Branding workshop: The first step in brand design

Brand creation, Brand workshop, Branding, Other / October 2017

Ben Cooper

Last time out I gave an overview of how we approach creating a brand at Organic. We looked briefly at the three layers of branding, building from core values out to the visual identity, and how this approach leads to a consistent brand. This time we’re going to look at the branding workshop, the tool that will yield most of what is needed to create a brand.

A branding workshop is a session, which varies in length but is almost always done within the space of one working day, where we get together with the main client stakeholders. Once we’re in a room together we go through a variety of activities that will get stakeholders talking, thinking, putting things down on paper and generally going on a journey of discovery.

At the end of the session everybody should have contributed at each stage, and there will be a mountain of raw material from which we can go away and begin the process of fashioning your brand.

What’s the point of a branding workshop?

The main reason for carrying out a branding workshop is to gather all the opinions, views and input from the client about their brand, and what they think it is or should be.

The workshop is suitable for rebrands or brand refreshes, but its contents will be adapted accordingly. They can often be more challenging in these contexts because existing thoughts, experiences and feelings of the brand colour perceptions. This means there can be a lot of work to do in getting people to change their views. It can also be the case that a rebrand or refresh means you have to work around components that cannot be changed, such as the name.

But aside from this the branding workshop also serves some important functions for the creatives carrying out the workshop and building the brand.

A platform to challenge the client

When people come into a branding workshop they often feel they know the brand inside out, or what they want it to be. Some stakeholders may even be slightly dismissive of the whole branding process.

The workshop forces the client to think about things in depth, and gives the opportunity to point out any contradictions between what the stakeholders want, what is achievable, and what their business really offers.

Sometimes clients don’t like being challenged, but because the process of the workshop is collaborative it makes pushing them feel safer for all involved. Quite often the challenges will come from within the stakeholder group, and we end up mediating the debate, which is usually fun.

At the end of every branding workshop I’ve delivered the stakeholders always think differently to when they came into it, because they come to see things from different perspectives, including that of the outsiders’ (the workshop leaders).

A watertight roadmap

When you have stakeholder thoughts and ideas on things like values, names, colours, images and so on, it yields a strong position when presenting ideas back to them.

As long as the decisions made during brand creation and design are aligned with the outputs of the branding workshop then critiquing and feedback should be predominantly subjective. This makes the process of brand refinement easier, and again provides a useful way to guide the client if their feedback begins to take the project away from the agreed direction laid out after the workshop.

How long should a branding workshop be?

This depends on the scope of the project. A smaller scale branding project, one with few stakeholders, might need a workshop that is about a half-day or potentially less. If more than four stakeholders are attending, or the scope of the project is larger and more detailed, then it may need the best part of a day.

It’s important that activity is focussed, and discussions don’t go wildly off topic (which is very easy in the heat of the moment). We always factor in breaks in the workshop, including lunch if it’s an all day session.

Structuring the workshop effectively also helps. Some activities are quick, while others take more thought, some are very creative, and others involve a more methodical and systematic way of working. A smart structure makes sure the energy and momentum is maintained, while ensuring the focus needed to do the hard graft.

Brand workshop exercises

The exercises we use on our branding workshops vary from project to project, but they all cover the same basic areas. Each stakeholder has a handbook to fill out as we go through the exercises, and these are collected in at the end to give us a concrete reference. Up on the wall throughout will be a brand map, which we fill out as a group. We usually make an audio recording of the session too, with client permission of course.

We’ll tailor the exact nature of the exercises to the client and their industry, but a workshop typically contains activities like:

  • Warm-up exercise – This is an icebreaker that gets people thinking about brands and branding, talking and comparing thoughts, and involves input from us too, so we all feel like we’re in it together.
  • Values exercises – We’ll usually do two or three values-focussed exercises, getting clients to drill down on their values, categorise them and debate amongst the group.
  • Brand statements exercises – This group of activities gets stakeholders to work alone and in groups to draft up mission, vision, and position statements. These are compared and discussed.
  • Telling the brand story – These storytelling exercises let each stakeholder convey what they think the brand story is. It sounds touchy-feely but these yield important insights for tone of voice and identity.
  • Identity exercises – These activities will look at things like names, logos, colours and imagery to get a feel from stakeholders on the things they like or don’t like, and what they feel suits their brand.
  • Persona exercises – Here we’ll look at the brand’s personality, and also touch on customer personas too.
  • Pitching exercises – To really crystallise stakeholders’ views of the brand we quite often break them into teams and get them to pitch the brand to us, but from different perspectives. Some might be pitching to an investor, others to a potential partner, or customer. This can get competitive but it forces stakeholders to focus on the essence of their brand.

This doesn’t cover everything in our branding workshop, but gives you an idea of the scope of the sessions and what needs to be covered. We may focus on specific areas in more depth if we’re doing a rebrand, again it all depends on the project scope.

What comes after the branding workshop?

Once the workshop is complete we go away and distil the findings down into a brand perception report. This document lists out each activity and the results from each. It also contains our perspective on the outputs, and we’ll highlight contradictions and disconnects between stakeholders, and offer our insights on how they can be overcome alongside our recommendations for the brand.

Once stakeholders have read through the perception report we’ll typically have a call or short meeting with them to discuss and refine to a point where everyone is happy to move forward.

Then the work of brand creation begins. Which I’ll look at next time.

If you feel your brand (whether new or existing) would benefit from a branding workshop then check out our branding services and get in touch; we’d love to help.

 

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