When I first learned brand development techniques, my mentor at the time cautioned me not to give up the secrets he was laying on me, lest competitors steal my mojo. But let’s face it, every firm and consultant with half a pulse has some sort of “exclusive” brand development process, many followed by a ™, as if their process alone could tease the brand from your benighted company. (Note: we are talking specifically about organizational brands here, not product brands, though many of the same things will apply.) Over the years we’ve refined our process to a point where we can tell a client confidently that it will work (IF they make a serious commitment to it), but I don’t know that our “exclusive” process is so different from everyone else’s. I suspect it’s not. And if experience — good and bad — has taught me one thing, it’s that the practitioner is as important to the result as the process.
That being the case, there seems to be no good reason to hide our brand development process from the masses. If you think you can do it yourself, go ahead and have at it. If you think you have a better way, we’d love to hear about it.
What is Brand Discovery?
Brand Discovery is a process by which you create clarity around what precisely makes (or will make) your brand different and compelling within your category. If you already have a strong and well-understood brand, you may have nothing to discover; you already know what your brand is all about. I’ve already written about when and why you might consider rebranding (or at least refreshing your brand), so I won’t go into it here. Let’s just say your brand isn’t working for you and neither you nor the people you work with — much less your customers — can articulate what it’s all about. Time for the first step in Brand Development: Brand Discovery.
The reason we call it “Discovery” and not “Creation” or “Brainstorm” (or “Brandstorm,” which I’m certain some shameless branding firm must have trademarked), is because the whole idea is to find the brand that’s already lurking somewhere inside the company. I think of it the way Michelangelo thought of sculpture: “Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.” This is an important distinction for those who think branding is all smoke and mirrors. If the goal is to create a brand the organization can sustain and grow, the brand has to be built into its fabric. Put another way, the brand strategy must align with the business strategy, or neither will work to their fullest potential. Assuming the organization already has a business strategy, the goal of Brand Discovery is then to find out how to reach that alignment.
So Brand Discovery is about learning about what precisely makes — or could make — our brand special and compelling within our category. For that, we need to be clear about:
- What exactly is our category?
- What do customers expect from the category?
- What are they getting from our competitors?
- What makes us different and more desirable for some of them?
What’s more, the organization needs to reach consensus around the answers to all of these questions.
How do we start “Discovering”?
We start with a room, preferable off-site to impede distractions, comfortable, but not too luxurious. Then we gather the right people — the boss, of course, senior managers from across the organization, individuals who have important knowledge within the organization, or others will be involved with the Brand Development process as it plays out. What’s important is that everyone who is ultimately responsible for key functions within the organization is involved. I find it’s healthy to include curmudgeons, too. Because they can be troublesome later if not heard earlier. They also tend to be truth tellers, which is a good thing.
What’s the right number of people for a Brand Discovery session? We’ve done it with as few as one person (a start-up, of course) and as many as 30+. Ten to twelve seems a good number. But what’s most important is that the organization’s key people are involved. If they’re not there, they can’t be involved; if the crowd’s too big, their involvement will be limited. One session we did with eight people, which seemed to be a good number. But, against our recommendations, the CEO had only invited sales and marketing executives, under the mistaken impression that this was “a marketing thing.” The session went OK, but the results didn’t stick very well. Be forewarned.
OK, I’m over my blog limit for the day. Next post: Operating a Brand Discovery Session.