This article is part of our Wix Partner Awards series recognizing the exceptional work of Wix Partners. Each month, we recognize and shine a light on a different Partner who is blazing a trail within the digital space. We share the inspiration, insights, work goals and secrets that set the company apart. This month’s winner is Mixed Handed Branding, which is demonstrating excellence in the superior functionality category.
What’s your company’s purpose?
It’s a big question. But it’s one every business owner must sufficiently answer if they want to get their messaging right and create an authentic external representation of their company. Because it’s the companies that lead with purpose and build their brand around it that ultimately achieve loyalty and relevance for their customers.
Not every business can answer this question, and that’s often where an agency comes in, quizzing the key stakeholders about their mission, values, motivation and back story.
For Robert Reilly, founder and CEO of Mixed Handed Branding, this process of ‘understanding the why’ for clients is his agency’s own raison d’être. And he believes that to deliver any impactful project – whether designing a logo, building a website or creating a brand from scratch – agencies must work backwards and get to the very heart of this question for their clients.
“We always build a core understanding of what the business is trying to achieve, their goals, who they're trying to become, their true identity,” says Robert.
“The more you know about a client, and the more you ask questions and learn, you can understand how the pieces fit together and where you can provide pieces that help them complete their puzzle.”
Robert has been completing client puzzles for years. After building up extensive experience in marketing and brand consultancy, working for a range of companies and inadvertently acquiring clients on the side, he developed an itch to go it alone. In 2019, he scratched it and set up boutique branding agency Mixed Handed Branding.
Based in Oregon with a strong presence in Hawaii, Robert has grown the agency to a team of five covering the entire branding domain, everything from brand conception, packaging and logo design to website building, digital media and photography. The company name is a nod to his mixed-handed ability, while the Shaka sign logo represents his Hawaiian roots. “It helps gives the brand some context,” he says.
The company serves clients across all sectors but has built a strong base among beverage companies and hair salons. Robert says Wix Marketplace and word-of-mouth have been crucial for client acquisition, although ‘word-of-hair-stylist’ is more accurate given the number of clients to have come through Robert’s wife. “She’s a hairstylist. And think about it – it’s a powerful marketing tool,” says Robert. “They literally have somebody’s undivided attention for two hours. It’s crazy how often she brings us leads.”
Discover your client’s target market to help shape the design
Flavored wine producer SoDown Wine Co. is one such lead-turned-client, and Mixed Handed Branding’s design work for its website earned it this month’s Partner Award in the superior functionality category. The agency took on SoDown Wine Co. in its pre-launch phase, and, as Robert explains, the project began with understanding the client’s place in the market.
“It’s a high-quality flavored wine to compete in the seltzer space. And so, we landed on this playful, fun concept to connect with the target audience, college-educated women aged between 28 and 46. We wanted something playful and fun and to really drive home that it’s a flavored wine product.”
While the client required an online store, Robert believed they should take an unconventional approach to build an eCommerce site. “We looked at how to make this a unique shopping experience before getting to the final cart,” he says. “Something that isn't just squared-out images of different products.”
The team created an initial placeholder site while it nailed the sales and marketing material. “We wanted to make sure that if anybody had the product in their hand, there was a nice clean presence online.”
These assets helped shape the final website. “Each design element informs the other,” says Robert. “I talk about that a lot with my team. That ’it’s okay if we do this here, but how is this element carried across in our other branding?’ We’re not designing for the sake of it. We're a branding firm. That means we maintain consistent branding throughout all touchpoints with the consumer.”
The website’s final version is a clean, fresh and vibrant design bursting with colorful elements that emphasize the fruity and refreshing nature of the products and capture the spirit of a playful brand. Some nifty animation cleverly illustrates the product’s innovative features, such as its resealable lid, and seamlessly navigates the visitor through SoDown Wine Co.’s story before subtly introducing them to the store sections and a user-friendly cart page.
While capturing the ‘why’ of a brand is Robert’s bread and butter, creating superior functionality for his client sites is never far from his mind. “One of the theories we live by is function,” he explains. “I'm always speaking with clients about this. What is the main goal of your website, and can we get visitors to take an action in three clicks or less? That's what really informs the site’s hierarchy.
“We always design the homepage in a scrolling story format. There’s no point in relying on people to find where they want to go through your navigation bar. We try to guide them from the moment they get to the website. It means you're going to get them to click where you want them to go.”
Not only did the project delight SoDown Wine Co., prompting it to commission Mixed Handed Branding to create a site for its tasting room 255 Madison, but the website has become a powerful marketing tool in the agency’s portfolio. “For me, it’s all about the homepage,” says Robert. “It speaks volumes, and we show it off regularly.”
Work with clients who make you push the boundaries
Mixed Handed Branding is no stranger to receiving accolades, and in April 2022, it picked up two awards at the Crushies, which recognize the best beer marketing and design globally. Recognized in two categories, it won best sell sheets and best brand/website for its work for client and craft brewer Falling Sky Brewing.
“Once again, it goes back to that functionality of things,” says Robert. “We were recognized for having the best sales material that helps promote our client’s canned beer – one-pagers that tell you about the flavors, volumes and pricing of the product.”
Robert says brewers are among the most exciting brands to work with because their creativity pushes you to create even better designs. “It’s such an evolving industry. They're always trying to keep up with different trends, with new beers and different styles. They're great clients, and the output that you’re working with is really high. It’s an industry we always love collaborating with, but we're not necessarily pigeoned into it either.”
Indeed, Robert describes Mixed Handed Branding as a chameleon, able to adapt to any client’s needs. Its portfolio illustrates just that and includes some rich and high-performing client sites like Butcher and Bird and Fire Tech Academy.
So what does Robert love best about Mixed Handed Branding’s work? He says it’s all about the buzz he gets when the final version goes out into the world, whether that’s a beer can on a shelf, a website going live or company signage being erected.
“In Hawaii, there’s this town called Kailua,” he says. “It’s small, and there’s a little area where we’ve branded five businesses, and we joke that before long, we’ll have branded the whole block. That’s always exciting, creating cool stuff, putting it out there and seeing it in the real world.”
Given its growth and success in its three years of operations, Robert is keen for Mixed Handed Branding to follow that trajectory. In the New Year, he plans to make some new hires, move his team into a new office and grow his agency’s presence in Hawaii.
Choose quality over quantity to build your reputation
Robert recommends other agencies with scaling ambitions work hard but focus on the output rather than the time they’re putting in. “That’s what’s allowed us to continue to grow,” he says. “It wasn't about putting in X amount of time. It was about what’s coming out of it – building a portfolio and your reputation.”
He stresses that it often comes with sacrifice. “You might have to go beyond your budget or budgeted hours, but that output will potentially garner more business. With more examples and more work under your belt, it becomes more applicable to different clients, and that client acquisition process is all about what you’ve done before.”
In that same vein, Robert is excited about what the Partner Award might mean for his business. “It's always validating,” he says. “We're just stoked that we can now test this recognition with clients or potential clients and talk about how our partnership with Wix continues to pay off.”
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