If brand management is a little bit like herding cats, then brand management in a decentralised environment takes an incredible amount of finesse and a strong plan.
A brand is only as strong as its weakest usage - our cumulative experiences of the brand form our impressions, and if these experiences are in disarray, if these experiences are discordant and divisive our impression of the brand is the same.
A strong brand is vital, and more difficult, to corral in a decentralised organisation.
These are our top tips for brand management in a decentralised environment.
Strong brand guidelines
Brand guidelines are not merely logos, colours and a typeface. Brand guidelines should contain the why, not just the what.
The visual identity needs to flow from the vision and values of the company and be supported by design solutions that sit comfortably with the brand promise.
- Why are the values expressed in this way?
- Why are these the best colours to represent the audience and outcome?
- Why do we express the brand personality in this way?
- Why do we build our messaging hierarchy like this?
Strong brand guidelines are more than a series of images with ticks and crosses to represent the dos and don'ts of the identity. They should allow the user to apply the brand successfully outside the rigorously constructed examples; they should let the user understand how to create a compelling piece of content to solve a problem.
If users need to build a flyer to explain a new product, do they know how to write headline text and sub-heading copy with a compelling benefit?
If users are creating large format out-of-home does your guide explain the copy should be 9 words or less and at a certain size for a specific speed zone?
Strong brand guidelines need to be robust scaffolding on which to build marketing and communications solutions and should scale into the different areas of the business who use the brand.
Holistic marketing plan
Central marketing teams have oversight for central marketing campaigns, but may not necessarily write marketing strategies and plans for the whole organisation, or include the different divisions of the business.
Writing a holistic marketing plan ensures those groups are represented in both your thinking, and the scheduled marketing and communication activities. It ensures your central campaign can be scaled successfully into all areas of the business and can be adapted for their needs - on-brand and without extensive revision.
Trying to retrofit a campaign into diverse business divisions can be frustrating for both the central team and stakeholders. Misaligned ideas about what success looks like, unnecessary versions and slow-to-market mean your decentralised stakeholders are less likely to come to the central team and more likely to go rogue.
A holistic marketing plan demonstrates you are thinking of them and can help them achieve their objectives.
Understand the functions and outcomes of people using brand
It is easy to have distinct and unambiguous brand management when only the central brand and marketing team applies the brand. Once the use of the brand extends past this core team, however, it is vital you understand how your stakeholders need to use the brand and what capability they have to apply the brand.
Asking yourself several questions helps create a strong understanding of their needs:
- What do they care about?
- What sort of marketing do they usually do?
- Do you have the plan and collateral to help them achieve their targets?
- Why are they currently choosing to go outside the brand guidelines?
For example, does your brand management allow for quick turnarounds to take advantage of short-term offers, for example, a faculty staff member has the opportunity to speak to a group of high school students about courses tomorrow? Does your brand management allow for events to be produced and run by remote locations without needing to come to you for branding and artwork?
Your team will have more success implementing the brand across a diverse organisation if you understand what people need from their use of the brand.
As central brand owners, we make changes to the brand, and as the central marketing team, we develop and implement marketing plans. Often we focus on task after task and project after project because this is a big and consuming responsibility, without pulling back to think about how to position this work to our internal stakeholders.
We talk every day in our team as we build and grow elements and campaigns. Taking the time to communicate these, and communicate them well, outside our team has a powerful impact on successful brand management.
How do people in your organisation like to consume their internal communication? Incorporating multiple channels into your communication, rather than a single channel, will help ensure maximum uptake of your message:
- Intranet banner and news article
- Resource update
- Instant messaging
- Old-fashioned phone calls from account managers and key contacts
Remember to include data, stats and details to make it more relevant to your audience.
Only the necessary approvals
As the central team, with your brand let loose throughout the organisation, it can be very tempting to ask to approve every use of brand assets.
This is a dangerous path to walk because it results in one or several scenarios:
- Your team are overwhelmed with approval requests with short turnaround times
- Your stakeholders are frustrated at having to ask for permission to do elements of their job
- Your stakeholders don't send collateral through for approval - instead going rogue and doing what they wish
There are absolutely times you will need to approve the use of the brand, but if your guidelines are robust enough, you have built enough trust, and the framework for applying your brand is simple, you will not need to approve every social post, email, ad, poster, postcard, flyer, sign, and the list goes on.
Identify what really needs to be approved, supply pre-approved copy and assets and coach and mentor people to apply the brand properly.
We know your team doesn't intend to have long lead times, but your resources are stretched, and your workload continues to grow. Rather than forcing people to wait 2-3 weeks for a simple design solution, empowering your clients with the brand elements will help you to build a strong brand.
Empowering your stakeholders to connect with the brand and use it without feeling like they will get a rap over the knuckles will help you successfully manage the brand in a decentralised environment.
If people feel confident they understand the why and the what, feel confident you trust them and feel confident in your vision for the brand and marketing, they will be empowered to use your brand well, to ask for advice and to encourage others to do the same.
Ambassadors and advocates
When you are speaking to a new group for the first time, the advice is to find the 'friendly' in the room and engage with them.
Good brand managers need to do the same - find those influential people in the broader teams who understand the vision for the brand, who understand the push-pull of brand use and how important it is to adhere to the guidelines and use them to advocate for strong brand use and management on your behalf.
Peer-to-peer influence has far more impact than an impersonal email or top-down communication.
Build a 'friendlies' network and use them to help you achieve your vision.
Transparency and involvement
We all know what it is like when something happens to us, instead of with us.
As brand managers and marketers with so much responsibility and pressure, it can often be quicker and 'easier' to implement a change and talk about it after, or to quietly publish an update to the brand guidelines without broadly disseminating it.
The best brands, the best organisations, engage their people on the journey.
Talk to your broader stakeholders about their connection to the brand, their need for brand and marketing elements, their frustrations and bottlenecks.
Involve them in focus groups, feedback sessions and planning workshops. It doesn't mean you have to take on board all of their commentary, but it allows you to understand their perspective, adopt what works and educate them about your position and perspective.
Managing a brand is complicated - make it easier on your sleepless nights by implementing best practice for a decentralised team.