The Online Branding Workshop
Based on the Three-Hour Brand Sprint of Google Ventures, but takes less time, comes with a simple tool kit, and can be done remotely.
Together with a few folks at Madeo, I created this open-source online branding workshop to help teams kick off their brand identity work.
The workshop and its toolkit are free to use, edit, and customize. We made them because we wanted to help teams get a better start to creating something meaningful. It is by no means a replacement for professional branding work, which entails research, strategy, design, and much more. We expect teams to use it as a kickoff and then work with experts, whether here at Madeo or elsewhere.
The workshop is based on the 3-hour brand sprint by Google Ventures. It’s designed to take less than half the time, be inclusive to team members working remotely, and a better fit for those who prefer to reflect alone and then discuss as a team.
The workshop is something that you can do with 3 to 6 team members and you don’t need branding expertise to do it. It is not focused on a specific industry and I think it can be equally used by startups, nonprofit organizations or traditional companies.
A few words about the word ‘branding’ 😐
I know branding is a very tricky word, because it is often overused and abused to the point that it scares any team thinking of working on their branding. I get it. I truly feel for every founder, CEO or any team that has to go through branding exercises. They can be a lot of fun, but they can also become painful to go through for most. Branding is about coming face to face with many questions that are hard to answer, like “what is our purpose?”.
At Madeo, we help great companies, startups, and organizations with their branding, but over the years, we have used words like branding less and less, even if some people might think of us as a branding agency. We almost prefer to talk about tackling a company’s website, or a product’s UX (user experience) as a mechanism for us to pragmatically get teams to address branding.
What is interesting and counterintuitive about branding work is that when you are doing it you can feel that you are wasting time. But when you do it, it will undoubtedly save you a lot of time and add significant value to the service, program, or product that you are bringing into the world.
What teams get out of this branding workshop
Your team will have a sharable slide deck (which you can also export as a PDF) with your:
- Top 3 brand values.
- Top 3 audiences.
- Short statements that define why your brand exists, how you do what you do, and what is it that you do today.
- A shared vision for what you might be doing in 10, 15, and 20 years.
- A diagram with your brand’s personality put on different spectrums.
- A visualized brand positioning in relation to your competitors.
Select the 3 public documents and copy them into your drive to use privately with your team.
- Invite a team member to be the facilitator and ask them to read the guide. Your facilitator will invite your team members to fill out the google form.
- Your facilitator will then copy the responses into the google slides and invite the team to the workshop.
- You will do the workshop either with screen sharing if you have remote team members or in person, if you are all in the same place.
- By the time you finish the workshop you will have a finished brand document with usable results. You can export it into a PDF or keep it as a slide deck.
Please tell me how it went. I would love to hear feedback and see how we can make it better.
If you want to learn more about why we created the branding workshop, why we revised the three-hour brand sprint, or why we did things the way we did, I added more notes below in the way of answering frequently asked questions.
Why we revised the three-hour brand sprint and made a tool kit
When I read the blog post about the three-hour brand sprint by Jake Knapp from Google Ventures, I liked the idea that a team in a startup or nonprofit organization can do this branding exercise to get them better prepared to work with branding professionals.
If a team has already invested these hours in getting to define their brand identity, they are inevitably going to be better collaborators. Branding is collaborative by nature, so the better collaborators you have, the better outcome you will get.
We also work differently from most creative agencies. We go as far as to join our clients as part of their team with job titles and defined roles. It’s amazing, but it also means that we can be part of a startup that is not at a stage to invest months into branding, so we have to do our jobs well and sometimes quickly and very iteratively, which we happen to like. So, the three-hour brand sprint sounded intriguing to try and put to the test.
We tried the brand sprint at Madeo and we followed all of its rules. We found it to be very useful, but we also observed a few things that we would want to change, at least for us.
For starters, it took almost 5 hours, and it is not because we debated for too long, but because it takes a lot of time to write things on post-its and then write them again on a whiteboard.
The most important observation was: anyone that wants to do this can use a simple toolkit to quickly guide them step-by-step, otherwise, it takes significantly longer to go back and forth between the blog and running the workshop. So, we decided to go ahead and make a toolkit to help teams kick off their branding. It’s something we deeply care about, so we thought we would take the time and make something useful.
Why an online branding workshop as an alternative to in-person
We work with startups, companies, and nonprofits all over the world and have noticed that, regardless of size, it is becoming more and more common for key team members to be working remotely.
We wanted to revise the workshop to accommodate remote teams, whether it is everyone or just one person that is remote. That said, the workshop can be done in person in this digital format as an alternative to using a whiteboard and post-its. If you prefer a whiteboard and post-its, you can still use the slide deck as a way to document and save the outcome of your workshop.
Why we made it a two-part workshop
It saves time. Believe it or not, it saves everyone time to do this in two parts. It also means that the time spent by the facilitator doesn’t hold up the team members for over an hour, which is what it takes if you add up all the time it takes to write things down on the white board, note what people wrote on post-its, and give instructions throughout.
It helps if you are more than 3 people. If you are a team of 2 or 3 and all work in the same place, then the 3-hour brand sprint in its original format might work perfectly for you. But, if you are more than 3 and if one or more of you can’t be there in the room, we think our revised version might be more helpful.
More intentional responses. The purpose of this split is also to allow people to quietly reflect and think things through. It’s something in our work culture and it is something we share with folks like Jason Fried from Basecamp and other teams that believe in the value of thinking things through and writing them down first as a catalyst for better collaborations. I understand that Jake Knapp’s “Note and Vote” approach comes from a similar perspective and believed that the revisions enhanced the approach.
It reduces personality dominance. We noticed that, naturally, those that are outspoken and dominant ended up influencing the team direction throughout the workshop. We wanted to be mindful of personality dynamics, so we split the workshop in order to allow people the confidence and space to write things down and then get to discuss them all together as a group, but not feel that they have to do both on the spot.
Three hours can be too long for some. We also noticed that team members not used to longer meetings (who blames them!) started to lose focus throughout the three hours. By having the workshop split in two, it allows people to focus on the first part on their own time and preserves the opportunity for the team to be focused just for one hour or so as a group when discussing the responses and still answering the last key question together as a team.
Why we went with a google form, slides, and a shared folder
First and foremost, we wanted to offer this in a way that allows teams to easily have a working version of the toolkit, but also be confident that it is 100% private and theirs. We felt that an approach of creating the google form, google slides, and a PDF for people to duplicate and use internally was one that can easily work well for most people.
As a team of designers and engineers, we could have designed and built a product, but we don’t like to spend time on things that have already been done. We also wanted to pay our respect to the Google Ventures team by replacing whiteboards and post-its, not with our tools, but with readily available Google tools that we and millions of people already use.
Why take the time to work on this branding workshop
In the branding workshop you will get to tackle questions that relate to the company values, the “what, how, and why” of your work, and yes you will do the painful question that challenges you to think of where your company will be in 20 years. All of these will take less than 40 minutes and then you will meet with your time for about an hour to discuss and make key decisions.
It actually saves teams a lot of time. Those 2 or so hours will save you hundreds of hours. They will help answer the same questions you will face every single day for the coming years, but doing this now will help you answer them intentionally and more or less just once. Every time you are questioning the approach to which image to use, the kind of event to participate in, the qualities to look for in your new hires, or how to evaluate “cultural fit” inevitably becomes a question about what your brand identity is about.
It’s worth the added value. I personally believe that impressive brands are intentional, and just like impressive companies, they don’t just happen by accident. So, hold off on the very immediate (and immediately gratifying) work for a few hours on a quiet Friday and block off the time to start defining the identity that is at the core of your future work.
Let me acknowledge a few people that helped make this happen
Within Madeo, I initiated the project but got great help from Aekta Shah who humored my request for us to try it, attempt to improve it, and produce a usable toolkit for it. I am also thankful for the Madeo team members that participated in the workshop: Martin, Zoe, Kevin, Catalina, and Alex.
The biggest credit goes to Jake Knapp from Google Ventures (update: Jake left GV to focus on writing) for putting in the initial (and biggest) bulk of the work. Jake Knapp also acknowledges Laura Melahn, Daniel Burka, and John Zeratsky from GV. The whole branding workshop/sprint is essentially a collection of existing exercises inspired by the work of a number of people, including Simon Sinek, Steve Jobs, Phil Knight, and others. I highly recommend reading Jake Knapp’s Three-hour brand sprint blog post first, before doing our revised version. I would also give a shoutout with a recommendation to read his Sprint book.