Jacob Cass is a designer, strategist, educator, and business coach. He founded JUST Creative, which is both a branding/design consultancy and an industry-leading blog. His past clients have included Nike, Disney, Red Bull, Jerry Seinfeld, VitaminWater, and the city of San Francisco.
One of the first places I remember seeing Jacob is on social media, where he’s a bit hard to miss—in addition to his distinctive pink brand color, he’s racked up impressive followings on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn. I was also happy to be an early guest on his podcast, and we’ve stayed in touch since.
Jacob’s always been generous with his time and insights. I was excited to learn more about everything he’s working on, his point of view on branding trends, and some of his top recommendations for anyone interested in branding—from gear to books. Check out his answers below.
You’re trained as a designer but also offer brand strategy services. Why both? How did you learn to do brand strategy?
I’m a designer at heart and always will be. Design is my passion and it’s powerful, however, it only gets you so far when it comes to solving bigger problems. As designers, we’re equipped with all the creative thinking skills that are required to build more impactful brands, however, if you design in a silo, this is truly limiting one’s potential.
Brand strategy helps you go deeper and utilizes a unique blend of marketing, business, and brand thinking that can be used to create stronger designs and brands. These skills just happen to be of great interest to me and are some of my core capabilities, so becoming a brand strategist was a logical next step for me. I learned brand strategy from reading books, taking multiple courses, interviewing other strategists, and in the trenches helping clients build out their strategies.
You run a very popular branding and design blog, JUST Creative. What motivated you to start the blog way back in 2007?
I started JUST Creative Design (as it was known back then) as a means of documenting my studies at University, where I was completing a Bachelor of Visual Communication. I was simply sharing my design process and learnings which ended up getting a lot of exposure and that opened my eyes to the world of blogging, which is better known today as “content marketing”… just with less humanity.
The blog is very successful and has become a source of revenue for you—what are some of the most important lessons you’ve learned along the way?
Content is king, always has been. But just a king needs a queen, content needs great SEO.
I’ve also learned that if something is working, focus your efforts and scale it.
Relatedly, you recently hosted a free masterclass, “How to Make $10k Passive Income Every Month.” What did you go over in the class?
In my recent Passive Income Masterclass, I revealed the secrets I use to earn over $10k/month in passive income using affiliate marketing and other methods, so you can too! We covered:
- What is passive income?
- Types of passive income
- Affiliate marketing 101
- Amazon affiliate marketing
- SEO basics (Search Engine Optimization)
- Partnerships (The Secret Sauce)
- Scale (Hiring, Newsletters, Content, Webinars)
You can catch the replay of the class here.
You’re a podcaster now, too, with the JUST Branding podcast. How have you liked podcasting so far? What are your plans for the podcast going forward?
Podcasting is a lot of work. Much more than I would have anticipated and anyone who says otherwise is not trying hard enough. But for me personally, the act of podcasting has allowed me to build up my interviewing skills and confidence in speaking and being on camera, which I never really liked doing.
Plus, you get to have conversations with legends, all while providing tons of value for the community. The plan is to keep going, as both my co-host, Matt Davies, and I are enjoying the ride! We’re now getting approached on a weekly basis for new guest appearances and have a 3 month backlog of episodes to post, so we’re in it for the long haul.
You’ve also started coaching through something called Inner Triangle. What should designers and strategists know about Inner Triangle? What are some of the most common questions/challenges you’re addressing with your coachees?
The INNER TRIANGLE group coaching program is a mastermind group for designers, creatives, and strategists who are after actionable tips to help fuel their growth and creative minds. Our core pillars are clarity, accountability, and community, which is what this group provides.
We meet once a week to check in, support, and learn from one another on a wide range of topics, as well as communicate via a thriving Slack channel for support in-between sessions.
There are two groups: one an early-career group and the other an established professional group. Topics range from week to week but the early career group is often focused on mindset, niching, positioning, and setting up systems versus the pro group which is more client and business focused. Topics often include pricing, scaling, hiring employees, outsourcing, sales processes, funnels, value ladders and integrating new services.
Between your blog, social media following, and coaching (among other things), you’ve got your finger on the pulse of the branding community. What trends are you seeing?
- The commodification of design
- The rise of brand strategy
- Fake gurus
- Fairer access to education
- Too much focus on vanity metrics instead of value
- Community building
What was it like doing design work for Jerry Seinfeld? Did you get to meet him?
Back in 2012, Jerry Seinfeld brought out a web series (now on Netflix) called Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, and I had the opportunity to create the logo for the show, the website, a unique font for all their advertising needs, social media graphics, and advertising material.
This was done while working at an agency in NYC called Ammirati (now IBM iX). And yes, I met him. How could I forget the day when Jerry Seinfeld, his partners, and our agency executives all stood around me as I plugged away on my graphics tablet, tweaking designs on the big projector screen? Talk about pressure! That was intense. Thankfully that was only for one session.
You review a lot of gear on your blog—if you could only keep three things from your office, what would they be?
The boring, logical answer would be my 16” MacBook Pro, 32” BenQ monitor, and Logitech MX Master 3 Mouse. The more interesting answer is my Sony a6600 camera which I use for my webcam, the Rodecaster Pro + Podmic podcasting setup, and my Playstation 4.
Your 2011 TEDx talk was “Building a personal foundation” and focused on personal branding. What would your 2021 TED talk be?
Wow, that was 10 years ago?! Many of the principles I shared then are even more relevant today so I would most likely do an update to that talk sharing what has happened in the past ten years and the lessons I’ve learned along the way. “Building Your Empire” would be a nice follow up, now that the foundation has been laid.
Q&A BONUS ROUND WITH JACOB CASS
What’s a brand (or something in the branding/design world) you’ve seen that you believe is making a positive impact on the world? Anything you want to encourage people to support?
B1G1 (Buy One Give One) is an organization that focuses on business for good. It helps businesses integrate giving into what they are already doing, plus provides tools to track your impact. I’ve been a member ever since I got wind of it and highly recommend people check it out.
Any book recommendations?
Right now, I’m reading The Advice Trap, by Michael Bungay Stanier, but my top recommendations for books about branding, are:
- Building a StoryBrand, by Donald Miller
- Michael Johnson’s Branding: In Five and a Half Steps
- The Brand Gap, by Marty Neumeier
Any advice for junior people or people interested in getting into branding?
Start with the fundamentals. Understand the difference between brand, branding, logo, and identity. Understand that you’re not just a designer or strategist, but a partner with another human, and that you’re helping that human achieve their goals… not just create a piece of art.
If you couldn’t live in Sydney, where would you live?
Before Trump and COVID, I would have said California or Hawaii. But these days, I am happy here in Sydney.
You’re an avid traveler. What are your top three vacation destinations?
- South Africa for adventure
- Maldives for the world’s prettiest water
- Australia, but I may be a little biased
My wife and I have written travel guides to over 80 countries on our travel blog, JUST Globetrotting.
What’s something weird on your desk right now?
I have a coaster with my wife’s name on it.
What’s playing in the home office while you work?
I listen to a wide range of music, often choosing a different genre each day, but the most listened to genre is EDM (Electronic Dance Music). I listen to podcasts when I’m driving.
What’s your favorite podcast (besides JUST Branding, of course)?
Blinkist. This is actually an app that summarizes books into 10–15-minute audio “blinks.”
What’s a personal routine or ritual you adhere to?
Coffee. Family time. Gym/tennis/mountain biking. Work. Lunch. Work. Family time. Wine. Dinner. Ice-cream. Netflix.
What’s something you just can’t stop thinking about lately?
Baby number 2, coming soon!
Rob Meyerson is a brand consultant, professional namer, and host of the How Brands Are Built podcast. He is also principal and founder of Heirloom, an independent brand strategy and identity firm in the San Francisco Bay Area.