It's the heat of August - you're probably enjoying the final days at the pool, huddling inside air conditioning, or finishing up your most recent jaunt around the world. In the back of your mind, though, is the constant reminder - Fall is coming, and with it, the start of another school year.
So what does the start of the school year mean to you? For many in a cappella, it means planning for auditions, thinking about new arrangements, and deciding what events or competitions you want to attend during the year. While all of this planning is crucial to a productive start to the year, most group's neglect to connect all of their plans with a central mission. That central mission is your group's brand.
You're probably asking yourself what a brand is, or even if you know a bit about it, what does branding have to do with running an a cappella group? So that we're all on the same page - I define a brand as the name, symbol, or design of a product or organization that identifies and differentiates it it from other products. How does that apply to a musical group? Branding is the marriage of your artistry and your business. Your brand is the look, style, and performance quality you convey that distinguishes you from other groups - it's what makes you unique and tells me what I can expect from your group's show or content that I won't be able to get anywhere else.
That definition may have triggered you to think about what unique elements your group has. Many groups think they have an established brand, but what they really have are a few distinct elements that aren't cohesive, and that don't translate outside of the small bubble of their group or local region/campus. In order to stand out and be easily recognizable, what defines your brand has to be unique to your group, and not something vague or generally applicable to all a cappella groups.
Here's my favorite branding exercise - the Three Word Challenge™.
That's not actually trademarked, but hey, that branding made you think it was official, didn't it?
Okay, time for the exercise. Think about three words, typically adjectives/adverbs, to describe your a cappella group. However, you cannot use the words:
- Co-ed, All-Female, All-Male, or other gender identifier
- School Name
- City or Region Name
- Close Knit, Family, etc
What did you come up with? Write down your three words, and then write out an explanation for why you chose each of them. Now, see if your words pass the following tests:
- Could this word be used to describe any other group at your school? In your region? If yes, try to be even more specific or unique.
- Would I know what your show would be like if you described it with this word? If not, pick something that talks more about your performance style.
- Is this word describing how your group acts when you're hanging out at rehearsal? Or does it describe your group's sound and aesthetic? You want to make sure it's clear to an external audience, not something only your group members would understand.
Now that you have your three words, think outside of what your group regularly does for a minute - if you were to see a group described with that tagline, what kinds of things would you expect from them? Describe their look, what their concerts are like, and where you'd expect to see them - are they doing high profile gigs? Winning competitions? Hosting crazy cool concerts? Making videos in flower fields?
Berklee's Pitch Slapped at their Album Release Concert
Once this is done, your new brand now becomes your goal. Think about the cool group you just described, and cross reference it with your current group and how your present yourselves. What's different? What is the same? The differences you note are your opportunities for growth and change, and it's what you should focus on during the year. The things that are the same are things that are #onbrand for your group - hone in on them! Every year, groups are tempted to make a change just for the sake of spicing things up. Sometimes those the things you want to change are the elements of your brand that helped to differentiate you, so be careful! If you make a change, make it for the right reason.
How to Use Your Brand
Now you have a better idea of what your brand is - but how do you use it? First thing's first - a true brand has distinct imaging that will help people automatically recognize your unique concept and offering right off the bat. Make sure you have that visual brand!
A digital brand consists of:
- Primary Logo
- Alternate Logo Sizes
- Alternate Logo Colors
- Color Pallate
- Edited Photos
You'll want to keep your digital brand cohesive across your social media channels, website, and any events or online advertisements of your group, like your auditions event or your concert flyers.
FSU Reverb's Fall Audition flyer
In addition to your digital brand, you'll want to also have an idea of how your brand translates to:
- Your clothing/visual aesthetic
- Your core values and what you look for in members
- Your choices in repertoire
- Your choices in performance opportunities
- The quality and type of content you put out
Facebook profile for UPenn's Off The Beat
Start to think about things that are on brand, and what things most definitely aren't. Come up with a set of guidelines and rules to live by as you go through your year. This list will come in handy in almost every situation - when deciding on final members during auditions, picking new songs, selecting what competitions to compete in, or planning your Spring tour.
Your brand will become the unifier that connects everything you do, and you should quickly start to feel a new sense of confidence and power amongst your members that will help you crush the year ahead! I can't wait to see what you come up with.