Does your brand need a workshop? Probably.

Here’s why and how to ensure it’s productive.

Recently, we've been knee deep in some of my favorite work: conducting brand strategy workshops. It's not just my favorite work either; it’s been fun to see a younger strategist on my team light up as she takes the lead on some of these projects for the first time. 

What is it about conducting a brand strategy workshop that really sparks a strategist? I think it's the ability to create something of lasting value in a condensed period of time. You get to go deep, really digging into a category and its consumers for a very specific outcome: crafting a differentiated brand strategy. And that’s something whose value endures longer than the ad campaign du jour (that today has a lifespan roughly the equivalent of a goldfish’s memory).

Why develop a brand strategy in a workshop?

Developing a brand strategy in a workshop setting is nothing new, and, in fact, many of the steps and processes will probably seem familiar. At its core, the workshop is about bringing together key stakeholders from across the company to develop a shared understanding of the brand, its purpose, and its direction. Through the interactive exercises, discussions and debates a workshop environment facilitates, we’re able to build consensus and energy around a common vision for the brand.

The importance of bringing together different voices and perspectives to a brand strategy workshop can’t be overstated. We regularly bring in stakeholders from across the organization, legal, HR, operations, and more… not just marketing and C-suite. This not only provides for diversity of thought but can help create a space for truly thinking creatively and collaboratively about the brand and its opportunities. And by generating buy-in and commitment from across many key stakeholders, you help to ensure that the resulting brand strategy is both compelling and actionable.

But this rather clinical explanation of brand strategy workshops does little to get at what they’re really all about. When all the right data and insights are brought to bear, people can make truly informed decisions. When conflict or disagreement is followed by conviction, magic happens as people align behind a single focus. And, when there is commitment to actioning the results, brands can use the output of these workshops as a springboard for greater differentiation and unprecedented success.

How can you create a valuable workshop that yields results?

So, what makes the difference between a ho-hum brand strategy workshop that simply goes  through the motions, and a great one that creates lasting and valuable outputs? I truly believe there are two difference makers: pre-work and facilitation. 

Thorough pre-work leads to informed discussion.

The point of a workshop is enabling participants to use hard data, not just individual opinions, as a tool for shaping strategy. Too often there will be people in the room with strong voices and the opinions to match who have the ability to divert and distort what’s really going on with the brand and its path to success. The only way to constructively navigate through these bottlenecks and differences of opinion is to bring cold, hard facts to bear. Done properly, the use of data to diffuse strong opinions helps level the playing field, allow other voices to have a say and ensures that all decisions are informed. How much data you bring and its sources are certainly made on a case by case basis, but at minimum you should make sure you incorporate management interviews, market analysis, competitive audits and consumer sentiment as part of the set. You can even dig further with perspectives from Wall St., consumer/market trends analysis and even supply chain projections. We often call it “informing the 3C’s” of Company, Category and Consumer and you should make sure that whoever you choose to partner with to facilitate your brand strategy workshop has the chops to acquire all the data and any other missing pieces that are needed to shape a robust, fully informed session.

Great facilitation allows voices to be heard while keeping discussions on track.

The second biggest difference maker in a successful brand workshop is facilitation. It seems fairly basic to say, but those leading the workshop need to be organized, efficient and personable. Look for people with the skills of a good focus group moderator, starting with an ability to listen well and keeping conversations on point. In fact, herding cats would be a very good skillset to have. But seriously, facilitating these workshops is so often about hearing the meaning beneath someone’s words and prying opinions out of those who may be shy but clearly have more to say. And, we always believe it’s a good idea to have a creative presence in the room. Usually, it’s an agency creative director or writer whose job it is to ensure that the strategy everyone lands on is workable in the marketplace. That it isn’t so overly broad or generic that compelling messaging can’t be created. Also, having someone in the workshop who can aid in wordsmithing is always very helpful to have.


As a final note, it may go without saying, but it’s too important not to: if the brand and its stakeholders aren’t ready for change even the most amazing brand strategy workshop is doomed to fail. A brand (and its people) who come to the table with an open mind–ready to challenge the status quo, to chart a new course and to commit with conviction–will always reap the greatest dividends the process can provide. By leveraging hard data, a willing mindset, and doing the work of stepping back, assessing and strategizing about your brand’s future, you will ensure that your investment in a brand strategy workshop will be well worth it.