Our Secret Sauce to Understanding Your Brand
by Anna Beyerle Rosen
The beginning of any journey is full of anticipation and excitement, and a company rebrand is no different. Even if you’ve been part of branding projects before, no two are the same, and there are bound to be some twists and turns on the road ahead.
At Focus Lab, our process is informed by our decade-plus of B2B tech branding experience. Over the years, we’ve honed a formula that not only results in an enjoyable experience and outcomes that meet business goals, but also takes a lot of the unknowns and trial and error out of branding projects.
One of the first parts of our process that client partners interact with is kickoff prep, which is exactly what it sounds like: a group of exercises that help the client team prepare for the journey ahead by collecting information about their brand in a single place.
We’ve found this work to be an invaluable tool for any brand project, and we’ve spent a lot of time and energy fine-tuning our exercises and information gathering process. In this blog post, we aim to give you a peek behind the curtain to explain what our kickoff prep looks like, the value it brings to brand projects, and how it sets you up for success.
Kickoff prep is important to any branding or rebranding exercise: It establishes key objectives for the brand project, ensures the project team is on the same page, and creates a singular source of truth that can be referenced time and time again throughout the project. Whether you’re working with Focus Lab or another agency — or building a brand on your own — some sort of prep work is key to create a streamlined reference point that influences the strategy, communications, and design that's ahead.
So, what exactly does your team need to get aligned on? When you’re branding a company for the first time, or even if you’re tackling a rebrand, it can be overwhelming to narrow down the information that needs to be gathered. Here at Focus Lab, we emphasize collecting information around a brand’s business and brand objectives and trajectory, target audience(s), existing verbal and visual brand identity, and competitive landscape. In short, it’s imperative to have a full understanding of both where you’ve been and where you want to go. Kickoff prep is the strategic underpinning that harnesses the essence of your brand and starts the project off on the right foot.
Kickoff prep is the strategic underpinning that harnesses the essence of your brand and starts the project off on the right foot.
Within our process, this prep work is one of the primary elements that informs brand strategy, which goes on to inform brand design, communications, and beyond into interactive work. Kickoff prep puts the key in the ignition, driving us through all the key points along the road to your new brand. In short, it’s important, and completing it in a thorough, collaborative way ensures your project begins with sufficient traction.
It’s key to gather a project team that is knowledgeable about the history and trajectory of your company’s brand, focused on this brand project, and empowered to make future brand decisions. It’s a unique blend of folks who propel a project forward, and it all starts with kickoff prep.
Once your project team is assembled, it’s time to dive into the prep work. We’ve designed our materials to gather the most relevant and important information about your brand, all while being approachable and not overwhelming (and maybe even fun!). At the end of the day, we are brand experts, not experts in your existing brand, company, or industry. And we don’t intend to be. We know that you hold the keys to that information, and it’s our job to ask thoughtful questions that unearth answers — and often, even more questions — about where you’ve been and where you intend to go.
So, it’s probably clear why kickoff prep is part of our process. But what exactly does it look like?
As you can tell, information gathering is important, and we’ve structured it to be as simple and straightforward as possible for our client partners to complete. But what exactly does it capture, and what can you expect?
At Focus Lab, kickoff prep is a mix of questionnaires and guided exercises designed to help us obtain relevant information about your current and future brand. No matter how you’re working through your organization’s brand exercise, the details garnered before a project begins should give insight into the company's past, present, and future — and how it perceives itself to be different to its target audience and within the competitive landscape.
Our Project Planning, Brand Discovery, and Communications Discovery Questionnaires ask about the history and trajectory of your brand.
The Project Planning Questionnaire is originally used in the sales process, and this document is our initial chance to get to know you, what you’re seeking through your brand project, and what unique elements you need to achieve your objectives. Within kickoff prep, we make sure this initial information is still accurate and relevant.
The Brand and Communications Discovery Questionnaires dig deeper into your specific business goals, capabilities, audience, and design and communications. We might ask you:
- Why would a member of your target audience choose to work with you over a competitor?
- What misconceptions does your audience have about your brand?
- Why should customers care about your products or services?
These questions are crafted to ascertain where you are currently, the problems you’re facing, and your vision for the future, all so we can begin to craft a creative solution that can get you there. This information is used as a jumping-off point for our weekly discussions, which allow us to get even deeper and uncover strategic opportunities for your brand to stand out to your audience.
Whether or not you work with Focus Lab, considering these types of questions can help you gain a better understanding of where your brand has been and recognize the opportunities to craft a future brand that aligns with your company’s business objectives and target audience — one that stands out in the competitive landscape. It also helps us evaluate your differentiation, so we can begin crafting a brand positioning strategy that creates a strategic slot in your target audience’s mind.
In addition to these questionnaires, there are four collaborative exercises our clients complete. Each exercise has a specific topic, which helps us explore specific aspects of your brand.
The Audience Breakout Exercise is where we begin to understand our client partner’s audience(s). We consider not only the types of businesses you work with but also the specific business buyers and users — as well as their underlying product and emotional needs — so we can craft a brand that appeals to them. This exercise focuses on both your current audiences and your desired ones so we can fully flesh out who you’re looking to appeal to through your new brand.
The Brand Attributes Exercise is a creative exploration of how you want someone in your target audience to describe your brand and its characteristics. The project team narrows down three characteristics from a diverse bank of dynamic words and provides context that helps our team create definitions around these characteristics, so they’re unique to your brand. This is a collaborative exercise: Your project team sits down and communicates their visions so everyone gets on the same page, with some lively discussion along the way.
Similar to brand attributes, the Brand Archetype Quiz is another creative journey that helps us understand what your innate strengths are and how your audience perceives you. Brand archetypes are universal character models, informed by psychology. With names like the Magician, the Sage, and the Creator, these archetypes help us understand how your audience relates to and considers you as a brand.
We use brand attributes and archetypes as complementary inputs in order to create a strategic, comprehensive brand. By considering these inputs, we’re able to assemble a relatable picture of what a brand’s innate characteristics are, setting a foundation for how the future brand will be perceived.
Finally, the PMVP (Purpose, Mission, Vision, and Positioning) Exercise is a communication-oriented activity that helps us understand how our clients view themselves and their culture, along with what they find to be most valuable to convey to the world. This is viewed as the primary input to our core messaging deliverables within our communications work.
Some final notes on the importance of kickoff prep
We’ve had clients ask us before if they can send us existing research and documentation on their brand in lieu of completing kickoff prep. And in short, our answer is generally no.
We ask our client partners to put this information in a specific format in order to create a hierarchy of information, getting to the heart of your brand efficiently and putting the most important information in one place. This ensures all of the most compelling, accurate, and actionable details rise to the top. We don’t want to end up latching onto information that’s unimportant or no longer relevant.
You’ll note that all of these exercises are written, which is by design. Like any good research, we take our time to pore over written documentation to fully wrap our thoughts around them. We’ve also found that giving our client partners the opportunity to write down information that may not be documented elsewhere is a valuable exercise for them, helping their team get on the same page. For folks who may be more verbal processors, there will be plenty of time for continued discussion in our weekly meetings as the project kicks off.
As mentioned earlier, you’re the gatekeepers of where your brand has been and where you hope to go. Prepping ahead of time assures that you and your team are in lockstep and that all information is accurate and strategically chosen. Our process requires your team to have collaborative, decisive, and sometimes tough conversations; this is the first time to stress-test your team and get everyone aligned. Kickoff prep begins the conversation and equips your team to provide consolidated information and feedback, eliminating subjective opinions and focusing discussions on the objective.
Photos by Md Mahdi, Wesley Tingey and Dan Cristian Pădureț on Unsplash