I’ve been working in marketing for the best part of two decades. For much of that time, I would tell you I knew best in regards to the look/feel and tone of those brands. When it came to it, I wrote the creative briefs, I brought in the designers, agencies, freelancers etc. For most things, I signed off everything that could affect a brand, before it got to a director, for final sign-off. I was the Brand Police.
I’d have signed off – or at least ensure sign off on what I wanted – on everything from the colours in the brand pallet, to the tone of voice of the copy, to the images we used in the advertising. I’d even do training with the sales team and customer services team to teach them how to speak in the brand’s unique character. And there’s nothing a sales team hates more than being told how to speak to a customer by a marketer, who never picks up a phone to speak to a customer! Around five years ago all that changed. It was around that time that I started to see myself as the Brand Guardian.
Nothing big happened. It was a shift in mindset more than a shift in responsibilities. It was still the same role. This shift in my mindset happened because of a new role I took on and the expectations that business had of my role. But those expectations and requirements were being driven by some fairly new thinking in brand management that was largely born out of the impact new technologies was having on how people influenced that brand.
Before I start, the first thing to say is that a brand isn’t a colour pallet or a logo, it’s a perception of your company by your customers and it’s impacted by every touchpoint they have with the business. These touchpoints are everything from the logo and brand colours, to the way people are served and where you position the products how to you talk to your customers.
If you accept that brand is made up from every touchpoint and is the perception of the business, you then have to ask yourself why you are so can be so prescriptive about how that brand is implemented? Surely however the employees portray the brand is authentic and adds complex tapestry that goes into creating the brand?
Of course, this is true but if you let your team do whatever they want in terms of how they portray the business you’ll end up with something that’s very schizophrenic. This is why we create brand books. These brand bibles tell the team how the brand should be implemented.
The brand bibles of the Brand Police tend to be full of what not to do. The thing is it’s almost impossible to cover all bases with a brand book and you can end up with confusion on the things that have been yet to be considered by the marketing team and alienation of those team members who have always operated in a certain way, which is now outlawed by the rules.
Instead of creating a set of brand rules that must be strictly adhered to, I believe it’s better to create a set of brand guidelines that give the employee an understanding of what you’re trying to achieve for the brand, without specifically telling them exactly what a user can and can’t do on every single element of the brand.
It then becomes important as part of the branding cycle to run regular reviews of how the brand is being portrayed. Visually, I like to get everything printed out on the floor or up on a wall to find consistencies and inconsistencies. What’s worked and what’s not worked. At this point, these discoveries can be added to the guidelines to help those implementing the brand.
And that’s how brand guardians operate. Unlike the brand police who are all about rules and regulations, the brand guardians focus on allowing a brand to flex and breathe, giving it space to evolve as the business grows and changes, whilst gently nudging to towards more brand consistency.
I’ve found in the past that old-school marketers can find it hard to get their heads around this approach because it’s not the way we’ve been brought up to carry out brand marketing. But this approach aligns with the working practices of many departments, including the agile development methodology of lots of Dev team. Generally, new marketers have a good understanding of the concept of the omnibrand and will be able to get behind the idea of light touch brand management.
Ultimately, if you’re trying to work out what’s best for you and your business, ask yourself this question: how would you rather be perceived by your colleagues? The person that imposes their subjective viewpoint on every front-facing element of a business and is probably resented for that or the person who works collaboratively with colleagues, acknowledging their ability to influence the brand legitimately and whose viewpoints are sought out and acted upon.
You don’t need to be the brand police.