When we think of brand, we often think of its physical manifestation – the logo, font or colors. But brand is much more than a specific design element used in print advertising or on a website. It inspires a company’s internal vocabulary and informs how a company’s employees should interact with their customers. It sets the expectation with prospects and customers of what it feels like to interact with the organization. It is all of this, combined, that creates a company’s brand and sets it apart from the competition.
Understanding brand beyond the logo is important because it mitigates the problem customers face when deciding which product or service to purchase. In our technologically advanced world, customers can see a product or hear about a service—and with just a few clicks of the mouse—find someone offering the same thing for less. We operate in an increasingly competitive environment, and a strong brand can make or break our success within it.
While the components that make up brand and brand management are too numerous to discuss in one blog post, an integral part, and a great first step to improving your brand, is the brand guide. Sometimes referred to as brand identity, manual of style or “brand bible”, the brand guide provides clear direction on the identity and personality of a company’s brand.
6 Questions To Determine If You Have An Effective Brand Guide
In a perfect world, you would take the time to perform a brand audit to help identify where your brand stands, both internally and through the eyes of your customers. However, brand audits can be time intensive and expensive, and if you are like most marketers, you are limited on both. Before you go down that road, ask yourself these six questions to determine if your company’s brand guide is effective.
1. Does your brand guide present a right (and wrong) way that creative should be presented?
In it’s simplest form, your brand guide should provide direction and examples of what creative should look and sound like. By providing examples of unacceptable creative, you can reinforce the right way to do it.
2. Does your brand guide create an emotional connection between the brand and the customer?
Purchasing, whether it is B2B or B2C, is an emotional experience. In the human-to-human interactions it is easy to “like” the person you are working with. You transfer that connection to the organization by clearly defining a personality and experience that creates feelings of happiness after engaging with the company.
3. Does it differentiate your company from its competitors?
Establishing a successful brand hinges on your ability to differentiate your company from the competition. After all, how can prospects remember you if they can’t distinguish you from the next brand?
4. Is your brand memorable?
Once you have established the key differentiator between your brand and its competition, you need to communicate your differentiator in a way that is memorable. If every brand appears equal, prospects will select a product or service based on price alone.
5. Is it understood by those outside of marketing?
Since brand is made up of more than just fonts and colors, it is imperative that everyone in the
organization not only understands the brand, but is acting in a way that represents the brand. After all, your brand is only as strong as its weakest link.
6. Is it being used?
Even if you answered “yes” to all five questions above, if your brand guide is not being used, then it is not effective.
How To Create An Effective Brand Guide
If you answered “yes” to the six questions above, congratulations! But for the rest of us who didn’t receive a perfect score, this is an opportunity to improve the health of your brand. And when I say opportunity, I mean the sky is the limit! According to a study that appeared in MIT Sloan Management Review, “Active brand management, based on measuring brand health, can allow companies to better control sales and growth.”
The first step in improving brand health is to create a document that can be used to guide the organization’s touchpoints with its customer across all channels. Unfortunately, there is not a “one size fits all” brand guide. Instead, it is a matter of creating a document that meets the unique needs of your organization.
What there are, however, are three guiding principles that should be considered when creating a brand guide.These include identity, personality and authenticity.
Identity is the “look” of your brand, and includes the logo, fonts, color schemes, treatments and other visual elements, as well as guidelines for their use across different platforms. By defining these components, you are ensuring that your company will have a consistent visual appearance across multiple channels. Best practices indicate that this section should give exact examples of how your logo should be used in different scenarios. Examples of an incorrectly formatted logo can be just as helpful. In fact, sometimes it is easier to help your team understand how to correctly use the logo if they can see examples of how not to use the logo.
Also helpful in this section are templates for frequently used collateral like letterhead, business cards and press releases.
While identity covers how the brand should look, personality is all about how the brand makes you feel. This is guided through both voice and tone. Voice is your brand’s personality described in adjectives. MailChimp is a great example of a brand that has a clearly defined voice, with descriptors like “fun but not silly”, “confident but not cocky”, and “informal but not sloppy”. (And see how clear they have made it by providing examples both of what they are, and what they are not.)
Tone is the subset of that voice, and will vary based on the audience channel and content type. It’s like Maya Angelou once said, “People don’t always remember what you say or even what you do, but they always remember how you made them feel.”
Authenticity is where the rubber meets the road. It is your opportunity to practice what you preach. It is your chance to deliver what you have promised. It is your….wait, I am out of idioms, but my point is clear.
For a brand to be genuinely authentic, it must extend from the CEO all the way to new hires working maintenance on the night shift because you never know when you will be faced with a “moment of truth” moment with a customer. Never has this been so important than now, thanks to increased transparency from social media. A perfect example of this involves two well known brands – United Airlines and Taylor Guitars.
During a flight to Omaha, Nebraska, singer/songwriter Dave Carroll’s guitar was damaged due to some negligent behavior from the baggage handlers. After United did nothing to address the issue, Dave took to social media and created a music video called “United Breaks Guitars”. Taylor Guitars, who had nothing to do with the situation except be the brand name of aforementioned broken guitar, stepped up and gave Dave a new guitar. United did nothing other than spend a lot of time combating the negative press. The thing is, this happened in 2008, and people are still talking about it!
So, how do you become the Taylor Guitar of this story and not United? You make sure everyone in your organization understands who your brand is, and what it stands for. This is done by documenting your core purpose, mission, value and brand promise.
Once you have documented your identity, personality, and authenticity, your next step is to share it. But it doesn’t stop there. The brand must extend to every corner of your organization. It is only by making sure everyone in your organization not only understands, but lives and breathes the brand, will it come through in customer interactions.