Some companies have brands so strong that we know who they are the instant we see an image, a color or a font or hear a tone of music or voiceover. They have a consistent look and feel that has become familiar to their internal and external audiences. They make it look easy. But in reality, there is so much discipline, brand governance and subjective feedback along the way that what looks easy is partly intuitional and formulaic and requires constant guarding, a strong point of view, strict brand guidelines and more.
In my experience, working with those kinds of brands has its benefits. The foundation — brand awareness, brand colors, typography, photography style — has been set, so what you have to focus on is bringing the big idea to life in creative. The real challenge is ensuring your subjective point of view aligns with your leaders’ subjective point of view and that you’re able to influence that point of view to key business stakeholders who think they know (but really don’t) — because not everyone is a creative director.
But what about brands that aren’t so well-known? The ones that don’t have that foundation set? Or brands that have some foundation, but it has never been prioritized to guide all work? You’d be surprised how many are out there. There is so much work being done and put out into the world and so much time and money spent on creative that might be amazing but ultimately won’t affect brand awareness or loyalty because it is done in a silo. So, what do you do?
A brand is more than a logo. Yet, some of today’s top executives think a logo alone equals a brand. It’s your job to share what a brand really is. Every color, image, font, message, layout, video, transaction, page load, customer service call, button and subject line contribute to a brand. A brand is the feeling your audience has when they see or hear anything you’ve created or are doing in the field.
Educate by sharing successful brand stories and research. Find an appropriate forum for the conversation, such as an existing leadership meeting. Share successful brand stories that show how the brand is consistently presented at every touch point. Add data where you can to support your point. Consistency leads to increased brand awareness, which leads to affinity, consideration and conversion.
On the heels of an inspirational moment? Have an action plan and an ask ready to share to put your vision into motion. This might include a new style guide, logo treatments, key messages or templates.
This is not a one-and-done conversation. Continue to share more about brand-related plans and progress on a monthly or quarterly basis so the brand becomes the norm of your culture.
As you identify the correct forums and stakeholders, share the progress you’re making as a team. Points to consider include style guide updates, photography testing, governance process and results. If you are able to test brand awareness via focus groups or online testing as you move through the process, that is a key learning that not only inspires the team but can impact business results, so it’s also worth sharing.
Build your foundation. Make it strong. This is often done after the work is complete, but what if it was prioritized, or even — gasp! — resourced? If you are on the hook for results, do yourself a favor and take the time to set brand guidelines so the work is consistent and, thus, effective. Make sure to include an expectation of the time and resources it will take to build.
Developing brand guidelines can be a one- to three-month project, depending on how far in-depth you go. Resource it. Drive it. Test it. As you test and learn, you may need to shift based on learnings. Don’t be daunted by this — evolution is part of the process, but keeping 90 percent firm and having 10 percent to play with will keep your brand pure and impactful.
One of my favorite rules is that we should make the same creative over and over again so much that we are sick of seeing it. Because if we are sick of seeing it, that means our external audience might be seeing it enough to subconsciously connect the dots or even recognize the brand consistency.
You might have a ton of cool concepts, but I urge you to hold on to them for the right moment. You can launch new versions as you see your brand awareness scores increase, continuing the conversation and engagement with your audience.
In the end, building a brand takes time, consistency and discipline (rinse and repeat).