Facilitating remote Brand Strategy workshops

Effective brand strategy is the foundation of effective design, but it doesn’t happen by itself. It evolves through a collaborative process, diving deep into the weeds. Brand strategy workshops at the beginning of new projects are essential for aligning all stakeholders and us as designers. These workshops not only set the direction for subsequent work but also create brands that transcend mere visual appeal, aligning with and achieving specific business objectives.

Facilitating a successful remote strategy workshop is crucial for developing both brand identity and brand activation (such as websites, marketing campaigns or other creatives). These workshops, which I prefer to have remotely (for reasons I will touch on later on), involve a certain type of planning and collaborative effort to make it a success.

Main questions we want to have answered through the session.

A typical workshop is structured over two to three days, covering stages from information gathering to brand strategy implementation. Key components include focused participation, enhanced engagement through digital tools, and efficient documentation. Exercises range from defining mission statements to developing website strategies. At this point we can really dive into the micro or the macro, but I prefer to start with the overall business goals and how the brand aligns with these goals.

Key Components of a Brand Strategy Workshop

  1. Workshop Structure: The workshop spans across two days, divided into five stages:
    • Information Gathering: Collecting client information through a brand discovery survey, covering the current brand, any analytical data, current customer segments and information about their main competitors​​.
    • Analysis & Preparation: Reviewing survey responses and documents to find agreements, inconsistencies, and formulating hypotheses for the workshop​​.
    • Day 1 – Defining the Brand Core: Focusing on articulating the key two points​​. Who is the ideal customer? And what is the core purpose and values of the brand.
    • Day 2 – Brand Alignment: Implementing the defined core into positioning, analyzing competitor brands, constructing a messaging framework, and assembling the brand persona.
    • Recap & Implementation: Reviewing and summarizing the discussions and decisions made during the workshop for clarity and future reference​​.
  2. Workshop Exercises: Each workshop day consists of specific exercises:
    • Day 1: Ideal customer persona, segmentation and the brand core (purpose, brand values, mission&vision and brand manifesto.
    • Day 2: The market, competitor brands, value proposition, brand persona, customer experience and the brand story​​​​ together with a messaging framework. Once this is all clear, we tie everything together in a one page brand summary.
Overview of the main points we typically cover.

6 steps for a succesful remote Brand Strategy Workshop

1. Having a well defined workflow and agenda

I ensure that the agenda is communicated at least a week prior. This is essential for all meetings, especially workshops, to gather all necessary data and information by the session’s end.

Most of the time I will be doing the session together with another brand strategist. So we utilize two types of agendas: one for participants, shared with the calendar invite, and a more detailed one for the facilitators, scheduling every 10-20 minutes of the workshop. This approach consolidates materials and resources, aiding in maintaining the workshop’s momentum.

The agenda should include specifics such as introductions, lunch, snacks, and restroom breaks. Aiming to allocate two 2-hour periods for intensive work within a single day, with other activities arranged around these slots.

2. Limit the number of participants, always including leadership

Workshops achieve peak efficiency with four to six participants. Typically, my team includes a brand strategist and a lead identity designer. The client’s team composition varies depending on the project’s nature.

Crucially, leadership presence, specifically the founder or CMO, alongside main decision makers, is vital. It’s important to identify the project owner at this stage and ensure their attendance. Additionally, other stakeholders with direct project oversight should be present.

Engagement levels can dip if participants feel they have little to contribute. Therefore, we designed the workshop to maximise input and involvement from each attendee, leveraging their unique perspectives and areas of expertise.

3. Breaking it down in manageable chunks

Conducting remote workshops demands increased focus and discipline from all participants. The lack of in-person interaction and prolonged computer use can lead to decreased attention.

For remote workshops to be effective, I prefer to condense activities into a shorter timeframe – ideally 4 to 5 hours per day, compared to the 7.5 hours typically allocated for in-person workshops. In one instance for example, I’ve adapted what would have been a single-day workshop into four separate 2-hour remote sessions spread across a week. It’s important to be flexible in this approach, and really leverage the agile nature of remote work.

4. Facilitating the session

Incorporating homework assignments enhances the structure and goal-orientation of remote workshops. Instead of posing questions during live sessions, as in in-person meetings, it’s a lot more time-efficient to distribute these inquiries via email in a questionnaire format.

This approach acknowledges that the client possesses the deepest understanding of their business. Therefore, it’s essential to ask about key aspects such as target audiences, competitors, their performance, sources of inspiration, etc. These questions are crucial in shaping the narrative and concentrating on pivotal elements.

Additionally, establishing clear workshop rules is vital. These include guidelines for turn-taking in discussions, embracing the principle that no answer is wrong to foster open brainstorming, and effectively facilitating the workshop itself. This structure not only streamlines the process but also creates an environment conducive to productive and creative collaboration.

5. Centralise the collaboration

I try to avoid over-reliance on the chat feature in videoconferencing apps, as chat transcripts often vanish once the call ends, and these platforms generally don’t support file uploads.

For effective record-keeping of workshop communications, tools like Slack are invaluable. Creating a dedicated channel for the workshop allows for easy access to all resources, links, and for sharing notes, sketches, or written feedback.

To ensure optimal efficiency, each participant should join the call from their own computer. I primarily use Google Meet, or Slack for remote calls. We encourage participants to enable their cameras to foster a more personal interaction. However, it’s important for participants to check their internet connection beforehand to avoid significant disruptions during the call.

Additionally, it’s crucial to remind participants about the expected code of conduct, such as muting their microphone when not speaking and using features like the ‘raise hand’ option for orderly communication.

6. Collaboration tools

Transitioning from traditional sharpies, post-its, and physical timers, remote workshops call for the need of an array of creative collaboration tools to simulate the in-room experience. Digital platforms like Figma and Miro are essential for this adaptation, offering features that emulate a physical meeting room environment. I personally really like Miro for this, while the brainstorm session is also saved and can be taken into the Slack room.

Preparing in advance is key. This means I pre-fill boards with relevant templates and integrate content contributed by participants. These tools offer a variety of templates suitable for creating mood boards, mapping out user journeys, and facilitating prototyping.

In conclusion, while remote workshops present unique challenges compared to traditional in-person settings, they also offer opportunities for innovative collaboration and engagement. By leveraging digital tools effectively, being prepared for unpredictability, and maintaining a flexible approach, we can navigate these challenges successfully. Remember, the key to a successful remote workshop lies in the effective use of technology, clear communication, and the ability to adapt to changing circumstances. As we continue to explore and refine these virtual environments, we open doors to more dynamic, inclusive, and productive collaborations, regardless of physical distances.

Advantages

  1. Wider Accessibility: They allow participation from a diverse group of people irrespective of geographical locations​​.
  2. Cost Efficiency: Remote workshops eliminate travel and accommodation costs.
  3. Flexibility and Convenience: Participants can join from their preferred environments.
  4. Enhanced Documentation and Use of Digital Tools: The use of digital whiteboards, screen sharing, and cloud-based tools enhances interaction and record-keeping​​.

Challenges

  1. Technology Dependence: Reliance on internet connectivity and digital tools can pose challenges if technical issues arise.
  2. Engagement and Interaction Difficulties: Maintaining participant engagement remotely is more challenging compared to face-to-face interactions.
  3. Time Zone Constraints: Coordinating schedules across different time zones can be complex.
  4. Limited Personal Interaction: The lack of physical presence may reduce the dynamism usually found in in-person workshops.

Solutions

  1. Interactive and Structured Format: I choose to break down the workshop into smaller, more focused sessions to maintain engagement and manage screen fatigue. Using interactive exercises to keep participants engaged​​.
  2. Efficient Scheduling: Being sure to schedule the workshop considering the participants’ time zones and availability​​.
  3. Preparation and Homework Assignments: Assign pre-workshop tasks to participants to ensure everyone is prepared and to maximize workshop time​​.
  4. Use of Digital Collaboration Tools: Leveraging digital whiteboards and screen sharing tools for effective collaboration and visualization of ideas​​.
  5. Improvise as Needed: A strategy session is never set in stone, so I try to adapt and make changes during the workshop to address any unforeseen challenges or to enhance participant engagement​​.

Ultimately, a well-facilitated remote strategy workshop is key to unlocking essential brand insights, building trust between clients and designers, and crafting a brand narrative that truly connects with the audience.