Suddenly Marketing

Brand Messaging | Content Strategy | Writing

Secret Marketing Weapon: The Brand Mind Map

Does taking on branding projects make you feel slightly nauseated?

If someone asked, could you name your brand’s value proposition?

Do you have a snappy elevator pitch?

How about a messaging matrix?

If you find yourself tasked with this kind of brand development project, no one would blame you for feeling a bit overwhelmed. After all, these are Big Ideas you’re trying to capture. They don’t typically just sashay in and settle down for tea.

Instead, there is usually a sort of cat-and-mouse game. You chase shadows and random lines of thought. You review a LOT of reference materials – internal input, C-level notions, customer interviews, market research, existing brand content. You have a brilliant idea that later turns out to be crap. It can shake even the most battle-scarred marketer to her core.

When I tackle any kind of Big Idea project – like developing branding assets – I have one secret weapon that gets me started in the right direction each and every time: mind mapping.


Mind whatting?

If you’re not familiar with the joy and brilliance that is mind mapping, you can read this post in which I gush about how this brainstorming/organizing tool helps you clobber writer’s block in no time flat: Mind Mapping Your Way Out of Writer’s Block. 


And what does it have to do with branding?

I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that I use mind mapping for just about every creative and organizational task – content planning, outlines, research, event planning, brainstorming, assessment, etc. EVERYTHING.

When it comes to brand development, I start with a map that includes the following sub-topics: Company, Customers, Products, Service, Competition, and Philosophy. I also usually include a typical “SWOT” section (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats). From there, I can start brainstorming around each of those topics and branching off into more and more detail. The sub-topic “Customers” might, for instance, branch out into hopes, fears, complaints, accolades, needs, etc. Under “Company,” I might include things like internal perceptions, external perceptions, history, personality, etc.

I do my first draft of a branding mind map while I’m reviewing all my reference materials – making notes about key ideas and words, adding reference links, and attaching documents so I can easily find key information later on. I continue adding to the map throughout the discovery meetings with the client, any subsequent customer interviews, and any other input sessions. In the end, I usually have one beast of a mind map that includes all the intel and inspiration that I’ve collected while in the research and development phase of the branding exercise.

The beauty of a mind map is that it lets you see the big picture so that patterns and trends are easier to spot. It lets you group and connect ideas. Each time I introduce a client to this versatile tool, they tell me how helpful it was to be able to see all the ideas in one “snapshot” view. A digital mind map is also a great collaboration tool. I often bring an initial draft of a mind map to a client meeting and then edit it in real time as we talk things through – moving things around, adding notes and branches, highlighting and prioritizing. It’s a fun and efficient way to get consensus on ideas, structure, and even project details.

In addition to making it easy to group and move topics, a software program like Mindjet (my mind mapping software of choice) gives you many other organizational tools. I love the little flags and other icons that help me visually identify big ideas and idea threads as well as items that have questions, need more exploring, or are ready for review. I also love the “notes” tool that lets me append notes to any item on my mind map – so I have room to capture notes as I review the mind map with clients. Assigning clickable URLs to topics is also very helpful, allowing me to link directly to existing client and competitor content for quick reference.

Whether you’re working on paper or screen, after a while you’ll probably find that you’ve mind mapped yourself right off the page. You’ll have tons of fresh ideas to play with – many of which probably would never have occurred to you if you’d been using an old school outline. Even better, you’ll have an easy-to-read, visual map that makes the connections between ideas jump off the page. You can connect the dots easily. Now, the project that was freaking you out looks like a fresh canvas, and you feel like Monet on one of his more inspired days.


What do you think? Have you tried mind mapping? How has it worked for you? If you haven’t – do you think you might give it a shot after reading this?


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  1. Hi Jamie,

    I do my own form of mind mapping. It’s certainly not the most advanced, but it works for me. I simply start with a standard sheet of paper, and draw out a very simplified version of a mind map, then transfer every thought to another sheet, crumpling the old one and tossing it in the bin. I keep doing this over and over, sometimes for 1-2 hours or more. It’s like an old fashioned whittling down process, but it works for me. What helps is I keep tossing out the old. I’m temped to start better practices with a digital mind map, because as you mentioned, it is a great collaboration tool. My old (rather odd) school method isn’t.

    • Jamie Lee

      Digital is great, but I often use hand drawn maps as well, Craig. I “outline” each blog post and all the columns I write for my local paper using pen and paper. Sometimes simpler is better. (Who am I kidding – simpler is almost ALWAYS better!). :)

      I like your “whittling down” process. I do something similar on my larger projects where I can sometimes wind up with a BEAST of a digital mind map. After I’ve done that I go through and highlight the most important (or best) ideas and transfer them to a “fresh” mind map where I can re-focus on just those key ideas. Then I start the process all over again.

      TKS for sharing!

  2. Laura

    WOW! I feel the fear rising, the eyes glazing over when I hear value proposition, messaging matrix…lions and tigers and bears, Oh my! LOL
    I don’t use a schematic that looks as complicated, but like Craig mentioned, I do my own version of mind mapping. I think I do most of my mind mapping when I hang in that stage between sleep/wake in the early morning hours which is probably why I am up at the crack of dawn to write. Writer’s block? Never, ever. Marketing? I am going to get there slowly! (I may go kicking and screaming occasionally too!)

  3. Laura

    Oh, and yes, I will definitely force myself to check out Mindjet after reading your post. Why would the resistant writer do that? Because, Jamie, you make so much sense!

    • Jamie Lee

      Hello, Laura!
      Kick that fear to the curb. It’s not as hard as it looks, my friend. :) I promise.

      LOVE that you also do mind mapping. And I agree – it’s a great way to beat writer’s block. I love the visual aspect because it helps me get my head around how to structure a piece – the big themes and order of things.

      Thanks for saying I make sense. I need to hear that once in a while! :)

  4. I am a mind-mapper! I think I make at least one each day. It’s how I structure my very rapid thoughts, trying to tie them down. Curio or Omnigraffle Pro are my programs of choice.

    If only there was an easy way to include interactive mind maps in a blog post! Now that would be cool.

    • Jamie Lee

      “Interactive blog posts in a mind map…”
      That WOULD be cool!

      I’ve actually tried to think of ways to make a mind map-based site navigation to drill down into a blog archive. :)

      I’ll have to check out those softwares. I think I’ve looked at Curio, but Omnigraffle is new to me. Yay! New toys!

      Thanks for coming by, Jon!

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