Policing Your Brand in a Global, Digital World

By Justin Garvin

Today’s best brands (regardless of size) think about their brand reputation on a global scale. That’s not to say all brands have international communications or commerce as part of their strategy, but it would be a mistake to ignore the inherent inter-connectivity present in modern life. Our digital reality has rendered geography almost inconsequential. The brand experience is nothing more than an internet search away, and brand management professionals can only hope that it’s one published under the scrutiny of someone properly equipped to represent the face, the voice, and the essence of their brand.

For those in charge of this critical brand management function, this is a daunting reality. As companies grow and divisions naturally acquire more and more autonomy, maintaining a high level of consistency is very difficult. To offer some advice based on experience, here are five considerations I’ve collected and communicated to clients over more than a decade of launching brands:

Top 5 Tactics for Brand Management, from Launch to Longevity:

1. Someone’s got to be the brand police. There needs to be a designated individual or team dedicated to the review and distribution of branded content, right from the outset. Before anything is shared broadly with internal or external audiences, the brand police must ensure materials, communications, etc., adhere to the verbal and visual guidelines of the brand. The development of a unique and compelling brand is no small feat (intellectually or financially). Protecting this valuable asset is worth the personnel dedicated to consistency and protocol.

2. Training is key. Introducing a brand successfully to external audiences starts with first successfully introducing it to those within the organization. Proper training on the verbal and visual elements of the brand is a must. A brand’s promise of value should be easily understood and communicated if done right. Having said that, even the simplest concepts need to be shared multiple times before they can resonate and become ingrained. This is just as true for employees as it is for target customers. A one-time communication just won’t do it. Implement a robust internal engagement and training program that offers multiple opportunities for employees to experience and digest the brand across a variety of touch-points. This will pay dividends particularly for those tasked with creating branded materials.

3. Give the brand room to grow. We create brands that have a good amount of runway for the future. For example, when we develop a new visual identity system, we seek to blend the practical with the aspirational. There are visual elements that are intended to be used right out of the gate to form the backbone of the brand’s look and feel. There are also visual elements that push boundaries—conceptualized in order to give the brand flexibility to grow and evolve over time. It’s a look ahead at what can be. Sophisticated brand managers will leave some of these arrows in the quiver until the time is right. This simplifies the initial application of the brand and allows the system to remain fresh for longer.

4. Digitize and centralize assets. The easiest way to ensure brand guidelines and approved assets are available to those who need them (wherever they are in the world) is to have them available online. Today, verbal and visual brand guidelines and standards are more often web-based, searchable, and linked directly to the brand elements whose usage is being defined. Services like Frontify have made access to the rules and tools of the brand simpler than ever. Get that valuable style guide off your internal server and onto the web, allowing internal and third-party resources to get what they need fast. When access is made easy, there is no need to deviate.

5. Give employees the tools, not the toolkit. Not everyone is a writer. Not everyone is a designer. Brands quickly become diluted and devalued when the application of verbal and visual brand elements is left up to individual interpretation and subjectivity. I’ve seen brands destroyed even before they’re launched because the creation of branded materials and communications was decentralized. Giving employees access to the toolkit (logos, graphic devices, a photographic library, etc.) and asking them to apply them as necessary within their daily work lives is a mistake. No two pitch presentations will ever be alike, and at that time it’s hard to rein things back in. Have templates and tools professionally prepared ahead of time. Provide them for employees to utilize without needing to access their “creative” side.

Today, your organization’s brand is everywhere. Following these guidelines means you won’t have to be.