April 5, 2024

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the “not-about-me” about me feature

Let’s get to know 300FeetOut’s Brand Strategy Director, Stephanie Frier.

Let’s start with your career story. How did it begin? When did you know that you wanted to get into branding? What was your ‘Go all in’ moment?”

Honestly, the very beginning was probably around age 3 when I confiscated about twenty of my mother’s nail polish colors to paint myself and every inch of the room I could reach. Oh…the consequences. Creative expression and “branding” seemed to be programmed into my DNA long before I could have explained to you what any of it was. When I was eight years old I painted my first oil painting. I loved the experience of bringing to life something out of nothing. So much so, that to my mother’s utter dismay, I cut my bangs and fashioned a paint brush out of my hair and a stick, so my brother could try. From an early age, my right and left brain were in constant competition, trading off wins. Along the way I studied business marketing, management, fine art and graphic design. My career began as package designer working for Primo Angeli in a time when branding meant the silent salesman on a grocery store shelf. My ‘go-all-in’ moment happened the first time I walked down a store aisle and saw something I designed. Instantly my perception changed — it wasn’t just a product, it was part of someone’s life. And with that came a larger responsibility. I quickly learned that products and services are so much more than a commodity exchange. Brands have influence. And I wanted to be a part of making that influence intentional, valuable and real. Branding became the natural bridge between business and creativity (between left and right brain), it just took me awhile to realize the journey.

We all have our heroes. Who are the women that inspire you to dare a little, or in our case, dare a lot? How have they influenced your career and personal growth?

I’ve been blessed and inspired by so many women in my life. But it was my mom, Jacque, who taught me the power and importance of faith. As a dancer, choreographer and artist she struggled with anxiety and depression her whole life. But she believed she was created to bring joy to others and never let fear get in her way. She danced at the World’s Fair in NY, toured with the Manhattan Rockets, flew as a flight attendant for Eastern airlines, raised two kids as a single mother, ran a successful dance studio as an entrepreneur, and got a college degree at age 60. When your purpose is greater than you, you can “do it afraid.” (Jsh 1:9)

Navigating leadership as a woman in a traditionally male-dominated industry can be like walking through a minefield. Can you share how you’ve carved your path and what you think needs to change to support more women in leadership roles?

When I was early in my career I had an opportunity to learn foundational brand building at a small agency that focused on service industry clients. One of them was a construction law firm with a lot of men at the helm. One meeting as I presented ideas and engaged in discussion, I noticed the men at the table addressing my male boss when they answered. Astonished or maybe just ignorant, I cut my hair off in protest the next week. From long locks to a chin length bob. Not to try and look like a man, but to not be seen as a “woman.” There was a predetermined label in the room. Woman = Unqualified. I had to challenge it to move beyond it. And yes, the next client meeting I was received with a more credible response.

There have been many moments since then where the first assumption was that I would lack the knowledge or expertise. But I’ve come to learn, it’s more about how you communicate that gets you a welcoming audience. Thankfully we’ve progressed. After more than 20 years in this industry, I have witnessed dramatic change for women in leadership. Women now have opportunities to lead and influence that my own mother would have never imagined. But as women we still strain from the weight of predetermined labels, some we even put on ourselves. Often we struggle with which label to wear and if we are living up to it. To try and counter this for myself and others, I coach a women’s group where we move beyond labels and practice self acceptance through expressive art journaling. Mother, Business Owner, Creative, Care-taker, Intellectual, Athlete, Reformist, Bridge-maker — the list is endless. There is beauty in the belief that we are any of them, and all of them, and so much more than them.

How do you see the branding industry evolving, what trends are you keeping a pulse on that you recommend to our clients?

In a world where “artificial” is everywhere from image and video to sound, animation and conversation, there is a natural current that is moving towards authenticity in the truest sense of the word. Change happens at a more rapid rate than ever before and people cling to their values and beliefs like a lifeboat. What is real and not real? Can you be trusted? Now more than ever, brands will be held accountable for the content they put out there, what they believe and how they operate against that belief. There is a responsibility to do more than be “authentic” — you have to be intentional and for a purpose greater than yourself.

How do you approach the process, and how do you keep your ideas fresh?

How I approach the process has changed over the years. But it always begins with discovery. When creating there are many sources of inspiration. You become a human sponge taking in observations like data points from everywhere. And when you need them they are there waiting behind the scenes, ready to have their moment in the spotlight. The paradox is that as a strategist, I begin creating with truth — business goals, historical context, industry insights, audience groups, market impact, competition, and the inner workings of a company. Sometimes this process means helping a client discover their brand truth. Sometimes it means getting to know a business inside and out like it’s my own. Sometimes it means helping a company get real about what they offer. And sometimes it’s an opportunity to help create something out of nothing. Brand truth leads the way. It provides a foundation to build on and informs what comes next. Great branding is more than an experience, it’s a relationship. And like any good relationship, if you don’t know your own truth you will be hard pressed to positively influence others.

What advice would you give to others who are maybe still developing in their careers to prepare for the challenges ahead?

Each step of the journey is an opportunity to trust, hustle, rest and serve. Pay attention to where you are right now and maximize that opportunity. Over the years I’ve worked with clients big and small on all types of brand marketing from foundational identity builds to complex omni-channel campaigns. And the one thing I can assure you is that as a strategist and facilitator of brand influence, “it’s not about me.” And as a company or purveyor of brand influence, “it’s not about you.” The bigger your purpose, the larger your impact.