Tag Archives: brand discovery

How to Discover a Brand: Part Three

15 Dec

So our walls are papered with facts, at least 100 of them.  It’s now early afternoon — time to start making something of all this. But first,…

What about brand personality?

All these facts don’t relate much to the personality of the brand. But it’s the brand’s personality that gives it life and often inspires the branding. When I first started doing Brand Discovery, it was all a search for very logical stuff. But when all was said and done, the brand fundamentals seemed dry. There was something missing. So I created what I like to call it the “right brain” side of the Discovery Session. Here’s how it works. We expose participants to groups of images, both photographic and illustrated.  These images depict various personality aspects (traditional, free-spirited, adventurous, etc.), though they are not labeled as such. Participants are asked as a group to quickly determine one or two images from each group that feel as if they could be consistent with some aspect of the brand’s personality. Then we go through the chosen images one or two more times to cull them further, until we have five or six that the team agrees on. Inevitably, a picture of the brand personality will begin to emerge. Later, when cleaning up the findings from the Discovery session, you’ll be able to take more time to interpret these images and create a fully realized personality. It’s like magic!

Now back to the facts.

Possible Unique Selling Points

The facts were fun; lunch was OK; the personality picture thing was interesting— time to get back to work. The next task is to determine “Possible Unique Selling Points” of the brand. Here’s how you do it:

Explain what a Unique Selling Point (USP) is: a quality or fact that our brand has that others in the category don’t and that is potentially compelling to customers. In order to qualify as a USP, an item has to pass two tests — it’s unique to you in your category (or you do it demonstrably better than anyone else) and it’s compelling to customers. Now dig in, going fact by fact, asking the question: “Could this possibly be a USP?” Every time a fact passes muster, have your assistant get it down on another sheet of easel paper marked “Poss USPs”. The idea here is not to be too exclusive. The Possible USPs are going to become the raw material from which you craft your final USPs. What you’ll find during this exercise is that the facts begin to organize themselves. Some are clearly unimportant. Some are clearly important. Some are meaningful in relation to others. Some things people thought would be important, don’t seem so anymore. Some begin to loom large.

The Grand Finale: Unique Selling Points and a Surprise

So now we’ve organized our 100+ facts into a couple pages of Possible Unique Selling Points. Obviously, it’s time to cut it down to the bone — three to five true USPs. The secret to doing this effectively is to be mercilessly honest. The tendency to say “our people are the best in the industry” is very strong. To listen to execs, every company is like Lake Woebegone, “where all the women are strong, the men are good looking, and the children are above average.” So when you hear a participant say the quality of their personnel is a Unique Selling Point, say “Prove it,” or — sometimes it needs to be said ” “bullshit.” Make clear this is a no BS zone. A USP is something you can deliver on 100% of the time.

Still, there will be USPs that the group believes in, but which they may feel unsure about proving or delivering 100%. For these you have another sheet of easel paper on which your assistant has marked off two columns, one labeled “Wishes” and one labeled “Granted.” When the group decides on a USP they can;t deliver n with absolute consistency, ask what they could do to make it happen. If they need a training program to make sure their people are the best in the business, that’s a “Wish.” Someone then has to agree to “Grant” the Wish, with a deadline to report back to the group.

Before long, you have your USPs and a set of “Wishes” and “Granteds” that are the beginning of a brand consistency action plan.  One more step: prioritize. By this time, everyone in the room will be involved. What is the most important USP?  The second most important? These are the questions that provoke debate. But when the dust clears, you have the rough foundation of a brand: three to five solid Unique Selling Points in priority order, each with clear support points and benefits; the beginning of a corporate plan to ensure the consistent validity if the USPs; and the birth of a brand personality.

What a day.

How to Discover a Brand: Part Two

9 Dec


Just the facts, ma'am.

When we last left our intrepid Brand Discovery session in Part One, it consisted of an off-site roomful of “appropriate” people. They’re all staring at you, wondering why they had to leave their cozy offices and turn off their smart phones. They’re nervous about a stranger in their midst with an easel full of paper and a bunch of colored Sharpies. Now what?

Tell them why they’re here.

Now’s the time to tell them they are here to create a more successful brand. Explain what a brand is (not a name or a logo, but the promise of a certain type of experience — what the name and logo stand for). Tell them some stories of great brands. Take your time. Let people relax. Let it sink in that there’s no pressure on individuals to think of game-saving ideas or show how brilliant they are. No one will have to fall backwards into someones arms or talk about how they were fat and unloved as children. All the process requires is for everyone to be clear-headed, honest and involved. Tell a few case study stories. Set some ground rules (cell phones off, etc.). Tell a couple jokes. Let them know that by the end of the day, they will all have real clarity around what their brand is, and that within a few weeks or months they’ll begin to see the results of that.  Then tell them exactly what the process is.

Step One: 100 Facts

You’re going to ask them to tell you facts — at least 100 of them. What’s a fact? A fact is “we sell hamburgers” or “our hamburgers are made of 80% lean ground round” or “our hamburgers are never frozen” or “Ray Kroc bought this company in 1961.” “Our hamburgers are juiciliscious” is not a fact; it’s an opinion (and marketing BS, to boot). Everyone knows a few facts and they tend to be non-controversial, so this “fact download” gets people working together in a non-competitive way. It also enables people to empty their minds of virtually everything they know about the brand. And — most importantly — it gives you and the group all the raw material you need to develop the brand fundamentals, because strong brands are built on facts — or “truths” — not marketing BS.

Why 100 facts? Because its a big number that forces people to settle in and let their minds go. In fact, by the time they reach 100 facts, the group will probably still be generating more. That’s fine; let them go until the exercise burns itself out. It should take two hours or more (with a couple short breaks).

Of course, you’re going to be writing all these facts down on your easel paper and then sticking them up on the walls. Actually, you would do well to have an assistant do all the writing and sticking-on-walls, so you can put your head toward facilitation (note: sometimes the 3M PostIt style paper doesn’t stick so well; bring some tape, just in case, and be careful not to pull paint off the walls; yes, I have done that). You are also going to be organizing these facts under the following headings (and in this order):

  1. Category. These are facts about what the business category is (you’d be surprised about how controversial this can be), who the competition is, what their brands stand for, what commodity the category provides to tis customers, and what benefits the category provides to its customers. These are important facts. Because if your ultimate goal is to differentiate your brand, you need to know what you’re differentiating from. The brand exists within the context of the competitive environment and customer expectations.
  2. History. These are facts about the history of the company/brand. Sometimes they prove to be important. Ofttimes not. Best to get them down.
  3. Company/Product. This will probably take the bulk of your paper. What does the company do and how does it do it? What about its products. If it’s a restaurant, what’s on the menu. Why. How is it prepared? If it’s a retail establishment, what does the store look like?  You get the idea, the more facts the better.
  4. Other. No matter how many facts you’ve generated, there are others on people’s minds. Get ’em down.

Step Two: Take a Deep Breath

Now the walls are papered with facts and people are wondering what’s next. They’re getting a little tired and maybe hungry, but their curiosity is piqued. “What are we gonna do with all this?” Time for lunch. While everyone’s digesting their food, you’ll find they are also digesting the facts, which is good, because we will be going back over them….

in my next post: How to Discover a Brand: Part Three.

How to Discover your Brand: Part One

7 Dec

Eureka!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.