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Excavating the brand

So the musician Tom Waits said

“You put yourself into some sort of trance to receive certain songs. You know, it’s like setting a trap for a song. It’s like fishing or anything else. You have to be real quiet to catch the big ones.”

And Arlo Guthrie

“Songwriting’s just kinda like catching fish – you sit there and pull them out as they go by – though I think Bob Dylan’s upstream from me somewhere.”

I see branding in a similar way to this process. In a conversation the other day I likened the branding process as like an archeological excavation – the brand is in there, the excavator’s job it to remove at the stuff that’s hiding it and bring it into the light.

The thing with repositioning or defining a brand is to find something (or things) that are buried deep in the psyche of the organisation, something that is true to the organisation and often is not something that has been fully noticed before.

With this in mind I held a workshop for a current re-brand project that I called ‘lost civilisations’ the format was pretty straightforward – the session was a thought experiment, where we imagined re-constructing ‘lost civilisations’ based on artefacts and accounts from its founders and its inhabitants.

The ‘lost accounts’ were created in a working session with the founders and senior staff the day before using a ‘letters from the future’ format – they wrote a letter to themselves from the future accounting how they have succeeded in their aims – the letters were powerful and revealing – giving loads of emotive and descriptive detail over what kind of a business and brand they are making.

So I took the ‘lost civilisation accounts’ and worked with the creative team to reconstruct the worlds. We created mood boards of the art they would have had on the walls, songlists that would have been listened to by them, we designed an ‘annual conference’ for the society (which ranged from a 3 day hack event to a burning-man style festival) and also wrote slogans and collected ideas for architecture for the lost civilisations…

It was highly productive and revealed a lot of ideas and territories to explore. Plus it really helped the team to think beyond a re-brand being a set of guidelines or tag-lines and into a tool that the organisation can use to steer its behaviour in every aspect of its existence. Your brand, after all, is a divining rod for what you believe, do and say. And in order for that divining rod to be used it needs to have been authentically formed, formed from the truth unearthed in the culture of the people that are making it.