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Our take on the Google Ventures brand sprint

How to Build a Brand Strategy in 3 Hours | Edgar Allan

Brand strategy is generally the very first thing we want to talk about when we start a project with a new client. Is there a strategy in place? You’ve got a logo and some colors? Hey, that’s great…but what else? How’d you choose those things?

You’re honestly not going to get a lot of argument against having a solid brand these days, but the quality and robustness of what the word “brand” means varies widely. And cost and time are the biggest reasons brand sometimes just doesn’t get done right.

So, here’s how we formalize brand-building into something quick and immediately gratifying. We call it the brand sprint – an intense, 3-hour working session that brings teams together to hash out the what, how, why and more or their business.

To start, we should give credit. We adapted our sprint from a hybrid of Google Venture’s 7-day concept-to-prototype Design Sprint and their own half-day Brand Sprint, both of which you can read about all over the place. I’ll run through the basics here, but I really want to offer a little extra that will help anyone doing this (or having someone like us lead them through it) get the most out of their few hours.

So that said, let’s clear the room, grab the time-timer, and begin.

Warming Up: Pre-Sprinting

Sprinting has rules. No computers, phones or smart watches in the room. (People will multitask within an inch of their lives if you let them.) Stay hydrated and satiated. (We offer drinks and snacks.) And finally, choose your Decider wisely. The Decider is where the buck stops when we brainstorm 3 values and what the “why” behind your business is. The Decider must be of sound mind, of strong will, and be unafraid to declare a #1 choice, which believe me, some people find hard.

Overall tips: I’m not a fan of “note and vote,” (prevalent in the GV 7-day design sprint); I think it takes too long and you’ll never get through everything if you do it. It’s also unnecessary if you’ve only got a couple people in the room. Asking people to think and write down their answers on scrap paper and then share is a good idea though if you’ve got 3 or more participants.

Exercise 1: Timeline

The timeline exercise was conceived to make the point that brand is a long-term commitment, so you should begin in the mindset of today and tomorrow. We use the timeline exercise as an icebreaker though — to get everyone in the room talking about where things are now, where they’re headed, and to get a good background on the company and brand’s history.

My hot tip for this one: Don’t push a decades-long timeframe. Look at what’s needed now, in a year, and then maaaaybe in five years. Be detailed as you want in between. Otherwise, people try to generalize (“we’ll grow,” for example) because they can’t wrap their head around something so far in the future.

Exercise 2: What, Why, How

You are most likely one of the zillion people who watched Simon Sinek’s Ted Talk and have seen the bullseye What/How/Why graph, but don’t be fooled: this exercise can, and in a lot of cases should take up a good 1/3 of your time. Start with What and level-set with the most basic description you can. Then move on to how (what’s your special sauce?) and then make sure to be in a good headspace to tackle why.

?Tips: Don’t get too specific in the what. “We make toothbrushes” is just fine. Don’t confuse your how with every single method you use to make your product. Just think about the differentiating ones. And don’t try to get your Why answers inside that tiny bullseye bubble. I swear I’m going to draw this thing inside-out one of these days. Most importantly, push for a real, true, authentic, legit WHY. It’s in there, inside someone in the room, but sometimes you have to badger people past “helping people,” and “making a difference in the world.”

Exercise 3: Values

Values are the worst part of every corporate brand statement. There’s about 20 typical ones out there, and every brand in existence hitches its wagon to at least one of them. Trust. Authenticity. Innovation. Partnership. Blargh. Sorry. It’s the worst part of working with brands, reading this crap.

My tip: Don’t let your group write any of the above words on the board EVER. Go read 10 fortune-500 about pages and make a list of no-gos. Push, hard, for more specific and unique values. The best ones we’ve come up with lately that were absolutely perfect for their respective brands: Delight. Chaos Theory. Chutzpah.

Exercise 4: Audience

Audience is a huge element in creating a spot-on brand strategy. However, I feel that this exercise glosses over much of the thought that needs to go into audience definition, and I’d recommend anyone doing a brand sprint spend time after the fact beefing up this area of research. That said, there’s value in at least saying out loud who your audiences are and picking one to chase, because honestly, I don’t think a lot of brands do this very well. ?

Tips: After identifying the audience buckets, make sure to ask what they care about, what they don’t care about and what pain your business or product can/should solve for them. That’ll set you on the right road.

Exercise 5: Personality Sliders

I think of this exercise as a baby voice and tone exercise. We typically ask teams to mark both where they are on the sliders and where they’d like to be, as I think that’s more informative. ?

Tips: Don’t use Google Ventures’ examples (“friendly” brands…“mass marketed” brands) – they’re difficult for clients to understand. Do tailor your personality sliders as you go. Your team will tell you which ones don’t fit. Listen, and then find a better scale for them to express who they are, and aren’t on. Also, don’t let your teams get confused about the purpose of this exercise. It’s about how the brand expresses itself not what it is at its core. A brand can be an authority but convey that in a friendly way, for example.

Exercise 6: Competitive Set

This final exercise is another one that’s best seen as a jumping off point for further research. And honestly, sometimes just getting a list of competitors is just fine here, though if your team has done a lot of research into their competition, for the love of Pete, snag it here. Pick their brains; you’ll save a lot of time later.?

My tips: Don’t just ask about brands that sell something directly competitive to your team’s brand. Think about competitors that steal mind space from your customers too. A good example might be, if Blockbuster only looked at other video rental services as who they were competing with and then missed a whole bunch of opportunity because they didn’t see their customers turning somewhere else for entertainment. Oh wait. That’s kind of what happened there. Don’t be Blockbuster.

Brand strategy development can be scary. Feel like a lot of big thinking that doesn’t go anywhere real. I get it: In my former agency life, the 12-month, 80+ interview process, six-figure consulting engagement resulting in a 200-page brand novel was the model. At Edgar Allan however, we like to work faster and more intuitively, with the belief that brand is more about what happens after the brand presentation is over, that a great brand is a solid idea built to be agile and expansive, and that most companies – especially small ones – can get a lot out of spending just a little time and money thinking deeply about brand.

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