Think of it, perhaps, this way. You have a mind to swipe a batch of kittens and train them to be apostles for Ramtha’s School of Enlightenment. Now, these kittens are highly skilled at being cute. Indeed, they’ve been being cute for years, and largely that experience is wholly applicable to your transcendental aspirations. However, for these kittens to be truly accomplished apostles, they need to focus that cuteness, in a directed way, with an audience in mind, and a targetable result. If you’re going to do this foul thing to a kitten, you must at least have the decency to give them proper direction.
See, with training kittens, you need to think of their cuteness in terms of maximizing manipulation and mind control, two hallmarks of Ramtha’s School of Enlightenment. You need to think about who’s going to be most—and, importantly, least—susceptible to their cuteness. More, you really need to get a handle on the nature of the cuteness that will be most useful for your quasi-diabolical ends. Is it sassy cute? Playful cute? Lazy cute? Each has its merits, but not all complement the other.
Look, I could probably pursue this kitten analogy for the next 200 years, but I’m going to go ahead and rein it in. The last thing I’ll say about kittens: Without a clear, coherent brand, those kittens would simply, without purpose or direction, be cute, and that would deprive untold individuals the powers of psychokinesis, telepathy, and clairvoyance, among others. The kittens need focus, and the brand is what imparts it to them.
Up until recently, my only exposure to branding has been the balls-out idiotic kind. I’ll illustrate my experience with an utterly and entirely invented scenario, where any resemblance to actual people, places, or things is entirely coincidental.
Every nine months or so, Dumb Cump management convenes a quarterly All-Hands meeting, in which about half the available hands file into a conference room. Largely, these meetings take on the aspect of a high school pep rally, where a very small number of individuals enthusiastically pound their chests while the disenfranchised remainder mentally vacate.
The vast majority of the time, these meetings are used to explain why the business isn’t in as bad of shape as direct evidence to the contrary seems to indicate. However, perhaps every other quarterly All-Hands—so, every 18 months or so—those who on a day-to-day basis create content for the business are given a PowerPoint presentation on branding.
(As ab-yx is a gaming website, I’ll orient this wholly fictional situation in the realm of gaming.)
A central component of this presentation is the ceremonial opening of the Brand Eye, a bloodshot ocular that serves as a targeting reticule for all content created at the company. At the center of the Brand Eye is typically a pithy phrase that encapsulates the business, something to the effect of “Jet-fueling up teh games.”
And then in concentric ovals around the Brand Eye, more pithy phrases appear, indicating that the aforementioned content creators should be tailoring their work toward “people who play games.” The eye urges them to be enthusiastic and entertaining. The eye would be grateful if they could be both provocative, but then again respectful. The eye has no opinion on oxford commas, but thinks hardcore, casual, mobile, social, online, offline, PC, console, handheld, free-to-play, enthusiast, consumer, influencer, super influencer, champion, grand marshal, and tween audiences all deserve some attention. The eye sees a future in pro gaming.
The PowerPoint reaches its final slide, which shows a grandmother playing Wii with her sweater vest-wearing son, as well as his mohawk-coiffed daughter. A gorilla queries: “Questions? Questions, anyone?”
“Yeah, so just real quick. What the fuck?”
“I know, pretty awesome, right? Anyone else? No one? Great, we’ll see you in three months.”
Contempt sets in, and the content creators return to their desks to get back to doing what they’ve been doing. Likewise, the gorillas return to their desks, high on the notion that the work they have done has cleared up, in their own minds if nothing else, any and all confusion as to where Dump Cump is headed. The Brand Eye alone stares out from its digital wasteland, blinks once, sheds an inky tear, and then blessedly shuts for good.
I’m here to tell you today that creating a Brand Eye document is wholly recommendable, not because it makes for excellent PowerPoint viewing, but because the thought process will illuminate just how it is you’re going to train kittens to do your bidding. Or something like that.
ab-yx needed focus. I knew that I wanted to play games with developers, make a DIY mod show, and create sophisticated developer profiles, but I realized that launching and then figuring it all out on the fly would lead to a good deal of incoherence and train-wreckedness. And thus, the branding exercise.
The genius of creating a brand is that it helps you figure out exactly who you are, and who you are not; who your audience is, and who your audience is not. It’s about addressing your product’s existential crisis and establishing an ideal. How do people who are supposedly good at this kind of thing do it? No idea. However, as this website is a very personal project, my process drew heavily from my own values. It also involved writing down directional statements—trying out how they felt, as it were—and then either keeping or rejecting them.
We have reached a point in today’s ramblings where a full monty is warranted. Here is the raw thought process, from brain to pen, that led me to creating ab-yx’s mostly final Brand Eye. Bear in mind that what follows is the gooey, unrefined, unedited, unchallenged, inaccurate, self-delusional, stream-of-consciousness bits that served as a first step on the road to somewhere useful. My hope is that seeing my process will help kickstart your own process.
Alright, here we go.
What is it I’m trying to do here? Separate myself from the crowd by not shying away from being intelligent and clever. Constructive is a good word as well. I want to be a thoughtful outsider offering informed feedback on the industry. I want to be read by the development community. Elevate the gaming conversation. Elevate and entertain. I want to break down the wall separating developers from their audiences. I want to serve as a conduit by which creators connect with their audiences.
These guys are creators. They want to revel in their craft. They want to talk about themselves and take pride in their work. All creators are vain in this way. They want to know how well their audiences are getting them. They want to impress people with their work. They want to share their secrets, and they want a safe place to do so. They want to take the credit. They want to be recognized. However, they also want to get better at their jobs. They want to defend their views, and be experts at their craft. Also, they want to sell their games. Recognize gaming greatness.
And for gamers, they want their voices to be heard. They want to work out how they feel about a game. They want to bounce their ideas off of others. I mean, what would I be looking for in a gaming site? Quality writing. Perspective. An accurate portrayal of the conversations developers are having among themselves. I want to know what the issues are that game designers are dealing with everyday. I want to know what’s happening in the trenches. I want people to talk about my work, and weigh the decisions I’m making with me. It’s about being on the cutting edge, and having my voice heard as we shape the future of what this medium becomes. I want to tell the stories behind games. Digging in with developers.
Target Readers: Game developers. I want them reading me to find out what everyone else is doing. Is this core or is this fringe? Somewhere in between? Going indie may limit me on the podcast front, due to the relative dearth of multiplayer. However, it seems like I’d have better access. Mid-size to small studios may offer more access and tend to have more engaged audiences. Is it OK to ignore Call of Duty? It’s leaving a lot of attention on the table. A lot of casual gamers. But really, are these the audiences I want anyway? It seems to me as if these audiences are being overserved.
Brand Personality: constructive, entertaining, insightful, thoughtful, snarky, mature, in touch, intermediary, illuminating, safe, interesting, candid, genuine, analytical, humorous
I want people to come to the site and find out what they should play next. I want them to feel safe geeking out. I want to remove the profit motive so people can speak freely. Make it possible to provide a warts-and-all perspective.
Makes You Feel: Included in something bigger. Illuminated by new perspectives and ideas. In touch with the real situation. Entertained. Safe, supported, and motivated to try it yourself. Challenged to think.
What You Perceive and Benefits To You: Passionate about delivering only the highest quality product. Tenacious pursuit of quality. I’m part of something subversive. I’m getting something deeper and more valuable. I can be playful here. I can share my ideas and I’ll get help making whatever it is I’m working on better. I don’t have to know everything. I feel included. Tom’s kind of a crazy person…but he’s on my side so it’s OK. The people here are like me. This site knows how to put on a good show. My time isn’t being wasted. I’m in good company. The things I learn here are valuable and worthwhile, either because it’s informative or entertaining. I expect ambitious results. I’m inspired. I’m getting the real story. Access is not being squandered. I’m going to have more perspective than I did yesterday. I already know the what; now I want the why.
Says About You: I’m smart. I’m open-minded. I’m intellectually curious. I have more than a passing interest in games. I’m passionate about interesting, innovative, and good games. I want to see how the magician does his tricks. I have something to say that’s worth saying. I want things to be better, and I want to talk about ways to get there. I want to be in the trenches. I want a good-natured, earnest look at the real situation. I have no interest in sensationalism. I don’t like being manipulated, and I don’t want anyone trying. I already know what’s going on, but I want to go deeper. I’m in touch and don’t want to be bothered with the obvious. I can still be suprrised and delighted.
And now, in living color, ab-yx’s Brand Eye, which has undergone additional refinement and clarification.
Up Next: Stick to the plan! Stick to the plan!