November 7, 2012


Branding: An opportunity to unify entire company

Sarah Szilagyi is vice president of Client Services for Elevator, a "creative agency" in Carlsbad. Prior to joining Elevator, Szilagyi was marketing director for a financial services firm, a licensing manager for Harcourt Trade Publishers, and associate editor for Scholastic and Time Warner/Book of the Month Club.

Q: What do you mean by a “brand going awry” within a business?

A: Businesses invest a lot of money and time in brand development. If you’ve ever done it, you know what I mean. Often, the marketing department is so excited to roll out the fruits of their labor that they hold a meeting to share the new position and messaging, provide everyone with the logo files, PowerPoint templates, letterhead, and call it a day.

What happens next is pretty common: While the marketing department happily moves on to the next project, the rest of the company is left without indoctrination, rules, or oversight for implementing and leveraging the new brand elements. Before you know it, people have forgotten the messaging and are using the visual elements (logo, letterhead, etc.) to fit their in-the-moment needs rather than putting the brand first.

The result is a disorganized look, muddy communications, and bottom line inability to build any brand equity at all because from instance to instance, it’s never presented in the same way.

Q: What are the most common “brand transgressions”?

A: There are so many ways a brand can be misused when not properly managed. But, I guess the things we see most commonly are resizing/re-coloring logos to fit an employee-created document, self-creating letterhead instead of using the approved template document, designing PowerPoint presentations using “similar” colors to the approved brand palette, or rewriting a tagline or position thinking it’s “close enough” -- all of neglect official messaging and send a muddied signal.

Q: What’s the potential business impact when that happens?

A: Huge. Properly managed, a company’s brand is an opportunity to unify everyone from design to accounting on one message, one look and one goal. Over the long haul, a strong brand stands to give a company a competitive edge. When message and visual standards are not adhered to, I believe there are three core consequences:

Loss of Productivity: Employees spending time tracking down logo and letterhead files, then taking those things and spending time designing their own stuff rather than focusing on their true task at hand. This can take a big chunk out of a person’s day.

Diluted Brand Message: I kind of touched on this earlier. When everyone in the company is forging their own course for look and feel, and sometimes even rewriting brand position to fit their current need, the outside world never gets a consistent message. When that happens, the outside world basically remembers nothing about your brand.

Improper Brand Alignment: This is largely to do with the messaging: Position, mental model and tagline. When your employees don’t follow those critical elements to a tee, the impact of the brand is lost within your company. They don’t have the tools to explain what you do and what you stand for, and are left making it up as they go. You’re left with people are finding their own way to explain your business -- and again, not contributing to delivering a memorable brand experience to the outside world.

Q: Let’s say this has happened in your company. What should you do?

A: Well, you’ll want to recover the brand and assess the damage. If you have intact versions of your logo, letterhead, original messaging, etc., save them in one place to be redistributed to those who need them. Hold an all-hands meeting with managers or staff who send documents out of house and request all personally-made branded materials be deleted and never used again. Inform them that you’ll be creating brand usage guidelines and templates for their use, and then get right to work developing a brand guide that will serve as the bible for anyone leveraging the brand inside or outside the company.

Q: Should a company consider a full re-branding effort when they believe their brand has been diluted by neglect?

A: Definitely. If neglect has stretched on for years, sometimes the easier way to reestablish excitement and attention for the brand is a fresh approach. But that doesn’t mean a re-brand is always the right answer. Your current brand might be a perfect fit. If so, spend the time to breathe new life into it. I’d also be sure to look at the brand messaging and language platforms. separate from the visual elements. Many times, we see adequate logos, but brand messaging that needs help. A logo redesign is not always the right answer. And finally, sometimes what really needs attention is a business’ commitment to, treatment and promotion of their brand, not the brand assets themselves.

Q: What kind of effort can a company expect to make to get an “awry brand” back into shape?

A: Time, people and money. Our brand development process takes approximately three to four months from start to finish for most brands (finished meaning logo, messaging and language platforms, all brand visuals and a brand guide in hand). I can’t speak for other agencies, but I would imagine it takes most at least that length of time.

One thing a lot of our clients don’t necessarily think about in advance is who will be leading their project on their end, and who should be brought in for review and approval stages. We typically find that one person at the client company must be devoted to the project, and typically 2-3 additional people serve as sounding boards, participate in meetings, and help with review and approvals. It can take 5-6 hours a week of work per person-- so it’s no small matter.

The last item of course is cost. Again, without speaking for other agencies, the cost can be almost anything depending on so many factors: What kind of research, how much research, how many strategists and designers committed agency side, and more. I usually tell people to prepare to spend at least $25,000, and it can easily move into the six-figure territory depending on those factors.


November 7, 2012