Making Collaboration Rad

Standing in a circle is a collaborative look.

“Collaboration is the new competition.” This is what Alex Bogusky, a mentor of mine, said in 2010. I remember that well, in part because I was actively looking for new ways to drive better collaboration with the current and future clients of my own firm, The Butler Bros. The creative studio and client interaction has long suffered from a tragically unproductive and foolish “us vs. them” status quo. My partner and I were determined to leave that behind for good.

Later that year, Alex launched the world’s first collaborative brand, COMMON. The big idea — collaborative advantage is the only way to tackle our most daunting challenges. At the launch I met John Bielenberg and Greg Galle who were newly minting a practice focused on solving gnarly problems by structuring convenings where internal and external stakeholders could collaborate to rapidly generate ingenuous solutions together. They called themselves FUTURE Partners.

That meeting proved fruitful. FUTURE Partners was operationalizing human-centered design through their own unique practices. And they were open for partnership. Their practice was built on a process that progressed in a similar fashion to design thinking, but relied more on the ingenuity of small stakeholder groups and less on deep-dive external consumer research to create insights.

Thus began our long collaboration with FUTURE Partners, who recently published their book, Think Wrong, sharing the theory and practice for how to generate ingenious solutions.

One of the things we love about these practices in our studio is that their creative framing inspires us to create new drills that address new challenges. Here’s an example: as an entrepreneur or CMO grappling with a rebrand there is the painful moment when you must determine what equity (visual and story) should port as you go from where you are today and position for where you want to be.

It may be that your competition has eroded your value proposition, that your industry has been disrupted in ways you couldn’t see coming six months earlier, or that your product packaging needs to evolve. There are myriad reasons why brands need to evolve or go through a redesign. But handling brand equity is daunting in this process — unless it can be made more human, iterative and feel lower stakes in the process.

When we were hired to redesign the identity and packaging for Maui Brewing Company, a 12 year old brand with distribution in 20 states and 10 countries, equity was a hot topic. The brand identity was literally derived from a tattoo on the owner’s back shoulder. And it was packed with a mythological level of meaning. We knew this would be a nuanced conversation that had the potential to be something that caused the redesign process to lock up.

Weeks before our flight to Maui, we were designing the “Blitz” during which we would execute drills to generate design covenants and traffic consumer and competitive insights. We had an idea for a new drill that would help us process equity like we never had before. Having just read Marie Kondo’s book, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, her simple prescription to ‘take an object in your hand and consider whether it brings you joy’ hit us like a bolt.

Based on the work of Kondo we designed a drill that allows brand stakeholders (especially founders) to ask a very simple question about their existing brand assets as they seek to declutter their branding past and move forward: “Does this existing asset bring me joy?” Rather than clinically audit assets with fear of making a tactical error, this exercise allows a stakeholder to lean into that which brings them joy and love for their brand, which highly correlates to years of customer feedback.

The drill, which we named the “KonMari Sort,” works like this:

Prework:

  • Define all visual and narrative brand assets and print each one out on an 8.5 x 11 piece of paper.

Prep:

  • Cover a large wall with all the visual assets that have been printed out.
  • Screen a short primer video on the KonMari method or talk through it.

Process:

  • Let the group know that we are going to KonMari their branding assets.
  • Hand each stakeholder in the blitz 7 green sticker dots.
  • Prompt each stakeholder to dot the assets that “bring them joy” when they look at them, giving them a total of 7 minutes.
  • “Thank” all of the un-dotted assets for helping the org get to where it is, and dismiss them from the wall.
  • Re-sort wall to bring all green dotted assets to the top of the wall.
  • Discuss each asset that is remaining and add Post-its to dimensionalize why each asset brings the stakeholders joy.

Feel free to use this yourself or tweak it to your liking. As our friend Austin Kleon would say, “Steal like an artist.” Though let it be noted, one of Austin’s rules for “good theft” is giving credit where credit is due. As we’ve done above. Hat tip Marie.

The running of this drill with Maui Brewing elicited many things. It was cathartic for the entrepreneur to be sure. He was processing his history and future simultaneously. But he was deliberate and resolved as he cast aside things “that had outlived their usefulness” in his brands journey. We were left with a handful of things that were truly meaningful to his customers and him. These became covenants which were to be carried into the creative development work ahead.

Evolving a brand’s identity and packaging will indeed cause the stomach acid to churn. The joy of pursuing future customers with evolved branding is met with the fear of isolating or losing current customers. This is where the intuition of the founder and / or a core brand group are critical — the hive mind. Aligning this shift with business objectives and a creative partner who listens deeply before acting is paramount. It’s how we do it. And in the case of Maui Brewing, after working with us, they realized a 55% increase in sales year over year in the Hawaiian islands, where their loyalists and first time drinkers mingle every day.

Running packaging redesigns on practices such as these has another unintended benefit. We don’t just kick off our creative process this way, we bring the ‘dog food’ into the studio and eat it ourselves. For example, a first step once we have covenants and an agreed upon strategic brief is to “sketch, scrap and share.” This is a sprint designed to reveal prototypes of design more quickly and provide broad, in-studio collaboration. This is vastly superior to people hoarding their own ideas and failing to allow “plusing” to occur. This allows us to deliver our clients a more considered breadth — faster.

We’ve also started beta testing our service as a product. We developed the Shine Shop to redesign CPG food packaging, it’s the process aggregate of everything we’ve learned from applying next generation design thinking principles and practices to our brand design work. And early results from clients who have gone through a similar process are very promising — all seeing sales increases and breakthroughs in brand awareness and consideration.

The Butler Bros is a brand studio that exists to collaborate with those who have reached a moment of inflection in their brand journey and are welcoming change as a result. We promise radical collaboration in pursuit of brand transformation. By unlocking the ingenuity of teams, running scrappy research and design sprints, discarding titles in pursuit of the best solutions to the challenge at hand, we move at the speed of the ever-changing marketplace. If we’re to help you gain relevance and resonance, we have to move at least that fast. If your brand is ready for change contact us at collaborate@thebutlerbros.com. We’d be honored to circle up with y’all.

Adam Butler, Founder and Strategic Chief, The Butler Bros