We broke out the whiteboards, the giant Post-its, and multi-coloured Sharpies for this interactive brand workshop!
In case you missed it, last week we partnered with Marty Neumeier and Andy Starr, co-founders of Level C to deliver a two-day brand masterclass with branding geeks from all over the UK and Ireland!
Now when it comes to branding, it’s safe to say we’ve been going on about it since—well since day one, really. Whether it’s been defining your brand purpose, demonstrating your brand values, developing your brand personality, or even squishing them all together in a series of talks as creative partners for Google’s Digital Garage a couple years back (‘member that? Those were the days…)
We’re over the moon with how everything turned out, and though originally we had planned to write down every. single. detail. it turns out getting nearly 20 hours of branding know-how, one-on-ones with Marty and Andy, and page after page after page of Moleskine scribblings is more than anyone should ever try to cram into a blog post. To say nothing about alllllllllll the hands-on creative exercises and group projects we worked through (they don’t call it a workshop for nothing!), here are three of our favourite branding knowledge nuggets from last week!
1. Learning the language of brand
The workshop kicked off with defining what brand is and what it isn’t. In other words it’s not just a logo, or a corporate identity, or a product—it’s much MUCH more—or as Marty puts it, “A brand is a person’s gut feeling about a product, service, or organization”.
A big focus for the masterclass was picking up all those brand terms and learning about how they play off of each other, like what is brand purpose and how does it support everything else? What about the brand mission, vision, and values? Beyond being good brand knowledge to have rolling around in your head, the real aim was helping everyone learn to speak authoritatively using these terms and others because “you know, those brand value thingys…?” can be a bit confusing for others to say the least.
2. Does the left brain know what the right brain is doing?
The main focus for one of Marty’s more notable titles (and definitely one of our favourites!), ‘The Brand Gap’ explores the disconnect that exists in most organisations between those who work on the “strategy” side of a business—like those in finance, biz dev and operations, and those who work on the “creative” side—like designers, videographers or copywriters.
The idea being that when organisations silo these two ways of thinking and working into specific job roles, their brand can come across as dull, inauthentic, or both, while “charismatic brands” (that’s a product, service, or organisation for which people are convinced there’s no substitute—think Apple, IKEA, or Levi’s) are able to stand out by integrating strategy with creativity. They’re just better together, like tea and biscuits. In other words, it’s like we’ve always said—when it comes to creativity, there is no “us” and “them”. There’s creativity in everyone.
3. The five disciplines of brand
That’s right, our third and final takeaway is technically five things (we never claimed to be good at maths after all) but we’ll be quick, we promise! In short, when applied correctly the five disciplines of brand create what Marty calls a “virtuous circle” that can help businesses strengthen their brand and create a sustainable competitive advantage. It goes a little something like this:
Our brains act like filters to help protect us from information overload. People are hardwired to notice only the things that are different, so the trick for brands is to figure out what they can do to set themselves apart. A good way to do that is for businesses to ask themselves three questions:
“Who are we?” – This is your core purpose
“What do you do?” – This is your business category
“Why does it matter?” – This is your differentiated position
If a business doesn’t have a compelling answer to these questions, it’s time to refocus!
It takes a village to build a brand. That’s because, as we said before, different people think in different ways, and they have different perspectives. Today’s brands are just too complex to be built and supported by a single department. Another way to say it is that when it comes to building a brand, team work makes the dream work!
Innovation and creativity is where brands make their mark. The brands that stand out are the ones that use creativity to their advantage and have the guts to “zig” while others “zag” (this is the premise for Marty’s book, “Zag” which also gets a big thumbs up from us!) When it comes to branding, innovation means focusing not on what is, but what could be. Or as Marty said during the masterclass – “How do you know when an idea is innovative? When it scares the hell out of everyone!”
Validation is where you bring your audience into the equation. The old communication model was a monologue—brands speaking and audiences just having to well, listen. The new communication model incorporates feedback, which makes this more of a dialogue, from brands to people and people to brands. This new communication model is also better suited for “design thinking” which gets us away from the traditional way of thinking (“think > do”) and throws prototyping smack dab into the middle (“think” > “make” > “do”). Simply put, Marty went on to say that “design thinking puts options on the table that weren’t there before. It pushes back on what we think we know, and also changes what we’re likely to do”
Brands are a lot like people. If people can change their clothes without changing their character can brands do the same? You see, it used to be businesses focused mostly on controlling the look and feel of their brand. Nowadays we’ve gone a level deeper, and the emphasis is more on a brand’s character and authenticity, or as Marty says, “A living brand is a pattern of behaviour, not a stylistic veneer”. In other words, if brands can demonstrate their purpose and let their true character shine through, they’ll gain the trust and admiration of customers the world over.
All in, we couldn’t have asked for a more talented and enthusiastic group of now freshly minted and certified Brand Specialists to join us for this two-day workshop. A big MAH-HOOOSIVE thank you goes out to Marty and Andy for running the masterclass and to everyone else who came out! The brand knowledge and insights gained will no doubt go on to influence the way we all think about brand strategy long after the hand cramps from vigorous note-taking have subsided.
Speaking of brand knowledge, you can find out more about the next set of Level C masterclasses right here. Also make sure to follow us on social to stay in the know on future MadeBrave events!