Fabian Geyrhalter: Insights On Building An Authentic Brand

“Dressing up for Halloween is a great analogy for how many educated consumers see branding: a fake persona is crafted to evoke emotions from a specific audience in order to achieve a predetermined goal,” says the brand strategist Fabian Geyrhalter in his bestselling branding book, Bigger Than This – How to turn any venture into an admired brand.

Clearly, Fabian understands the problems many businesses face when branding themselves. But he also understands how they can be truly authentic. Here is one of many stories of authentic brand building that’s featured in Bigger Than This:

“Matthew Griffin, the founder of Combat Flip Flops, understands this well. While on duty in Afghanistan, Griffin, then a U.S. Army Ranger, stumbled upon an Afghan combat boot factory that also created flip flops for soldiers for when they were taking off their boots to pray. Feeling empathy for the people he met (“such honorable hosts; an amazing experience,” he told Inc. magazine), he immediately knew he wanted to bring those flip flop designs home with the goal of creating jobs and funding education in wartorn countries such as Afghanistan. Griffin took the saying “Borders frequented by merchants seldom need soldiers” and inspired his tribe to help that cause. The website now features lines such as “bad for combat, perfect for peacemaking” to describe the flip flops offered.”  

Would anyone view Combat Flip Flops as dressing itself up? Of course not. It’s authentic.

As Fabian explained, “I am writing about a subject that has barely been explored: companies that launch seemingly boring commodity products into this world without edgy technology but manage to transform themselves into staple household brands for urbanites and beyond.”

So who is Fabian Geyrhalter? Fabian Geyrhalter is a renowned brand strategist and the founder and Principal of FINIEN, a Los Angeles-based consultancy specialized in creating strategic, verbal and visual brand clarity.

His client list ranges from high-growth startups such as Jukin Media, Survios, and Vimmia to established brands like Warner Brothers, The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Goodwill, W Hotels and Honeywell. His branding work has won numerous accolades, including 30 “American Graphic Design Awards.”

Along with Bigger Than This, Fabian has also written the #1 Amazon Bestseller, How To Launch A Brand. He’s also been published in The Washington Post, Mashable, Entrepreneur and The Huffington Post.

And that was just a summary. You can read his full bio here.

I sat down with Fabian for my podcast, T-Shirts & Ties where I chat with Creatives & Strategists. We discussed the spark for his book, the personality of the brand, and more. You can listen to the full podcast here. Here are some highlights…

Where did the spark come from for your newest book Bigger Than This?

“It seems like the world doesn’t need another branding book or another business book, another marketing book, right?”

“And then one day I was thinking that there’s so many startups that people go completely crazy over and they have no new tech. There’s no tech at all. They really don’t have any innovation, you know, there’s nothing that differentiates them at all besides positioning, besides branding, besides a story, besides a feeling that they evoke. That is at the core of branding.”

When you’re creating a personality of a brand, where does that come from?

“In order to derive the beginnings of a brand personality, what I do is I’ve created this together with my team a couple of years ago. We created this interactive test. It’s very much like one of those personality tests and newspapers. It’s got like 60 keywords that describe the personality. So it could be anything from sexy, to interesting, to difficult, to giving, to whatever.

So we’ve got, like 60 or so of those words and throughout the exercise I have my clients check each word that represents their brand. And it’s not about them, it’s about the brand. So I have to always make sure they’re not thinking about like “Yeah I’m sexy and intelligent.”

This is awesome, right? Like, NO! Like you might be [sexy and intelligent]. This is not about you, right? Is your brand really sexy? And Most of the time it’s not. What type of brand is it?

Then at the end I automatically associate these keywords with six brand archetypes. These are typical textbook archetypes, like the leader brand, the sage brand, the mother brand. And even though those are kind of like silly words, since we went through all of these keywords, and everyone very honestly said yes or no; at the end when it spits out these personalities it’s always right on.”

Do you have any insights from like the FinTech industry?

“There’s really no big insight besides, you know, the financial industry is ready for disruption and it’s perfectly being disrupted right now. And there’s a lot of FinTech companies that are leading with the idea of we are different. We’re not one of the big banks, we’re actually with you, we’re going to share everything with you very transparently, we are going to only invest in companies to do good for mankind. There are those kinds of companies, which I think the new generation is aching for. And the older generation, like myself, I’m in at this point, I’m an older generation, we appreciate that too.”

“The other parts of Fintechs, they’re making things easier, making it easy for you to suddenly be an investor like Robin Hood does. I mean that’s just amazing. At the click of a button you’re suddenly dropping 10 grand somewhere. And before, this was a huge deal to do that, right? You needed so many middlemen and paperwork.”

“It’s dangerous in a way. Because everything is so easy now. But it’s extremely liberating. I think it’s a really good thing that is happening right now. I think that a lot of the big financial companies that have been legacy type businesses, they are right now really, really, very quickly needing to transform digitally and transform from an empathetic point of view. And it’s exciting.”

Is an authentic and friendly brand personality the best for FinTechs?

“I think it really depends. you know, If you’re talking about new bank accounts and things like that, absolutely. It’s more about, ‘Look, we’re going to make this easy for you, but we’re also going to be super transparent. And we’re going to be their advisor that’s not creepy. We are going to be their advisor that doesn’t cost 300 bucks an hour. We’re going to be the advisor who gives you advice before you even knew you needed advice.’ Because you don’t. With finances, if you’re straight out of college or if you’re still in college, you didn’t know shit. Nothing.

You either worked hard to just make the tuition and survive or you had the money from your parents. What do you know at this point about money decisions? Nothing. And I mean even me 20 years later, I only know a fraction. It’s so tough to make the right decisions, and especially in the US where social security is not like Europe or in other countries, and there’s a lot of planning that you need to do. And you should start doing that when you’re 18. So I think that there’s a lot of responsibility for these new FinTechs to be an educator. I think that that’s really important.

It’s like being the friend and doing the high five is important because otherwise you don’t gain the trust and don’t get them in the door. But then to really advise them and not screw them over, more than you need to as far as fees go. And be super transparent as far as where those fees go and having enough alerts when things change and you’re not aware of it.”

“I think that there’s a lot of responsibility there. But it’s happening right now. I think that that entire financial world is changing very quickly.”

Want to learn more about building an authentic brand for your own company?

> Check out Fabian’s two books How To Launch A Brand and Bigger Than This,

> Check out Fabian’s company Finien. You can find White Papers and his own podcast, Hitting The Mark.

> Thanks for reading. You can listen to the full discussion with Fabian here.