Co-Creating The Brand You Want
by Shabnam Gideon
The brand you want isn’t out there waiting for you to discover it, and it sure doesn’t just happen. You play a real part in its creation. As brand strategists (brand therapists?), our job is to help you see both sides of the story, sharing what we do to help you and what you can do to get the most out of our work together. Here are seven steps you can take to get the most value out of your brand project.
1. Define Success
You want your brand to be great. But what does “great” mean to you? What’s most important to get right? At the end of the project, how will you know if it was successful?
Spend some time before kickoff identifying what the success of your new brand looks like. Enlist your project team. And be sure to consult with any adjacent stakeholders with veto power. If you clarify success up front, your work and thinking during the project will be much easier. You’ll have clear goals and measures (e.g. “articulates our complete philosophy and ethos,” “accounts for our new target audience,” “establishes us as a clear competitor in the enterprise space,” etc.) and you will reserve your mental energy for the most important topics and outcomes. Plus, we are going to ask for your definition.
2. Plan Stakeholder Involvement
I repeat: Plan. Stakeholder. Involvement. To get started, read our post on best practices for building your project team. The TL;DR: choose two to four people who will meet with us and review deliverables each week, and strategize how to involve others outside of that core team. But let's get more specific:
- I repeat: Read the linked post above on best practices.
- Make sure that one member of your core project team is empowered to make decisions about the brand on behalf of your organization on a week-to-week basis. If you do not know who that person is or should be, let our team know and we can help.
- Try hard to have anyone with veto power in the room every week.
If you think you’ll need executive approval for any piece of the project, get clarity on what pieces those are and share your definition of success from Step 1 so that they are using the same measuring stick. It's also wise to let your project manager (PM) know so we can plan with you.
Finally, this is critical: Allot time on your own calendar to prepare that approver for what they will see in the work if they have not been in every client meeting. Why? External stakeholders can be wild cards. Anyone who hasn’t been involved every step of the way just doesn’t have a good frame of reference for reviewing the work. Missing out on even one week’s conversations and deliverables would leave anyone in the dark as to where we’ve gotten and how. Plus, external stakeholders don’t have the benefit of our coaching on providing feedback (read: valuable critique versus not-so-valuable opinion). We know you can’t always prevent this situation, and that’s OK. But if you let us know it’s coming, we'll have your back.
3. Plan Internal Reviews
This one is simpler. After you receive a deliverable, find a time for your core project team to meet and review the deliverable together and provide consolidated feedback. This works well for many reasons:
- It prevents everyone commenting individually on the doc and someone (probably you) having to sort out all the conversations in comment-land. No one wants that job.
- It eliminates other forms of asynchronous feedback, where someone (you, again) will have to sort out everything and report back. Again, a thankless job that takes more time than you probably have.
- It provides an opportunity to remind yourselves of your goals, your definition of success, and quickly identify and resolve critical topics. Plus, you can draft your feedback response together so that everyone can contribute, feels heard, and is in-the-know.
4. Consolidate Feedback
By “consolidate,” we mean that the collective feedback from your team should be discussed, agreed upon, and presented in a single voice asserting clear positions and directions. So, let’s say we send over a video and a document via a Basecamp message. Your team members may comment individually on the video and on the document, and you may have varying or even contradictory opinions, but the feedback isn’t consolidated until the group (organized by your project driver) resolves any conflicts and provides a single message outlining the consensus of the group on the key feedback points.
What “consolidated” or “single voice” feedback does is allow your team to resolve internal discussions and conflicts, and then return to us the items that provide direction for further iteration. If we get unconsolidated feedback — like feedback from multiple people (even if it’s within a single thread) or spread across multiple files — then we will end up spending our valuable meeting time with you figuring out whose feedback to listen to rather than exploring key critiques that will move us closer to the brand you need.
5. Provide Critique, Not Opinion
We’ve already done some of the legwork here: We’ve tailored the way we ask for feedback to focus on how successful the work is toward achieving our goals. If we measure the work by how successful it is, then we remove opportunities for someone to like or dislike something based on personal opinion.
If we measure the work by how successful it is, then we remove opportunities for someone to like or dislike something based on personal opinion.
You can help us in this effort to build you a successful brand by making sure you’re viewing the work not from your individual eyes but from those of your organization and its goals as a brand. It can also help to adopt the lens of your target audience, persona, or muse. While they won’t have the benefit of years of exposure to your brand, you can use what you know about their motivations and needs to guide your feedback.
It can be difficult to separate personal preferences from functional, objective judgment, but knowing this goes a long way toward separating opinion from true critique.
6. Ask for What You Need
If discovering your brand could be compared to discovering one's self, we're nearing the pinnacle of self-actualization here. If you sense that something isn’t right, do the work to figure out how to articulate it, or tell us and we’ll help you. We can do a lot for your brand, but we don’t know what we don’t know, so we need you to tell us where the holes are, what your goals are, and the thing you forgot about but just remembered. Whatever it is you want or need, bring it up.
Need more or different communication? Tell us. Need more time? Say so. Need help communicating to stakeholders? We got you. Need something we haven’t talked about yet and you’re not sure what it means? We actually really like those conversations. Have a vision that isn’t being met? Tell us about that, too.
We are constantly seeking ways to put ourselves in your shoes and provide content and counsel that’s helpful to you. But we haven’t thought of everything, so let us know what else we can do to improve the experience.
7. Trust the Process
And finally, the Sisyphean effort we all know some version of: trust. In some relationships, you have a lifetime to develop it. With us, you have, oh, 12 to 16 weeks. But a level of trust is critical to the brand effort, and we ask it of you starting well before your project kicks off.
We trust you for your knowledge about your industry, the challenges you face, your goals, your highest hopes for your audience, and the vision of the future you wish to create. We also trust that you will be honest, respectful, and engaged. By offering those confidences to you we acknowledge our lack of understanding (but determination to learn) about your industry and business and our appreciation of critique and criticism. We also honor that trust by adopting your needs and goals as our own.
We ask that you place trust in this process we’ve built with intention over our years of business and decades of combined experience.
That you trust our desire and ability to understand you and the brand situation you face. That you trust the Client Kickoff Prep we send you is necessary and tailored to you. That we will treat you as a unique entity with problems both like and unlike those of previous clients. That we will do our damnedest to produce work that is great not just because it looks good, but mostly it is a true and appropriate reflection of your brand. That we will ask for and be open to tough conversations if and when they need to happen. That everything we do is in the service of providing an exceptional experience while producing the best of outcomes for you.