The jobs of brand and creative professionals, regardless of company size, are growing in complexity. More than just developing and deploying a brand that can rise above competitive noise, they must also ensure brand is understood and adopted in every aspect of the business—from strategic positioning and identity systems to customer and employee experiences. It’s no easy task, and one that requires a lot of education, consensus building and collaboration between teams to build and sustain momentum.
Through work with teams at GE, Chick-fil-A, Pratt & Whitney, FrieslandCampina, Polaris, ThinkBank and others, we’ve deconstructed what modern brand organizations are doing well in order to manage their brand effectively through thoughtful governance models.
The truth is, that while brand has become a strong influencer in every aspect of a company, there’s confusion as to the role it plays and who should be responsible for it. Marketing, communications, human resources, the C-suite, legal? The answer is yes to all of these and more.
For many global companies, brand comes with layers of complexity that require more than a single person or team to be responsible for its successful implementation. And for smaller companies resource limitations require more work from fewer team members. To navigate these dynamics, it’s important for any team responsible for brand to build a governance model that extends the understanding and responsibility of delivering a consistent and meaningful “experience” to their teammates.
In order to do this successfully, let’s consider three aspects of governing brand implementation:
- The components of your brand
- What must be managed
- Who should help manage
COMPONENTS OF YOUR BRAND
Because of the ambiguity over what brand could impact, it’s important to define what it is exactly. Brand is more than a position or visual system. It’s the combination of a company’s or product’s value proposition, story and experience delivered in a way that creates a meaningful and lasting impression. The elements of brand can vary company to company, but the basic buckets are:
- Platform: The value proposition, story components and positioning that deliver a unique and relevant message to customers, employees or stakeholders.
- Identity: Driven by personality, this is the visual system inclusive of brand mark, colors, graphics and imagery, as well as the tone of voice and vocabulary used to re-enforce who the brand is and what it promises.
- Experience: The combination of the people who represent the brand and the way in which customers interact with products and services. This could include everything from customer touchpoints to sales meetings, the employee work environment, and any other place live or digital where people engage with the brand.
To cultivate a strong brand, governance teams need to share the following mindset:
Brand is equally mechanics and magic: There is a bigger experience that needs to be cultivated and managed around any brand. It’s equally the quality of the product or service and the way customers experience it. Or better said, the mechanics of getting the simple things right are equally important to the unique aspects of a brand that give it life and personality. Together these re-enforce “why” that company/product is more valuable that it’s competitors. If you focus only on the mechanics you’re always fighting to stand out. If you focus only on the magic, you risk stalling out on product or service improvement.
Brand must be proactively managed: In the past, brand was policed. Advertisements, sales pitches, and other marketing materials were created, reviewed and controlled by a brand manager. But as brand influences more aspects of a business and shows up in more ways, it has to be the responsibility of more than the core “brand team” in order to strengthen. But that expanded group of owners must learn to be proactive about how the brand shows up – always thinking about how to bring it to life through their work.
Strategic versus rigid focus: In order to manage proactively, more people need to understand the promise and personality of a brand. They need to understand what’s sacred to a brand’s identity and what can be bent or evolved. Working through a governance team, brands can be discussed more often, and decisions on how to bring it to life become more fluid. The work to bring a brand to life becomes a “we’re all in this together” activity versus a “here come the brand police,” moment.
WHAT MUST BE MANAGED
More than ever, it’s important for a brand to clearly define both the fixed and flexible aspects of its visual identity, products offers and experiences. These definitions guide internal teams by letting them know where they have creative freedom and ultimately free up your team by directing their focus to monitoring the fixed aspects.
Work with your governance team to agree on what brand-impacted activities/materials are most important to be focused on (e.g. advertising, customer service, environment, sales experiences). Then agree on which have flexibility to “bend the rules” for reasons such as low priority, lack of team resources, or an opportunity to experiment. All as long as we aren’t losing the purpose of our brand.
Activations of brand are impacted by two types of assets:
- Fixed: Those aspects of a brand’s visual, verbal and experiential elements that are not alterable. In addition, this includes the attributes of product or services that should always be delivered. But not all expressions of a brand carry the same weight, and therefore shouldn’t carry the same priority. In brand policing, teams find themselves caught in a constant battle to create 100% uniformity in the visual expression. (e.g., logo use, tagline presence, core messaging)
- Flexible: Those aspects of a brand’s visual, verbal and experiential elements that have flexibility for interpretation. This could include specific components of the visual system, advertising campaigns, or the way in which we create customer experiences for a brand. The priority here is that the expression is still bringing the purpose and personality of the brand to life. (e.g., customer trends review session, advertising imagery and concepts, sales presentation content)
WHO MUST HELP MANAGE
Once the system is in place, proactively maintaining and delivering the brand requires that those with core responsibility for a brand create an environment and support group that makes governing the brand easier for everyone. Especially when team resources are tight. Three roles, all of which need to be trained, informed and armed in their own ways, are critical to this:
- Creators: The core marketing and communications team and agency partners (marketing, advertising, PR, digital, etc.) responsible for developing and or directing the development of brand materials and experiences. This team’s role is to develop and maintain all aspects of the brand platform, identity and experience.
- Users: These are the teams that use branded tools and deliver branded experiences day in and day out. Sales teams, customer service, executive teams, product developers and recruiting teams all fall into this group. And, they play a vital role in the success of a brand coming to life. As part of the governance team, they both help advise/troubleshoot on tools and initiatives, as well as act as ambassadors responsible for the brand coming to life in their respective competencies.
- Believers: These are the employees and primary stakeholders (e.g. distributors, board members) who need to believe in and be capable of sharing the story of the brand. While not directly responsible for the brand itself, they do represent it. Having members from this group on the brand governance team offer the perspective of how the brand is perceived and engaged with at the broad company level.
CONSTRUCTING YOUR TEAM
Every company has different working norms and therefore benefits from slightly different brand governance team constructs. But the general guidelines are as follows:
- Brand development team: This team benefits from meeting on a monthly basis, and even more often over specific initiatives. This would include primary members of the marketing and communications team as well as vital agency partner representatives who can discuss opportunities for improving upon brand tools and messaging, as well as challenges that teams face as they seek to develop ways to activate.
- Brand user team: This team benefits from meeting on a quarterly basis. A typical meeting would act as both an update on brand-related activities from the Brand Development team, as well as a review/brainstorm around the tools used to bring the brand to life. As example, this team could meet to discuss the development of a new customer collaboration workshop, or the development of a new trade show experience, or content marketing program.
- Brand evolution team: This is a team that includes broad representation across the company and its stakeholders, and benefits from meeting annually to review and discuss the health of the brand, (how it’s perceived and where it might need to go to strengthen). While not all companies maintain teams such as this, they typically provide strong insights for the Brand Development Team that impress upon the strengths, weaknesses and opportunities for evolving.
Governance requires thinking about the components of brand that need to be managed, how the elements inside them should be controlled and the best type of team structures needed to build commitment to and engagement around bringing it to life in the most powerful ways.