Long before we talk about logos, fonts, or anything else, our branding process is about understanding what a new product or business stands for, what it needs to say and be in the world. It’s a crucial kind of understanding, but getting there can be challenging as stakeholders don’t always have the right words for what they feel, believe, and know about the business they’re building.
So we use various methods to help us get there. While abstract and sometimes a bit goofy, these methods bring ephemeral ideas into the room where we can all see and work with them concretely. But even tried-and-true methods can hit a wall, so sometimes we invent new ones.
Recently we hit one of those walls on a branding project still in progress, and came up with a new method to capture the brand’s personality. We call it Party Planner, and it worked so well we wanted to share it.
How it works
Party Planner is a flexible exercise: you can run it remotely or in person, with everyone contributing at the same time or separately and then combining answers later to compare and contrast.
- Ask each participant to imagine that the brand has planned a party, and to describe the following in detail:
- When does the party happen? What day of the week, when does it start, and how late does it go? What does the invitation look like?
- Describe the space in detail. Is the music live or from iTunes? How’s the food? Is it catered, pot-luck, or bags of chips?
- Who are the guests? What proportions of men and women, ages, couples and singles? What are they wearing? Are there children there or just the grown-ups?
- Now imagine that the brand as a person walks into the room:
- How is it dressed?
- Is it making a big entrance or slipping in quietly?
- What kind of conversation is made, and how does the party end?
- After it’s over, what do guests remember about their time there?
- Get writing the answers in a single space like a whiteboard to form a group view, then look for patterns and anything that stands out as insightful or effective. That’s what you want to take with you as you continue defining the product or brand personality.
Why it works
Hey, we said it was abstract. So how does this help anything?
If there’s one thing people are good at recognizing and connecting with, it’s other people. We’re great at getting a sense of who someone is, what their character or personality is, and that helps us know what to expect, and not expect, from them. It’s what makes us like or dislike them.
Whether stakeholders believe it or not, all brands have a personality, and customers learn it over time through many little interactions. That personality ends up influencing many things beyond the logo: features, UI designs, your business card, how you talk on Twitter and in newsletters - all that flows from the brand personality.
So when we’re designing a brand, we’re creating a personality that sets all those little things in the right direction. Through methods like Party Planner, we draw on people’s natural understanding of personality to inform an identity that’s rich, coherent, and appropriate for its audience.
- Party Planner is best used about mid-way through your exploratory workshops. It’s especially useful for consolidating discussions about brand qualities that aren’t resolving easily.
- Keep it casual and fun.
- Be sure to hit that reduction step at the end. This method generates a lot of collateral, and it’s helpful, but to move on in the process you should aim to leave a lot of it behind, taking with you a handful of great phrases, insights, keywords, and the like.
There isn’t a straight line from Party Planner to a brand. It’s only a step along the way, but after an hour (at most), everyone in the room has a clearer, shared idea of how their creation will connect with its audience. That’s a valuable step, and one towards making something people care about.
Party photo by Mark Rowland