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To Freshen Your Brand, Mash It Up

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Trying to think of ways to freshen up or revitalize your brand is never easy. Sitting around a conference room in an open brainstorming session generally doesn’t produce anything remarkably new or different, mostly because without a specific focus it’s difficult to break free of the same old patterns of thinking.

I like to use a creative technique I learned from my friends at frog design. It’s called the “brand mashup” exercise, and it is a great and easy tool to help you go off-road a bit with your thinking.

Here’s what to do:

Step 1: Decide on a target. What is the problem you’re trying to solve? Are you trying to reach a particular segment of the market? If you are repositioning your brand and message, what do you want to communicate? For the sake of an example, let’s say you’re trying to figure out how to address young adults, ages 18 to 24.

Step 2: Make a relevant brand list. List about a dozen of the most relevant brands—the brands that are successfully capturing the young adult market. The specific product or service doesn’t matter, and need not even include a single one of your competitors (especially if they are not successfully addressing the young adult audience). In other words, ignore specific market space…the only requirement is that the brand is doing what you’d like to do: serve the target audience.

Step 3: Pick the most robust. From the longer list, pick a brand that seems more relevant than the others, in terms of your brand, your situation, and what you’re trying to achieve. Let’s say it happens to be, oh, I don’t know, Red Bull.

Step 4: List brand qualities. What are the qualities of the brand that appeal to 18 to 24 year olds? In the case of Red Bull, that could be things like “rebel” or “edginess” or “extreme lifestyle” or “freedom” or even “mystique.” You should be able to list at least a dozen of these kinds of attributes. Try to be exhaustive in arriving at this list.

Step 5: Decode the why behind the what. For each attribute on the list, answer the question: “Why is this brand attribute important to young adults?” For example, if the quality is “rebel,” the why behind the what might be something like “sets me apart” or “not ‘me too.’” Do this for each attribute. It might help to have a two-column list going, the left hand column being the brand attribute, the right hand column being why that attribute is important. You’ve now just arrived at the elements of value.

Step 6: Narrow the value elements list. Assuming you’ve got a dozen or so items on the list of “why important” right-hand column, whittle it down to a handful of the most compelling value elements.

Step 7: Mash the brands together. Use the narrowed list as the spark to new ways of thinking about your own brand. This is phase one of a focused brainstorm. You’re trying to come up with fresh ideas for your brand by answering the question of what your brand might look if your brand had the qualities of the target brand, in this case Red Bull. If your brand was imbued with one or more of the selected Red Bull brand elements, what would the customer experience—messaging, products, services—look like?

Step 8: Select the best and build them up. Pick a few of the more compelling ideas from the brainstorm list, and perform a second phase brainstorm in the following way.

  • Come up with a name. Make it catchy and memorable.
  • Give a short description. Briefly explain what it is.
  • Describe the value. Briefly answer the why behind the what like you did in Step 5. Go a little deeper this time, though.
  • Sketch the idea. Visualize and create a simple drawing of the concept using more images than words. This will get you thinking in pictures.

The whole process shouldn’t take a small team of 4-8 people more than about two hours to complete. My bet is that you’ve surprised yourself with your great ideas, and that you probably wouldn’t have come up with these ideas by simply sitting around and asking “what should we do?”

From here it’s a matter of selecting the idea or ideas to test, and deciding how to best to test. (Which is a different discussion entirely!)