It’s important to control your brand, sure. But don’t turn brand into bland!
Marketing by the book
An old client of mine was totally committed to her brand to the point of obsession.
She wanted to control every aspect of the brand’s communications and felt that no-one else was capable of understanding it quite the way that she did.
As a result she was reluctant to delegate anything for fear that the result would be “off brand” and the results to the brand and business would be calamitous.
However, long term it was clearly impractical for her to manage all of her brand’s communications personally, so her solution was to create a proxy in the form of a comprehensive “brand guidelines” booklet.
Now this wasn’t the first set of brand guidelines I had come across and I’m sure it won’t be the last, but it did get me thinking.
This particular document was lengthy, detailed and inflexible and struck me as a great way of squeezing any remaining life out of the brand in its quest for absolute consistency.
I couldn’t tell you precisely how long this document was – I lost the will to live after about 20 pages – but I do know that it was unlikely to achieve the results for which she had hoped.
It basically provided a set of glorified templates that ensured every piece of communication would look identical.
From a brand owner’s point of view, I’m sure that this document provided a reassuring sense of certainty – no matter where anyone encountered the brand, it would always look the same.
But the only problem with this approach is that it overlooks the requirements of two rather important groups of people – those who have to create communications in the first place and those that will ultimately end up receiving them.
Those creating the communications certainly need a tight brief, but they also need to be given the freedom to be able to deliver that brief in a way that will be creative and distinctive enough to actually get noticed in the world (as opposed to the company’s marketing department).
And those receiving the communications need to be given some kind of reward for paying attention to the communications in the first place that will hopefully make them want to move on and become engaged at a deeper level.
If any communications are too formulaic, they run the risk of becoming wallpaper – an execution that is so familiar that everyone feels sure they must have seen it many times before and will therefore tune out completely
I worry that adhering too rigidly to a brand guidelines document places too high a value on “brand familiarity” and risks it soon breeding “brand contempt”.
Now don’t get me wrong, I am not proposing complete brand anarchy which results in every piece of communication looking and feeling different.
However, what I am proposing is an approach whereby the central pillars of a brand (essence, personality, and key design elements such as typeface, colour, etc) are clearly defined and understood, but beyond that the brand is given the freedom to evolve in a way that will continually interest and engage consumers.
So next time you are thinking about your brand and how it needs greater consistency, be careful that you don’t go too far the other way.
Don’t lumber everyone charged with developing communications with a straightjacket that will ensure that your brand just becomes predictable, bland and one-dimensional.
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