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"Kerrington's Heart: Brand Purpose As A Superpower" — Danielle Meadows-Stinnett, Graphic Designer

Danielle Meadows-Stinnett (00:00): My name is Danielle Meadows-Stinnett with Octane Design Studios, and I am sending a love letter to Kerrington's Heart.

Sam Thorogood (00:08): Welcome to Branding Love Letters, exploring the emotions brands evoke and the journeys they take us on. I'm Sam Thorogood, a graphic designer and your host. In each episode, I invite a guest to pick their favourite brand and unpack why it means so much to them. This podcast is a celebration of the branding that informs, impacts and inspires us. So, without further ado...

Danielle Meadows-Stinnett (01:04): This started over a decade ago in my young prime years as a graphic designer and web designer, and it came from a mutual friend that told me that they needed this kind of logo for an up-and-coming non-profit that really helps kids with congenital heart defects. At that time, I was not as advantageous into learning more at that time. I was just treating it like a simple transaction, right, as we as freelance designers do in the early parts of our career. So I just kind of, yes, absolutely. I love kids. Let's do it. And it just grew into so much more than that.

Sam Thorogood (01:48): And what was it that grew into more? What was it about the organisation that really spoke to you?

Danielle Meadows-Stinnett (01:55): Sure, it was purpose. It was definitely a sense of storytelling that I could not have imagined just by simply doing a logo for a business. So, obviously, it started with just that. But once I got to know more about what they do, why they do it, and how much it affects my life, other people's everyday lives, being one of the biggest and largest heart defects and biggest issue in and around congenital anything for children and adults in America, affecting one in 100 people who are babies born daily. It's crazy.

Sam Thorogood (02:37): And was it something that you knew about really before being involved? Or was it a discovery into this whole world as you worked with them?

Danielle Meadows-Stinnett (02:48): It definitely was eye-opening. At first, it was, again, kind of that okay, I'll do the work. And as I start building out the website and the research and the data that kept pouring in to me to start sharing on their platform, I became more aware that this is something that is not just within this community. This is something that more people who have no idea what congenital heart disease is needs to be more aware of and made more courageous. I would say even more so about advocating for, not just creating awareness, but also advocating for a lot of these children.

Sam Thorogood (03:29): And how was Kerrington's Heart communicating this information at the time?

Danielle Meadows-Stinnett (03:34): At the time, it was a lot of it was word of mouth, printed pieces, they were putting together brochures. They did a lot at the time, hospital rounds actually was a thing. So people could physically show up in these spaces, ICUs, clinics, things along those lines where children were receiving some pretty difficult heart procedures at the time. So that physical in-person one-to-one was their strong point, but they knew they needed more of an electronic and online platform and basis to start from.

Sam Thorogood (04:08): And for you, is this very much a local brand? Is this very much a Kentucky organisation? Is that part of the appeal, the fact that it's very much embedded in the community?

Danielle Meadows-Stinnett (04:19): I think so. For me, it was, yes, definitely not just in the area, in the central parts of Kentucky, but also being able to see families from far west and far east and far north and far south come to these hospitals to have their children regularly checked. Some of them staying in hospitals for weeks, even months at a time for basic procedures, which are extremely invasive. Some of these extending to open heart surgeries even, for many of them the first decade of living.

Sam Thorogood (04:55): And when you think about this organisation, what emotions does it evoke?

Danielle Meadows-Stinnett (05:01): There's a sense of reality, right? We have this warm, glowing, I'm excited, I'm prideful to be a part, but there's also this sense of determination. There is no cure for congenital heart disease, but there is this overwhelming sense of community and overwhelming sense of overarching superheroism, if you will, that kind of comes along with walking along others on this path. I myself am not specifically affected by congenital heart disease. I don't live with a CHD. I don't have children that live with a CHD. I know a lot of families that I'm surrounded with that do. And because of that correlation, it's really helped me better develop a sense of awareness and advocacy and pride to know a lot of these people who are facing almost impossible odds daily.

Sam Thorogood (06:01): And I had a look on their website and part of this storytelling is around heroes and that actually the heroes are these children who are going through these unimaginable experiences and the support networks that are surrounding them. Why do you think that is part of the messaging?

Danielle Meadows-Stinnett (06:25): I love the fact that not only kids who are actually facing this on a day-to-day basis, but their caregivers, their parents, their communities are also being heroic in a lot of ways as well. It is just as much pressure in some areas on a child who is five years old to receive open heart surgery and have to go through that procedure as it is for a parent, right, to see their maybe their only child go through this type of ordeal and experience and to be that support for them, but also find support for themselves. So a lot of times the support groups that come along with not only the children, but these caregivers, these mothers, these fathers, their siblings is really important and just as heroic in a lot of ways as well. So I really foresee that message continuing to go strong and a little bit deeper as it completely kind of expands throughout the CHD community.

Sam Thorogood (07:29): And you came in to design the brand visual identity, is that correct?

Danielle Meadows-Stinnett (07:36): That is correct.

Sam Thorogood (07:38): So what was your process behind this? How did you arrive at the finished branding?

Danielle Meadows-Stinnett (07:45): Sure. So we started out in the very beginning with this idea of a tree. Christy Johnson, the executive director for Kerrington's Heart, specifically asked for these finer details and we came across a couple different images and once we kind of gave her a select, these are the the final proofs in some areas, she really was attracted to the tree. She really loved the idea of the rooting of the tree, the support of what a tree symbolises, and I personally wanted to, you know, expedite that as much as possible because I was also on board with that type of concept as well. The community is the support pillar for each little leaf and each little fragile piece that's on the tree and so that symbolism just continued to snowball, right? Continued to kind of carry out the same kind of concept and ideas in other areas that later bloomed into other events, such as the Wild Hearts Fun Run, bloomed into the Blue Heart Benefit, and many of the family camps and things that are developed specifically for the CHD community.

Sam Thorogood (08:56): And tell me more about these events that have bloomed out of this project, this, you know, quite local project. It sounds like there's a lot of things going on in the community that are actually supporting and raising awareness of, well, the specific work but the disease in general.

Danielle Meadows-Stinnett (09:17): Absolutely. So we do a huge thing in February called CHD Awareness Week. It's a full campaign throughout the month of February because February is Heart Month, but we also focus specifically on this week where the governor signs a proclamation, there are CHD families and children present that get to meet the governor one-on-one, which is a really cool experience for such young kids to experience that, let alone the parents. But we do a complete campaign of different type of events throughout that specific week to raise awareness around CHD. Now this comes in the form of facts, it comes in the form of video formats, it comes in the form of asking questions, but a lot of that that happens in February is all about more of the educational component. For people who've never heard of congenital heart disease, that week is a good push week for us to advocate for these families, share more stories, share more resilience of some of these kids and caregivers and parents who've overcome some pretty crazy odds.

Sam Thorogood (10:25): We'll be back with today's guest in a short moment. I wanted to just jump in to say thank you. Thank you for listening, for choosing to listen to this podcast above all of the other ones that you could be listening to right now. And also wanted to say that the podcast is released on the 14th of every month. There's a new episode that goes out on the 14th of the month. Normally it's just one episode, but this month there is more than one episode. So do check out what else has been released today. If you're enjoying this one, listen to the others, and do share the podcast with friends, with family, with colleagues, with cats and dogs and people in the street that you wander past. Just spread the word about Branding Love Letters. Okay, let's get back to the conversation.

Danielle Meadows-Stinnett (11:26): And then on top of that, we go into other external public events. We have two specifically, the Blue Heart Benefit, which is more of like a silent auction gala sort of feels. It's a formal kind of event, but it is full-on entertainment and the awards are given by the CHD kids and their families to the recipient. So that's a really cool special moment. Lots of tears, happy cries. One of my favorite memories from that event is the ability to hold up, very similar to sports events, light up the room with your flashlight or your cell phone light, things along those lines, in honor of the children who are considered fallen angels to CHD, those that are no longer with us. So those moments were really special and tender for a lot of people who attended that event. And then of course, my top favourite event, which is our Wild Hearts Fun Run Superhero 5K, 10K. It's one of my favourite things that we do. I love being able to take my love, my passion for comics and cosplay and put it together in an event that's in and around supporting these amazing superhero kids.

Sam Thorogood (12:41): And it sounds as you're talking, I mean, it's just amazing to hear you talking with such passion about this organisation. You are sounding like much more an ambassador than just the designer for this brand. You have taken on the values and the mission of the organisation. Is that fair to say?

Danielle Meadows-Stinnett (13:03): Absolutely. We're big advocates for stories. We're big advocates for change. And we're big advocates for uplifting others' voices. And I think that's a huge part of being a marketer behind nonprofit work, right? It's more than just a transactional build. It's more of an internal build from the inside out. And that's what makes, for me, that's what makes us good and better at what we do.

Sam Thorogood (13:31): And in terms of, do you know much about the story behind Kerrington, the person who's given the name to this organisation, Kerrington's Heart?

Danielle Meadows-Stinnett (13:39): I do, I definitely, yes.

Sam Thorogood (13:42): Could you share that with me?

Danielle Meadows-Stinnett (13:44): Sure. So Kerrington is the daughter of the executive director, Christy. Christy and Sam had experienced this from birth. They discovered that Kerrington from birth had a congenital heart defect. She specifically had a special kind of defect. There's 35 known ones that we know of right now. But she had a very specific type and it required her to have open heart surgery within weeks of living. So she is very much lively and well after several, after all these years. I think it's really cool to see this family blossom and grow. She's one of several siblings. So being able to have that full perspective look of the CHD family, if you will, here in Kentucky is such an amazing example to have that type of resilience here. So Kerrington's out on events. We talk here and there at least once a month to kind of hang out. She builds a lot of structures and things in and around Kerrington's Heart. So it's not just named after her per se, it's also her hands, her doodles, her notes, her words. All these things are still very much encorporated in the lifespan of the brand. So this is definitely something that's very unique and I stay very close to that.

Sam Thorogood (15:10): What has Kerrington's Heart done that has surprised you?

Danielle Meadows-Stinnett (15:13): Oh my goodness. I think more so over the past five years, it's been the partnerships. It's been the absolute growth of seeing a small business come alongside some of these bigger hospital names and brands. We've been able to partner with at least three other hospitals specifically in and around Kentucky. That helps us expand not only the reach that we can get a hold of and communicate and connect with other CHD families, but it also expands the presence for people, again, who have never heard of congenital heart disease. They have no idea that their child could possibly have this or they just found out that their child actually has a congenital heart defect. What can they do? How can they be connected? And it's because of those partnerships the past several years, we've been able to expand more educational purposes, but also more connectivity and also more connection to the community.

Sam Thorogood (16:16): And if someone had never heard of Kerrington's Heart, how would you describe the brand to them?

Danielle Meadows-Stinnett (16:24): It is a brand that celebrates the life and resilience of CHD children.

Sam Thorogood (16:30): And is that mission, is that kind of front and centre in the culture of the organisation when you're there in the centre itself or on these events, this fun run? Is that something that's talked about a lot?

Danielle Meadows-Stinnett (16:46): Quite a bit. And you'll notice too at some of these events, there'll be signage, there's t-shirts, especially at the Wild Hearts Fun Run, there's team t-shirts. So you'll see lots of people walking around with hand-drawn anatomical hearts. You'll see some really clever names, teams are named after usually their kids or a CHD child or family. It's really clever. I'm really kind of surprised. Once we set the bar for this branding, the community really just kind of took off with it and started creating and buzzing their own creative ideas, which I think is very inspiring.

Sam Thorogood (17:25): And that's really cool from a designer's point of view to have created something that then has been sort of let loose in a sense into the community. What does that feel like from your point of view creatively?

Danielle Meadows-Stinnett (17:37): From a creative perspective, I think it really gives me a sense of purpose. It kind of goes back to that, what is my purpose here? Is my purpose just to design? Is it to tell a story? Is it to elevate someone? Is it to uplift someone else? And I think it does all those things. And I think it's really cool that even though this brand started so many years ago, it's like over a decade old, that people are still finding deep meaning and they resonate with it to continue to carry it on forward for years to come. And I think that is the magic behind what we've been able to accomplish.

Sam Thorogood (18:16): And how would you summarise your journey, this sort of 10-year journey with Kerrington's Heart?

Danielle Meadows-Stinnett (18:24): That's a really great question. Probably close to a homage, if you will. I feel like everything that I have been able to create with Kerrington's Heart is a reflection of what I have experienced through these children and these families. Many of these parents are close friends. I celebrate their birthdays, their children's birthdays, their anniversaries. It's something that just kind of grows a part of you, almost kind of like an appendix of some sort, right? It's just a moving, growing part of you. And once it's been ingrained for so long, it's kind of something that you just naturally do. And so that's definitely one of the reasons why I feel like it's so special for me.

Sam Thorogood (19:11): Danielle, tell me more about you and tell me more about Octane Design Studios and where people can connect with what you're doing.

Danielle Meadows-Stinnett (19:20): Absolutely. So Octane Design Studios is a 13-year-old digital marketing and branding firm based in the heart of the Bluegrass.

Sam Thorogood (19:28): Congratulations.

Danielle Meadows-Stinnett (19:29): Thank you. It is led by six women across five countries. And I love the fact that every day I get to wake up and see a reflection of the world, and through the eyes of women, which is even more powerful for me. We service everything from podcasting to web development, of course, graphic design. We love being able to come alongside non-profits, small businesses, and help tell their story, which usually elevates everything else, like their sales and their marketing and their followership.

Sam Thorogood (20:01): Fantastic. Well, finally, would you be able to share a love letter to Kerrington's Heart?

Danielle Meadows-Stinnett (20:09): Dear Kerrington's Heart, thank you for allowing me to share your story. Thank you for allowing me to share the resilience of what this community brings every day. In a lot of ways, we all envision our favourite superhero to be this tremendous force. And what I'm discovering over and over again, by working on multiple projects with this organisation, is that everyone is a superhero. Love me.

Sam Thorogood (20:43): Well, Danielle, thank you very, very much for letting us hear your branding love letter.

Danielle Meadows-Stinnett (20:48): Thank you.

Sam Thorogood (20:52): You've been listening to Branding Love Letters and I've been Sam Thorogood. I'm on a mission: equip pioneers like you to bring others onto your journey. Come and find out more Thanks for listening. Oh, and big thanks to Thomas Thorogood for the music. Take it away, Tommy boy.

Sam Thorogood | Pilgrimage Design