Marty Neumeier—author and speaker on all things brand—defines ‘design thinking’ as a series of three steps: knowing, making, and doing. He says “The middle step of making—prototyping and testing new ideas—not only challenges what you ‘know,’ but changes what you do. It puts surprising options on the table that you hadn’t known existed.”
Read all about our brand masterclass with Marty here. We also had him on our video podcast, Just a Chat With.
This process got our cogs turning. In traditional branding, you sit in a room with your team and a bunch of creatives and strategists (hey there👋) to determine your positioning, values, visual style, tone of voice, and more. At the end, you know who you want to be, and you do what you need to do to bring that brand to life. But what about that ‘making’ part our pal Marty mentions?
In an alternative branding approach, this initial process determines your brand prototype: A V1 of your brand, instead of a final_final_seriously-this-is-it_V15. The idea is to use this prototype as a well-established starting point that is designed to be tested and built upon.
So, uh, how do you test your brand prototype?
Content is a great tool for testing your brand. You probably guessed that we’d say that, but stick with us, because here’s why:
- You see how your brand is brought to life through different mediums.
- Content presents your brand in an engaging way
- With social media and digital marketing, you can specifically target your core audience(s).
- Digital platforms provide invaluable data on how your audience responds to your content, which can be used to create actionable insights for your brand.
- Through content testing, your audience is mostly unaware that you are analysing their responses. They’re not prompted by anything, and so, are likely to respond in a completely natural, unbiased way. This gives you stronger data.
8 ways to use content to prototype and evolve your brand
1. Treat content creation as a stress-test of your visual style
Most visual styles look great in a brand guidelines doc, but what happens when all of those elements have to work together?
Ask your content creators about the brand — what do they like? What’s missing? The more you create, the more you’ll build. For example, if you’re producing video content, you might want to consider an animation style to create an ident. Or you could develop a sonic identity for jingles and podcast intros.
2. Get buy-in from your team
For a brand succeed, your whole team needs to be on board. From your customer service desk, to your product designers, to everyone on your sales team and beyond.
Think of it this way, you’ve got a bunch of people who know your business inside-out to ask about your brand. Talk about a dream scenario. By introducing your brand to them through engaging internal content, you’ll capture their attention and honest feedback.
3. Put your values front and centre
A recent study showed that 77% of consumers buy from brands who share the same values as they do.
By publishing content that’s centred around your brand values, you can analyse how they resonate with your audience. This can help you adapt and also attract an audience that truly connects with (and buys from!) your brand.
See how we created content around our brand values.
4. A/B test your messaging, tone, and visuals
With social ads, you can present variations of content to your target audience(s). You’ll want to try multiple messages, tones and designs based on the objectives of each ad type (e.g., the tone you use for a sales-driven ad would be different from an engagement-driven ad).
The insight you gather from the results can impact how you launch your brand, but it doesn’t stop there. Keep prototyping, then testing, then prototyping over time to make sure your brand evolves in the right direction. Again, this isn’t about gauging cost-per-action only as you might in performance marketing, it’s about using what you learn to incrementally prototype, test, and refresh your brand.
5. Discover your real target audience
Just as you can A/B test creative, you can also A/B test your audiences. Either produce content for your current brand personas, or cast the net wider—you might find that there’s an audience who responds to your brand even better than your key customer segment. Again, challenge what you know and what you find might surprise you!
6. Listen and react to content from other people
Content is a two-way street, and what your audience creates is just as, if not more, important than what you create.
Recently, the Black Lives Matter movement has had an incredible impact on the values and identities of brands. The story and progress of this human rights movement are being told through content. Brands have a responsibility to listen and make positive change.
Read more on the importance of brands that take a stance.
7. Assess future plans
Thinking of launching in a new country? Produce content that’s culturally relevant (what resonates here, might not resonate there). Creating a product for a different age group? Make content for channels and communities with a similar demographic. It’s the branding equivalent of dipping your toe in before doing a cannonball.
8. Study the best content in your industry
Keep your peepers peeled on the best performing content in your industry. What’s resonating with people? Most importantly, look beyond your immediate competitors — the more content you see, the more you’ll get an idea of the industry. From there, take time to think about how you can differentiate and how you can stand out like an industry-leading thumb.
Content to Combat Climate Change
In 2019, Tennent’s Lager announced its plans to become more sustainable, significantly boosting its contribution to the fight against climate change. The aim was clear – Scotland’s favourite beer needed an integrated campaign that showcased its sustainable actions, at every point in the Tennent’s production cycle, from grain to glass.
What we did
We created a brand film that told the story of Tennent’s sustainable pledge and their ‘Life is Bigger than Beer’ positioning line by following the product’s sustainable journey from source to pint.
It featured beautiful Scottish landscapes that best represented the key areas of Tennent’s sustainable commitments, communicate the brand’s quality and local sourcing, as well as encourage a strong sense of national pride in Scottish audiences. The script was written in Tennent’s tone of voice and used repetition as a device to build humour, and to position Tennent’s sustainability approach as genuine, from the heart and without lecturing their audience.
We also produced an original score for the film, including exaggerated sound design to add to the comedy and elicit an emotive response from listeners. This not only helped drive the story, but music is a powerful tool for memory association.
To maximise visibility of the pledge, we launched the film organically then rolled out cut-downs and stills for additional social content and paid ads. This extended the longevity of the campaign and allowed us to test and optimise messaging and creative.
The response to Tennent’s new sustainable investment was overwhelmingly positive. They tested putting their values front and centre, and the results let them know they were moving in the right direction. It also gave them a reference point for the brand to work from for all future sustainability-led campaigns.
Want to see what else we did for this campaign? Read more here.
All things considered
Think of your prototype as a version of your brand that’s 80% of the way there — that last percentage can be shuffled around with testing. If instead, you tried to build a full brand on the opinions of everyone else, it a) would take a very long time indeed and b) wouldn’t mean very much to anyone. The way we see it, it’s better to have 100 people who love your brand, than 1,000 people who like it.
Every piece of content you create adds to your brand evolution. It’s an ongoing process that never stops. As we’ve often said, it’s helpful to think of your brand as a person. Great brands (like great people) never stop evolving—they listen, they try new things, and they adapt on repeat. They’re continuously growing, so they’re never 100% complete.
How we can help you
We’re a global strategic brand agency with a full, in-house content team. This means we can help you prototype, test, and evolve your brand through showstopping content that brings it to life.