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Find A Voice: A Branding Card Sorting Exercise

Scott Helms

By Scott Helms

Who is your brand?

That probably seems like a weird question. But, think about how great brands communicate. They say things in a distinct way, use specific phrases, and employ certain types of humor (and avoid others). They have a distinct voice. Just like people.

Allstate plays off of their unique brand voice in this commercial, incorporating it as a piece of humor in an otherwise serious commercial. But, notice how as soon as the little girl’s voice changes, you instantly recognize it as the brand’s spokesman.

Although Allstate’s audible voice itself is very distinct (that certainly doesn’t hurt in establishing their brand), they also have a distinct voice style — serious, comforting, even parental.

In other words, their brand has a personality. It connects with people emotionally because it communicates like a human.

So, how do you define your brand persona? We use a card-sorting exercise to help brands find their personality.

Start by downloading our Spotted Zebra Brand Workbook and cutting out all of the cards on page 5 of the workbook. Then, it may be best to assemble a team of stakeholders around a table to go through the process. Or, do a first run on your own and get a feel for how it works before putting it in front of a group.

To complete this exercise and identify clear, concise communication goals for your brand, follow these four steps:

1. Categorize

Create three sections to categorize your cards. We would recommend something like “Who we are”, “Who we’d like to be”, and “Who we aren’t”. To start, go through each of the cards and identify who your brand persona is today, who you’d ideally like it to be, and who it clearly is not. Place each card under the appropriate section. You don’t have to use all of the cards, only the ones that make sense.

2. Filter

Here’s where we have to start making the tough choices. Look specifically at your middle column — “Who we’d like to be” — and determine which cards fit with your business. Be honest here about the services and products you provide. Your voice needs to be authentic.

Are there conflicts? Can you be both “tactical” and “strategic”? Why did you choose both “cool” and “hip”? What do these terms mean for your brand internally?

Consider each card in this category carefully. Narrow your focus as much as possible and resolve any issues that arise between the cards you’ve chosen.

Anything that you decide is a poor fit for your business or conflicts with other messages, move to the “Who we aren’t” list.

3. Prioritize

More tough decisions. This time, look again at the middle column. Now that you’ve narrowed down your traits, it’s time to decide which are the most important.

Do you want to emphasize the fact that you’re “international”? Or, is it more important that people understand that you’re “consistent”?

Put all of your cards in a rank order — no ties!

4. Articulate

Now that you have a clear set of adjectives that define your brand and a list of adjectives that define what your brand is not, it’s time to create a clear narrative.

Match each of your “Who we’d like to be” cards with a card from the “Who we aren’t” list that sets the scope of your identity. Put these cards together into sentences that define your persona:

“We are formal, but not elite.”

You should have a sentence for each of your “Who we’d like to be” adjectives. If you can’t find a matching card from the “Who we aren’t” list, then you may need to use another term or phrase to articulate your position.

Once you’ve gone through each item on your list, you’re done. You can kick back and enjoy margaritas for the rest of your career. Okay, it’s not quite that easy. But, you have accomplished something that most brands struggle with by articulating a clear list of concise brand traits that make you unique. This is your guide to building your brand. These traits should resonate in everything you say and do as a company.

Pat yourself on the back, but remember that this is just the beginning. Now you have the direction, it’s time to start on the real journey.

Want more on how to build a brand that people love? To start your journey, click below to begin your Spotted Zebra Brand Workbook.

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