Karin Hibma

Karin Hibma ’75 (Art)

Occupation: Owner of Cronan, the branding firm that launched Tivo, Kindle and more
First Job: Art researcher for a Sacramento design firm

Sure, every business wants to be an innovator. Or to be known for spurring innovation.

For Karin Hibma, innovation is mandatory.

“We have to be innovative. That’s expected,” Hibma says of Cronan, the naming, identity and brand strategy firm she founded with her late husband, Michael Cronan ’74 (Art).

Businesses hire Cronan to assist in bringing a new product to market or to reinvigorate existing ones. That process can range from designing a visual identity to the actual naming of the item or service—an exercise they performed for the digital video recorder turned verb Tivo and the electronic “book” Kindle.

“We have a good track record,” Hibma admits. “We focus on identity in a way that will have a long-term impact on the success of a client’s business.”

There’s also a bit of mystery involved.

“We’re often working on something the rest of the world won’t know about for a couple of years,” Hibma says. “And we can’t talk about it until we get there.”

In spite of Cronan’s success, it’s not always easy to get buy-in from clients, especially with older, more-established firms. And that, Hibma says, is where innovation, patience and a bit of clairvoyance come in.

“Innovation is the ability to challenge assumptions, see things in a different way and recognize patterns. You need to be able to see around the next corner and be comfortable with making that turn, even when you can’t see how it turns out.”

It also pays to not leap to conclusions, avoiding the easy or the obvious, Hibma says.

“If we’re trying to fit them into a formula, we’re not going to be as successful.”

Hibma notes while part of the process includes understanding everything they can about the product, sometimes it helps to not be an expert.

“A real benefit is often that we only half-understand what they’re really doing,” she jokes. “That allows us to hear in fresh ways.”

This article was originally published in the Spring 2014 edition of Sac State Magazine.

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