Monday, December 7, 2009

Branding an improv troupe: Part 1b

This is the second part of BRAND PERSONALITY, IDENTITY AND IMAGE IN IMPROV: Or, to borrow a line from Joe Bill and the Annoyance, How you do what you do is who you are.

I know I said next we'd hit
Question #2: Does your identity match your personality? But since I'm writing as I go, I reserve the right to course-correct. And before we answer that question, we need to figure out what it means to "match your personality."

Once you've clearly defined your troupe's personality—describing yourself as you would a person—what do you do with it?

The better defined your personality, the easier it is to evaluate the communication plan you create for your audience—from the way you use media (like e-mail, advertising, Facebook, Twitter, fliers, blogs, websites, etc.) to your promotion plans (events, discounts, "gimmicks") to the look and feel of your logo, publicity photos, posters, websites and other materials.

Because we're moving to brand identity after this, we'll talk about the look and feel thing here. "Look and feel," "style and voice," "design and editorial," creative strategy or direction, style guide...essentially, what we're working toward is "guidelines for creating posters, logos, websites, press releases, etc."

To get started, it's time to extrapolate. Blow out what the personality words mean to you, and you'll start articulate a clear and specific creative direction for your troupe. There are a bunch of different ways to approach this; here are two easy ones.

If...then. Starting with your personality words, describe the kind of things a person like that would do. Using an example from the Annoyance assumptions in the last post, what might you infer about people who sees themselves as "uncensored"? Think about negative and positive connotations.
  • They don't play by the rules of polite society.
  • They might be crude, inappropriate, vulgar, sexual, dangerous...or worse.
  • They don't worry about what people (especially authority figures) think.
  • They take risks—they don't hold back.
So, what look-and-feel choices might you make based on a description like this? (This next part isn't meant to be Annoyance-specific.)
  • Voice (how it sounds): Edgy. Even abrupt. And if people can't handle a little swearing, fuck 'em.
  • Design (how it looks): Colors that feel a bit off—maybe they're a little dark, or come dang close to clashing. Layouts with elements of surprise. Choices that break traditional design rules.
  • Photography: It might feel spontaneous, candid—maybe a little too candid.
See how that works?

What kind of _____ would you be? Sometimes its easier to start with established brands for creative cues—either ideas or clich├ęs to avoid. With your personality words in mind, answer these questions (and make up more, if it helps):
  • If you were a car, what make and model would it be?
  • What band would play your theme song?
  • Who would direct the movie about your troupe's rise and fall?
  • What clothing designer would create your wardrobe?
  • What restaurant should cater your gigs?
  • What big brands share your personality traits?
(This is a great exercise to do with other members of your troupe—the discussion can help expose differences in opinion about who you are.)

Now you can talk about the brand choices the names in your answers have made. Here are some differences beween a MINI and a Ford Mustang, for example:
  • Mini speaks to consumer with a sense of friendly exclusivity ("We were small when everyone else was going big.")...Mustang dares you to drive it ("Thrill Machine, Pure and Simple.").
  • Photographs in the Mini gallery lead with studio shots designed to highlight its unique shape...the Mustang is shot in action, with lots of dust/exhaust/smoke billowing from behind.
  • Mini's web design is simple and clean; the voice is clever and familiar, with a bit of a wink. Mustang's website incorporates a sense of movement and speed; the voice is straightforward with a sense of urgency.
Now what?
All those details you've got now will help you describe what your promotional materials should look like if you really want to play up your personality. It can be helpful fill in the blanks for a basic creative strategy:
  • Personality words—and what they mean.
  • Voice (style, point of view, attitude, diction)
  • Style (layout, design elements, color palette, photography)
  • Other considerations (general ideas to explore, like "it should look more like a movie poster than a rock band flier")
You don't have to design or write anything at this stage—in fact, it's best to get the rules down first, then create. Why do it this way?
  • It pushes you further than you'd go on your own. Part of the creative process design and advertising firms go through is pushing themselves beyond the first, obvious idea. Opening your mind to the way other brands advertise—or taking your direction from the world outside of advertising—keeps you from settling for an idea just because it's convenient. Hey, we're improvisers. We can always
    come up with another idea.
  • It keeps you objective. It's easy to fall in love with a photo, a layout, a color, a font. But the goal here is to create a meaningful, differentiated identity for your troupe—and a creative strategy based on brand personality will keep you honest. It doesn't matter if your friend took a cool photo of you if it doesn't live up to the image you're trying to create. Font tricks and Photoshop filters just get in the way if they fight against your personality.
OK, really coming up next: I'll work with Nikki and Megan, over e-mail, probably, to answer some of this stuff for the case study. Then we'll go to Question #2: Does your identity match your personality? with an analysis of our current work.

Come on. Play with us.


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