When I help brands define their distinct personality, seldom is it a straight download from one person’s brain. Most often, it happens through a series of group meetings where I help facilitate a discussion to uncover characteristics and deeper meanings. If you've ever participated, or facilitated, a group discussion, you know that staying on task is a fine balancing act between open discussion and structure. That’s why I like to use these tools to help stimulate discussion without stifling creativity.
These tools work especially well for new teams that haven’t worked together. They also work wonders for teams that tend to be highly analytical and need help loosening up and working in a different, less data-driven way. No matter what type of group it is, I find that everyone benefits from stepping away from the usual workday activities and injecting some play into the creative process.
Lone ranger brand builder? No worries, these tools are totally adaptable for you too!
The Logo Game
The challenge when we work with our own brands is we lack objectivity. The ability to look at our businesses outside of ourselves is key to being able to develop messaging that resonates with our audience and is in alignment with our core values.
The Logo Game is a fun way to look at which brands have carved a place in our memory. It especially helps people who don't work in marketing all day to get into the mindset of thinking about brands.
This one is really easy and I use it mostly as an icebreaker. Have participants pick a card. For each brand that comes up, the group can throw out what immediately comes to mind when they think of the brand. You can also ask some questions to probe the group a bit. When you think of this brand what comes up? What words would you use to describe it? How does it make you feel? How do you think this company has created this impression for their brand?
Follow the same exact directions above if you’re working on your own.
Tina Fey’s Rule of Improv
For teams that have a strong hierarchy, this is one of the most transformative exercises I’ve ever used. It helps establish ground rules to make sure everyone has the opportunity to feel heard and respected, which once a team tries, can change a culture.
Start by bringing out the book, Bossypants, by Tina Fey, and get volunteers read her “Rules of Improv.” There is mild cursing in this section (“hell” and “bastard”) but reading it as is helps the team bond with humor. I used this exercise at one of the most prestigious scientific institutions in the country, and while I was nervous that it might be perceived as inappropriate or unprofessional, it actually had the opposite effect. Months later, the scientists reported that they still used the structure with their teams. One even bought a copy of the book for his entire team.
I’m not going to publish the section here, because I want you to go out and buy the book to get access to Tina’s brilliant humor. But the main rules are:
2. Say "Yes, And"
3. Make Statements
4. There Are No Mistakes, Only Opportunities
To use the Rules of Improv by yourself, set up a specific time for brainstorming for yourself, just like you would if you were working with a group. Pick a space with a white board, chalk board, or some other area where you can capture your ideas as they flow. It’s super important to affirmatively write down all of your brilliant thoughts without self-censorship. Once you’ve captured all of your initial ideas, go back and see where you can add maybe even another idea to each of them.
Rory’s Story Cubes
These dice are fantastic as quick prompts to help you get used to thinking associatively and collaborating. They’re also a great way to start practicing the Rules of Improv!
Here’s how it works: I hand out three dice to each participant. First, I have each participant look at each image on the dice and come up with several words to describe each image. For example, if you see something that looks like a pill, you might write down words like sick, medicine, vitamin, healthy, or swallow. Don’t skip this step, it’s important to let participants feel grounded and familiar with what’s on their dice.
Once everyone is comfortable with the images, we go around the table and each person rolls one of their dice and contributes a sentence that is prompted by the image on their die. Together, the group creates a story. The first round is the setup of the story, the second round is the story arc, and the last round is the conclusion. There are always folks who feel stage fright or time pressure. As a facilitator, encourage others to be respectful by giving them space and not jumping in with other ideas.
Flying solo on this one? Simply roll the dice as above and create your story. If you want some company, check out this video from the creators of the game and see how it’s done:
Brand Character Profile
Once I have the group warmed up with these exercises, they’re ready to work together to complete the Brand Character Profile. This is a tool that I developed to help brands uncover the backstory of their characters. I was inspired by literary authors, like J. K. Rowling, who attributed the aliveness of their characters to developing the worlds before they wrote the plot.
The Brand Character Profile goes through a series of questions to help describe the brand as if it were a fictional character. The group talks about their brand’s personality while maintaining that critical objective perspective. For example, one client I worked with decided that their brand was a woman. When we got to the section about how she dresses, this conversation took place. (Notice the Rules of Improv and group storytelling in action?)
Participant #1: I think she would dress conservatively. Nothing trendy. Pearls. Not gaudy costume jewelry.
Participant #2: Yes, and she’s not too matronly either. She’s classic, like Jackie O or Audrey Hepburn. She’d probably shop at Ann Taylor, but not Talbot’s.
Participant #1: That’s it! She’s polished. She never goes out of style and in a strange way always looks trendy because of how tailored her look is.
Notice all those wonderful characteristics we got from that conversation? If we had been talking about the brand from an analytical and linear point of view, we may have settled on “conservative” as a trait. But further discussion using the Brand Character Profile and the warm up exercises helped us get to the nuance of what “conservative” actually meant to this group: polished, classic, and tailored. This small understanding comes to life in a big way when it’s implemented across an organization’s visual and verbal branding.
So, that’s what works for me. How about you? Do you have favorite tools for collaboration? I would love to hear about them in the comments below.