My Branding Toolbox
I spent a good deal of time as a child tagging along behind my Dad as he framed houses, repaired cars, installed plumbing etc. In fact, given my height at the time, I have much more vivid memories of the carpenter's tool-belt he wore, with its dangling hammer, tape measure, chalk line (my personal favorite) and pouches of nails, than I do of his face. Receiving my very own (long overdue) toolbox for my birthday this year has rendered me both nostalgic and metaphorical...
Here are a few of the tools, old and new, in my Branding Toolbox:
The Brand Shrine I first experienced this concept during my 5th grade "career week" field trip to a design/advertising firm somewhere in the Loveland/Fort Collins area. To this day, I can't remember who it was, so I guess all I can say is "I'm not the genius." But this one is genius.
It works especially well for in-house shops, but is fantastic at agencies or even freelance. The entire concept is a large (we're talking floor to ceiling covering the better part of a wall) magnetic/dry erase/whatever board dedicated to the worship of all things "________" (brand.) I've used it to post logo iterations, ad concepts, storyboards, email rants and napkin doodles from off-site lunches. In a high-traffic area and supplied with plenty of markers and Post-its, it becomes a veritable petri dish of creative thinking. Anyone can, and everyone seems to, contribute. I've found it speeds up the approval process by putting feedback on their time, but also in their face (also speeds up meetings as they tend to be standing). I've felt an increased investment in and appreciation of the creative process at all levels in a company. I've even seen it avert potential disaster: umm...those look like breasts, did you mean that?
All hail the brand shrine. The Metaphor Match This is a fairly common concept, but can really help a client who has trouble understanding, let alone expressing, their brand in concrete terms. Tune in during casual conversation to find something the client finds interesting, then go back to it during the brand discussion in terms of a metaphor. "If [your company] was a [car, line of clothing, drink at Starbuck's, etc.] what would it be?" "why?" If things go well, or if they're still having trouble, you might ask what their competitors would be and try to extrapolate from the comparison. The Identity Spectrum This one comes straight from Mark Bixby--albeit 2 months ago--and is a brilliantly simple application of a concept I'm sure most of us have played with. I've never been able to get the delivery just right, until now. The idea is to come up with 4-6 pairs of words, not necessarily opposites but representative of competing values within a market segment: "Grounded-Innovative" "Authority-Commonality" etc. Not only does this provide a mini SWOT, it gives you a window into what the company values, which aspects of their identity matter to them, how they feel about the industry in general.
I'd like to build an actual board with movable slider knobs and slots to insert the word pairings (since they change with every client) just to see the kind of discussions that would happen with this as a tactile element in the conversation. The Good'Old Questionnaire My favorite twist on this has been to let clients envision their own "extreme makeover." I have them fill out one copy of the questionnaire according to the daily reality of the business and one guided by the vision of what they want it to be. I find they are much more honest and accurate about the realities when given a forum where their grandiosity has free rein. Just as important as having quality tools is knowing which ones to use for a particular application. I have pounded in my share of nails with the butt of a screwdriver (both literally and figuratively) and am a firm believer--and metaphor mixer--in the old adage about not using cannons when a shotgun will do.
Measure Twice, Cut Once Occasionally, a client will come to the table with a fully developed brand concept and the vocabulary to go with it. Usually, however, a successful campaign will require some definition/refinement of the brand itself and some groundwork for effective decision making. In my [limited] experience, a few minutes of thoughtful questioning and purposeful application of one or more of the forgoing strategies can save hours if not weeks of aggravating managerial vacillation, not to mention all but eliminate the phrase "I'll know it when I see it" from the discussion. (And what designer wouldn't leap tall buildings, jump in front of trains, or "waste" a couple hours analyzing annual reports for a reward like that?)