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Find a brand’s purpose with this simple exercise

A D&AD Masterclass trainer shares a two-step process to unlocking a brand’s core identity

Illustration by Julia Wytrazek

Chris Moody knows a thing or two about branding — he works as a Senior Advisor in Brand Marketing and Sales at McKinsey, and also teaches branding exercises to creatives at D&AD's in-person 'Creating Impactful Brand Identities’ Masterclass. Ahead of his next D&AD Masterclass, we caught up with Moody, who shared a hack for getting to the core of a brand’s purpose in just two steps.

Play with lego and find clarity

“I think part of the problem with purpose is that it's often written by people who are experts at writing, which means that you get virtually the same language for everything,” says Moody. “We want to make sure that the planet does better, for everyone, every day, everywhere – that is generic language. You want to find that way to take the generic out of it and put really specific words in.” In taking things back to the literal building blocks, it’s easier to find clarity.

Moody recommends starting this exercise with a Venn diagram. “The Venn diagram is something that every brand agency on the planet does,” he explains. Normally what this involves is a Venn diagram asking two questions. One side asks, “what do you do and what's special about you as an organisation?” The other side asks, “What do people need?” However, Moody thinks this can be refined further. “I think it's what do people need particularly in a post COVID world, and need to succeed? And then on the other side, it’s not just what's special about you. It’s what is going to be true about you for the long term? Often these diagrams are very short term.”

In the space in between “you list all these things and work out where there are crossovers. Then you start to formulate statements or sentences.” Most people might stop there, but Moody recommends taking it a step further. “Those little snappy statements mean very little,” he says. Often, they end up being abstracted to the point of meaninglessness. Instead, what he recommends doing is taking Lego bricks, and writing each individual word of that statement on them, then passing them to someone else to play around with and reformulate. “The reason why it works is that it gets everybody really focusing on the importance of every single word. It also makes them realise that there's a lot of generic language that seeps in.” It’s an exercise designed to ask a further question: “how do you take this to the next level?”

“It sounds really kind of playful and a bit daft, but actually, it's a really good way to get people to focus,” Moody adds. “We're pulling this thing apart and making it tangible.”

Condense your learnings into one line

The next step is to think about the language you’re using to describe the brand. This is the fundamental material that lies beneath everything, but Moody doesn’t recommend spending months compiling huge books or guidelines about the brand that then sit in a desk drawer. “You'll often hear about things like mission and vision and values, all that stuff… But it’s just not needed. You need one clear, condensed summary of everything that you stand for. That should be the thing that you have on the T-shirts and behind the people in reception. It’s the thing that drives everything.”

He gives the example of Innocent Smoothies’ original slogan: “Make delicious natural food and drink that helps people live well and die old.” Why is it so effective? “It's short and snappy, it builds on their core truths. It has some edge and grit to it, which these things often don't.” It’s all about seeing things afresh. “This is part of the reason for the Lego exercise: to try to find that kind of new way of looking at something. It also has some element of surprise in it. Purpose statements rarely use the word ‘die.’”

Such a strong statement also helps with a brand’s ability to build on itself, which in turn means you don’t have to throw everything out every ten years and start again. “The best way to look at it is almost like software that can be updated. You should be able to update all these different parts,” Moody explains. “That goes even as far as the identity. You should be able to update the elements in a way that keeps them alive and living. Think of that modularity and building like a software, rather than as hardware which has to be replaced.”

D&AD’s ‘Creating Impactful Brand Identities’ Masterclass is a full-day workshop that aims to break down a brand’s identity to its core components and build an identity that is distinctive and meaningful. Through a series of practical exercises and analytical practices, this workshop develops strategies that help you define how a brand identity looks, feels and behaves in the world.  More information and sign-ups bv.

You can also explore more D&AD online courses here, as well as upcoming in-person and online teaching here.