“Hi, I’m Anshey. Nice to meet you. So, what do you do?” I asked upon meeting Ryan.
“I’m a resident physician, specializing in radiology,” he replied.
“Sounds interesting—do you enjoy it?”
Ryan seem uninspired by his profession. “It’s pretty interesting, and I’ll have a good lifestyle after residency,” he answered.
At this point, I had 2 options. I could continue the drudgery of the “normal conversation,” or I could reshape the conversation a bit to try to build a deeper emotional connection. I decided on the latter.
“Sounds like a good plan. But what do you do that you’re truly passionate about?”
At first Ryan seemed a bit confused, and I wondered if he’d always considered himself passionate about his profession, but then he gathered himself and responded, “You know, I actually love the idea of starting a tech business one day.”
A typical conversation can be pretty boring—if you let it be.
We ended up speaking for nearly half an hour on how he could get started, and how this would impact his plan of being a radiologist.
That was almost 6 years ago. Today, my friend Ryan runs a 10-person technology company, doing what he truly loves. I’m not taking credit for Ryan’s success—he did it himself, and worked his tail off—but he followed his heart because of a simple tweak to your standard “small talk.”
Getting to “why” with creative conversation techniques
If you think back over conversations where you asked the standard questions, most of them were probably nothing special. But a few key interactions probably stand out.
Maybe a friend told you about his new business idea, or you suggested an innovative project to your boss. Whatever it was, memorable conversations keep exciting us long after the conversation has ended.
As both an entrepreneur and a creative director, my days are full of conversations, many focused on 2 key topics: passion and brand.
It was collaborative. It was creative. It was a conversation.
My job is to get to the heart of “why,” and I do it with creative conversation techniques. Instead of sticking to “social scripts,” I ask people I meet, clients, and our creative team why they chose to do what they do.
I ask them about their passion projects, new business ideas, or anything else that might have piqued their interest lately. I try to get people to sit up in their chairs and talk openly, honestly, and passionately about what they care about. I want to truly understand them and their organization. These conversations drive the branding and culture of every organization we work with.
A 6-step process for creative branding conversations
If you’re kicking off a branding project, you can use a formula that’s worked for our studio, Verbal+Visual, over 6 years now:
- Ask the client “why.” Why are they in the business they are in? Why should people use their service? Why do they come to work every day? Why do they believe in their company or service more than any other? Record their “why” responses and distill them all into a single sentence. The organization’s “why,” defined in 1 sentence, can be a powerful tool for branding.
- Ask them to define the parameters around the “why.” For example, ask them to list 5 words that describe the company, and 5 different words that they believe encompass the brand.
- Ask them to define their target audience in as much depth as possible. To create a profile of their typical customer, you’ll definitely need both demographics and psychographics.
- Get the entire project team (creatives, tech, strategy, etc.) together in a room. Have each team member chose 2 words from the list of 10. Then, have them come up with 3 ideas based on the 2 words they chose. Pick the best idea from each person, and write it down on a whiteboard. Then, discuss all of those ideas to see which idea the group likes best.
- Have everyone write a 6-word story based on their best idea. Yes, just 6 words. This exercise helps the team come up with ideas for taglines, promos, etc. A short-and-sweet, tweet- and web-friendly story can work wonders in creating a brand identity that extends far beyond the logo.
- Lastly, check your ideas and stories against the parameters (brand words, company words, and target audience) to make sure you haven’t gone off the rails.
Now you have fuel for the branding and design process that will lead to results that aren’t only more more innovative, but also fit the target audience beautifully.
The creative conversation process in action
Let’s look at a specific example of diving into brand identity.
We recently had a real estate company, RAM Real Estate Capital, hire us to do branding work and create their website. With their name and their 2 lists of 5 words (1 for company, 1 for brand), we started to brainstorm ideas for the logo:
- A flat-designed house
- The horns of a ram (similar to Dodge)
- Combine a house and ram horns
- Incorporate the horns into the letters
Many ideas came about, but most surfaced from our collaborative conversation. One person’s idea led to another person’s, allowing the designer to think above and beyond his initial thoughts for the logo. It was collaborative. It was creative. It was a conversation.
“You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.” – Maya Angelou
We should all use our creativity as much as we can, whether to build a relationship or develop a brand. Time and time again, creativity produces great results.
Want more on creative conversations? Grab the presentation, Creativity + Conversation.
Anshey works at Verbal+Visual, a digital product studio focused on bringing startups, non-profits, and brands we love to life online.