Vincent van Gogh had his brushes and palette.  For Jimi Hendrix, it was a Fender Stratocaster (as a left-hander, he played a right-handed guitar upside down). For Lucian Camp Consulting, the essential tool of my trade – as you can see from the illustration – is my beloved Brand Pyramid.

This simple triangular shape, when populated at its five distinct levels, acts as a simple, succinct, one-page definition of the key characteristics of the brand perceptions that a business is aiming to build. You can see the five levels for yourself, but very briefly, reading from the bottom up, they are:

  • Rational benefits: in measurable, left-brain terms, what are the most important benefits your firm has to offer?
  • Emotional benefits: switching to the qualitative, right-hand-side of the brain, how do people feel good about being clients of your firm?
  • Brand personality: what is the particular character, or personality, that comes across when people encounter the firm?  Does it seem warm and friendly?  Cool and calm?  Dynamic and energetic?  It can’t be all of these.
  • Brand values: what are the values that we bring to everything we do, the promises that we’ll never, in any circumstances, break?
  • Brand essence: in a few words, what is it that we’re trying to achieve for our clients?

It’s important to whittle down the answers to these questions as much as possible.  In my view, no brand pyramid should include more than a maximum of five rational benefits and five emotional benefits; or four personality attributes; or three values. And a brand essence should be expressed in no more than eight words. (There’s no science to this, just an observation that once the content gets more complex than this, it becomes increasingly difficult a) to remember what the hell it says, and b) to actually put any of it into practice, which is at the end of the day the whole point of the exercise.)

It won’t have escaped your attention that the template above is un-populated.  There are no ideas in it.  How do you go about deciding what it should say?

The answer comes into the definitely-not-rocket-science category. First, you should do some homework. You should certainly ask some of your current, highly-satisfied clients how they perceive you and your firm. You should review what your key competitors are saying. You should be as honest with yourself as possible about what comes naturally to you and your colleagues:  if your style of service is naturally warm and friendly, it would be foolish to claim that it’s cool and distant. Then, once you’ve prepared by answering questions like these, it’s simply a question of going into a room with a flipchart, some pens and some other people, and crunching your way through the levels of the pyramid – usually from the bottom to the top – till you’re happy that you’ve populated it with ideas which will appeal to your market, as far as possible differentiate you from others and fit well with the reality of your business.

Wait a minute: who are these “other people”?  If yours is a very small firm, the answer to this may not be apparent.

In my view, a Brand Pyramid workshop – for that’s what we’re planning here – will work best with at least four people in the room, and any number up to a maximum of about 8 to 10.  (If the number is towards the upper end of this range, you may also need an external moderator to manage the proceedings.) If there’s a group of suitable people working in your business, great – bring them together. If not, then any willing participants who know you and your firm well can successfully take part – clients, professional connections, even family members.

How long will it take? I’ve moderated workshops that have come out with a good solution in a couple of hours, although not very often. Occasionally those taking part have still been locked in fierce debate at the end of a full day. Half a day is par for the course.

When you’re done, and you have a first draft which – give or take a bit of wordsmithing – works well as a summary of the brand perceptions you want to build, then you’ve finished, right?

Not right at all.  You absolutely haven’t finished. In fact, you’ve only just begun. But what happens next will have to wait for my next blog.