Marketing and Comms
Brand Deep Dives:
A Tool to Co-Create Common Convictions

In this series, Christophe Fauconnier & Benoit Beaufils, respectively CEO & founding partner of brand consultancy Innate Motion, present the tools that the company uses to develop purposeful, mission-driven brands with their clients. Benoit & Christophe view their tools as a free “thoughtware” suite, and propose that readers borrow and reapply. Read about the other tools in the toolbox: people immersions**, the shared value landscape and the believer’s pyramid.

“I did not even want to kiss my wife goodbye!”

“I managed to arrive a few minutes late, to avoid having to chat with people before the meeting!”

“I walked around with my hand on my mouth.”

In the meeting room, the team is both horrified and laughing, as they share a debriefing of the experience we imposed on them. We have asked them to refrain for brushing their teeth for 24 hours, right before coming into the workshop. As we discuss their feelings, all express the difficulty to engage with others when you feel unsafe about your oral hygiene. That’s when we intervene: “And, did any of you fear you would get a cavity?” A brand director offers an answer: “Of course not, that is not the reason why you brush your teeth in the morning!”

He pauses, and realizes the enormity of what he has just said, as we ask: “Then, why is the entire oral care category focused on cavity protection?”

They look at each other. They just rediscovered a product truth that they had forgotten: we brush our teeth because it feels better, and it is important in our interactions with others. Because category wisdom says cavity protection is what toothpaste is about, they had lost track of a more simple truth, one that moves the people who use their brand — one that they will now focus on to rebuild its story.

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A Brand Deep Dive is the process we use to help teams get together and, over an intense few days, craft a brand story that is rooted in humanity. We use them for global brands as much as for small businesses, in the context of developing a whole new brand story as well as to localize a project. They look like a marketing tool, but in truth, they were engineered as a transformation tool, a process to initiate change over just a few days.

The Brand Deep Dives were designed along three principles...

Engineer diversity

In the book The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many Are Smarter Than the Few, James Surowiecki has argued that broad groups make better decisions than small groups or individuals — but under four specific conditions:

1. Diversity of opinion: Each person should have private information even if it’s just an eccentric interpretation of the known facts.

2. Independence: People’s opinions aren’t determined by the opinions of those around them.

3. Decentralization: people are able to specialize and draw on local knowledge.

4. Aggregation: some mechanism exists for turning private judgments into a

collective decision.

Along that logic, we bring together groups of 15 to 40 people, with diversity of function, of hierarchy level, of age, of cultural background, and of responsibility. To craft an invitee list, we look for those who make decisions, as much as for those who have skills and knowledge, in all the key aspects of brand work. Marketing people need to be joined by their agencies, by R&D and finance specialists, by the online activation teams, by the sustainability team...

We then put great effort in engineering a work process that keeps the independence of the participants, but allows “aggregating” their thinking.

Leverage the power of play

Rational discussions have a hard time changing the beliefs we have about brands, about “consumers.” “Play” takes us away from our norms, our usual thoughts and habits, our sense of hierarchy, our bias for security and the already known — all of which are barriers for empathy and imagination.

Brand Deep Dives need to be conducted outside of the office, and engineered as seriously as the best reality shows. The aim is to engineer a progressive, connected suite of experiences, which allow the team to gradually discover new realities, be challenged in their thoughts, and move together towards a solution, along a process that avoids pitted conversations in favor of collaborative, gradual construction.

A hands-on product experience, face-to-face encounters with participants to the brand’s eco-system, an unusual task performed with a team: all of these move us, help us reconsider our beliefs and integrate the reality better — like the experience of spending 24 hours without brushing their teeth can shift the perception of executives after years of experience in the oral care category.

For the teams, the process is often scary: Asking the management committee of any business to express their business vision through an oil painting or a short play is challenging their habits! But it pushes them away from conventions and marketing jargon, to distill real, simple ideas.

Work around the Believer’s Pyramid

In an earlier article, we outlined the way we use the Believer’s Pyramid to define the essence — and hence the value creation strategy — of a brand, by rooting it in people and in purpose. The agenda of a Brand Deep Dive is hence built around the Pyramid, as a series of experiential work sessions that allow exploring its three corners.

Typically, we start with immersions, which allow challenging the team’s beliefs about their “consumers” and, when needed, the other participants to their brand’s ecosystem. They rediscover them as real people, and map out their deeper “tensions” — which the brand will try to respond to. These exercises allow uncovering, for instance, how the aspiration for autonomy in young women can be a base for work for a global hair care brand, how the desire to react to the negativity of our world powers Coca-Cola, or how the need of a community for shared development can help construct a better local transportation network in an African country.

We then explore the history and assets of the business we work on, as a base to explore the tensions it can choose to serve, and the point of view it can take. Because, of course, any brand does not have the license to serve any tension. Brands & businesses develop over time a legitimacy to provide a point of view in specific areas, because of the symbolic weight of some features, because of the presence of some values in advertising and design, or because of their founding myth or technology. Harley Davidson has credentials to talk about freedom because of its obnoxious noise and its American, Hell’s Angels mythology. Coca-Cola has license to talk about positivity because the slight uplift it gives helps us feel, well, more positive. Just like Dove found its legitimacy in talking about self-care because it historically created beauty products that were designed to nurture what every woman has, rather than change it.

Finally, we craft product rediscovery experiences, allowing the team to understand the essence of what their product does, in a different scope from the one they usually embrace. Not in the narrow scope of its category and competitors, but in the broader scope of the life of its users. Not brushing your teeth for 24 hours helps the most blasé executive to rethink his category. Jumping into an “aging suit” helped the young executives of a consumer goods company understand how it felt to be 40 years older than themselves, a key experience to design products that will serve them.

These experiences serve as a base for a final session, where the team crafts the Believer’s Pyramid for their brands, and explores how a deeper purpose can be woven with a clearer product story.

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As much as a Deep Dive is a co-creative affair, bringing it to conclusion requires leadership. To close the exercise, the senior leadership in charge of the brand needs to take back the lead, and the responsibility to finalize the work and make decisions.

At this stage however, they can do it on the base of a shared understanding — a new, shared vision for the business, that will nourish the platforms of engagement the brand will create, from innovation to communication or CSR. In turn, that shared understanding will allow consistent execution, as every participant to the session takes back into his own field a vision that she has contributed to build.

This is, probably, the key take away from this note: Building purpose into a business cannot be driven top-down. Most of us find deep satisfaction in building more meaningful businesses, and leveraging this energy creates more effectiveness. A Brand Deep Dive is a tool to capture an organization’s shared energy and wisdom, and shape it into business drivers.

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