lifetime of your career?

Kevin:                                                 I'd say it's probably in the last seven years to the last decade. It's come from personal experiences, losing mom and dad, making that deliberate choice. It's come from the frustrations of always feeling like I was being servile rather than being in service. And the confidence has come from, well one, the alternative is hell. Keep doing it. It's like, I can't do that.

                                                      But it came from needing to have the language to allow me to move on. And you said earlier, "You're a language guy, Kevin," but it is, I've spent many years trying to get the right language that allows me to either change the circumstances, or change my circumstances, in a way where everyone's winning. So, it's all down to language.

                                                      And once I had the language, I didn't feel like I needed to be courageous, I just needed to say it. It was like the language is now my protection for the frustrations I was having previously, that I just couldn't get out of because I didn't know how to get out, I didn't know how to explain my way out of it. Now I've got the language.

Chris:                                                 I like that you bring that up because when I struggled before in the ... and I used the word client vendor relationship and I struggled with, I need to say something, but I know how to say it. In my mind it sounds really combative. It feels very stressful and I'm not going to be happy with myself and the clients aren't going to be happy with me either. So, what do I do as most creatives, I just bury it and I eat it, I show up and I get passive aggressive maybe, throw out a little sarcastic comment, which I've done, not proud of. When if I had the language, I would've said it differently.

                                                      So, when I started working with my business coach, every time I ran into a problem he'd say, "Here's a couple of ways of saying what you're thinking." And that seemed not newly as toxic and as aggressive as what I had imagined my mind. So, language is the key or the shield, so that you don't have to be super courageous. It's not about getting into a fight, it's just about saying the right things to be clear so that there isn't a fight.

Kevin:                                                 And with language, you can do that efficiently, you can do that with respect and you can either get out or move on quickly. Whereas previously like you, I just get bitter.

Chris:                                                 It's not a good place.

Kevin:                                                 No.

Chris:                                                 You talked about clients that drive you crazy and then you can now drive yourself crazy because you didn't develop those skills. So, the natural follow-up for me is how did Kevin develop these verbal skills? How did you find the language? Is there anything practical you can share with us?

Kevin:                                                 Yeah, I think probably two key things. One, you're going to laugh at. Effort, just effort. Just put your mind to it and deliberately try to write the language that suits you. So, everything I've talked about was language that suits suits me. So, that's the first, effort. But the second I think is probably an outcome of my publication, Open Manifesto, where I was interviewing some of the top designers in the world or they were writing for me, but I was also interviewing or talking to some of the really most influential thinkers in the world, like no Chomsky or Edward de Bono or ...

                                                      So, I had this really wide-reaching engagement with a diverse number of people. And by default I had to learn to write, I had to learn to write questions that were going to get the best out of the engagement. But I had also to learn how to write my views because every publication I did, I would do the introductory piece because I thought ... It sounds like it's a bit egotistical, I'm going to put my name in here too because these amazing people are there and I can be associated. Really, it was me saying, "If I ask them to do this, I need to be able to front up and do it myself first. I can't ask someone to do it if I can't do it."

                                                      So, that gave me the impetus, the pressure, to teach myself over time how to write. And then from that, I got to really understand, this is about articulating our thoughts with words, not images, which is obvious, I know. But from that, how can I put into practice what I say to myself regularly is, words have meaning. Now, everyone out there will have an understanding of the majority of words that we use. So, I'm very selective with the words that I use because I know they're already preloaded with meaning. And through writing for Open Manifesto, through writing interview questions and just through engaging with a much bigger resource outside of the graphic design or design world, that was probably the other aspect of how I got to where I am with writing and being very comfortable with writing, to the point I wrote a book.

Greg Gunn:                                             Time for a quick break, but we'll be right back. Welcome back to our conversation.

Chris:                                                 A couple things, I just wanted to repeat back what I heard. The way you got better with your language skills is you put yourself in situations where you're surrounded by really brilliant people and you have to level up. You not only have to meet them where they're at, you have to develop the questions, the language, and be able to tell those stories. But you're also picking up on their vibe, their energy, their word selection. And I'm super impressed with people who are very articulate, who can say with great degrees of precision what they mean. And it's just, English is such a beautiful language because it's so nuanced. There's 300 ways of saying the same thing, but they mean something different. And so, being able to wield your words as a wordsmith is super admirable to me. And then making the deliberate practice of showing up and writing, because then you get that clarity of thought.

                                                      David C. Baker writes in his book, The Business Of Expertise, "You gain clarity through articulation," and most of us articulate through abstract images, colors, shape, textures. But it seems ironic the two graphic designers admire so much words and the power of language. And I have to admit, I came to this appreciation relatively late in the game. I'm 50 years old, I didn't even think of myself as a person who writes. And then I also wrote a book. I'm like, "Oh my gosh, I can do this." And the words do really matter. I've always admired people who could do it. I didn't see myself capable of doing that. So, it's really refreshing and reaffirming to hear that we're not that different in that way.

                                                      I read in Ronald J. Baker's book, these are the two Bakers, in his book Implementing Value Pricing. In the beginning he quoted somebody who said, "All transformation is linguistic. If you want to change the culture, you have to change the conversation." And we have to really think about this. There's the language that you use with others, but more importantly, the language that you use with yourself, how you describe what you're doing, how you think of yourself. And those words really, really do matter. So, bravo to you. Really appreciate it.

Kevin:                                                 Thank you. And also those words, after a while when you use them, they become your default way of engaging. So, you're not reinventing the wheel. You've got an arsenal of things you can draw from in situations, calmly, professionally because you've got everything to pull from. So, it becomes a toolbox really. And I agree that language can change culture because one of the big things about the Brand Principles book that I wrote, and it was very central, was it's about a mindset.

                                                      So, all of the language we talk about has to hardwire into our mindset, which then manifests as behavior and then how we behave, people respond. So, it's all like dominoes, but you got to get the mindset. And I think the mindset comes from the language that helps us articulate, a toolbox that we can use on demand, and the rest flows.

Chris:                                                 I'd like that description. I've always admired and enjoyed my conversations with writers, people who actually either write prolifically on a blog post, any kind of long form format, or in a book because it's the summation of a lot of experience and work and thought process. And so, you can usually tell when someone's speaking on stage or at a dinner, sushi, something like that, where you can connect with them. You're like, "This person's read a lot. They thought a lot about the things they think about." So, when they say something, lean in, listen, shut up and learn something. And I love that. Hard pivot here. I got to ask you a really personal question. If you don't like it, tell me and we'll get out of it, okay?

Kevin:                                                 Okay.

Chris:                                                 You shared this on stage and I felt what must be feelings bubbling up in my chest. And you shared that you lost your mom and your dad relatively in short time span, relatively young people by today's standards.

Kevin:                                                 Yep.

Chris:                                                 I got to ask you a couple questions because both my parents are still alive. I've not really had anyone close to me die that I didn't already expect was going to die. My grandmother's like 99 years old. Every day is a blessing. So, when she passed, I'm like, "She lived a great, glorious life." So, I felt sad, but I felt it was complete.

                                                      I got to ask you, because you said about seven years ago you started to find this confidence, and maybe not the courage but the confidence, and realized the preciousness of time that we don't know when our time's up. How did this impact you, the passing of both your parents and do you think about your own mortality? Because cancer, I think genetics has something to do with this. Do you think about that yourself?

Kevin:                                                 Every day. Yeah, every day. It might sound like a cliche, but one of the greatest influences in my life was my mom. How humble and incredibly smart she was, how caring she was. I grew up in a bed and breakfast house, so she was always looking after people and always with absolute joy. And we were very, very close. We used to watch Formula One together. She was in Ireland, I was in Sydney and we'd be texting each other, watching it in the different time zones. So, we were so close.

                                                      When we lost mom, I think I went into a two-year depression, definitely a two-year grief. And it shattered me in a way. But it made me also say every day we have, as you pointed out, is a gift, every day. Cancer, or COVID, or getting hit by a bus, we could be gone tomorrow. So, it's really made me feel the past is a really good way to reflect on some things, but don't dwell. The future is something that we can ponder and try and influence, but we can't control. Today, present is where we are.

                                                      So for me, mom passing was just heartbreaking. Dad passing, again with cancer, scared the out of me because as you say, genetic, cancer. So, I try and give myself the best chance I can to have a healthy life. I go to the gym regularly, I work out. I try and eat good, but also eat bad stuff. I got to enjoy living. Can't be prescribed living, but I take every day as I get it. And the irony is my days are incredibly long.

                                                      When I was a traditional graphic designery kind of person and the society we live in, we had to do, do, do, do. Eight hours a day, nine, we had to be doing because that's how we measure progress. We're doing, we're billing, we're doing. And for us, at least for how I was brought up in this industry, doing was produce, produce, produce. Do, do. I now work about four or five hours a day, but the other doing is going to the gym. The other doing is dropping my son to school and picking him up and hanging out with him. And the other doing is talking to incredible people like you and the doing to me has expanded from having to produce. And I think mom and dad's passing has reminded me that we got to live our life in its fullest and work is part of that.

                                                      And the other weird irony is that in the shorter amount of time I work, I'm much faster, I'm much better, I'm more confident in my decisions and I feel like my days are slower, longer, better. But I get scared. I do, I get scared, mortality.

Chris:                                                 And the reason why I got emotional when you share that upstage, because I put myself where you are and I'm not sure, because sometimes I talk about challenges with ... Whenever people talk about the relationship with their parents or with their children. As a parent myself, it hits me so hard because I put myself right there. I'm like, "Oh my gosh, what's happening?" And I feel that. And how do you have this conversation, and I applaud you for doing it on a stage in front of hundreds of people, and not emotionally break down? What are you telling yourself in that moment?

Kevin:                                                 When we were at that conference where you heard me doing that presentation, I actually did get choked up a little bit, which surprised me because I've been sharing this so many times with people, it becomes a bit automated and you go, "Yep, there's a message here and I can share it and that's okay." And I've come to terms with things, but there are times it creeps up behind you and just catches you. And that was one of the times, where the emotion just came out. So, it's always there. It might be suppressed a little bit. And in your case, we're pretty much the same age, about a year off. I'm about to turn 50.

                                                      So, I try and see myself in your shoes as well. You've got both your parents and the reason I share this message is you have your parents, enjoy them, they're amazing. Yes, they might be a bit frustrating sometimes, some generational issues, but they're with you.

                                                      The other reason I share that story is because there's a very central story to who I've become. To understand every day we have to deliberately decide what it is we want to do. We have to have meaning in our day, whether it's with our work and the kind of work we do, whether it's with our family or our friends, or just with yourself. And I think we don't hear that enough.

                                                      We hear on stage all of the highlights and all of the show reels and all of the success and all of ... and that only comes with the struggle and with the reasoning and with the stuff that gets right into your soul and says, "This is who you are." And for me, as absolutely distressing and upsetting as it is that I've lost my parents, it's a part of who I am and it is a legacy that they have bestowed upon me and I have to bring that to as many people as I can, as a reminder of where you are, or that you can get through this and we need to just take every day as we get it.

Chris:                                                 I'm curious because you're a very deliberate, intentional person. Have you thought about telling that story upfront, just to begin there?

Kevin:                                                 Yeah, I did. And that was also whether that should be structured in the book and that story should be upfront because it's at the back of the book. I actually, I think that telling that story up front, puts your thumb on the scale for how people are going to respond to what you're trying to get across. And I again, quite deliberately thought, no, I need to say, "Here's my views, here's what I think could be valuable. Here's where I think my story could show up in your story," whomever might be listening or watching. And then I have to say, "There's another purpose to this that's personal and it's an important part of it," but it comes at the end and you can judge for yourself whether that is an important part or not, because I don't want to put my thumb on the scale for people going, "Gee, now I'm all emotional and now my mindset is in that zone for what he's telling me and that colors it." So yeah, it's just a very deliberate way to say, it's important, but it comes at the end.

Chris:                                                 I'll say this, as a person who's relatively new to you and your thoughts and your ideas, I find that your story with your parents' passing to be so heartfelt, but not overly like I'm seeking sympathy from the audience, like it's a giant pity party on stage, but it informs so much of what you talk about and here's what I imagined in my mind and just hear me out. And then you're just like, "Nope, Chris, I'm just keeping exactly this way." And that's that if you walked up on stage and you said, "I have some thoughts on branding and how it's used and how loose we use it and our overinflation and self-aggrandizement of what our role is in a client's business, and I want to share with you some of these thoughts. Before I do, I want to tell you about a personal event that's happened to me that's shaped my thinking and why I have such a strong conviction as to why I speak about the things I speak about and why you might feel a sense of urgency from me." Then you tell the story and then everybody's like, "This is the why Kevin cares about branding and this shaped him." And then you just do it, you pick it right back up. But that's just a thought because I think that'll hook people.

Kevin:                                                 Yeah, it's a very smart, traditional way of doing talk and also a book. I weighed this up many, many times. So, the last decision I made, is where does this go? And actually to be honest with you, the first chapter in the book is called The Premise. And the premise came from my frustration that we are self-aggrandizing and we are misleading and I thought, "I need to lead with where it started and then I need to back it up, like two bookends with the why." Because if I swap them around and put the premise at the end, it's like, this is why I wrote it because I was frustrated. Or if I put the personal story up front, I don't know, it's different on stage, but I put the personal story up front and then said, "And here's the premise."

                                                      So, me logically, I was like, "Ah, I'm not comfortable," but I totally get you. I love how you even phrased everything you said. So who knows, I could end up on a stage and I go, "Shout out to Chris, this is what's happening."

Chris:                                                 That would be the biggest honor. I'm like, "Oh my gosh, something I said actually affected another human being of your stature." This is really cool.

Kevin:                                                 No, totally, no. As you pointed out, I was like, yeah, that makes absolute sense. My only thing is I wonder if I could actually pull that off. I don't know if I could, I need to just play the video of you saying it and then go, "Now I'm going to carry on."

Chris:                                                 Because I've been listening to this and you say ... Well, what is it? We don't have effing time, but there's an F bomb in there. What is the phrase?

Kevin:                                                 We don't have time to fuck around.

Chris:                                                 We don't have time to F around. I don't swear but then something-

Kevin:                                                 I know, I know. I'm sorry, I apologize.

Chris:                                                 No, no, it's all good. It's all good. I respect your right to swear. But on the other side of that, it's this really beautiful statement, which is every day is a gift. And that's just, I think, been a theme of some of the things you've been talking about.

Kevin:                                                 And look, I will address the language because I'm more of a kind of person that's like every day is a gift. That's how I would phrase it. But in this situation, I personally needed something to jar myself. And I also needed something to deliberately jar when I'm saying this to people, even to clients, I tell them, "This is a deliberate use of this language," because it's a bit like purpose is motivational, impact is measurable.

                                                      Life is a gift to me is purpose. It's like a softer, it's like [inaudible]. Whereas impact is we don't have time to fuck around. It's like, this is it. So, I use that language intentionally and I use that so that I sit up and go, "Whoa, okay, this is abrasive for a reason." And to me, it has a whole bunch of other meanings that can motivate me into doing things, not just meaningful work.

                                                      It can motivate me to do anything. Whereas life is a gift is like, oh, I'll go for a walk today or I'll ... every day is a gift. And it's like, yeah, it's wonderful. But the other sentence makes me go, what am I going to do? Not in a rush. I have this little phrase, I go, I'm in a rush, but I'm not in a hurry and that's it. We've got to do things, but we can't just 20 years from now go, "Oh my God, where did that time go?" And I'm now at this point in my life and oh, no mortality. So, it's a balance. It's a balancing act.

Chris:                                                 Okay, I appreciate your time. I have one more question and maybe it's the controversial question that we're going to head into, maybe. I was taking fierce notes as you were speaking, the second time I've been taking notes on your talk. A brand is who you are. It's the promise, the sum of all the expressions, the feelings, the impressions, you can't control it. We're on the same page on the definition of a brand.

                                                      But then the next thing you say is not every business is a brand, but you can have a brand mindset. I like that because that's empowering. But if a brand is who you are, and no matter how big or small you are, there's promises that you make all the time. The sum of all the experiences and the feelings and impressions that you create for people. How is it that not every business is a brand?

Kevin:                                                 Well, my view, that's a really good question, my view is brands become brands when society says so, not when the business does. Not when the business says, "Hey, we're a brand, that's it. Great." No matter what stage in their journey they're in, if they claim they're a brand, I question that. It's like when someone says, "Hey, I'm cool." And you just know that the cool people don't say that they don't need to because they're like, "Yeah, we say you're cool. That makes you cool."

                                                      So, I look at it and I say, "A business can be all of those things, absolutely." But a brand is all those things as well. The difference is that we have bestowed the label of a brand to some of those businesses. And that's why I try and distinguish between whether you're a business, which is the same kind of definition, or a brand, that's different to branding, which is all the kind of tools that we use in the frameworks and the visuals in the language. And it's done at a certain point in time, where a brand or a business is over a long period of time.

                                                      So, you are right that you could use that definition of a business and say, "Isn't it a brand?" And my view is only if we and the world say you are,

Chris:                                                 Then we're in agreement there. Because if you show up in different ways to lots of different people, there's not this cohesive feeling from people outside. But when enough people agree that this is what you stand for, sometimes it's bad things. You said there are brands out there that very well that you don't like, think are evil, and would never buy from them or support them anyway. But they have a brand, it's not a good one, but they have one.

Kevin:                                                 And that's valid. And that's why I say impact equals relevance equals revenue. If you have a negative impact, your relevance drops and so would your revenue. If you have positive impact, your relevance increases and your revenue does as well. So, brand's the same. You could be a really bad toxic brand, but how many people are actually going to be showing up for you over time? And I also say that there are toxic brands out there who are very successful and people say, "So how does that work, Kevin?" And I genuinely say that's probably because either one, there isn't a viable alternative because if one did, everyone will just move camp immediately, or number two, they're either hooked in with some kind of an incentivized, systemized way, that the value that they get out of it, the cost is, well, you're toxic, but I get this and I'm willing to wear that. And that's individual, that's a personal thing. People might just decide that. But I think most of the time, is that if you get a replacement equivalent to a toxic brand or business, people will jump ship in a second.

Chris:                                                 Our relationship with brands, whether positive or toxic, isn't that different than our relationship with ourselves. Many of us participate in behaviors and activities that we know are not good for us. Many of us will binge eat, many of us don't get out, many of us aren't using non-violent language or kind words, and giving people grace. And for some reason, that serves some darker part of us and we're not quite ready to change. So, if we can have that with ourselves, I imagine we could have it with other kinds of companies and brands.

Kevin:                                                 Exactly. And where the difference is, is if that bad behavior, whatever we want to call it, becomes an everyday patterned behavior over a long period of time, then that's who you become and then you're an A-hole. Whereas if you're a brand that sometimes trips up, but for the most part is doing reasonable, ethical, whatever we want to call it work, then you go, "Okay, you can forgive the trip ups." And that's a choice that we make and goes back to Anna Lappe. Every dollar that we spend is a vault for the kind of world we want to live in. And the toxic brands have to really look at that very carefully because when we as people in society use our money as a vault and we jump ship to somebody else, they disappear, they die. So therefore, they have to change because it's the right thing to do for business survival.

                                                      And that's the power we have as individuals, as consumers, and as designers who are in there, challenging those organizations, telling them this is where the signals are heading. If you're not aware of it, our job as advisors as well is to tell you, you will not be around we're here to help you. It's not a criticism. We're not trying to be all righteous. We're trying to do you a service by telling you you got to change or you will disappear.

                                                      And there's a beautiful little phrase, for those organizations that don't like change. And for listeners who might get pushback on that, "Oh, we don't want change, it's transformational, it's difficult." It's a wonderful phrase. I can't remember who it was from, but it was a retired army general from the US Army who said, "If you don't like change, you're going to like irrelevance less."

Chris:                                                 I like that. I think we're living in a wonderful time, in that the power has shifted from companies and corporations to people. It used to be that companies owned their brands, they can control how you feel. They can repeat messages enough and you'll be convinced that this must be true. But with internet, social media, the conversation is happening now between us, not between the corporations and us, and we get to determine what the brands are, as you've said.

                                                      And so, companies or corporations don't own brands anymore, people like you and me do. And so we need to use that new power responsibly, not only in where we spend it to shape the world we want to live in, but also to be very vocal about the kinds of things we agree with and disagree with, because we have seen now that our voice does matter. And whether you're a venture capitalist, hedge fund manager, or the CEO of a corporation, the people pretty much determine your fate now. And so, if you're not going to step up and show up, and do the right thing and create that kind of positive impact we're talking about, your time is limited. And Kevin, you know this, we don't have time to F around. Kevin, if people want to learn more about you, what you do, if they want to read your books, can you tell us where to find out more information?

Kevin:                                                 Sure, you can go to the website, which is, or you can go to for international orders of the Brand Principle's book, you can get it on Book Depository and for Australia and New Zealand, you can get it on Booktopia.

Chris:                                                 I really appreciate your time and I do really appreciate you sharing the presentation because there was a couple hundred people in attendance, but now I hope to get this to thousands of people. And you talked about this, in that you have to use your voice, this legacy that you've been given to try to impact and hopefully influence positive change in the world. And thank you for doing that. I'll do my part now and get this out to the world and make sure your voice, your ideas, are shared and heard, and hopefully change the course of a couple of people and that would be hugely impactful. So, thank you very much, Kevin.

Kevin:                                                 Thank you. My name is Kevin Finn and you are listening to The Futur.

Greg Gunn:                                             Thanks for joining us this time. If you haven't already, subscribe to our show on your favorite podcasting app and get a new insightful episode from us every week. The Futur Podcast is hosted by Chris Do and produced by me, Greg Gunn. Thank you to Anthony Barro for editing and mixing this episode. And thank you to Adam Sanborne for our intro music.

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