Parisleaf’s Branding Workshop Process

By Matt Steel on March 8, 2017
Business Discovery Branding

Adapted from a post originally appearing on

You may be launching a new startup in need of a visual identity and values definition, or you may be part of an established organization, such as a college or nonprofit, undergoing strategic changes and considering rebranding. Our branding workshop uncovers and distills your organization’s vision, giving you a blueprint with which to focus your energy and attract your best audience for success.

Branding is challenging work that requires tons of research, discernment, distillation, and the kinds of decisions that could have a dramatic impact on the life of your business. But sometimes people make branding much harder than it needs to be.

Sometimes we need someone to open our eyes to what’s possible in order to see that an effective brand identity is more attainable than we’ve ever imagined. The methods we here at Parisleaf have discovered and refined over the years make the branding process more enjoyable, saving you time and money, and have produced consistently strong results over the course of many client engagements.

The branding workshop is actually Step 3 in our 5-Step Branding Process. We begin the 5-step process by building and strengthening relationships with stakeholders, conducting interviews and industry research to discover your organization’s “why.” Then we define your mission and vision as well as the brand’s tone of voice.

Next we’re ready for the branding workshop. We typically conduct this process with you over a period of one or two weeks and one or more meetings. Here’s a brief outline of what we do.

1. Research

We’ll gather examples of identities in action – anything that could inspire and influence your brand’s direction. We’ll look for good examples of brand voice, i.e. verbal personality. We’ll collect visual elements from within your industry and others, including logos, color palettes, typography, imagery, print collateral, websites, and more. Anything is fair game. The only bad research is no research at all. All you need to do is three to four hours of hunting and gathering. The bulk of research will be my team’s responsibility.

2. Workshop

We’ll lead a focused full-day meeting with the top stakeholders from your team. (We usually wrap up ahead of schedule.) We’ll start by reviewing examples of voice, which will help us create lists of attributes and values that your brand will embody. Next, each of us will take turns presenting our visual research and discussing each image or case study’s merits or shortcomings. Everything that we all find to be relevant and valuable will be added to a mood board. We’ll also review what your competitors are doing, what’s working for them, and what isn’t.

3. Summary

After the workshop, my team creates a PDF that includes mood board images and notes, as well as our lists of brand values and attributes.

As a result of our brand discovery workshop, you’ll glean:

1. New vision

You’ll start to see how your brand could take shape. Every client who has gone through this process has walked away with greater clarity about how to position their brand for success.

2. New focus

By boiling our research down to a diverse yet clearly defined pool of influence, we’ll work far more efficiently when the time comes to bring your new brand identity to life. Unlimited possibilities and blank pages are terrifying. Ain’t nobody got time for that. Creativity loves constraints!

3. New energy

I’m not talking about energy from passion. That fades over time. The energy from these workshops is the result of refined purpose and strengthened consensus. That kind of energy has staying power, and it will inspire everyone around you. This excitement will inevitably come through in your subsequent branding efforts.

In addition, you’ll get me at my very best. While I’m a designer by trade, I’m a teacher at heart. When guiding clients through this process, I get in touch with my most discerning, authentic, and joyful self. Besides writing, nothing else comes close for me.

By the way – some might question what we’re doing by studying other people’s work. Are we looking for things to copy? Is this an elaborate way to shirk obligations and ride on the coattails of other designers and writers? The answer is a resounding no. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Nothing is new under the sun. The artist must therefore embrace influence, or forever be frustrated in his unadorned cell. No one can create from nothing. By embracing a broad and deep range of influence, we’re able to find unique solutions to your branding challenges. And by carefully surveying the brand identities that are already out in the wild, we’ll be less likely to inadvertently plagiarize someone else’s work.

Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. …Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) with be authentic.

– Jim Jarmusch

Why am I divulging valuable methods that took years to develop?

After leading dozens of branding workshops since 2012, I’ve found that this approach creates consensus early on, and saves much time during the design process. It would be selfish for me to keep it hidden. I want more people to experience this work; that’s why I’m sharing it with you. And at the end of the day it really isn’t complicated. This ain’t rocket science!

To give you a better idea of what the experience is like, here’s what two clients with my previous agency have to say about these workshops:

I’ve worked with Matt on three complex projects for Anova, including an iPad app, our printed portfolio, and a full website redesign. The most valuable phase of each project has been the discovery workshop. This is an opportunity to dig into every aspect of design and positioning. The workshop is not only a fun day of exploration and immersion, but also extremely valuable in saving time down the road and eliminating back-and-forth discussion. As a marketing leader, I’ve left every workshop with a strong sense of alignment as well as clear expectations for how Matt will manage the project and when my team and I need to participate.

– Katherine Wilson, VP of Marketing · Anova Furnishings

One problem I’ve found in working with out-of-house designers is that they often understand less of my brand’s core value proposition than in-house designers. This understanding is vital when making strategic design decisions. But in the workshops that Matt leads, I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find that our combined research and exploration allows him to clearly see the essence and purpose of my business – at times more clearly than I see it myself.

– Baoshan Sheng, Director · International Classical Music Database

Ready to dive in to your brand discovery workshop? Get in touch with us. Got questions or want to learn more about the process of branding? Here’s the detailed how-to of our 5-Step Branding Process.

About Matt Steel

Matt is a designer who writes, father of four, and husband of one. Since 2003, he has designed and directed creative initiatives with clients ranging from small startups to Fortune 500 companies. Matt loves giving good stories the visibility they deserve. He enjoys reading, surfing, yoga, running, hanging punctuation, serial commas, and drifting from philosophical musings to ridiculous impersonations.

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