Asia David is a Creative Director based in Los Angeles, and the Founder of Die Free Studios. Rooted in visual narrative and powerful messaging, Die Free Studios builds brands that are mission-driven and innovative. We sat down (virtually, of course!) with Asia to chat about how she went from working in the agency world, to starting her own studio, and how new business owners can utilize the power of storytelling to market their brands.
SQUARESPACE: Before you launched Die Free Studios in 2015, you were working as a graphic designer and art director for various agencies and magazines. At what point in your career did you realize you wanted to start your own business?
Asia David: Starting my own business was always the plan, even before I had a proper job. Growing up, I always knew I wanted to be a “business woman,” not understanding that I actually meant entrepreneur. When I first came up with the name Die Free, I didn’t know what the business would be, but I knew it was a mission I wanted to see built into a business. In college, I discovered graphic design, majored in it, and fell in love with how it married all my interests from photography, to video, creating tangible goods, etc. Being in love with so many different things led me to creative directing at a magazine a friend started. I began as an intern and worked my way up to Creative Director. That role gave me the experience and understanding that I wanted to do the same thing for multiple businesses. After securing what I thought was a large client, I decided to quit my full time job to dedicate all my energy to building Die Free Studios.
SQSP: What did you learn from your career as a graphic designer and art director that you have brought with you into your current line of work?
AD: I learned EVERYTHING from those positions. From how to set up and produce full photoshoots, to pulling out authentic brand stories, and visually communicating them to a specific audience. Because I always worked for small or start-up businesses, those jobs taught me how to wear many hats and understand the full process of going from concept to final output — and how to move forward in the midst of chaos, and look past perfectionist ideals to get the project done. I credit my time working at a magazine, which allowed me to harness my own creative voice that I’m now able to bring to my clients.
SQSP: On your website you state that “a brand is a story that’s always being told.” What do you think is the first step small businesses can take in telling their story authentically?
AD: The first step small businesses can take in telling their story authentically is to be true to who they are AT THAT MOMENT. A lot of small businesses will try to follow the model of another business in the same niche. While it’s important to know the market you're in and how it traditionally works, it’s even more vital that you bring something new to the table. The brands who know who they are and why they want to build this business, naturally have the best brand story because they own who they are. Audiences remember you when you have a distinct personality, look, service, product or experience that you provide your customers.
If you’re unsure of what your story is, a suggestion I have is to simply build an audience around documenting what you’re doing day to day. When you document rather than try to create a look (or in today’s world... content) you will see your natural patterns and see who’s following what you’re doing. From there you’re able to carve out what makes you unique and build your brand around that. The statement “a brand is a story that’s always being told” is talking about the evolution of a brand overtime and how that becomes your story.
SQSP: What do you think is the most important question for small businesses to ask themselves as they begin to develop their brand identity?
AD: The most important question to ask themselves is “who do you serve?” Even if your brand is crafted around your interests and personality, ultimately it’s about the end-user. When you understand the marketplace you want to serve, you’ll be able to make style decisions in your logo, color palette, fonts, and more that will attract that target customer.
SQSP: How can brands seamlessly incorporate their values into their brand messaging?
AD: I believe incorporating your values into your brand messaging has to do with how you speak about your product or service. Highlight the things that make the product special from a value perspective first and then when necessary, speak about the technical details of the product. A lot of brands lead with the “what” and not with the “why”. Value has to do with why this is needed on a deeper level than what the deliverable is. You can communicate this through the captions you post on social media, the visuals you create around your brand, writing articles that allow people to go deeper into the brand mission, or having a creative outlet for the brand.
SQSP: Many small business owners and entrepreneurs start building their following and revenue on social platforms first before launching a site. What advice do you have for brands and businesses looking to expand their digital presence beyond social channels?
AD: The next step would definitely be to launch a website. Whether you start with a simple cover page or launch a full website, having a website presence builds further brand trust and creates a “home base” on the internet. Squarespace is the tool we use to bring all our clients online, but I always recommend a client to attempt building it themselves in Squarespace first and then coming to us as they grow.
Social Media is an excellent tool, but you don’t own your social media accounts or followers. When you create a website, it allows you to create a space that you own, and that can further establish your customer base. Not only is it good for SEO (search engine optimization), it’s great for creating a world of your own that people can go to and fully experience your brand. When people have a deep understanding of your brand, it creates loyalty and longevity.
SQSP: Building a website can be intimidating if you have no experience in web design. What advice do you have for the less tech savvy business owners who want to build a website?
AD: Not to sound cliche, but I would start with Squarespace. It’s created to be a simple, drag and drop platform that anyone can use. Before you begin to build though, the number one thing I would do is invest in beautiful imagery, whether it’s using the stock images provided through Unsplash or hiring a local photographer to get basic professional shots. Beautiful and unique images drive a website more than copy and functionality (even though those are important as well). Additionally, I would keep the process as simple as possible by following the templates Squarespace provides, as opposed to trying to create something completely new and unique. This is where strong imagery really plays a role in making your website presence strong, custom and unique.
SQSP: What Squarespace feature do you find most helpful for budding businesses?
AD: There are actually quite a few, but I’ll limit it to the built-in blogging capabilities, built-in e-commerce, as well as the newsletter integrations! These are usually extensions that are not included when you build a website on other platforms. Additionally, these key things allow you to launch products quickly, build up your searchability online, and grow your audience without the headache.
SQSP: How, if at all, have you seen the digital landscape change in light of the pandemic? How can small businesses adapt to these changes?
AD: The digital landscape became pretty much the only way brands could stay connected with their audience. Brands that were hesitant to invest fully into building their digital presence finally understood that it was (and has been) mandatory for them to be strong online.
If they haven’t already, brands can adapt by making sure their business has a website (at least a cover page), or update their website presence to reflect their brand message, display their most popular and digitally accessible products, or begin to put more effort into content marketing. Something we focused on in our monthly newsletter, Studio Notes, was helping businesses create a product or service that could be accessible online and catered to elevating the quality of life at home for their customers. This meant creating online workshops, digital communities, or product boxes tailored to comfort at home. It’s the best time to create something innovative within your brand that alleviates your customers’ worries, while attention is online now more than ever.
SQSP: What piece of advice do you wish you’d had when you first started out?
AD: Focus on building your business brick by brick and expand from there. The key to creating a long-lasting brand is to do one thing very well and focus on quality over building a massive business quickly. Focus on serving every single customer as if they are the most important one you have while understanding where you thrive best and what you want to do more of in your business. I also wish I knew that trusting myself and my vision (however weird it may seem) was the key to building something successful.
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