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How to locate,
differentiate and
the power of
your brand’s
simple truth.
Chuck Kent | creativeoncall
Table of
STEP 1: Discover
Research and review
External discovery
Internal discovery and branding workshop
STEP 2: Define
Brand elements, essence, benefits & personality
STEP 3: Develop
Brand-positioning statement
Master creative strategy
Brand identity
Brand voice
Presenting to the organization
Leadership interview
Pre-workshop questionnaire
Workshop outline
Brand map
Master creative strategy
Chuck Kent is a freelance branding strategist and writer who has
worked with clients from A (American Girl) to Z (Zurich), and for
marketers and their agencies of all sizes. He is the creator and
moderator of The Branding Roundtable for Branding Magazine, for
which is also a Contributing Editor. Find him on Twitter, LinkedIn
and his own company website and blog,
Text © Creative on Call, Inc.
May be used and shared with attribution.
[email protected]
This is
So it’s not
about you.
Here’s the most important thing you can learn from this eBook:
branding is not about your brand.
It’s about your customers, prospects and employees and what your
product or service – in fact, your whole company – can honestly do
and be for them. As such, branding isn’t about positioning in the
sense of posturing; it’s the task of locating the simple truth about
your brand. This search requires taking three steps:
1. DIscover the needs and attitudes of all constituencies.
2. Define the brand essence: its rational and emotional value.
3. Develop a differentiating positioning statement and master
creative strategy.
Identifying what your brand can honestly do and be requires
complete honesty with yourself in the process, a need that may
be best served by hiring an independent consultant or branding
firm (says the experienced consultant writing this). But even if you
decide to pursue branding or rebranding internally,
this eBook will help you discover,
define and develop the
essential elements of
a strong, meaningful,
(It’s about her.)
Before you
take that
first step
bring your
There are two critical reasons to involve your people at all levels:
• Leadership needs to be invested in the branding process
if they are going to champion (and fund) the outcome
• Employees deliver the brand experience, good or bad,
planned or not; they must have and feel ownership
Of course, investing people requires educating them first.
How to Explain Branding to Your Leadership
1. Tell them what a brand is. Even experienced business people
often misunderstand what a brand really is, thinking it’s just
a logo or an image. There are many definitions; my favorite
states that a brand is a promise made and kept.
2. Explain the ROI of branding. Familiarize yourself with the
research that explains the bottom line benefit of having a clear,
strong brand. One report, for instance, states that “Strong
brands have been shown to be effective strategies for achieving sustainable profits and returns. Furthermore, strong brands
also demonstrably enhance shareholder wealth via higher firm
stock [prices].”
3. Describe the organizational benefits. Well-defined and
differentiated brands help attract, retain and, best of all,
inspire employees. Conversely, a recent study noted that “A
weak brand...can lead to poorer candidates, disengaged and
resentful employees, higher turnover and ultimately reduced
organizational performance.
Whether you do it one-to-one or in more formal meetings, it pays
to explain up front how branding profits everyone.
No company is a stock as these
people, so no brand positioning
can rely on stock answers. You
need to listen closely to your
organization at all levels if you
want to hear what really makes
your brand experience unique.
The quickest route to ineffective branding is for a marketer to insist
that they already thoroughly understand and can articulate exactly
what their customers want and need – and that they are ready to
simply jump to creating branding statements. This can be done,
but all it produces is a formalization of preconceived notions and
political biases – in short, the problems you’re trying to overcome
only get more entrenched.
Useful insight requires in-depth listening and learning, fresh
perspectives and, as emphasized before, complete honesty.
Whomever is leading your branding effort should be expected
(and allowed) to:
1. Review current client materials and plans
Provide your project leader with your latest business plans
(redact as you must, but let them in on the basics) along with
key marketing/communications materials, plus whatever
competitor materials and information you have.
2. Review existing industry research and social signals
Hopefully your company conducts on-going research on consumer and customer attitudes, needs and trends, and routinely whittles your own Big Data down to manageable size.
Equip your project leader with that information, as well as any
related industry studies. If you do not have any current proprietary research, seriously consider investing the time and money
to conduct new research (many new marketing research tools
make this a faster, more affordable endeavor than ever).
3. Interview the executive team one-on-one
Once the project leader has digested all of the above, he
or she should interview the executive project owners to focus
your discovery and challenge assumptions. (See the Leadership
Discussion Guide example in the Addendum.)
4. Interview clients one-on-one
If you have no current information and feel you can’t
afford to do even the slightest bit of new research, at least
do this: identify 10-12 representative customers who
would be willing to do a 30 minute phone interview
with your project leader. These should
definitely be recorded as the verbatim remarks,
even the inflection of the comments, can be
very revealing, factually and emotionally.
A well-executed discovery phase gathers and prioritizes the data
you need – but there’s still a huge gap between raw information
and real insight. In the definition phase you must pare away all
non-essentials until you are left with nothing but your brand’s
simple truth (again, we are about positioning here, not posturing).
At this point, your branding consultant or internal project leader
must take a strong lead in defining:
1. Brand elements
What are your products, organizational structure,
personality and symbols?
2. Brand essence
How do the above net out as the core of what you are
and do?
3. Brand benefits
What difference – rationally and emotionally– does that
essence make to customers (and all stakeholders)?
4. Brand personality
How is your brand most accurately personified as part of that
all-important customer relationship?
The Branding Workshop Begins
Experience shows that, while your consultant needs to craft initial
definitions of the above using a Brand Map (see the
template in the Addendum), once those are complete
it’s time to involve your larger leadership team in the branding process.
Schedule a half-day, off-site session during which the
consultant can guide a group of 10-12 key internal
decision makers and influencers through the
Brand Map, soliciting their input and challenges,
and challenging their assumptions and biases
in return (see the Workshop Outline).
This teamwork not only adds valuable
organizational insight – it also invests your
leaders in the outcome of the branding process, giving them both
ownership in, and responsibility for, its success.
A Special Note About Discerning Your Brand’s Personality
An effective brand personality is not a fictional character contrived
to attract, but, rather, it is your brand’s true internal character
revealed. As such, it can’t be a mask, it must be a reflection.
Hold a Mirror Up to Your Organization
There are many ways to get your organization to see, and say,
what it is. One of the best is the photo sort, an exercise that
invariably engages and enlivens the leadership team more than any
other single exercise in the half-day branding workshop. If your
consultant isn’t familiar with the photo sort, here’s how it works:
1. Assemble a wide range of portraits
The objective is to compile a deck of 20 or so photos of
well-known personalities (famous people or archetypes).
On the one hand, you should be mindful of personality types
that represent known qualities, or aspirations, of your organization. On the other hand, it’s wise to throw in a few wild
cards, simply to see what reactions they spark.
2. Divide your workshop group into teams
Us – in 5 year s
Provide a complete deck of 5x7 photos for teams of 3-4
workshop participants each (ideally a total of 3 teams).
3. Challenge the teams
Ask each team to select (in separate, sequential exercises)
six photos/people that represent a key aspect of a) your
easy going
exp ert
competitors, b) your organization now and c) what they
inquisit ive
believe your organization can be in five years.
4. Require the teams to present and explain their choices
Have each team select a presenter who will place the six
choices up on a poster-size Post-It, labeling each with
excit ing
experien ced
welc oming
just one adjective. (Note: be sure to photograph each of these
Post-Its before starting the next round, as teams will need to
re-use photos.)
After the workshop, the consultant/project leader should
compile and distill the results, aiming to divine an essential thread
throughout the comments. The consultant’s summation is most
usefully presented as a six-photo selection, each photo described
by one key adjective.
Photo sorts can also be used to excellent effective if you are able to
conduct customer/consumer focus groups.
This is the step where your brand positioning comes together – or
not. It is deceptively simple: a one sentence brand-positioning
statement, followed by a one-page master creative strategy that
looks like a fill-in-the-blank template. This, however, is also where
the Big Idea happens, where all you have discovered and defined
must get distilled into clear, differentiating, usable statements.
Brand-Positioning Statement
Simplicity, brevity and specificity rule in creating a brand
positioning statement, which should take the follow form:
To (target audience), (product/service name) is the (adjective)
brand that provides (this key benefit).
The statement should be phrased to be as competitively unique
as possible.
Master Creative Strategy
Up until now we’ve been concerned with internal language (which
is to say, no, you should not use your brand-positioning statement
in literal form with any of your key audiences). Making all this
effort meaningful in the marketplace requires converting it
into a practical brand messaging strategy – a master creative
strategy to inform and guide all communications.
In the Addendum you will find a Q&A template for
encapsulating key considerations to be observed whether
writing a website, ad or employee newsletter (each of
which likely deserves its own specific version to clarify
exact communication deliverables of specific, goaldriven projects). This document not only guides
creative development, it also provides as objective a
a yardstick as is possible for judging creative work
in the subjective realm of marketing creativity.
It is important that you not only complete the organization-facing
statements, but also proceed to “materializing” the promise of this
new positioning in customer-facing uses. This will help you
• Prove the practicality of your brand direction
• Embed it in the organization through real-world use
Brand Identity
For new brands, or completely repositioned brands, a new name
and/or visual identity (not just a logo, but also colors, fonts
and overall visual approach) are likely the first order of creative
business. Done well, these can be very involved, time-consuming
and/or expensive propositions, but regardless of the scope of your
identity projects, they all require the brand-positioning work to be
completed, and completely understood, first.
Brand Voice
Establishing a distinctive brand voice through specific copy creation
is one of the best ways to establish your brand personality. As most
branding projects for smaller to medium-sized brands are typically
followed by the development of a new website, that copy creation
is your best opportunity to begin to work out and exhibit your
unique brand voice.
Sales Deck
Many companies reach their first level of success through
pure, “old-fashioned” salesmanship, and branding comes to
the fore only when such companies grow past the lowhanging fruit and need to support broader sales through
disciplined marketing (not to mention needing to build
greater brand equity for owners or shareholders). For such
sales-centric companies, there is no better first project (other
than the website) than updating that old warhorse, the
PowerPoint sales deck. A well-designed, consistent, differentiating and strategically more persuasive deck can be a great
way to make brand believers (and ambassadors) out of your sales
force and management.
You’ve done the hard work of brand positioning. You’ve started
to bring it to life with the first customer-facing expressions of your
promise and personality. Everybody’s onboard and it’s full speed
ahead, right? Well, not quite.
Sing it, Dance it, Sell it!
Many companies fall into the trap of simply launching into new
brand communications without first getting buy-in from the entire
organization. Yes, if you’ve followed this process you have at least
involved your management and key leadership team, but there is
an army of make-or-break brand stewards out there – that is to
say, the entire organization – that needs to get informed and get
excited about what the new branding means to them.
Minimally, you need to make a formal presentation to the troops
(no, an email won’t do). Ideally, you’ll invest in an employeeinvolving internal communications campaign. Depending on the
nature (and budget) of your organization, this might include
• A teaser campaign to pique employee interest (think of a
series of only semi-revealing messages, whether in-location
signage, postcards, videos... get creative)
• An organization-wide presentation to create a shared
“moment of change”
• An on-going effort to keep communicating, and correlating,
employees’ brand boosting with performance (HR needs to
be part of bringing the brand alive)
Don’t Forget Your Brand Co-Creators
Of course, in this era of the hyper-empowered consumer, both
new branding and rebranding projects are wise to not only respect
the customer’s sense of brand ownership but actively work to cultivate and inform it. In the Discover phase of the branding process,
this can mean anything from social listening to active solicitation
of input. Once its time to launch the new branding, it also means
being intentional about reaching out to the most committed (and
vocal) brand advocates / evangelists / agitators. Consider special
“preview” communications, contests and other incentives tied into
understanding and socially amplifying the new brand messaging.
Leadership Interviews
Pre-Workshop Questionnaire
Workshop Outline
Brand Map
Master Creative Strategy
This sample is specifically for a B2B services firm, but can be
adapted to B2C firms and individual product/service branding. It
is recommended that you ask permission to record and transcribe
this interview, both for clarity of information gathering and
potential use (as quotes) in your reporting.
Your Firm
In one sentence, as briefly as possible, describe the business you’re in.
What are your near term business goals?
Long-term goals?
What is the firm’s greatest strength?
Greatest weakness?
Client Profiles & Needs
Describe your current clients by:
Decision-makers (positions, demographics, psychographics)
Greatest needs / pain points
Greatest personal/career needs/fears
Media habits
Top reason(s) they choose you
Describe your ideal prospects by:
Decision-makers (positions, demographics, psychographics)
Greatest business needs / pain points
Greatest personal/career needs/fears
Media habits
Top reason(s) they will or won’t choose you
Marketplace Dynamics
Who are your top 2-3 competitors today?
What do you see as their competitive differentiators?
What are their marketplace advantages?
Who (by description, if not name) are likely to be your top 2-3 competitors in 3-5 years?
What will be their competitive differentiators?
Marketplace advantages?
Over the past few years, from a client’s view of your industry, what has been
… the most exciting change
… the most difficult challenge
Answer both of the above from a your firm’s perspective.
As clients look ahead, what is likely to be your industry’s
… most exciting change
… most difficult challenge
Answer the above from your firm’s perspective
At least a week before the half-day workshop, send this
questionnaire out to the participants. You will need to get it back
in time to synthesize composite answers to help inform your
exploration and discussion in the workshop.
3-Step Branding Process Workshop
Leadership Team Questionnaire
Name: _____________________________________
Title: _____________________________________
Please briefly answer the following questions; your input will help inform our brand-positioning process. Please
type your answers directly following the questions; when there are multiple responses to a single question,
please numerically prioritize your answers. Simply email your completed questionnaire directly to [project
leader] at [email].
In one sentence, as distilled as possible, please answer the question
“What does your [organization name] do?”
What do you see as [organization name’s] greatest competitive:
Describe [organization name’s] current clients by:
Reasons they work with [organization name]
Reasons they don’t – i.e., why do you lose projects from current clients or prospects?
Describe the clients you think [organization name] should have in the future, by:
What types of products/services should [organization name] be offering that it is not now to attract those desired future clients, and expand business with the clients we currently have?
What obstacles to you see in getting to points 4 and 5 above?
Who do you see as [organization name’s] top competitors
In five years
This outlines the approximately 3 1/2 hour facilitated workshop
envisioned for a key leadership team of 10-15 people. To ensure
focus, it’s best to hold this off site. This requires only a comfortable
conference room with ample food and drink available (and use of
devices discouraged, except at breaks).
What is a brand – and why does it need to be positioned?
Ask for definitions
Share: a well-positioned brand should do three things:
Present a compelling benefit to the prospective customer
Identify the benefit provider (brand identity and personality)
Differentiate the product or service from the competition.
(this is the combined effect of the first two points)
Who are you?
Share their definitions broadly compiled from the pre-workshop questionnaire into one
composite description
Walk participants through the brand map (the leader/consultant should have his/her own
answers in hand, but solicit input from the group before sharing or adding those in).
Who are your customers, present & future?
What are their needs/desires/pain points?
What are your customers like? Personality? Media habits?
Who is your competition?
Talk about ones most often mentioned in their questionnaires
Benefit differentiation matrix
Place your company and competitors on a matrix of relevant key benefits (functional benefits on
one axis, emotional benefits on the other). Do the exercise first for today, and again to represent
where you want to see relative positions five years from now (these four benefits are only for purposes
of illustration):
Brand personality photo sort
Benefit is only part of it – personality counts in the human decision-making equation:
Reason (benefit) + emotion (response to personality) = decision
Using the process outlined on page 7, have each team create and present their photo selects for
The brand at present
The brand aspired to (future)
Use this template to tease out the core elements of the brand. It
is recommended that the consultant or project leader have his/
her own answers defined, but solicit imput from the workshop
participants before sharing or adding those definitions.
Brand map
Brand Organization
- Who are you
- How are you organized
Brand Personality
Descriptors that
personify the company
Brand Essence
Two or three key words
that describe the
essential brand benefits
Brand products
List the key
Brand Symbols
Visualize the brand via
current or new images
Brand Value
Describe what your product/service does on a core functional level.
Describe how your brand makes its users feel (try formatting
as a user quote).
What does the user as an individual get out of the brand?
Use this format to distill all the branding work you’ve done into a
focused, manageable message. And please – keep it to one page.
The discipline of communicating the essentials begins here and,
whether your vehicle is a website or a print ad, you must make the
most of limited space and even more limited attention spans.
How to
Get Started
The first step is to select an experienced brand strategist from outside your organization (my recommendation, both for purposes of
expertise and objectivity). If that is not in your budget, then select
a project leader from your internal team and empower her or him
with enough authority and independence to make a difference.
Chuck Kent
As a brand strategist and a writer, I can not only help you find
your brand’s simple truth, I can also convert your discoveries into
compelling communications (one is, after all, really no use without
the other). I’ve helped do it for global leaders like GE, Motorola
and Zurich, as well as upstart innovators and a host of small-tomidmarket companies.
This eBook should give you a good idea of how I think. If you’d
like to know a little more about me personally, try one of my most
popular posts;
“3 Things You Need to Know About Chuck Kent
Before Hiring Him”
[email protected]
I did not originate all these the tools and techniques featured here; they include my best synthesis of ideas from
other brand thinkers over decades of branding experience,
presented in a format that I have honed to be the most
effective. My appreciation goes out to all, with apologies
that specific names cannot be included in my thanks.
Text © Creative on Call, Inc.
May be used and shared with attribution.