Frank Collective: Branding You Can Sink Your Teeth Into

Jiffy Iuen and Mike Wasilewski, founders of Frank Collective, the anti-blanding branding agency talk with us about how they help brands find their flavor.

Jiffy Iuen
Founder and CEO Frank Collective

Mike Wasilewski
Founder & CCO Frank Collective

First off tell us about Frank Collective, what’s your agency ethos and what impact does it have on creative output?

Jiffy Iuen: We’re invested in our clients’ success. So we behave as though we are the client and have high expectations of ourselves. The goal is to over-deliver and have every direction be one worth considering. Our ethos is everything can be awesome. B to B can be as exciting as tech, beauty or fashion. It’s all in how you approach it. Whether it’s a company or product, we have to get ourselves and our team really excited about it. Because if we don’t think it’s cool - nobody else will.


When you say that modern branding is “blanding”, can you elaborate more on this and how your creative process?

Mike Wasilewski: Not all modern brands are “bland”. There have been some recent brand launches that totally blew my hair back. However, an unfortunate trend that is happening is the “bland”. It’s been happening for a while now and only recently has it gotten a nicely defined term. I used to joke about it and call it millennial minimalism — these are brands that not only visually have little to sink your teeth into but they don’t seem to stand for much either. I won’t name names or point fingers - in fact, I may even be responsible for one or two of them - but when the whole point of branding is to help your audience distinguish you from competition and communicate your unique values — having a cookie cutter execution just doesn’t do it. I think what generally has happened is that we see a brand or two that succeeds with this approach, and people attribute a lot of the success to that brand due to it. Therefore it becomes a new self-created category and established best practice. People want what worked for someone else because they think it will work for them. But what they really need is something custom made to truly reflect who they are, and there’s no cookie cutter for that kind of individuality.


How would you describe the culture in your office? In what ways does it influence the work Frank Collective creates?

Jiffy Iuen: Our culture is a mix between collegic, family and intramural softball. We have the good fortune to have a staff of passionate, creative people who care about one another. Being creative at Frank Collective is the price for entry. And since we believe in idea meritocracy, we have access to a much larger pool of inspiration than just the traditional creative team or any one singular viewpoint. Sometimes the creative director has the best insight into solving a creative problem and sometimes it’s the person at the front desk. We try to listen to what everyone has to say and make sure everyone has a voice and can contribute. Having such a diverse staff helps us think differently as we approach any brand. Not just one common style or POV.


As a bi-coastal agency, with offices in Los Angeles and New York, Frank Collective is in two of the biggest cities for advertising. What can you offer clients that’s unique?

Jiffy Iuen: It begins with our process, Iterative Branding. We start from a place of business strategy and let that influence the branding strategy. From there we creatively concept naming, identity, content, web, campaigns, etc. But with each new step, we are always driving back to the business strategy making sure it’s answering the goals of the business. (Not just what we think looks cool.) In doing this, we are constantly evolving the brand with every step. Not just marching forward based on the first insight.  Being bi-coastal allows us to be closer to the bulk of our clients and gives us content production capabilities on both coasts.


Is there a particular type of client or work that you find most satisfying? Do you have any examples you’d be able to share?

Jiffy Iuen: Working with founders is incredibly fulfilling. You are being trusted to envision someone’s dream. There’s a great deal of trust and collaboration that comes with that. We got to create the Blue Apron brand back when it was just the three founders starting out. We designed the Ladder Health supplement brand recently launched by LeBron, Schwarzenegger, Cindy Crawford and Lindsey Vonn while it was still being formulated. Bombas, Lola, Made In Cookware, are all amazing products started by passionate founders. We were happy to have some part in their growth.

Mike Wasilewski: We believe empathy is a big part of branding and brand communications. We put ourselves in the audience’s shoes in order to succeed. That also applies to our process with working with founders - we understand that for many of them, this is what they live, eat, and breathe day in and day out. It’s incredibly fulfilling when you can bring form and structure to someone’s new exciting venture.


Frank recently celebrated its 8th anniversary, congratulations! What would you say have been some of your agency’s greatest milestones thus far?

Jiffy Iuen: From a business perspective, it’s been becoming one of the top go-to agencies for branding. That is something we are very grateful for. Growing our business in both Brooklyn and Los Angeles has been rewarding and has happened organically. We started off thinking we’d never get bigger than 12 staff members and by the end of this year we’ll be well past 50 and still growing. It’s been challenging, it’s been crazy fun and it’s been humbling. Our greatest milestones are yet to come.

Mike Wasilewski: I’m proudest of the fact that we’ve built this in a very homegrown, grassroots way - one brick at a time - and the values we started the company with in 2011 are still what guides us today. And that draws in amazing people who we have the good fortune to call our team every day. Being around awesome people doing awesome work is a pretty great way to make a life.