Good (and bad) brands aren’t built in a day. Lots of decisions go into crafting your brand, some that are more important than others, but establishing a brand that can motivate, inspire and even move (product) mountains is crucial to your success. Starting a brand or rebranding is not for the faint of heart and will take a lot of sweat equity, but in the end if your brand isn’t making powerful and emotional connections or sound foundational brand choices, you’ll find your customer cohort is chock full of one-time purchasers. Whether you are a start-up, established brand or something in between, this is a quick start guide to creating (or refreshing) your brand architecture.
Find your visual identity
A brand is more than just your visual identity. Visual assets, such as your logo are your unique design that make you you and are important to your brand because they are the things that people use to identify you visually when seeing your website, marketing collateral or business cards. It’s how your brand looks, and that look often conveys feelings and sets a tone for how you’ll communicate with your audience and hopefully the scores of other people looking at you (the press, current clients or customers and probably your mom). But even before you make decisions about how a designer will masterfully bring to life your brand on a webpage, from brand bible to design comp, you have to have a solid brand foundation and architecture. And that starts with your brand attributes.
This is the what you do, why you do it, and how you do it. It’s what truly makes you unique and to really stand out you have to nail your brand attributes. Brand attributes, in the simplest terms, are just a set of words that define the personality and character of your brand. You leverage these brand attributes in just about every facet of your brand, from your internal culture and brand positioning statement to the content on your site to the ads you place in print and online. These core attributes even filter into your culture and define how every single person in your organization works with each other, vendors and clients and customers.
So how do you, no matter where you are in the organization, begin the hard work to define your brand attributes?
Define your brand attributes
At Acumium we lead a series of brand workshops for our clients, from startups to mature companies, to facilitate and arrive at these artfully crafted attributes. Lots of companies do this on their own as well, usually predicated by an event (such as a rebrand, culture shift or major company pivot). Pixar for example, builds a set of brand attributes for each film they make and build war rooms over a period of years, constantly iterating and implementing using agile movements to ensure the brand of each picture is met. For our own internal brand attribute reset, it took us several workshops (internal and external) over several months to get the information we needed. However you do it, the important thing is that you do so, so your entire team, no matter the function, has a common language with which to speak about your brand.
Before we involve our brand stakeholders, we usually facilitate a series of customer interviews, where we’ll ask core things like, why did you decide to work with brand A? What are words that come to mind when you work with brand A? What do you hate about working with brand A? Structure your interviews and customer surveys to allow people to answer some of the same questions you’re asking yourself. Identify the key reasons you were selected over a competitor and how you’ve failed and succeeded in the eyes of your customer. You’ll walk away with a treasure trove of insights to leverage in your content, influence your product roadmap or even identify some common themes, good and bad. There’s something really powerful when you use the same words, feelings and emotions that your customer uses to describe you in your marketing and sales language.
It's important to have one key person that is hearing these interviews or capturing notes, that is also involved in other parts of the process, to theme out what you’re hearing. Keep it high-level, especially for the C-suite. Make sure you’re pulling together all those top-level insights and capturing them for those that aren’t present for those aha moments.
Conduct internal discussions
Start with something simple; a conversation. Get all your stakeholders in a room for a facilitated discussion about why you exist as a company and what makes you unique.
- Gather (usually no more than 7) key people, focusing on the balance of role. These should be key decision makers that represent strategic views (usually one C-Suite, but not the CEO for the first conversation, or senior manager), people that know both your customers and products really well and a mix of customer-facing (like a customer service rep) and tactical players. If you aren’t sure who should be there, ask yourself when a major decision is made, who makes it? Who actually does the work to make it happen? Who brings the biggest insights in meetings? And who really needs to be there to support me in this initiative?
- Think through whose voice will be the loudest in the room vs. who you will have to ask a lot of questions to ensure their opinion is captured. If you can, tap into someone in your organization who has prior facilitator experience and who can read the room, or look outside your org if you have to. This person is one of the most important people in the entire conversation as they move the conversation forward and lead the entire exercise.
- Set the ground rules for participation (be present, be candid, listen to the facilitator) and give your participants what a peer of mine affectionately calls, permission to suck. Permission to suck merely means you’ve giving the players in the room space to be wrong and say stupid things.
- This is absolutely crucial so that people know they are in a safe space to have things come out wrong and not worry about politics or if the jargon is off. It’s ok if an idea is crazy or won’t work or doesn’t matter right now, that’s what a parking lot (a piece of paper that allows facilitators and stakeholders the ability to jot down but not pursue non-essential ideas for later) is for.
- We like to start with a whiteboard or large post it notes. What do you/your organization do? How do you do it? Why do you do it? Have everyone write down what they think. Remember you’ve got permission to suck so it’s ok if not everyone is aligned or if these answers really don’t nail it. It’ll at least get people thinking and talking about who you really are and want to be.
- Then, have everyone step back and vote on what they think is the closest answer to those questions. We like to give everyone dots or with a marker make a plus. They have two votes per question, so we ask them to use it wisely.
- What has the most votes? Does it surprise you? Use the majority voted post its or notes to start a dialogue on why people voted this. What are outliers? Who feels really strongly about something? What’s missing? Or is this spot on? Try to get your team to think beyond just the we make widgets. Because a lot of people make widgets.
- Asking these questions will surprisingly create a strong dialogue between the parties. And for such simple questions, you’ll be surprised at the answers and how closely aligned the team really is.
- Go a little deeper with your questions. What are words you would use to describe your company? What are words your customer would use to describe your company? Separating out what your team thinks and what your customer thinks (a good reason why you need to have customer-facing members in this session), is really interesting comparison. Use the same voting technique.
Coming out of these meetings, you’ve just laid the groundwork for your brand attributes and your brand framework. This is just the beginning of a lengthy process. From here, your brand attributes will impact your logo design, tone of voice, marketing collateral and everything in between. You’re setting the stage for everything that comes next and ensuring your brand speaks to the core values of your business.
Ready to take the next step in your branding journey? Branding is our business at Acumium. Connect with our team if you’re interested in discussing it further.