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How To Run A Brand Strategy Workshop

It’s difficult to design a logo, identity or a website for a user that you don’t understand. This is why you should run a brand strategy workshop before you start designing anything for your business.

  • How to run a strategy workshop?
  • What colors should you use for your logo and identity?
  • What kind of typography will suit your company best?
  • What type of look & feel should you aim for?
  • What features and functions should you include on the web?
  • What’s really important to your customers?

If you ask yourself some of these questions, you’re in the right place. In this article, you will learn how to develop brand strategy.

In this article, you will find: the brand workshop questions I ask my clients, the brand strategy template and how the strategy process goes (guide) with a real example of startup branding strategy I’ve done for one of my clients.

You will also see how strategy and design work together and why you should NOT jump straight into executing your design ideas.

Take a step back and lay the foundation for the creative work to come.

These exercises are going to be fun, they’re not going to be painful.

You can use my strategy framework before designing your brand identity, building your website, mobile app or basically prior to doing any other type of graphic design for a business.

So here’s where my brand strategy framework steps in.

In this article I will show you how I run brand strategy workshops for startups. This is brand strategy for designers as well as non-designers.

It’s a framework driven by a philosophy…

I conduct this simple strategy workshop with clients in order to help them identify who they are as a brand and what their customer’s needs are.

How brand strategy and design align

The strategy precedes design so that you can get actionable insights and address business objectives in the next phase – designing the experience.

The framework that I use helps me transfer the organizational knowledge that you have onto me, so that I can translate that into something that your customer understand and value (designing the experience).

Aligning an organization’s vision with its customers’ experience is the goal of brand strategy.

I believe that in the 21st century bridging the gap between business needs, strategy and design requires a whole new way to design.

1. Working in close collaboration with clients
2. Iteratively scaffolding to a solution
3. Confidently facilitating ideas
4. Listening and considering all the team’s ideas

Why brand strategy is important?

You may wonder why you need brand strategy and how it can benefit your business.

Let’s distinguish two scenarios of approaching a new design project, with and without strategy. Meet Arek and John. Arek is a great designer and strategist. John is just a a great designer.

Depending on the project, a strategist may include more smaller steps in-between: Stylescapes, Sitemap, Wirefames, Prototypes etc. before getting to high fidelity designs.

A regular designer, on the other hand, will almost always jump right into designing without properly defining the problem and doing strategy & research which leads to miscommunication and countless revisions.

Who develops brand strategy?

You, the designer, or the strategist, consultant, facilitator. It can be anyone, as long as you follow the steps.

The role of the consultant in developing brand strategy is to facilitate the process.

Preferably it would be someone who’s going to be designing for your brand.

He/she should be able to:

  • Ask the right questions
  • Provide relevant input and ideas
  • Get key issues to surface
  • Achieve resolution

You absolutely must allow participants to feel like they can say anything that comes to their mind.

It’s less about being accurate and more about speed and getting people say what they think.

Who needs to be in the room?

The ideal is to have all the primary stakeholders in the room.

Having the CEO of the company in the room is the ultimate.

The technical, creative, marketing and business stakeholders should all be in the room!

Why? Because you get decisions made quickly and avoid future revisions.

You get everyone aligned at once. Efficiency!

Key Workshop Principals

These 3 principals drive how I do everything: Live, Visual & Fun.

They provide the foundation for what makes the workshop powerful.

  1. Live. Getting all decisions makers in the room or on a video conference call.
  2. Visual. Documenting everything in a visual way where everyone can see it.
  3. Fun. Participants need to feel comfortable to share without reservation.

Consensus From Leadership

It’s important to brief the CEO or primary stakeholders on what is going to happen in the room.

Enroll them on being a “partner” in the process and explain what you are going to do and why it is important.

  1. Discuss the rules with them, get their input on the agenda, get a sense of the different people who are going to be in the room.
  2. Ask them to tell you what they think are the interests of each person in the room.
  3. Most importantly, ask them not to veto, contradict or counter any suggestion a team member makes.

Session Rules

At the beginning of each session, write the rules on the whiteboard:

  1. Participate
  2. Say anything
  3. Have fun!

Tips for consultant

  • Ask for permission to control the agenda
  • Remain empathetic & personable
  • Be encouraging & positive
  • Try not to violate the timer

Three brand strategy exercises

These three exercises will help you define who you are as a brand and who your customers are and prioritize the goals of your business.

  1. Brand Attributes
    Each column represents a key aspect of the brand. Think of the organization or company as a person when doing this exercise. How would you describe them?
  2. User Profiles
    The 4 columns in the customer profile create a narrative that help establish why your solutions will be relevant to your customer. Starting with the basics of who they are, their story, what they need and the solutions.
  3. Prioritized Goals
    This exercise helps prioritize how the organization makes money, markets itself and create’s systems. 
 You will first brainstorm as many activities for each category below, then score their priority levels on a scale of 1-10, 10 being highest priority.

Now, let’s talk about each exercise in more detail.

See brand strategy example document I’ve developed for one of my clients – Carwao.

1. Brand Attributes

Think of the organization or company as a person when doing this exercise. This is crucial.

How would you describe your company if it was a person?

How would you describe them? – We have six columns and each column represents a key aspect of the brand and ask different question.

Here we are going to be brainstorming adjectives. Single words that describe the brand.

If you can’t think of a single word, you can talk through the concept until you find one.

Worst case scenario, simply write a few words or phrases as a last ditch effort to document the thought.

These adjectives should be positive.

Sometimes teams have the tendency to go negative, such as “frantic,” “disorganized,” etc.

The goal is to express attributes based on the ideal of where you want to be in the near future. If someone says “disorganized,” you can change it to “organized.”

Reality happens in language first, so if you describe how you want to be vs how you are, it helps you manifest that.

Exercise Breakdown

If you stick to the times (and you should) you need to book 30-40 minutes – I’ve found this is an ideal time I have found work best.

You will brainstorm as many positive adjectives as you can for each question/column, then pick top 3 and finally choosing one.

6 Branding Workshop Questions:

  1. Culture  – How would your community describe you?
  2. Customers – How would you describe your customers?
  3. Voice – How do you sound to others?
  4. Benefit – How do others feel after interacting with you?
  5. Value – What tangible impact do you have on others?
  6. X-Factor – What makes you radically different?

The rules:

  1. First, try to select as many attributes as possible for each column. (3 min)
  2. Once you have them all, prioritize top 3 attributes for each column. (2 min)
  3. Choose one top attribute for each column. (1 min)

Instead of doing all three steps per column, I’ve found that the exercise flows best if you do progressive passes.

To sum up:

First, you’re getting as many attributes for each column as you can (3min/column), then you’re picking the top 3 (2min/column) and finally choosing the top one (1min/column).

Total Exercise Time: 36 Min

2. User Profiles

The second exercise is defining the users that will interact with your brand.

We’re developing characters and getting to know them intimately.

Basically, it’s characters development.

How do you come up with the characters? – people ask me this all the time.

We can do it through three things:

  1. Data  – if there’s a current website, what are the people that are coming to the site?
  2. Customer interactions – the actual experience with customers.
  3. Make up characters – we’re intelligent people so we can actually make up characters based on what we know about customer behavior and our knowledge as business people.

Here’s the thing: speed is more important than accuracy!

Don’t worry too much about whether it’s exactly right because it will change in the future once you grow.

The four columns in the customer profile create a narrative that help establish why your solutions will be relevant to your customer.

Starting with the basics of who they are, their story and what they need and what the solutions might be.

What I like to do is I like a range, so they’re all three different. So for example: this is a male, this is a female, old and young, of course depending on your business.

Exercise Breakdown

1. Demographics

Demographics are the basic quantifiable facts about your customer. For our purposes, these include a Name and User Archetype in addition to Age, Gender, Income, Location and other facts.

A basic overview of who your customer is. These are facts, who, where, when.

Example:

  • Joseph Lee (name)
  • developer (profession)
  • male (gender)
  • married (martial status)
  • 120k/y (income)

See Joseph Lee persona on page 3 in the example brand strategy document.

2. Story

The backstory is the psychographic information about a user. The personality, values, opinions, attitudes, interests, lifestyle and challenges driving your user.

The traits, events, behavior and challenges that define how this customer relates to you.

  • Start with general traits that describe how they are in their lives e.g. “Very busy professional.”
  • Include physical activities and hobbies e.g. “Hiking, Tennis and Movies.”
  • The factors that relate to why they need your product, service e.g. “His vehicle is old & want to upgrade”

3. Needs

Based on the backstory and how it relates to your product, service or program, what does your customer need? Why do they need it?

What do they need from you? Connect these to your backstory as much as possible.

  • Create cause and effect between your backstory and your needs. e.g. If your customer is “Very busy professional” then they need “Short, simple and well designed” content.
  • If you are doing a website try to avoid the needs being just features. e.g. Instead of saying “Ability to share cars,” say, “To share lifestyle and personal identity with others.”
  • The features will come in the solutions.

4. Solutions

These are the solutions that you will use to exceed your customer’s needs. This is where the rubber meets the road. More than just solving your customer’s needs, you want to exceed their needs!

How can you meet these needs and exceed them? Think of this as the ideal solution.

This category is about qualifying the solution in a way that makes it “Better than.” Be specific. e.g. If the need is “A place to escape from the kids,” your solution should be “Great interior design, an oasis from the day-to-day.”

  • The solution can be features in software, content, services and the way in which a service is delivered.
  • Don’t limit the solutions to what you can do. Go big!

See an example of the three customer personas I’ve developed for Carwao on pages 3-5.

3. Prioritized Goals

The second exercise was focused on the users and their goals and their needs and this exercise is going to be focused on us and on our goals as a business.

This exercise helps prioritize how the organization makes money, markets itself and create’s systems.

Prioritize tasks into 3 categories: awareness, revenue, efficiency.

You will first brainstorm as many activities for each category below, then score their priority levels on a scale of 1-10, 10 being highest priority.

This exercise helps you prioritize how the organization makes money, markets itself and create systems for efficiency.

So the three areas that we’re going to, are:

  • Awareness (marketing)
  • Revenue
  • Efficiency

You will first brainstorm as many activities for each category below, then score their priority levels on a scale of 1-10, 10 being highest priority.

Exercise Breakdown

1. Awareness

These are goals (tasks) that will generate awareness about the organization or product.

How you get more customers to discover you?

It extends across communications, marketing and advertising. What are the things that we can do in terms of awareness?(20-30 min)

Sample marketing tasks:

  • Social Media
  • Blog
  • SEO
  • Google Ads
  • Website
  • Trade Show
  • Influencers etc.

2. Revenue

These are goals (tasks) that will generate and grow revenue.

How you make money?

These are often called “Revenue Drivers.” It can include a variety of things and is not exclusive to product or service. (20-30 min)

Revenue tasks will vary for each business but think about the products you sell or you might sell and/or the services you offer:

  • products
  • services
  • subscriptions

3. Efficiency

These are goals (tasks) that will help make operations more efficient.

How you systemize your organizational processes?

They can be tools, software or processes that will help reduce time, cost and effort. (20-30 min)

Sample efficiency tasks:

  • identity guidelines
  • marketing templates (presentation, newsletter)
  • editorial calendar (if you run a blog)
  • social media automation
  • CRM integration
  • Ecommerce automations etc.

Conclusions

Graphic designers (like John) are good at making beautiful things. I know I used to be one.

But if you conduct a strategy workshop first, it will bring tremendous value to your client and facilitate the whole process.

And most importantly, it all comes from decision makers, so it’s easier to create concepts that resonate with them and the people you’re designing for.

This is what I help my clients to do.

Use this guide to run your first simple strategy workshop

Here’s the branding workshop pdf, so you can use it to run your own workshop.

Download Branding Strategy Template PDF

Interested in working together?

Schedule your strategy workshop here.