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Remote Brand Strategy Workshops: The Ultimate Step-by-step Guide

Charlie Osborne
December 23, 2022
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This article originally appeared on the Toptal Design Blog.

Strategy breeds better design, but brand strategies don’t materialize on their own. They require cooperation between designers and clients. At the start of new engagements, brand strategy workshops align stakeholders and set the tone for the work that follows. Better still, they produce brands that go beyond aesthetic appeal to achieve business goals.

But what about remote brand designers? Can they lead strategy workshops?

Unfortunately, many designers shy away from remote brand strategy sessions. It’s understandable. Leading workshops remotely seems counterintuitive. Aren’t workshops, by definition, a time for people to collaborate in person?

Thankfully, the absence of physical proximity is no longer a barrier. Cloud-based collaboration tools are abundant, and remote-friendly work policies are on the rise.

With the right planning, remote brand strategy sessions are more effective than traditional workshops. In fact, the constraints of remote technology can breed greater levels of creativity.

What are the advantages of remote brand strategy workshops?

  • Participants are focused on a single screen.
  • Digital whiteboards supercharge information exchange.
  • Interactive workshop exercises increase engagement.
  • Digital documentation improves sharing.
  • Visual agendas keep participants on track.
  • Sessions are easily recorded.
  • Participants can join from anywhere.
Brand strategy workshop

Stages of the Remote Brand Strategy Workshop

There are five stages to the remote workshop process:

  • Stage 1: Information Gathering
  • Stage 2: Analysis and Preparation
  • Stage 3: Workshop Day 1 – Defining the Brand
  • Stage 4: Workshop Day 2 – Brand Strategy Implementation
  • Stage 5: Recap and Implement

Stage 1: Information Gathering

The first step is to gather client information needed for a productive workshop. Start by asking the client to complete a brand discovery survey that covers the following topics:

  • Mission Statement
  • Visual Brand Keywords
  • Market Positioning vs. Competitors
  • Target Personas
  • Competitor Strategy Analysis
  • Messaging
  • Website Strategy
  • Business Goals and Measures of Success

The ideal survey takes no more than 30 minutes to complete and provides all the information needed for the workshop. Surveys can be administered using Google forms in which clients provide multiple-choice answers, scale ratings, and short descriptions.

Brand discovery surveys uncover relevant business details and allow clients to clarify their thinking before workshops begin.

*Pro Tip: Request that at least two stakeholders complete the survey without conferring. Areas of agreement or disagreement are excellent discussion topics for the workshop, and they often lead to interesting debates and discoveries.

Brand strategy development
A carefully considered brand discovery survey provides all the information needed for a successful remote workshop.

Stage 2: Analysis & Preparation

Once the brand discovery survey is complete, it’s time for an in-depth review of the answers. During the review, complete the following tasks:

  • Find agreements and inconsistencies between the stakeholders’ answers.
  • Form hypotheses about the business to test in the workshop.
  • Prepare thought-provoking questions that will challenge the workshop participants.
  • Take note of repeating keywords that may be helpful for visualizing the brand.
  • Summarize information that provides any additional insight into the business.
  • Identify any story lines running through the brand that can be articulated during the workshop.

Gathering information is pointless if it’s not analyzed. The goal here is to draw out insights to verify or reject during the workshop.

The workshop itself is split into two 3-4-hour sessions over two days. This allows ideas and concepts to ruminate overnight before finalizing. It also makes the time investment more manageable since holding the entire workshop in one session could take up to eight hours.

Stage 3: Workshop Day 1 – Defining the Brand

There are a total of eight exercises to be completed over the course of the workshop. Each exercise corresponds to a topic covered in the brand discovery survey. The first four exercises are tackled on Day 1.

1. Define the Brand with a Mission Statement
2. Visualize the Brand with Keywords
3. Establish Market Positioning vs. Competitors
4. Build Target Personas

5. Analyze Competitor Brands
6. Construct a Messaging Framework
7. Assemble a Website Strategy
8. Discuss Business Goals and Measures of Success

The goal of the first workshop is to clearly articulate the brand and its design aesthetic, market position, unique selling proposition (USP), and target audience.

The second workshop focuses on strategically implementing these concepts into real-life applications.

Branding workshop

Exercise 1: Define the Brand with a Mission Statement

Kickstart the first workshop by defining the brand with a mission statement. This stimulates creativity and provides an aerial perspective of the brand.

A mission statement encapsulates a company’s core message and includes the following components:

  • Target Audience
  • Description of Service or Product
  • Value
  • Unique Selling Proposition

Once a mission statement is agreed upon, set it aside to be reviewed at the end of the workshop when the finer details of the brand are dialed in.

*Pro Tip: Before the workshop, write a mission statement based on the answers provided in the brand discovery survey. This will serve as a starting point for discussion among participants.

Brand strategy process
Developing a mission statement is a great way to promote collaboration among remote workshop participants.

Exercise 2: Visualize the Brand with Keywords

Clients love this part of the workshop. Simply ask the participants to trim the keywords they selected in the discovery survey from 20 down to four. Those that make the cut are used to refine the visual direction of the brand.

Concentrating on four ensures that the brand style doesn’t become diluted. It’s worth noting that the chosen keywords may or may not appear in the brand’s messaging, and they aren’t necessarily meant to be customer-facing.

Begin the selection process by asking each participant to describe and justify their four choices in detail. It’s helpful to frame this discussion around specific questions:

  • Which keyword is most appropriate for your brand?
  • Why did you choose that keyword?
  • Is there an important aspect of your business we have not covered?
  • Are there other words that would be more accurate?
  • Can you see themes in the keywords?
  • Are there any keywords that you disagree with here?

Reducing keywords is a challenging process, but it brings much-needed focus to the brand aesthetic.

Exercise 3: Establish Market Positioning vs. Competitors

Here, the goal is to demonstrate and visualize the client’s market position, thus clarifying their unique selling proposition in the eyes of customers.

Refer to this question from the brand discovery survey: “Select the following variable that your business excels in compared to competitors.” Use the client’s answers to highlight how they are positioned differently than competitors.

Brand strategy elements
Potential gaps and advantages are revealed by visualizing a client’s market position versus its competitors.

Exercise 4: Build Target Personas

It’s time to build a detailed representation of the ideal customer. Personas help the client keep the customer in mind when making strategic design and branding decisions later in the engagement.

The brand discovery survey asks core questions about the demographics of the client’s target audience. Use the client’s replies to assemble:

  • Demographics: Name, Age, Gender, Location
  • Business Info: Job Title, Industry, Company Size, Income
  • Personal Info: Values, Frustrations, Personality, Favorite Brands, Favorite Social Media Channels, Motto

If the client is targeting several market segments, it’s fine to produce multiple personas. That said, it’s best to be focused here, so try to keep them to a minimum.

Workshop Day 1 Complete

At the completion of day one, the brand is defined and everyone involved can articulate the:

  • Company Mission Statement
  • Four Visual Keywords (and their rationale)
  • Market Positioning vs. Competitors
  • Target Personas

Stage 4: Workshop Day 2 – Brand Strategy Implementation

Now, we tackle the final four exercises:

1. Define the Brand with a Mission Statement
2. Visualize the Brand with Keywords
3. Establish Market Positioning vs. Competitors
4. Build Target Personas

5. Analyze Competitor Brands
6. Construct a Messaging Framework
7. Assemble a Website Strategy
8. Discuss Business Goals and Measures of Success

Day two is focused on real-world implementation of the brand, a step where designers often fall short. Here, brand strategy insights become actionable steps.

Schedule the second workshop the day after the first, allowing time for rest and reflection. Before starting day two exercises, recap the first session to reinforce learnings with the participants.

Exercise 5: Analyze Competitor Brands

Start the second workshop with a fun exercise that examines the brand, messaging, website, and marketing strategies of the client’s key competitors.

As with the exercises of day one, the bulk of the work is done before the workshop begins. Refer to the list of competitors identified in the brand discovery survey and compile screen grabs of their websites and social channels. Use these to inspire the client or demonstrate approaches to avoid.

When sharing competitor examples, frame the presentation around the following questions:

  • How good is the design?
  • Are they using value-messaging?
  • How do they prove credibility?
  • Is there a clear call to action?
  • Is there a clear visual hierarchy of information?
  • Do they offer any free information/downloadable?
  • Do they collect emails?
  • What is the sign-up process like?
  • What is their social media strategy?
  • What narrative do they use?
  • What tone of voice do they have?
  • What type of visual style have they opted for?

Exercise 6: Construct a Messaging Framework

A messaging framework is a repository of the problems, solutions, and values related to the client’s product or service. To construct a messaging framework, start by listing target customers’ pain points. The brand discovery survey asks, “What are the problems they (target customers) face?” Use the client’s answers to go deeper and brainstorm even more problems.

Then, run through the list of possible problems and describe how the client solves each (or doesn’t). This produces a list of customer problems and useful ways to solve them.

Mapping problems and solutions is helpful, but an important piece is missing: value–or the benefit that customers receive from the client’s solution. For example:

  • Problem: The customer struggles to be efficient at work.
  • Solution: The client’s software increases efficiency.
  • Value: The customer sees improved sales due to increased efficiency.
Brand strategy and positioning

Exercise 7: Assemble a Website Strategy

It’s time to assemble a website strategy. There are two stages to this exercise. First, revisit the brand discovery survey and discuss the client’s answers to:

  • How they attract web visitors
  • Who those visitors are
  • What they (the client) want from the visitors
  • And what keywords they want the site to rank for

This discussion produces action points that help the client improve their website strategy and SEO performance.

In the second stage of the exercise, work with the participants to populate a simple wireframe with the core modules that will appear in the final website design. Each module should be discussed and justified. There are two benefits to involving the client in the wireframe:

  • They feel more engaged in the process and better understand why information is included or omitted.
  • They don’t have an excessively granular level of input.

Exercise 8: Discuss Business Goals and Measures of Success

Finish the workshop by discussing three crucial questions:

  • What business challenges do you currently face?
  • What are the ideal outcomes of your new brand identity and website?
  • How will you measure success in one year/two years/five years?

Each question is designed to bring future plans into sharp focus. Once again, preparation is essential. Follow-up questions further reveal the client’s motivations. For example:

  • After the client describes their challenges, ask them to rank the business impact of each.
  • Once the client articulates their ideal outcomes, ask them to identify what areas of the business will be positively affected if everything goes according to plan.

Use the client’s answers to the measuring success question to establish SMART goals. SMART is a framework that ensures goals are clear and reachable:

  • Specific: Simple, Sensible, Significant
  • Measurable: Meaningful, Motivating
  • Achievable: Agreed-upon, Attainable
  • Relevant: Reasonable, Realistic and Resourced, Results-based
  • Time-bound: Time-based, Time-limited, Time/Cost-limited, Timely, Time-sensitive

*Pro Tip: Ending with this exercise provides the client with a sense of completion and an ideal vision for the future.

Brand strategy and design
SMART is a goal-setting framework that ensures objectives are clear and reachable.

Stage 5: Recap and Implement

Before the workshop concludes, it’s best to go back to the beginning and recap everything that’s been discussed. This ensures that everyone is on the same page and cements the decisions that were made.

When the workshop is over, gather the output into a summary document where the client can review in an easy-to-digest format.

The Future of Remote Branding Workshops

Brand strategy workshops are an invaluable opportunity for designers to lead clients through the toughest questions their businesses will ever face. Workshops unearth essential brand-building insights and instill ongoing trust between clients and designers. And now, thanks to an influx of cloud-based tools and remote-friendly work initiatives, they enable real-time collaboration between participants on multiple continents.

- Charlie Osborne

Whenever you're ready, there are 3 ways I can help you:

1. If you want to position yourself as an expert, offering workshops is the most effective path. I'd recommend starting with an affordable course:

The Brand Strategy Mini-Course: Learn how to start charging your clients for remote brand strategy workshops in this 1 hour mini-course.

2. If you're ready to take your workshop skills to another level:

The Remote Brand Strategy Workshop Masterclass: This comprehensive course will teach you my two-day workshop method that has allowed me to charge clients £30,000+ per project.

3. Work with me 1:1 to grow your one-person design business that enables your ideal life (Currently 2 spaces left)

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Who Is Charlie Osborne?

I am a brand strategist and designer for small-mid sized tech startups. I will help you grow your dream one-person businesses so you can live with freedom & autonomy.

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