February 26th 2014

Free brand planning tool

by Martin O'Toole

Branding agencies and strategists the world over work with all sorts of different principles in mind. They'll all use their own brand planning tools too - some tried and tested and some which are completely unique to the branding agencies themselves. Throughout my career, myself and the talent I've been lucky to work with have always focussed on clients’ customers first; considering what they view to be important and how they are likely to engage with that brand. After all, without a customer, what is the point in the brand? This is a constant, regardless of whether the creative is targeting B2B or B2C audiences.

Secondly, it’s important to consider the nature of brands – the essence (i.e. what makes it tick). We do this by applying our own 5-stage brand planning process ('The 5-Point Exploding Heart Technique'). Whomever manages this process, research (we call it 'Exploration') is key and can either utilise existing research or more likely a combination of new and existing research – distilled into some sensible executive summary. How is this done? Essentially it's as simple as talking to a load of costumers and asking a load of the people working within the brand (from board level to reception) about their honest views and experience of the organisation or product.

As simple as it is, there is of course a process adhere to, as this work is key to nailing in all future brand communications work for the brand in question. E.g. positioning, tone of voice, the way the brand looks and behaves etc.

As I said, branding agencies will use their own tools - one of which is known as the ‘brand wheel’. Whilst the brand wheel isn't necessarily revolutionary (people in our industry have been using ‘brand onions’ for years), I have personalised the one I'm about to talk about. Personally I’ve always felt the soubriquet ‘onion’ to be a bit pretentious, so I guess that’s why I prefer a wheel. Either way, it's a great free brand planning tool (or at least, it is now!).

Marketers can very quickly get carried away with brand wheels/onions! I like a cartoon by a ‘marketoonist’ called Tom Fishburne. Tom takes the piss out of organisations worshipping their onions. I think it's true that these things can be completely over-developed if left untethered.

Clearly brand owners and marketers obviously do need some guidance; an onion, a blueprint, a DNA, a wheel – whatever. Just something that keeps us all on the right track when it comes to consistently sticking to the core brand values and messaging.

It occurred to me that branding agencies won't like us very much for giving this IP away completely free, but we're big believers in the idea of serving useful and valuable content to our clients (and potential clients). With that in mind, I thought I'd share a little bit of brand planning magic.

We're working on an entirely new brand planning tool, completely unique to Fist of Fury and the 5-Point Exploding Heart Technique), but for the time being, here’s the wheel we favour – first & foremost for its simplicity:


Inside the Brand ("Heads & Hearts")

What drives your brand. A combination of your corporate strategy and what makes your brand tick. The vision, values and belief of the brand. Whilst the vision and belief are usually single-minded statements, the values will always be a few adjectives, detailing the features/benefits of the brand. There can of course be distinct differences between service and product brand values.

Personality of the Brand ("Walking & Talking")

How the brand looks, behaves and talks. An outline of how the brand acts; how it engages; the tone of voice it uses in its communications to staff, customers (and prospective customers).

Brand External Drivers ("Proof & Pudding")

I suppose this would be the bit where the ‘brand magic’ comes in, requiring a little more thought. Here we have to position the brand; back that positioning up with fact, and summarise it with a strap-line (if necessary) as an external proposition.

The Nub of the Brand ("Core")

This is really a blending of what drives the brand forward and how the brand then engages with its consumer. The consumer being at the heart of everything - and their needs being met by perfectly aligned product or service behaviour. Make sense??

So there’s the brand wheel. Who needs branding agencies eh?! That said, after all my talk of simplicity, perhaps it might still appear daunting even after this short guide.

The best place to start is at the beginning, so use this free brand planning tool and give it a go on your own brand. See what comes of it. After all, Yoda said "there is no try, there is only do."

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FOOTNOTE I recently discovered that a couple of agencies had taken this tool from our site and are now selling their own 'brand strategy workshops' off the back of it. Hey, I gave this all away in a blog, so fairdos! But ask yourselves how good an agency is if they rely on stolen material. Bell-ends.