Agile branding is a relatively new concept in the world of branding, product launches and customer experience design. It is a simple way to manage your brand, inspire innovation, increase team productivity and improve brand experience for your customers. This is meant to be an introduction of sorts – agile branding viewed at 30,000 feet, if you will.
What is Agile Methodology?
Agile is a project management methodology with deep roots in software development. In contrast to traditional “waterfall” project management, agile allows teams the flexibility to react significantly faster and achieve better results in unpredictable environments.
Before an agile project is launched, a global business objective is established, then it is typically divided into short, iterative and additive work intervals called sprints. At the beginning of each sprint, a smaller contributing goal is set. When the sprint ends, the work, the process and the results are analyzed and compared to the global business objective.
The Feedback Loop
The feedback loop is integral to an agile project. Embracing a cycle of learning, doing, analyzing and adapting allows each area of the project to remain in a continual state of improvement. With agile, your team no longer only has one shot to get “it” right. A happy side effect: innovation and team morale thrive in an agile environment.
Minimum Viable Product
One cannot discuss agile without touching the concept of a minimum viable product. Once the global business objective is decided upon at the beginning of an agile project, a great brainstorm ensues. The team and stakeholders develop a massive list of items that would make the “perfect” product. The list is then prioritized and a minimum viable product emerges. This becomes the goal for the first sprint.
We’re barely scratching the surface about agile methodology here – if you are interested in learning more, this website is a fantastic resource.
How To Apply Agile to Branding
I do not like the verb branding. To butcher a quote by the great Marty Neumeier, a brand is not a logo, identity system or product; a brand is a person’s gut feeling about a company or a product. I prefer to use the terms brand experience or customer experience, because those are things we can control. By talking about brand experience, it is much easier to understand how to plan for and execute your next project.
Agile execution flourishes when paired with Scrum, the most popular agile project management framework. We really don’t have enough page space here to dig into scrum in depth – we can tackle how Burnt Creative runs branding projects through scrum in later posts. In the meantime, there are some excellent Scrum resources here.
At this point you should have at least a general definition of what your global objective is: establishing a new brand, attracting a tribe to an existing brand, launching a product, etc. You should also have a good understanding of the tribe you plan to speak to.
Now it is time for some divergent thinking.
As if you had no budget limit, time constraints or road blocks, develop a list of each point your brand could interact with your customers. This is an incredibly wide array of data: from the logo design to the way your employees answer the phone, and everything in between. We call these brand touchpoints. Focus on those areas that would mean most to your tribe. Ask questions like, “Where do these people talk to each other?” or, “What would connect to this person deeply?”
When you have a comprehensive list of touchpoints that would make up the perfect brand experience for your customer, prioritize the entire list. This is where the minimum viable product concept comes into play. Decide on the fewest possible touchpoints the tribe would need to begin adopting your brand. Once you have that short list, you have established the goal for your first agile branding sprint: crafting the MVB (Minimum Viable Brand).
Lastly, allow your team to estimate how much work it will take to establish these touchpoints – not in metrics like time, but assigning a theoretical metric like “weight” to each touchpoint. This will allow you to analyze your team’s perception of the workload.
Note: I know this can seem overwhelming. Future posts will dig deeper into the planning phase and explain some of the exercises that we use to make brainstorming and prioritizing simple and fun.
As we discussed before, the first sprint should almost always be focused on establishing the touchpoints that contribute to your minimum viable brand. The depth of effort designated to each touchpoint will depend entirely on your team, agency specialists and resources. Remember, agile is all about hypothesis, experimentation and analysis in iterative cycles. All facets of agile branding remain flexible throughout the project. Subsequent sprints will add additional touchpoints or increase the depth of existing touchpoints.
For example, let’s say your initial minimal viable brand for a new product launch includes an identity system, a website and three social media profiles (let’s do Facebook, Twitter and Instagram). The first sprint should look something like this:
- Team is assembled, roles are assigned and duties are chosen
- Social media team member (or agency) simply creates the new profiles and pages, and remains in communication with remaining team members.
- Design team begins to draft concepts for identity systems.
- Development/Digital team creates server, connects new domain name, and establishes the content management system (we’ll go with WordPress for this example).
- As design concepts are evaluated, the social media team is connecting with members of your tribe over social media, publishing these rough ideas and asking what they think. This gets people involved and gives them a sense of ownership. Your brand becomes “their” brand.
- Design team settles in on a single concept and extends the design to a landing page.
- Digital team and design team collaborate on crafting a single landing page that teases the product release and offers a simple subscription system.
- All the while, the social media team is broadcasting progress shots, team meeting videos and continually recording and communicating tribe feedback.
All this occurs inside of the first sprint, and happens simultaneously. The end result? You have active social media accounts, a website, and an identity system. They may not be perfect – but that’s OK! The brand is out there – it’s alive. The most important piece to this puzzle will be to actually empower your team to make decisions. Steve Jobs understood this well, “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.” Trust your team, and they will conquer for you.
At the end of the sprint, it’s time to take a look at what was done and evaluate it. Here are some questions to ask your team:
- Does it contribute to the global business objective?
- Is it in line with your company’s purpose and values?
- Did you accomplish the sprint goal?
- What did your tribe think about it?
- What were the major obstacles?
- What got done?
- What didn’t get done?
The objective here is not to Monday-morning quarterback your team. You can absolutely offer insight, but this should be a completely open two-way street. Your goal should be to do everything in your power to make it easy for your team to do exceed at their jobs. If you’re using Scrum, measuring your teams perceived effort levels against the actual time they took to complete their tasks will allow you to plan the next sprint more accurately.
Why Agile Branding Works
So why does the agile branding process work? What makes agile branding effective?
Brands that are built with Agile Methodology are inherently more transparent, which leads to a deep user perception of being authentic. Your hardcore fanatics will feel like they have been a part of the process, so they will champion the brand as if it were built with their own hands. It’s the same principle that software companies have relied on for decades – the beta user.
Not only will your customers love the brand more, by basing your brand experience process on Agile Methodology, the brand will be immensely flexible. New social media channel opens up? Too easy. Schedule the next sprint to dominate in that arena.
And what about personal benefits? Agile relieves you of the pressure of crafting a perfect, behemoth brand prior to launching anything. There is no more dice rolling, focus groups become live interactions with actual customers. Your team (though they may push back initially) will be happier and more productive.