The purpose of a branding workshop is for business leaders and branding strategists to define the strategy or vision for the brand. The workshop environment facilitates collaboration, ingenuity, more off-the-wall ideas, and communication. In short, it gets everyone creative and on the same page.
If you’re leading a branding workshop, the ideal outcome is that by the end, the leadership of the company you’re helping is completely clear on how they want their brand to be perceived and communicated. Not only that, but you, as the branding expert, should also be completely clear on the strategic direction of your client’s brand.
There’s a real benefit to giving the client creative input, rather than developing their entire brand strategy with no feedback. A branding workshop gives clients more of a sense of control and insight into the process. (And on the more cynical side, active participation in branding makes it more likely they’ll accept your final recommendations without changing their mind a dozen times.)
If you don’t constructively run the branding workshop, it can cause confusion and frustration. Clients may feel they’re not getting the value they expected, and you can lose credibility with your client.
Of course, the hard part of running a branding workshop with clients is that you’re getting non-marketing experts to do marketing. To run it well, you have to come up with some pretty creative exercises that help them articulate their beliefs and values in a way that you can use to guide their branding.
Established exercises have their place, but sometimes less expected exercises help push the session to new heights. Here are six less-expected branding workshop exercises that can help you run a great branding workshop.
Exercise #1: Ask Stupid Questions
This branding workshop exercise is easy to execute but takes some guts. All you have to do is get everyone in the meeting to ask the stupidest branding question they can think of.
This exercise accomplishes a lot. First, everyone feels a little looser and free to ask genuine questions. It’s a good way to clear away doubts and give permission to show weakness. Remember, in a branding workshop, you might have C-suite leadership in the room with more junior employees. And there’s always the chance that you could uncover good branding insights—many “stupid” questions are not stupid. For example, a newer employee might wonder why the logo for the renewable energy company they work for is purple. There may be a valid reason for it, or the color may have been inherited from previous branding directions and never questioned until now.
Forcing the “stupid” questions about branding helps everyone get on the same page and feel more comfortable together and with you. You can go first by asking, as a branding strategist, a “stupid” question: “Why is XX done that way?” or, “Why do you want the brand to be perceived as Y?”
This exercise is a modified tip from Matt Davies’s excellent article on facilitating branding workshops.
Exercise #2: Pressure Cooker
To do this exercise, simply ask breakout groups to decide on a key component under a time deadline. (This is another modified tip from the great Matt Davies.)
The purpose of this branding workshop exercise is to get everyone to stop overthinking—a common obstacle in group environments. It also forces communication and collaboration. If there’s a deadline, even if two people disagree, there’s pressure to compromise and come to a decision.
This is important because branding workshops often involve a lot of discussions. Discussion on its own is great, but sometimes there’s too much chatter and not enough making choices. Framing this as an “exercise” means you get people to make choices and come up with rationales behind them.
You can ease some of the pressure by reminding participants that no decision is final and that they can sense-check these choices with other groups.
Exercise #3: Wrong Customer Profile
This exercise involves asking individuals or breakout groups to design the anti-ideal customer—the worst possible customer or the least likely person to want to engage with their brand.
The purpose of this branding workshop exercise is to identify the ideal customer by process of elimination. When you define who an ideal customer isn’t, it can sometimes help give a sense of who your ideal customer is.
This is important because coming up with “ideal” characteristics can sometimes be hard. Thinking of what you don’t want your customer to be like is easier. Plus, it can be a little less serious than a classic “ideal customer profile” exercise.
As a branding workshop facilitator, your job is to see where people agree and disagree and use that to spark conversation. For example, if one breakout group says, “We don’t want to sell to people over the age of 40,” while another says, “We don’t want to sell to customers in their thirties,” get both groups to explain their reasoning.
Exercise #4: Brand Obituary
This one’s a bit morbid but still fun and fruitful. Ask participants how they would eulogize the brand in an obituary if the brand were a real person who’d recently died. Talk about the brand in its best days, what it accomplished, and what made it cease to exist.
You can learn more about this branding workshop exercise in a separate post on How Brands Are Built, but as a reminder, here are a few elements participants should include in their brand obit:
- Why did the brand die?
- What will customers remember it for?
- What did your brand leave unaccomplished?
- Who will mourn or miss your brand, and why?
- What lessons should we learn from the brand’s life?
- What can be learned in the aftermath of its death?
- Now that the brand is gone, what will take its place?
At the end of the exercise, discuss each participant’s obituaries. Where are the commonalities? Where did obituaries differ?
The purpose of this exercise is to get participants thinking long-term. By forcing company employees to think about the legacy of their brand, it helps them define the values and purpose of the brand—and what they want to accomplish with the company before it’s gone. It also gives participants a chance to identify threats to the business and think of ways to avoid that “cause of death.”
Exercise #5: Drunk Brand
For this exercise, participants should imagine the brand as a person—who gets drunk. What happens to the brand’s personality? What does the brand do?
This sounds a little goofy, but there’s a real branding benefit to this exercise: it forces you to think about how to turn the dial up on your brand’s personality. For example, if participants think of the brand as “fun,” a drunk brand might be “outrageous.”
Personifying your brand is a well-known exercise for a reason—it’s really helpful to determine your brand’s key attributes. But too many brands fall short of what differentiates them from the competition. Going one step further and envisioning your brand drunk pulls out and highlights the real differentiators. It also injects an element of fun and silliness into what is an otherwise quite typical exercise. For an extra bit of fun, ask participants what the brand’s drink of choice would be, and why.
This branding workshop exercise is modified from Punchy’s “Cocktail Party” exercise.
Exercise #6: This or That?
This exercise requires a bit more upfront work from you as the branding workshop facilitator, but the results are well worth it in my opinion. To run this exercise, craft multiple either/or options for various brand attributes and have participants pick a winner from each one.
For example, you might offer two options on blog post titles, color schemes, or taglines. Participants should select one of the choices, and explain their choice on a sticky note.
Choosing in a vacuum is hard. For example, a participant at a branding workshop for a food delivery company might not love the tagline, “We deliver better together,” but have a hard time articulating why exactly. By offering that tagline in comparison to a tagline like, “Get your food fast,” that participant could identify that they like the urgency and simplicity of the second option.
This exercise helps you whittle away negative traits and slowly accumulate desirable ones to build up a brand’s identity.
I modified this exercise from Glassdoor Design’s post on their internal branding personality workshop. It’s worth a read if you’re looking for inspiration on how to run this branding workshop exercise.
Branding workshop exercises inject creativity into your session
A branding workshop can go well. It can leave your client energized, excited, and most importantly, completely clear on their vision for the brand. These exercises, while a little offbeat, help infuse some levity and creativity into the session.
Many people are used to the commonplace corporate branding exercises. Those do have their place—they’re classic for a reason—but these branding workshop exercises are a little more interesting and unexpected. That can bring participants to new creative heights because there’s no predetermined answer.
If you want to break out of a rut and inspire your client, try these six exercises at your next branding workshop.
Zulie Rane is a freelance writer. She previously worked in sales and marketing departments for tech companies. Today, she writes for companies in various sectors, including cybersecurity, marketing, and data science.