Achieving clarity is one of the biggest challenges of branding.
“The logo doesn’t work for social” say Digital. “My initiative needs its own colour” say Products or Services. “But we need our own logo or identity” say Events or Campaigns. “There’s no hand-written font or need-led photography” say Fundraising. Before you know it, the shiny new brand you invested in building has been pulled apart.
There are common reasons these challenges happen and they can be overcome.
As more businesses are defining their purpose beyond profit, it is a good time to assess if why you exist and the value you create for society is clearly articulated and activated.
A clear brand purpose can avoid mission creep and your brand strategy should run through everything from your products and culture to your presence; physical environments and digital experience, creativity and innovation.
Although a subtle difference, strategic coherence is arguably more valuable that the old-school ‘Brand Police’ goal of visual consistency, which can fuel silos and stifle creativity.
While the visual identity may flex within set parameters the brand strategy should be aligned with your corporate strategy and provide a coherent guiding light. As Unilever’s Chief Marketing Officer Keith Weed says: “The secret of building strong brand equity is consistency of the brand message across all touchpoints.”
To create a brand that works for everyone you need to understand for whom it’ll have to deliver; for which audience segments and departments. This means understanding and respecting colleagues’ specialist expertise like direct response marketing techniques or being prepared to (split) test different creative options. It also means recruiting or working with specialists who understand brand holistically.
When developing your brand, pick proof-points to demonstrate that the brand will work for everyone, but allow enough time for creative exploration. A new brand should enable innovation, not just be applied to ‘business as usual’.
Another important thing to consider is brand architecture; how you structure and present your initiatives. It’s an essential part of branding that’s often overlooked.
There are common approaches you can adopt. A single brand like Apple, commonly known as ‘monolithic’ or ‘unified’. A ‘branded house’ like FedEx, where products are only given names. A ‘family of brands’ like Virgin. Or a portfolio of ‘sub-brands’ with an endorsement from a ‘corporate master brand’ like Unilever, most commonly used for fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG).
Brand architecture is best considered from a customer perspective to make the brand experience intuitive across channels. It shouldn’t just be based on how the business is structured.
Stand your ground when the core of the brand is under threat but be prepared to listen and compromise, because the essential skills of a good Brand Manager are diplomacy and a thick skin.
Walking the tightrope of consistency and flexibility may be tough, but when you clearly articulate and activate your brand’s purpose clarity can be more easily achieved.