Chip Wilson, the founder of athletic-wear chain Lululemon, created a fictional "muse" to guide the expansion of his clothing line. He imagined "Ocean" to be the embodiment of his target customer: a 32-year old professional single woman making $100,000 a year. He gave her a personality and a back-story and developed clothing to fit her lifestyle. When he moved into men's wear, he created a male muse, Duke.
Of course, before creating Ocean and Duke, Wilson had done his homework. He thoroughly understood the needs, wants and motivations of that segment of the population that would be the most likely to buy his products.
It is not uncommon for companies, or brands, to use a singled imagined character to epitomize their customers. It's a way to express what a brand stands for in more human terms. By defining the characteristics of the "muse," everyone on the team can be on the same page, creating new products and services with a common goal.
Dance studio owners can use this technique too. It's a good way to focus your team on a singular, articulated understanding of the clients you serve. Creating products and services with your muse in mind can guide you in your decision making.
Ideas for All to See
A related technique can be used to establish and maintain a visual look and feel for your company - creating an image board. If you've ever thumbed through an architecture magazine, you may have seen a picture of a materials board prepared by an interior designer. The designer will collect samples of floor and wall coverings, paint samples, fabric swatches and pictures of furniture for her client to approve. Before any money is spent, the designer and client can agree on what the home will look like. The designer will have a starting point for her creative explorations.
In a similar way you can prepare an image board that will guide you, your in-house management team, and your outside creative resources in developing signage, interior and exterior building design, promotional and advertising materials, and a website that are appropriate for your business. With a consistent visual look across all media - ensured by consistency with your image board - you are assured of communicating your professionalism to your customers.
Here's an example of why an image board is valuable: If you specialize in, for example, hip hop and other street styles, you might visualize your website as having a black background, funky typography and photos inside brightly colored shapes. However, your partner might visualize a patterned red and orange background with silhouetted photographs of dancers. Your designer might be thinking about a white background with oversize, colorful type. Any of these ideas could be appropriate for what you are trying to say about your company, but you will save yourself time and money if you put your ideas on an image board as a starting point that everyone can agree on.
How to Create an Image Board
Like Chip Wilson, you will first need to do your homework. You will need a statement of what your company stands for (what makes you unique and special to your customers) and a list of adjectives that describe your company. (Previous articles in this series have discussed these topics.) Let these, rather than your personal preferences, guide what you place on your image board.
Using our earlier example, the hip hop studio recognizes itself to be a place where teenagers and young adults can socialize and learn the newest dance styles. In their eyes it is "trendy," "fun," "social," and "energetic." Its image board should hold visual elements that express these concepts.
Gather samples of colors, patterns, and styles of typography, photography, illustration and symbols that express what your company is all about. Look at other dance-studio websites and websites of other types of businesses and find those that could be models for yours both in style and content. From magazines, clip words and phrases that expand on your key adjectives in inspiring ways. Take pictures of local signage and building facades that could be suggestions for your own. Keep in mind how your customers - or your muse - will interpret your selections.
Your in-house team and your designers may make helpful contributions to your image board. When it is completed, you will have a visual roadmap for the development of all your company's visual communications. Like a map, you can keep returning to it for direction.