Branding Initiatives Crave People

We wanted to find a more human way to build a human brand, and we're launching a new model to do it.

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I started my design career in theatre.

I was a scenic designer as well as a properties master. That meant not only long hours in front of my computer creating drafts and renderings but also countless hours on my feet in the scene shop wearing my paint-caked blue smock with my iconic silver coffee mug clipped to my belt.

I would build props or work with the paint deck to finalize treatment samples. I would also talk to the different people working on the production (of which there were many) so we could make decisions and keep each other up-to-date on the full scope of the project.

I knew I’d had a good day when sitting with my feet up was heavenly.

But before I’d get my hands dirty or watch my first rehearsal, I would meet with the whole production team around a table.

The productions I worked on would begin with an introduction to the project, typically led by the director. It was an opportunity to gain insight into their vision and their purpose for making the piece.

Then we would continue these meetings, in person, over the course of the whole project. It provided critical stability and room for transparent dialogue.

At this point in my career, I must ask myself: Where did that go?

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In my work as a branding professional, I have tried to infuse our process with a true sense of collaboration. I do not believe in coming into an organization and telling them what they should be; rather, my team and I work to bring out who they are as precisely as possible, fitting every piece together just so.

While talking to some theatre colleagues recently, I realized how much I missed the work around the table, the open discussion between collaborators, the ability to sort out challenges face-to-face, and the opportunity to watch the work unfold in person.

Theatre creatives, generally considered to be highly inefficient, actually rely on a clear and concrete schedule with a defined and immovable end date. Their end product is inextricably built upon many independent parts with independent ideas coming together to make one cohesive whole. I won't lie - it's harder than you might think.

I recognize that the business world operates under a different set of pressures and can be seen as having a different set of priorities.

As a firm, we work with smaller organizations who require us to be as agile as possible, which has resulted in my forming a largely remote team who can be leveraged when needed to do what they do best. We also use different software and digital communication to keep efficiency high.

While I have no intention of diminishing our agility (I loathe wasting time), I recognize that with the efficiencies of remote work comes one great loss -- face time.

And with the loss of face time comes a loss of transparency, clarity, and the benefit of many minds working together. For branding initiatives, I believe we need to take a different approach.

Can branding include this in-person collaboration?

I asked myself this question and, as I often do, said, ‘Well, why not?”

We are launching a new process for branding initiatives, which we’re calling the Production Method. Our goal is to balance individual reflection with group collaboration, remote work with in-person discussion, and presenting ideas with telling stories.

This will hopefully solve a few key problems:

  1. Trying to develop a human brand without human connection

  2. Project fatigue as the process drags on through back-and-forth communication

  3. Lack of full organization buy-in and excitement

  4. Poor implementation after the project ends

We also know from speaking with clients that more structure would benefit branding initiatives as a whole and have thoughtfully put that structure in place with this model.

 

Here’s what the Production Method looks like.

The method begins with a 12 week intensive that forges a purpose-driven brand strategy and corresponding identity. It is then followed by 9 months of ongoing strategic support to implement that brand internally and externally.

The intensive features weekly working sessions that concentrate on a different set of components each week. These sessions are supported by both client and firm contributions, which will happen both inside and outside of the room.

We want to make sure people have the space to quietly reflect and think things through on their own terms because gathering your thoughts in advance generally produces better collaboration. For example, in theatre, you needed to have read the script before coming to the table.

We also use a balanced model to prevent one person from dominating the working sessions. Not everyone has an answer on the spot, or feels confident expressing their views in groups, but that doesn’t make their insights any less valuable.

In addition to these working sessions, we will also open up our space each week for organizations to work alongside us. This will provide an opportunity for tangible cross-connection, as well as the break many leaders need in order to focus on their brand and the big picture of their company.

Lastly, we will keep the project on track through brief weekly check-in meetings every Friday, which we call Process Meetings.

Once the intensive is concluded, we will move into the next phase: implementation.

 

A viable branding initiative doesn’t stop when you get the files.

Through this new method, we’re also working to break down the line between insiders and outsiders, or the client and the firm.

By working together more closely, we hope to eliminate the proverbial tennis game of back-and-forth with the firm on one side and the client on the other.

It isn’t just about delivering more human-centered branding - it’s also about our clients getting the most out of us.

That’s why our method includes the nine months of ongoing support. A brand is so much more than the sum of its parts. It’s about how you speak, work, and inspire every single day -- from Pete in accounting all the way to your CEO.

Having our perspective and skills at the table will allow your brand to be put into practice more actionably. We will serve as a strategic advisor that you can call on as you would any other member of your team, and we will make sure you don’t lose track of the brand you created before you’ve gotten it off the ground.

The ongoing support will include the weekly meetings we established during the intensive, but they will now center on directing the implementation process, which includes internal alignment, internal roll out, and then of course, external roll out. 

We will guide this process with your purpose at the core, aligning your organization around it.

After the year is over, we hope to continue our tradition of becoming trusted, long-term advisors. 

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I worked with a director who would develop a language for each production. It was a way of communicating that used key words and phrases with specific meaning in the context of our work. It ultimately served to link our thought and ideation processes.

By the time we moved into the final rehearsals, we could actually discuss the show without much talking at all. We had come to a shared understanding of how to move ahead toward the same vision; decisions were clear.

The connection between creators provides an amazing dynamic, and the leaders at an organization are as much a creator as we are.

The Production Method will - I hope - sit us all at the same table and allow us to make the most of every interaction and idea, building on each other’s energy to produce something even more tangible, viable, and meaningful.

Here's to maximizing your impact.

 
Katie Burkhart