Let’s do a Branding Strategy Exercise

Andrew Amundson
Andrew Amundson
- 4 min read

What do you think of when you hear the word Dunkin?

If you answered with coffee, it’s a testament to Dunkin Donuts’ rebranding success. The company wanted to change the conversation and be thought of as more than just a doughnut destination. By dropping the ‘Donuts’ from their name and pushing the tagline, ‘America Runs on Dunkin’, they shifted how consumers saw them and became an on-the-go coffee hotspot. But they still maintained their true and trusted fonts and colors known by customers, thereby keeping their brand intact while changing it for the better.     

Does Dunkin’ still sell doughnuts? Of course. But now we think of them as something more.

Why? Because users and audiences consume things based on branding. They’re buying into what a good or service represents more than what the goods or services actually are.


Your brand is who your audience thinks you are. Effective branding its a mastery of public perception by picking an identity and staying consistent with messaging. People are multi-faceted (ideally) — a brand is not. It’s ostensibly the one catch-all thing your organization is known for or associated with. It’s an opportunity to create, change and own the narrative of you who are, who you want to be, and how you want audiences to see you. This will serve as an organizational barometer and north star for your whole team. A consistent brand doesn’t just apply to an organization’s logo and tagline, but as a guide for all your content. And the tone of your brand is the cornerstone.

You remember when your mother would chide you (or still might) with, “Don’t take that tone with me.” You knew what she meant. You might have just replied with a basic “yes” to a question, but it’s the way you said it that she took issue with. In this case, your tone was probably defensive, resentful, sarcastic, and biting. We associate tone of voice most with an aural experience — it’s easy to pick up tonality when you’re listening to someone. But it exists in all forms of communication.

In analog terms, people’s perception of body language and tone of voice have far more impact than the words they are actually saying. If someone says, “I like you” in a monotone while rolling their eyes, their messaging is questionable. If you hear, “You’re the worst” with a sing-song delivery along with a smile and a wink, the speaker probably doesn’t think you’re the worst. This paramount quality of tone is just as true in the digital sphere.

Knowing your Audience

Your brand’s voice and tone that animates your content should represent your organization’s persona and values. This includes the words you choose (diction), the order in which you put them (syntax), and applies to all the content you deliver — the copy on your site’s pages, tweets, email newsletters, et al. There will be a range in tone depending on the format, obviously. Instagram posts, podcasts and blogs will skew more casual while case studies and RFP’s will be more authoritative. But they should all more or less sound like you.

It’s not just the kinds of content that dictate the tone, it’s which audience is consuming that content and why. Just as in life, everyone code-switches depending on their motivations and who they’re talking to, the same dynamic exists for which user or audience you’re focusing on.

For WDG, our RFP deck will professionally reflect the audience we are sending it to and the tone might sound more buttoned-up than a deck we present during a brainstorm.

Brand and Tone Exercise

We find that a lot of website redesigns involve a discussion about how the redesign links back to the brand. The voice and tone of the current website might not match the brand of the company. Often times, design and content trends that were all the rage a few years ago have unwittingly been confused with a brand identity instead of truly understanding how to leverage the company.

At WDG, we work with clients to ensure their brand’s voice and tone carries through from logo mark to online messaging to social media. It’s an integral part of our Strategy process.

Cue the Brand and Tone exercise.

WDG offers this branding walk-through as part of our UX workshop for new clients — it’s relatively simple but can unearth inconsistencies or differing schools of thought from your team regarding your organization’s identity (and the perception thereof). It’s an opportunity to reconcile the aspirational with the reality, to acknowledge the overlap or disparity between how you’re actually seen with how you want to be. Do you want to keep reinforcing the brand that’s already there? Recalibrate it a little? Or change it entirely?  

The Branding Attributes Exercise is a basic card-sorting, word association activity where your team is prompted to come up with descriptors for your organization in six key categories. Here’s what one might look like:

Culture: How would you like your audiences to see you?

  • Empathetic
  • Strategic
  • Forward-thinking

Audience: How would you describe your audiences?

  • Creative
  • Young
  • Impatient

Voice: How do you sound to your audiences?

  • Familiar
  • Empathetic
  • Expert

Feeling: How do you want your audiences to feel after interacting with your organization?

  • Informed
  • Entertained
  • Curious

Impact: What tangible results do you provide for your users?

  • Quality content
  • Expert advice
  • Business solutions

Differentiator: What makes you stand out?

  • Social media campaigns
  • Small size positioned as strength

When you have amassed these traits, look for trends. In this sample, ‘empathy’ was repeated — surfacing it as a key value. You needn’t have a bulleted list of these values on your site. When you approach someone, you (probably) don’t go, “Hey! I’m super reliable, transparent and collaborative!” If you have the aforesaid values, that’ll become evident. Instead, let these words guide your brand messaging for the future. An organization that straight up says, “You can trust us — we’re honest” seems immediately dubious. A golden rule of writing that applies to branding — show, don’t tell.

Pro Branding Tips:

  • Stand Out: You want a memorable brand? Don’t do what everyone else is doing. But whatever you do, what sure it represents your organization accurately.
  • Sound Like your Audience: For your tone to really connect, mirror your audience’s language.
  • Look beyond the Competition: Focus less on competitor’s sites, as that might encourage pale imitations. Instead, look at organizations that are effectively engaging with the same audiences you’re after.

Keys of Hitting the Right Tone

From a process perspective, a successful branding exercise will then inform proto-personas and mapping user journeys — but from the macro, it will give your organization the assuredness of an identity that rings true and clarifies who your audience is, what they want, and how to connect with them. This provides more user engagement and trust along with increased conversions. ‘Storytelling’ gets bandied about as a must-have for websites. Well, that’s what effective branding is: the perfect interplay of optics and narrative that make an organization a sought-after storyteller.

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