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?