Protecting Your Brand – Even From Yourself

You’ve invested untold hours and most likely a sizeable portion of your budget into creating a brand that looks great and speaks directly to your target audience.  So don’t let a lack of consistency derail you from the path to long-term success.

One of, if not the biggest threat to the continued success of a brand is lack of consistency.  Consistency in delivering on your brand promise and consistency in how your brand is presented to the market.

Companies that are looking for an advantage will make sure they have quality assurance systems in place, to make sure their products and services are delivered at the highest possible standards.  This same sort of QA effort should be made with your brand and how it is delivered to the marketplace.

Your brand needs consistency, it needs protection, it needs a guardian…

Depending on the scale of your business, the resources at your disposal and the volume of brand work produced, your ‘Brand Guardian’ may be a single person (full time or split role), or it could be an entire team of guardians.  They may operate from emails and printed proofs or with the latest and greatest brand management software.  For this article, I’ll just refer to them in the singular to avoid any confusion and ‘is it relevant for me?’ uncertainty.

How can I do this?  Simple.  Whatever the size and brand QA requirements of your business, the logic and methodologies are basically the same.  It’s just a matter of scale and systems.

The Guardian At The Gate

When it comes to brand consistency, if everyone’s responsible – no one’s responsible.  You need to have someone who has ultimate responsibility for ensuring everything that represents your brand, does so in the best possible light.  It is not necessarily their job to produce your brand collateral, but it is their job to approve it; to be the gateway between your brand and the marketplace.  Everything should pass their watchful eyes and anything detrimental to your brand should be met with a “You shall not pass!”

Armed with the right tools and with the right systems in place, a brand guardian will strengthen your brand, and, believe it or not, save you money, improve brand ROI and yes – even speed up brand implementation and agility.  Crazy – but true.

People often talk about employee advocacy within the marketing sphere (mainly in regards to social media) and top brand and business experts are always telling you to work on engaging your employees and getting their buy-in into your programs, products and services.

Just as with employee advocacy and engagement, we are talking about developing a (relatively simple) program to enable your nominated guardian to facilitate a consistent AND time efficient brand QA experience.

Set The Rules Of The Game

I have no idea how many times I’ve said this, but I’ll say it again (and again, and again) – Brand Manuals Are For Everyone.

Typically thought of as a requirement for big business only, the fact is that brand manuals or guidelines are just as important for SMEs and even micro-businesses.  The smaller your business, the more likely you are to outsource your brand and marketing work to others.  Magazine or newspaper design services, web companies, sign companies, multiple graphic design services.  This creates a major strain on your QA facilities; especially as there is a good chance the above companies will use different designers to produce your work at different times.

Arming your guardian with a brand manual that clearly defines what should be done, will provide them the raw materials needed to start acting as gatekeeper.  Also including simple explanations on why things are done a certain way, will help to improve the effectiveness of your guardianship program even more.  Once people understand, they find it much easier to absorb and remember – and in turn, act appropriately on the information given.

It’s OK To Bend The Rules

A good brand manual educates people what they CAN do, rather than telling them what they CAN’T. You will want to create – clearly labelled – alternative options for your various brand elements and designs.  These can be in the brand manual proper, or in a super secret, special edition, for your eyes only, ‘Guardian Manual’.  Creating these as a companion to the manual proper means your guardian can be up with the play on what can be done if needed, while those producing the brand work are kept on the straight and narrow, doing everything they can to stay ‘on brand’.

Control and compliance are important, but so are acceptance and ownership.  Without these added options, you run the risk of running the ship a bit too tight – and we all know what happens when the crew get pushed too far.

It’s ok to bend the rules – just not too much.

Choosing Your Guardian

Knowledge of branding; knowledge of design; knowledge or marketing.  While these are obviously desirable traits for a brand guardian to have, in reality, they come second to an eye for detail, courage and an understanding of YOUR brand.

Just because someone knows about branding, design or marketing, it doesn’t instantly make them the perfect choice for a guardian.  While definitely a plus, the job of your guardian is actually to act in a quality assurance role, within the very clear guidelines you have set out for them.  So while a brand background may help them assimilate your brand manual faster, as long as they understand the specific rules, regulations and adaptations of your specific brand, your guardian will do well.

Now, I know you’re thinking courage is a strange trait to be asking for, but think about it. Your brand guardian has to have the courage to say NO to people who out rank them – sometimes by a lot. This isn’t easy for a lot of people to do.  So make sure you gauge a potential guardian’s comfort level, and make it easier for them with your support.  Knowing they have management’s full support is key to arming your guardian for success.

Why not just make management responsible for the brand’s guardianship?  Well, for starters, they’ll have plenty of other things on their plate.  And from my own experiences, it’s quite often those managers who like to do things their own way or make ‘minor improvements’ along the way – you know who you are :)

This is the case, even in my own business.  Yes, I created the Vesey Creative and Brand Quarterly brands and I am involved in producing all of our own materials, but you won’t find me on the brand guardian roster.  While I act as a guardian for other brands, I know I’m just too close to our own brand to be effective.

Call it an investment, call it insurance, call it brand QA, call it Brand Guardianship like I do  – call it whatever you like.  Implementing a program to monitor and guarantee the consistency and quality of how your brand is presented to the market is something that every business – big and small – can do to take great strides towards a stronger brand and even an extended brand lifecycle.