How we, at FourthCanvas, identify the 4% we work with

The most repeated line in FourthCanvas is that “we partner with good businesses to build great brands”. When we started in 2015, this was the mindset; but it wasn’t until two years later that we found those exact words. As we grew our class of clientele, we grasped a better understanding of what it meant and in 2021, our clients began to understand what we meant.

Today, based on our experience of the worst and best scenarios with clients over the years, we have a clearer picture of what “good businesses” mean to us, what “partnership” entails, and what it takes us to build “great brands”. So when a new client reaches out to us, our first instinct is to confirm that we agree on these principles before we proceed.

We do not claim that it is the perfect or right way, but it is surely the FourthCanvas way to fulfilling our promise — sustainable brand transformation. These are some of the common traits we have found in the exceptional few that have worked with us.

1. They are honest

When we say good businesses, we say it out of a desire to help good things appear even better. Strategic branding and creative communication can be dangerous tools in the hands of people with the wrong intention, and while we will never claim that we only work with people of the purest hearts, these things matter to us.

Our clients are committed business leaders who want to improve the quality of the human experience. They care about the people they serve (including those who work with them), are honest with their intentions, and are ready to be honest with us and with themselves.

“Truth is the #1 value of branding”, our Partner, Tunji Ogunoye, would say. We ask and check about these things because they matter — to us.

2. We value our work

Branding & Communications combine to form a sacred arena for us. It is where we have chosen to play. We know it is important, and we know it should be done right. Hence, we do not work with people who believe the opposite.

We understand why some people may think this is simply about “making things look nice” and “why should it take so long?” and they may be right. But our clients have been the ones who agree with us on the importance of the work, the importance of committing the required time and its potential impact on their businesses. These ones fit greatly as partners with us.

A good partnership requires shared beliefs and mutual respect, hence the emphasis on these beliefs. While some people may not come with this understanding as described, we appreciate the ones who are willing to listen and learn. They fit in perfectly.

3. They respect our expertise

Like we have said, good partnerships require mutual respect. We do not work based on client instructions like “make it blue” because from experience, it does not serve the client’s best interest when they dictate their own brand development process — even though they may not know it. And in the unique case where they have the capacity and experience to do that (and aren’t looking to combine ideas with us), we are not the right agency to work with.

For us, collaborating on strategy and leadership is a non-negotiable part of our value proposition. We would not make the best fit for a client who will not bring us on as experts they are willing to listen to. For example, our clients’ version of “make it blue” would be “we are not sure if this colour best conveys our message; we are thinking blue, what do you think?”

Another component of respecting our expertise is the willingness to involve us in high-level decisions that affect how people perceive your brand. The clients we’ve done our best work with ask our opinions on many things revolving around their brand and we ask them even more.

“Good branding is intrusive”, says Praise Philemon, our Senior Brand Designer.

You may detest any form of intrusion. You may like your vendors to know their place. But this means we may not make the best partners.

4. We take our time

We are the best fit for clients who have decided that they have gone past the stage of improvising. They now want to take the time to deeply look, analyse thoroughly, and make carefully considered decisions about their brand while they test, observe and improve.

This takes time, and we ask for it.

If you need to launch a product and it needs to reflect the new brand in 2 months, it may already be too late to engage FourthCanvas.

5. They are ready to invest money

First, not every business can afford the type of work we do. Second, not all businesses that have the money should.

Depending on the stage and focus of the business, it may not be the right time to invest thousands or tens of thousands of dollars in branding. Expertise and experience can be relatively rare and, understandably, pricey. However, for businesses at the right stage and funding like the clients we’ve worked with, investments like this are justified by the potential impact — which eventually dwarfs the cost.

Yes, we do not have a rate card. We charge businesses relative to how big they are and how big their market is, as these directly impact the consequence and potential impact of our work with them. It’s not exactly comparable to how legal firms get paid relative to the monetary value of a case, but it’s close.

6. We do not pitch

We strongly believe that pitches do not give the best value for the clients. Great work is done out of deep context and collaboration, not before it. But pitches — “creative guesses made in a dark room with the hope to strike gold”, like we describe it — leave 95% of the contestants unrewarded and do no good for the profession that we work in.

Good partnerships require a balance of power and control — for the expert consultant to give their true advice, and the client to provide and agree on the right context. However, in many cases (not all), whoevers wins a pitch is unable to objectively lead the creative process. They continue to try to impress the client while they keep what they really think to themselves.

So how did we convince our clients that we can deliver value? Detailed case studies of our work with previous clients. They often would have spoken with people we’ve worked with before, read our articles and listened to what we’ve said across the internet; then piece it all together to make their judgement.

This is how our clients find and choose us.

7. Their leadership believes and commits.

Many things can be outsourced and delegated, except for what is supposed to inspire and guide all of those things. For true brand transformation, the people most experienced to provide historical context, most involved to provide deep insights, and most visionary to provide direction must be involved in the conversations, workshops and presentations.

Branding isn’t impossible without the co-founders, CEOs, VPs, team leads, etc. The clients we’ve worked with have recognized the importance of their involvement.

We always seek to confirm this level of buy-in at the beginning of any conversation. We also demand to be aware of any external stakeholder or advisor whose opinion would matter in decision making to be a part of the process.

8. They commit to sustainability

Most people talk about the creative work and it is understandable why it gets the most attention — the look and feel, the ads and the merch that catches our eye. But how exciting can long interviews, 100-page documents, survey questionnaires and how-to videos get? Not so much.

So, sometimes, we may forget that so much goes before, alongside and beyond the creative copy and incredible designs that we look forward to in the branding process.

At FourthCanvas, we stress the role of the “boring” stuff — research, workshops, interviews, strategy; the “even-more-expense” stuff — hiring a brand designer, buying premium tools and assets, launch activities; and the “standard systems” stuff — portals, guides, manuals, templates, training sessions, etc. There is also the continuous brand health tracking and iteration that may require ongoing retainers.

It is a lot of work and can, rightly, be overwhelming but it is the work that most of the brands we envy had to do.

Working with FourthCanvas requires wanting the best and being ready to do what it entails. We are in a growth process ourselves, and we have only learned these things over time.

We are eager to do incredible work for incredible leaders, and we are forever grateful to the people who have trusted us so far. These are the visionaries, the ones with the readiness to give what it demands; the truly ambitious ones with the courage to stand out and stand for something.

They are the “few” that make our work worth it, and we look forward to hearing from you if you are one of them.

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