I studied graphic design as I have always been obsessed with the art of branding. The choice was between making snowboarding my career or going to design college. Instead of tossing a coin, my mother had me go through an evaluation of sorts with a specialized career psychologist, which was scary as can be when you are 18 and tremendously fascinating in hindsight, now that I am an adult. The psychologist was as amazed by the results as was my family: The chart that resulted from my session was one-to-one with that of another Austrian that ended up being an Art Director in New York. Fast-forward 4 years later I found myself as Creative Director in Los Angeles, a far fetch from a boy from Vienna, Austria.
What motivates you?
It does not take much since I am very passionate about what I do, I really motivate myself. I have so many things I want to do, it's the long lists I create that keep me going. I sometimes even start my Saturday with a list - to the dismay of my wife - even if it may not revolve around my career, but cutting the grass in the yard or running an errand, so I'd say I am rather results-driven by nature.
You were born in Austria but now live in America. What inspired you to make the move?
To be honest I was never imagining to live in the States. I studied Communication Design at Art Center College of Design, in this beautiful swiss town, Montreux, overlooking the lake Geneva and having the snowy mountains (that grace the Evian water label design) as a backdrop. It all came to a turn when the college closed its European campus abruptly and gave its students the option to finish their studies on the main campus in Pasadena, California. I was half-way through my studies and it was difficult to transfer (given that Bachelor degrees were not standard at the time) to another top design school in Europe, so that was my 'inspiration' to move.
Is there anything unique to America that you enjoy (or dislike)?
I tremendously enjoy the entrepreneurial spirit, the 'can do' attitude that spans from the service you get at a restaurant to the belief of an immigrant that moves here to be able to start over. I see it in the eyes of my clients, mainly startup entrepreneurs, every day. It is contagious. You can not easily find that anywhere else and I truly cherish it. On the flip side, I dislike the lack of true social security and social welfare, like we see in many European countries, as well as current gun ownership laws. The political shift we are now witnessing is, in my opinion, also dangerous and alarming
What is the most drastic improvement any given site could make to their branding?
As branding really comes from within, the first thing to look at would be the brand's positioning and the subsequent copy on the 'About' page: Does it truly resonate with you, will it truly resonate with your audience, is it different from your competitors, and is it as short and precise as it could possibly be? Only after that, I would move into looking at the logo and the overall appearance as it has to reflect that true purpose of the company, product or person behind the site, …behind the brand.
What are a few common mistakes companies make?
Spending too much time getting side-tracked by what others do and in return, they don't find the time to look within themselves. We are all guilty of it. First, we got stuck watching TV all day, now we are glued to our Facebook timeline. All of that takes away from stepping outside to create new experiences, or to look within in order to start understanding our true purpose better. Most companies too screw that up tremendously. That, and truly making their marketing about their tribe, their passionate customers/readers/clients, and not about themselves. An example would be the visual re-branding of ride-sharing company Uber, which no one understood because it was all about them; it was not empathetic hence it was not relatable at all. I always tell founders and CEO's that their company is not about them, it's about their customers. It's a tough pill to swallow.
How does branding for nonprofit organizations/blogs, differ from larger, income-oriented businesses?
It is much easier to define the 'true north' for nonprofits as they are cause-driven. Otherwise, it's really the same process. Sometimes budgets are smaller and as many nonprofits are understaffed they are likely to be less organized by nature during the branding process. As the creator, the branding agency, the outcome is often more rewarding if your values align with those of the nonprofit organization.
Eventually, you crossed over from working for other marketing firms to founding your own company, FINIEN. What do you think is the most important thing for any entrepreneur to keep in mind when making the same leap?
You have to understand that following your passion does not imply you automatically gained a business degree. Just by quitting your day job and starting to freelance it does not make you an entrepreneur. You have to have guts and then the qualities to show endurance and keep the drive going. You will fall flat on your face. A lot. People might not notice, but it will hurt. You will not sleep much for the first years and you will likely make a big pivot at some point when you are ready to make the switch to an actual feasible, continuous profit-generating venture that satisfies you, your employees, gives your clients what they ache for, all while being able to live a healthy and meaningful life outside your job. Yep, I'd keep that in mind, but under no circumstances let that stop you from going out there on your own because I would never do it any other way. It is extremely liberating and rewarding at the same time.
What personal character trait do you possess that has been most beneficial in your line of work?
I listen, which is very uncommon in the world of design and branding. I am also quite good at turning something complex into something quite simple. May that be translating a business positioning into a tagline of a few words or creating an icon that can last a company for a decade or more.
Was there a single "breaking point" that launched you into the realm of success, or was it a slow, methodical process?
It depends on how we define success. If we define it by making a living, gaining big-name clients and industry acclaim, I really was successful from the get-go. In hindsight, my problem was that (because of the immediate success) I grew my business quickly and organically, which is not a sound strategy. I did not have a road map and criteria to define what true success should look like ten years down the road. One day I decided I had to hit re-start and focus my design practice on a single pain point. I took that as a breaking point and the book 'How to Launch a Brand' came out of the defining of our consultancy's new process, so it is very dear to my heart.
If you could give a word of advice and have the whole world hear, what would it be? (about branding or otherwise)
The moment you start saying 'no' the world opens up to what you can say 'yes' to. This applies to business opportunities as much as friendships and life choices.
For 12 years he has been running the highly successful branding and graphic design agency Geyrhalter & Co, working for clients such as The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Goodwill, Brandman University, W Hotels, CO-OP Financial Services, USC, Evolution Juice, The City Of Los Angeles and John Varvatos.
Geyrhalter’s work has been published internationally by the likes of Graphis and Communication Arts, and he was featured on the cover of Graphic Design USA in 2007 as one of its “People to Watch.” An active member of the International Academy of the Visual Arts and winner of numerous design awards, including 20 American Graphic Design Awards, Geyrhalter is often invited to judge international design competitions. He served as an adjunct professor at USC and Art Center College of Design, where he also conducted special project initiatives for DesignMatters, the school’s social and humanitarian department. Geyrhalter is a frequent speaker, a mentor to startups worldwide and co-author of the #1 best selling book “How to Launch a Brand.”
At the age of 21, he became Creative Director at Insyght, developing corporate identity and collateral projects for pharmaceutical industry giants like Pfizer and Lilly. He later served as Creative Lead at Genex, an Adweek Top 50 Interactive Agency, overseeing the emerging online media account for the luxury automotive brand Acura.
Geyrhalter was born in Vienna, Austria and is a graduate of Art Center College of Design.
Thanks for joining us, Fabian!
-The Literary Cafe Team