Wherever, Whenever: Developing A 360° Brand Identity

As a new dad, I’ve learned very quickly that any sense of control you have is most likely an illusion. You may plan, organise and prep well, but then – life happens.  The same is true when you’re maintaining a brand identity – employees happen; customers happen; distribution channels happen; superfans happen; life just happens.

You can develop the ‘perfect’ identity for your brand, unveil it in an award-winning fashion, become an industry case study, and then life happens.  The brand identity that you believed you had full control over meets the real world and the illusion dissipates.

Customers interact with your brand how they want to, and it won’t necessarily be how you think.  Superfans and (non-contracted) brand advocates will do what they think is in the brand’s best interests.  Your own staff – some will do what they think is ‘on brand’, the others ‘meh.’  Your fresh new brand identity is at their mercy.  But, it doesn’t need to be.

In fact, all of these interactions with your various brand supporters can be extremely valuable, in that they will allow you to discover new ways to think about your brand and new ways to deliver it.  The key is in harnessing all that power and directing its energy into a unified vision, rather than a dozen conflicting opinions.

So what do you do?

Well, just telling everyone you can think of “this is what you do” and “you’re not allowed to do that” isn’t going to work is it?  That’s like telling a newborn baby not to do something – they simply won’t understand (and by the time they do, they’ll think they know better).

What about planning everything out to the Nth degree? Cross all the t’s, dot all the i’s, line up all the parallel and perpendicular lines, and go colour matching crazy – that’ll work, right?

It might ‘help,’ but it certainly won’t ‘work.’

Think of it like this.  You’re a world respected architect, and you have been commissioned to design an entire city block.  The buildings are all unique, yet harmonious, the pedestrian areas are beautiful, there’s just the right balance of parking, parks, traffic flow, and places to rest – oh, and there are some amazing sculptures dotted throughout.

It’s perfect…

Then, along comes a group of parkour enthusiasts… life happens.  Walls are being run along, sculptures are scaled, and rest areas become the most chaotic places on the block.  Just planning your brand identity down to what you consider the ‘smallest of details’ won’t be enough to ensure consistent delivery.  It takes more.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I’m a big advocate of developing solid brand manuals.  In fact, if your company doesn’t have one, stop right now and make a note to start developing one later today.  I believe brand manuals are vital to the consistent delivery of your brand identity, but let’s be honest – what good is any book if it’s missing half the story?  And, how can you expect every person connected with your brand to read through it all anyway?  You can’t. It’s just not physically possible.

So, what’s step one then?  Well, let’s start with step 0.5 first – develop a brand manual if you don’t have one.  Then it’s on to step one through ten: expand on your brand guidelines with attention to what happens in real life.

As I said earlier, you’ve planned things out as well as you can, but life does happen, and unless you have experienced every aspect of your business and brand yourself (internally and externally), you can’t hope to pick up on all the small nuances.

Giving internal stakeholders and external advocates no-brainer brand guidelines and resources makes consistency achievable.  Because, remember, a lot of the people utilising your brand manual will be marketers or salespeople – not designers. So expecting them to have the same spatial and design awareness of those who developed the identity would be foolish.

Therefore, we want to find out from these valuable brand champions how they interact with your brand and, just as importantly, how they witness others experiencing the brand.  Once you do this, you become aware of the many different facets of your brand delivery and can start to create additional tools and contingencies to assist, rather than try and control, others.

Do you have a lot of superfans, or are you in an industry with a lot of dedicated websites and social platforms?  Perhaps it’s time to ‘go retro’ and hark back to the early 2000s, when many game, lifestyle, and hobby brands would build ‘fan site’ packages for users to download and build their own shrines to the brand, using authorised materials.

What could that include?  Logos (official and stylised), branded images, audio or video, textures and backgrounds – find out – ask the people currently creating their own stuff.  Focus group your fans and find out what they like using, and how they like to use it.  You can, of course, set rules of use, but try to make this promotional collateral as much of a no-brainer as possible.

How about those brands with a large network of distributors (aka: a large network of potential brand hiccups)?  They’re not white-labeling your product, are they?  They’re representing your brand and you want them to do it well.  You can’t risk your awesome brand marketing efforts getting dampened by lacklustre execution by distributors.  And, once again, trying to tell them what to do will only get you so far – you need to talk with them… you need to listen to them.

Don’t expect distributors (or franchisees, or licensees for that matter) to be able, or willing to put as much effort into maintaining your brand to the high standard you have set.  They won’t have the same resources as you.  But, they don’t need them – they have you.

Perhaps providing access to your in-house design team, or a centrally located brand and marketing resource management (MRM) system is in order.  Rather than an additional cost, an MRM system is an investment in the long-term health of your brand identity – a poorly executed or neglected brand would have a much higher price tag.  And, to be quite honest, that long-term view will see your expenses reduced overall as well.

So, talk with your distributors.  Find out how they can make the best use of your branded and marketing materials.  Through which avenues do customers experience your brand?  Where are the areas they could use more assistance with presenting and promoting your brand effectively?  Discover what they want, meld that together with what your brand needs, and deliver a solution that benefits you both.

Those are just two areas of your brand support network to start looking at.  There are many more – frontline staff, the sales team, and commercial end users for example.  Do they need a steady supply of branded content they can personalise?  Do people even use business cards anymore?  Are branded domains something that would boost their brand delivery power?

Or, would just understanding your brand manual properly make the biggest difference?  Perhaps a brand boot camp (or slightly nicer sounding training event) is required, or try to lessen information overwhelm with custom brand manuals focusing on only the areas each group works within.

This article would get way too long if I tried to cover everyone and everything they may need – and you’d get a bit bored of the same message, so I’ll just leave you with this…

Talk with, and listen to, those who deliver and experience your brand.  They will help you create a stronger, more cohesive, 360 degree brand identity.