How to get to the right brand platform sooner

Congratulations! Today you’re starting your new job: Director of Brand Strategy for Mercenary, a well-funded online gaming startup in Silicon Valley. Your first order of business? Come up with a brand platform that clearly defines who Mercenary is, why it matters, and what makes it unique. What’s that compelling truth that your customers and employees believe in, and that no one else can claim? It’s a tall order, and you want to make a good impression right off the bat, so you decide to call in reinforcements. Two brand consultancies come in to pitch.

Approach recommended by brand consultant #1:

Your team will brief us in a 2-hour session. Then we’ll conduct research with leadership, employees, and users, an audit of your brand touchpoints and of competitor brands. Based on an analysis of all this input, we’ll present our initial findings and recommended brand platform for your feedback and refinement.

Time to brand platform: 6 weeks

Approach recommended by brand consultant #2:

We’ll lead your team in a 2-hour workshop, during which we’ll align on an initial hypothesis for the full brand platform. We’ll use this platform to revise existing brand touchpoints (or create new ones) to use as stimuli to iteratively test and refine our initial hypothesis with leadership, employees, and users, as well as vetting it against competitor brands. Throughout this phase, we’ll meet with your team regularly to review findings and collaboratively refine the platform (if necessary).

Time to brand platform: 2 hours

Who do you choose?

Ok, so the “time to brand platform” comparison is a little misleading. The first refers to a final, formal recommendation, versus an initial hypothesis in the second. But you want to get your hands dirty and show your new employer what you’re capable of, not get shut out of the process while your consultant ruminates inside a black box, followed by a big reveal weeks later. And, you have to ask yourself — while you want to ensure your brand strategy is authentic and credible, relevant to users, and differentiated from competition, how close could you get to the “right” answer simply based on the knowledge your team already has? 50% of the way there? More? What’s the harm in getting to an answer sooner, as long as you still commit to testing and refining that answer, rather than simply assuming it’s correct?

In most cases, the benefits clearly outweigh the risks. With the iterative approach (#2), you and your team are more involved in the process throughout. With stimuli based on a hypothesis, internal and external stakeholders have something more tangible to react to, rather than words on a PowerPoint slide. And the outcome is a brand platform that’s not just informed by your team, your leadership, and your customers, but created with and validated by them. Best of all, you will have already tried your hand at implementing against the platform (to create the stimuli), so you know it’s not something that only sounds good, but isn’t actionable — all too often a brand platform requires so much explanation and interpretation that it fails to do what it was created for: Guide the focused, consistent actions your brand takes next.

So, pop quiz hotshot. Which approach do you choose?

Heirloom is a brand strategy firm helping entrepreneurs and business leaders build enduring brands. To receive articles, updates, and additional content from Heirloom, sign up for the newsletter.