It’s either a CMO’s dream scenario or his/her worst nightmare: The entire marketing department gathered in a workshop and told they should put all their branding ideas on the table – and that every idea is welcome. But how do you extract really useful concepts from it all while ensuring everyone feels their input is valued? How do you get results from a branding workshop?

Setting expectations
Sure, taking time out of the busy, detailed-oriented schedule of a typical marketing team can make for a great team-building event. But while you’re building the team and tapping into their enthusiasm and creativity, your implementation resources are limited. So if too many good ideas turn up, you may be worried about building their expectations too high at the same time.

Don’t feel bad – that’s just the reality of B2B marketing in any company. But here’s the thing: In the hands of a professional concept maker and corporate storyteller (who has invested some time to understand your business, your agenda and the dynamics of your team), one or two of those ideas are likely to rise to the top, turning into a powerful new brand or campaign concept. And that’s worth all the brainstorming and intense (and often off-subject!) discussions and comments that preceded it all.

Watch those feelings
Every member of your marketing team would like to see an idea they came up with or contributed to become a major, high-profile success. Probably, they’d like to be part of bringing the idea further, too. So having to reject one, two or more of their suggestions during an in-house branding workshop might feel hard – both for them and for you as their manager.

A lot of the problem can be headed off at the beginning of the workshop, where expectations should be clearly set and the right kind of energy and level of ideas discussed. In fact, this might be just what some of the team need to feel more confident about expressing their thoughts and ideas. And it ensures you can more freely pick and choose, aided by the facilitator, among the ideas that come up during the session.

Sometimes, it’s worth including an ‘acid test checklist’ to test the various ideas. By going down the list with the facilitator, participants can quickly see that the idea they may have embraced so dearly since coming up with it just isn’t going to make it in the real world. Don’t make people aware of this checklist too early in the workshop, though, because it’s likely to limit the flow of ideas. Instead, include it toward the end of the session to narrow down which conceptual directions should be taken to the next stage.

Post-it-Notes or Post-it-Not?
There are (at least) two camps on this one: For and against. And I feel I need to be a little careful with what I say here, because for some, it’s almost a religion. Having people write their ideas on Post-it-Notes and put them up on boards is very useful in many contexts, giving workshop participants a chance to brainstorm freely before perhaps presenting their ideas off the notes to the group.

As a corporate storyteller and workshop facilitator, however, I prefer a more guided interaction, leading the group in a conversation where ideas build upon and supplement each other to arrive at truly useful concepts. It’s useful, for example, to ask a single question then have each of the participants provide their answer for everyone to hear. For example, I might ask: “What’s your favorite brand and why?” or “If you were at a party and you were trying to impress people at your table about your place of work, what would you say?” Then I pick up on the most promising inputs (there’s usually something you can pull out of every reply in a way that makes participants feel valued) and use them to move the discussion along.

Stepping stones
While I’m doing this, I mentally test each input against my experience of what constitutes a powerful, workable idea, helping the group to move away from ideas that are likely to run into a brick wall somewhere along the concept development path. Perhaps the problem is that the underlying idea is a too much of a cliché. Or it can’t be used to express a key selling point that would need to be in the mix. Rather than killing the energy in the room by saying “Oh, that’s never gonna work”, I prefer to use each input as a stepping stone toward something more useful.

Concept control freak
That may make me seem like a concept control freak, but after 20 years of working in advertising and cultural development, you get a keen eye/nose for what will work and what won’t. And that’s experience that, rather than limiting the flow of ideas, can open things up wider than ever.

Take, for example, the case of a hearing aid manufacturer. We were discussing the various unique selling points (USPs) of a soon-to-be-launched product. One of those points was the fact that it delivered great sound quality. But the group quickly agreed that you can’t use ‘sound quality’ as a key claim because, well, every hearing aid manufacturer says that about its products.

I was able to draw upon previous concept projects, however, to explain that it was very doable indeed – all it took was a creative angle that dramatized this ‘hygiene factor’ to an extent the industry had never seen before. We worked further with the idea until one of the company’s most successful products was born – and its key USP was one of the most important things that millions of people with hearing difficulties wanted to hear.

The whole story
This is the final post in a three-part series about the benefits of interactive workshops to inspire effective B2B storytelling, create strong creative concepts and develop your skills. The series started with Big Ideas and picking winners and also includes my thoughts on why branding workshop is your next team-building event.