I'm not a branding expert. But as a founder I need to be involved in decisions around how we want to portray ourselves as a company to ensure the vision stays true to why I started it in the first place.
But answering a question like "How do we want people to perceive us as an organization?" demands a specific thought process. Given my brain prefers to analyze data sets, I have no idea where to even begin with something like that.
Thankfully, I recently learned a quick exercise that anyone can do to jumpstart their company's brand-building efforts. It's not a magic pill by any means, but it will help you and your team get on the same page from the beginning.
And best of all, it's ridiculously simple.
The Phoenix Hotel
I first heard about this exercise from Chip Conley, the founder of Joie de Vivre Hospitality who went on to serve as Airbnb's Head of Global Hospitality and Strategy.
Joie de Vivre, once the second-largest operator of boutique hotels in the U.S., prided itself on having entirely unique hotels. Each hotel had its own psychographic concept, which was a novel concept in the hotel industry during the 80's.
In his book, Conley explains how he and his team used one simple exercise to align on an identity for every hotel they developed. They would define the hotel by one magazine and five adjectives.
The Phoenix Hotel? Rolling Stone Magazine. Funky, irreverent, adventurous, cool, and young at heart.
The Hotel Vitale, a health-conscious hotel offering spa treatments and daily yoga sessions, was a cross between Real Simple and Dwell. Modern, urbane, fresh, natural, and nurturing.
A psychographic of your ideal customer
Rolling Stone Magazine defined the creation of The Phoenix Hotel, from the restaurant to the staff to the uniforms and decor. And if you've ever stayed there, you know it's a spot-on description for the rock-and-roll-centric 50's motel that includes a poolside bucket of beer and chips with every stay.
But what Joie de Vivre found was that their five adjectives went beyond just branding--they became a mirror for the aspirations of their customers. The people who stayed at The Phoenix Hotel thought of themselves as funky, irreverent, adventurous, cool, and young at heart. This simple exercise not only helped them to define their hotels' brands from the beginning, it became a psychographic of each hotel's ideal customer.
What I've found is that this methodology can be applied to nearly any business to help clarify your brand perception and begin to define your ideal customer profile.
Finding your magazine
If you're like me, you probably already have your company's magazine in mind as you're reading this. I know when I first heard about this my mind immediately started thinking through the magazines I subscribed to, and that my customers likely subscribed to as well.
My company, Leverage, is a dual-sided growth agency that shapes businesses into efficient organizations by optimizing top and bottom line revenue. We pride ourselves on finding new, efficient, and innovative ways of working--not only for ourselves, but for our clients.
Our magazine? Inc. Smart, efficient, effective, curious, and data-driven.
Now, is this a complete branding strategy for my entire company? No. Not even close.
Nowadays, branding is complex. It's about culture and where your organization sits in the ecosystem of people's lives (at least that's what my internal experts tell me). Basing your entire brand off of a magazine and five adjectives will get you moving in the right direction, but it's going to take a more dynamic and integrated approach to create a modern brand.
But here's the value of this exercise: It takes about five minutes, anyone can do it regardless of experience, and it sets up a foundation for your brand that your team can align with.
Magazines have already put in years of work to refine their brand identity, and you're almost guaranteed to find one that has a nearly identical identity to what you're going after. Why start from scratch when you can piggyback off of work that's already been done?
Here's my recommendation. Have everyone on your executive team do this exercise on their own, then meet to go over the results. Pool the answers together and work with your team to develop your magazine and five adjectives. From then on, everyone will be aligned on your company's core identity and how you want to be perceived--which can then drive decisions at every level of the organization.