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  • Writer's pictureLeonore Saintville

Creating a Brand Wheel: A DIY Guide to Positioning Your Brand

By Blythe Brantley and Léonore Saintville

One might think that wheels are reserved only for cars and hamsters to run on, however a brand wheel is a wonderful way to define who you are and what values you stand for as a company or a brand. For some of you, that may beg the question, “What is a brand wheel and why would I need one anyway?”

In this article we will not only guide you through what a brand wheel is and why it is essential but also tell you how InnoSense London walks through the creation of a brand wheel with clients. You can do it too!

1. What is a brand wheel and why do we need it?

Whether you are managing a B2B business or a luxury brand, a fresh start up or a billionaire brand, a nurturing your brand can have a huge impact on your #business. One of the most important #brand tools is what we call the brand wheel. A brand wheel is a visual diagram that summarises the positioning of your brand. It can also be visualised in the form of a brand key or a brand pyramid. Regardless the shape of the diagram, it is usually made of 4 important components: the human component which is related to your brand audience, the product, the brand itself and the brand essence.

First, let’s look at the human component! This is the most crucial part and should be dealt with first. It clarifies what group of people the brand serves. That’s your target audience. It sets what problem the brand wants to solve for its users and express it in the form of an insight. For example, Dove which is famous for its campaigns on real beauty and self-esteem taps into the following human insight: “Being beautiful is a pressure, because of beauty standard imposed by society, instead of something natural women can enjoy.”

Then, the brand wheel articulates how your product will successfully contribute to solve that problem: this will be expressed through the functional and emotional benefits and the reason-to-believe or mode of action of the product.

The third component of the wheel defines the brand itself and how it will contribute to solve the human problem or insight through its promise and its personality in a unique way so that the product feels clearly different from its competitors.

Lastly the brand wheel captures the #brand essence, a one-to-three words statement that conveys the soul of the brand. Some brands are famous for their brand essence: Coca Cola and “happiness”, AirBnB and “belongings” or Patagonia and “responsible and sustainable”.

With all this information provided in an easy-to-use diagram, you can conveniently share it with your colleagues and agency partners. But what are they going to do with it? Or you may wonder what will happen if they don’t have one?

Patrick Lencioni, author of the bestseller, "The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable" wrote: “If you could get all the people in an organization rowing in the same direction, you could dominate any industry, in any market, against any competition, at any time.

And that’s exactly what the brand wheel does: it keeps everyone involved in your brand rowing in the same direction. For your brand it means you will keep it consistent. Consistency — across your products and services and your branding and communication — will drive brand recognition and as a result brand familiarity. It will be easier for customers to find it in store. Over time if they are satisfied, it will drive brand trust and brand authority. People may start thinking of the brand directly when they talk about the product. For example, people start saying “my Ipad” instead of “my tablet”, “Kleenex” instead of “tissue”, “Nutella” instead of “chocolate spread”. Eventually consistency will drive brand loyalty in the long term.

2. Creating the brand wheel

Now we know what it is and why it’s useful, where do we start to create a brand wheel? The exercise can be daunting. And you are right, without the right approach, you could waste a lot of time or get it completely wrong!

Don’t worry! At InnoSense, we have developed a straightforward approach that gets the job done, whether you are repositioning your brand or doing this for the first time. You can do it too.

Here is our step-by-step guide.

Step 1: we call it the “brand immersion".

  • We download all relevant information about your brand: advertising, brand content, information about the key competitors, quantitative and qualitative research about the brand, range and products, sales data etc.

  • We conduct interviews with your key stakeholders to understand their perception of the brand or the company. We may ask question such as “How would you describe your company today? What problem are you trying to solve for your customers? Who are your competitors and what are your key advantages over them?” etc.

  • We also conduct interviews with your customers to understand what deeply connects them to your brand. Our questions usually follow the section of the brand wheel and are worded in a customer friendly way such as “When I say Coca Cola, what are all the words and images that come to mind? Could you please draw the product for me? If this brand was a person, what kind of person would it be? Why do you use this brand? What would you do if this brand wasn’t around anymore? What are its benefits? Etc.”

  • This information is then simplified and synthesized through the lens of the brand wheel in what we call a brand audit. We identify the areas of convergence and divergence within not only your team but also between your customers and your team. We identify any brand relevance or appeal challenges. Your brand might be aligned and consistent, but it’s not motivating any more or losing relevance. We also analyse previous research and the brand materials to understand what can trigger those tensions and challenges, and what this means for the future of the brand.

Step 2: we create the brand wheel.

  • We run a workshop with your team. In the workshop, we include people who will be using it most, usually people from marketing and consumer insight, but also your communication agency. Senior stakeholders who are decision makers should be there too. Better to have them onboard from the outset. R&D or product developers are needed too, particularly for the product part of the wheel. Somebody from sales who know well the customers is useful, especially in a B2B business.

  • During the workshop, we present the overall outcome of the brand audit. We clarify where people diverge, where customers and stakeholders have different opinions or perceptions, and we highlight the key challenges we need to solve.

  • We then work on every section of the wheel, brainstorming, confronting ideas, and seeking alignment for every part. We use a motivation map and the 12 brand archetypes to inspire you and your team and define sharp personality traits for your brand if you haven’t done that before.

  • All the information collected during the workshop is analysed, synthesized and presented in the form of a brand wheel. We make sure that, when we build the brand wheel, all parts fit with each other and form a congruent concept. Otherwise, we’ll end up with a crooked wheel. So that’s very important. We can illustrate the different sections of the wheel with examples from other categories or brands, making everything clear to your whole team.

  • Now it’s time to “test & learn”. We “test” the brand wheel first with your communication agency if you have one by getting their feedback and brainstorming some creatives with them. We want to make sure it works which means it’s clear and it stimulates people creativity. It’s also important to “test” it with the senior stakeholders in the company, we want them to be aligned as they will also have to live and breathe it every day. Testing the wheel with customers can be a good idea too, especially if you are going to invest a lot of money in communication. We want to make sure the brand wheel is true to the brand your customers know and increases brand love. All the feedback collected will help improve or sharpen the brand wheel.

  • Finally, once the brand wheel is validated and we are all happy with it, the brand wheel is cascaded to the whole organisation and the communication agencies. A brand wheel is only valuable if it’s used and lived by everyone.

See! Even if it's not effortless, it's easier than you’d imagine to create this effective tool. Now your team can hum in sync and make your brand truly shine, without reinventing the wheel!

Please share your tips and ideas on how to create a great brand wheel!

Don’t hesitate to contact us for more information. We’ll be happy to help. Include "brand wheel" in the title:

Léonore Saintville is a founding partner at InnoSense, a human centric innovation and brand development agency based in London.

Blythe Brantley is a student in Management and Society at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and was a trainee at InnoSense.


The hero and the outlaw, Building extraordinary brand through the power of the archetype by Margaret Mark and Carol S. Pearson

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