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The Observatory

The Branding Process: Step 1 – Definition & Strategy

February 7, 2022

Designing a human-centered brand

In the previous post in the series we outlined the process we use at Carimus to design brands for companies of all types and sizes – if you haven’t read it, check it out here.

This post covers the first step in the branding process – digging deep into the well of your company to reveal insights, unique differentiators and compelling narratives – definition and strategy.

Definition & Strategy

The key to an authentic human-centered brand is to dive deeply into your company to distill out unique insights and answer specific questions:  

  • Who do I need to connect with to be successful?
  • What does my business do?
  • How do we do it?
  • Why do we do it? Why is that important?
  • What values are core to our business?
  • What voice and tone do we want to present to the world?
  • What makes us unique?
  • Who is the competition and what are their strengths and weaknesses? Is there a competitive gap to capture?

Through the use of tools like workshop exercises, affinity mapping and lean canvas, you can answer the questions above and set your branding project out on firm footing.

The Workshop

When performing a brand workshop, there’s a couple things to keep in mind:  

  1. Be sure to have key stakeholders in the room (or zoom) to answer key questions about the business.  
  2. The definition and strategy phase serves as a foundation for the remainder of the project, so it’s important to gather the information you need in this step with a great amount of confidence, as bringing new information in later in the process can be disruptive. 
  3. Don’t make the group too large, you don’t want watered down answers to your questions – 3-5 is a good group size.  You can validate the outcome with a larger group for additional feedback.

Here’s the guide we use to structure a brand workshop and gather answers to the questions we pose: Download

At Carimus, we take the approach to lead a conversation about the business while covering the specific topics in the guide – and cross reference our guide to make sure all our questions are answered.  Depending on the dynamics of the group, a more structured approach may be required.

“All those little details you only notice in real life if you’ve got a high temperature. You couldn’t see the wood for the leaves.” 

C.S. Lewis

In-depth conversations lead to more informative answers on these topics.  When business operators are talking about their business in depth, they tend to use words and reveal truths that they take for granted that are important to the overall brand narrative.  Most of the time, companies already know the compelling stories and unique truths about their business, it just takes an outside perspective to point them out, polish them up and bring them forward in a brand narrative.

What, How, Why

What: Look at what your business or product does and how it fits into the bigger context. 

Questions to ask:

  • What does our product or service do? 
  • Is there something unique about our product/service that sets it apart?  
  • Is it new or unique, or an improvement on an existing process?
  • What is the outcome of our product/service?

How: Describe how you deliver your product or service and what makes it unique.

Questions to ask:

  • How do we do the “what”?  
  • Is there a focus on a specific niche?
  • Is there a unique approach to the problem(s) our business solves?
  • What would our customers say when answering this question?  

Why: Dig deep to look at why it’s important.  It may be helpful to ask this question after each answer to see if the purpose can go further? Ex: The Five Whys

Questions to ask:

  • Why do we do it?
  • What greater purpose does it serve?
  • Why does that matter?
  • Who does it matter to?
  • Why is that important?



Identify the top 3–4 audience groups for your brand.  Identifying, exploring and documenting the personas of your audience helps to align future decisions when trying to reach each persona type.  It’s helpful to have a list of each type, a description of each and a few bullet points on what they care about (ie: a buyer may care about price, quality, reliability, etc)

Questions to ask:

  • Who is the purchaser of your product/service?
  • Who approves the purchase?
  • Who objects to the purchase?
  • Who evangelizes your product/service and why?
  • What is motivating each member of your target audience?

Values & Voice


Identify your top 3–4 brand values.  These may already be defined as company values, or could use an update along with the brand.  The Brand values should align with what makes you unique, and with what everyone in the company can rally around.

Questions to ask:

  • What are the non-negotiable standards that should be followed by everyone in your company?
  • What makes your company unique in your specific industry?


Identify your top 3–4 adjectives that describe your business.  This should describe how you’d like others to perceive you and how you perceive yourself  (eg: confident, refined, energetic, innovative, etc.).

Questions to ask:

  • How would you like your communication to stakeholders, customers, employees and partners to be perceived?
  • How can you cut through “the noise” to be heard in your industry


List your top 5 competitors and why you see them as a competitor to target.  Keeping tabs on the competition is a good way to validate the idea for a new business or the continuity of an existing one. It’s also an important tool to identify competitive opportunities and market gaps.

Questions to ask:

  • Who are your nearest competitors?
  • Who is competing for your audience’s attention?
  • What are the competition strengths and weaknesses?
  • Is there a competitive gap to take advantage of?

Lean Canvas

The last piece of our workshop guide is the lean-canvas.  This one-page tool is a concise business plan for the company that can be created in a short amount of time.  Lengthy business plans are difficult to keep updated, and often aren’t read or understood by company participants.

This is an important tool to distill down exactly what the company does, what makes it unique, and how it makes money. This information guides the branding process, but is also an effective way to communicate internally and externally about the business as well.


These definition and strategy activities ultimately guide the next step of the process: Identity and Modernization.  The information gathered in the workshop, combined with additional external research on each topic, guides the creation of the brand.

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