4 Jan 2012

Indie Advice: Branding Questionnaire

In this post I'll share with you some questions you can ask yourself or your colleagues that will help you understand how to communicate a brand identity.

When I was working in finance I had the pleasure of working with Phil Joyce - a designer who's skill was not just making things look pretty, but getting to the nub of often vague requirements. I've never seen anyone feign interest so convincingly, or expose someone's lack of forethought in such a disarming fashion.

What would you put here?
Many introvert artisans consider branding a cringe-worthy endeavour (for which I think the archetypal spin-merchant and bullshitter Kurt Cobain has a lot to answer) but it really needn't be. Yes, it's all very corporate, but this is about understanding what you're genuinely trying to do and being able to communicate it to other people.

Whilst working with marketers and designers I saw various techniques for getting to understand the crux of an idea or concept. The following is a set of questions that I've been asked and have asked myself in different exercises. I've seen these applied to global financial companies, charities, luxury liquor brands and new start-ups.

By answering these questions you can create a set of branding anchor-points that you can refer to when designing logos, writing email signatures, deciding how to reply on a forum, authoring error messages, or creating full-page print ads.

If you find these questions a bit daft or struggle to come up with answers, try answering the negatives. Who aren't your competitors? What celebrity is nothing like yout thing?

What is the thing called? Why?
This process can work for pretty much anything: games, studios, sites, campaigns... Anything that needs an identity.

What does the thing do, and why was it started?
Why are you bothering? If you can't answer this one, probably best head back to the drawing board!

Who are the main competitors? What is their branding like?
This might be competitors for a business, or alternative products in the case of a game. No purchase or decision is made in isolation, so be aware of what the audience will be comparing you to.

What is the USP of the thing? How does it differentiate itself from its competitors?
A USP is a Unique Selling Point/Proposition, a now-antiquated but still useful marketing concept that succinctly articulates what one feature your thing has that its competitors do not. 

What's the thing's ethos or mission statement?
A mission statement is a short sentence or two that explains why the hell you're doing what you're doing. If you're branding your studio, why did you start making games? What's your ambition?

Can you reduce the mission statement into a single-minded proposition?
A single-minded proposition is a single sentence that communicates one fact in as a succinct, inspiring, and believable fashion as possible.

What are 6 words that describe the thing?
Try to think of adjectives that don't apply to every product. "Innovative" is a classic one for businesses, but what company doesn't consider itself innovative? If any of these can be applied to every other company, then it communicates nothing.

If the thing was a car/supermarket/celebrity which would it be? What features does it share?
Think about the positioning of other brands. Being able to draw parallels will certainly help you communicate how you feel about the brand, perhaps having never had externalised these feelings before.

What is the profile of your target audience?
This is a whole other article, but what does your typical audience member look like? What age are they? What gender? How affluent are they? What magazines do they read? Where do they shop? What clothes do they wear? 

Where is it hoped the thing will be in 1 year's time? What about in 3 years' time?
A brand is not for life. It needs exist in a given form for as long as it serves its purpose; knowing how that purpose might change will enable you to segue from one brand to a variant later.

What are the top-level goals of creating a brand for the thing?
Why are you bothering with this exercise? What do you want to get out of it? Are you trying to draw up a creative brief? Are you defining your studio brand before breaking cover? Are you branding your game?

Are there other ways that creating a brand will help business?
What are the secondary and tertiary benefits of doing this?

How do you want people to respond to your thing?  
This is pretty important. What do you want people to feel and think when presented with your brand? In awe? Comfortable? Relaxed? Energised?

Can you think of anything that visually represents the thing?
If you've got a visual metaphor in mind, it's bound to come in handy sooner or later.

If the thing was a guest at a party, how would they act? How would they talk?
For me, this is one of the most important questions when coming up with a brand for a business entity. This should inform how everything from your logo to your forum posts should be crafted.