Digitising your brand guidelines

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This blog is the latest in a series around the need for great brand consistency. It may be that you already have existing brand guidelines in place.

Often when we get involved in projects at Burfield, we inherit existing brand guidelines which has used a variety of different methods for producing an output that is used both by in-house teams and their agencies.

Some of those guidelines are particularly thorough – in my experience, these are often the ones that are created for a print (hard copy) world. It was  previously possible to produce brand guidelines that people had to rigidly stick to, including formats to be used, print stock, precise colour codes etc. These have a place as part of your brand guidelines, but to my mind, they should no longer be the last word.

Why?

Simply put, because a prescriptive approach means that you’re missing out on the benefits of the two main game changers to have emerged over recent years: digital formats and social media.

Digital has brought a proliferation of the formats in which your brand can now be seen and in the number of channels in which it can be viewed. Trying to throw your arms around all formats and channels is a no-sum game: it’s a moving target and you’ll never ‘win’. Restricting yourself to print in a digital age is that same as cutting off a massive proportion of your potential audience.

Equally, the use of social media has meant that there is a massive leap in the number of people who are willing to be your brand ambassadors. Attempting to control the outputs of every individual in this age is again going to be an exercise in futility.

So what should you do instead?

Firstly, I’m not advocating that you get rid of your existing guidelines. I think that there needs to be a line in the sand that brand managers set to say ‘don’t ever use our visual identity like this’ or better still ‘please always use it in this way’. Even digitally. However, the odds of you restricting your own employees to certain channels (never mind the general public who are going to share your brand assets whether you want them to or not) is approaching zero. So, like I say, have a line in the sand and manage those situations where it is crossed. Educate your people as to how to use the brand: both internally and (preferably on an open web page) externally. Your potential audience reach just got a lot bigger – don’t restrict your people from exploiting that – but do guide them as to how to do so.

Equally, and this is where brand and content come together fully – create some materials that are so compelling that that’s what your people want to share. If you produce a video that does a great job, ask your colleagues to share it through their networks. If you’ve produced some great press coverage, promote the link and have your people share that. If you’ve produced a world-class report, consider an infographic to demonstrate the key findings and have your advocates share that. The more that you encourage this behaviour, the more you are stewarding the brand and the more that you are free to manage the (hopefully rare) times when people go off piste.

My top tips for digitising your brand guidelines are:

Focus on the channels you and your colleagues most commonly use. Devise easy to use assets and market them to your people. LinkedIn banners, email footers, a shareable corporate identity are all a great start. Blogging templates are also really helpful. From there, it really depends on what’s going to be used most in your business (if you’re at Gap, it’s more likely to be visual and on Instagram, whereas if you’re in professional services, it’s more likely to be usage of LInkedIn).
Don’t let the past hold you back. You’ve got print guidelines and I get that. But digital allows you to communicate with audiences that are a ten-, a hundred-, a thousand-fold plus increase in size. Look again at what your people are asking you for and how they want to use the brand and then formulate your guidelines around that. Digitise what you already have.
Ditch the PDF. It’s really print masquerading as digital. It has a place (as a print option for old schoolers), but fundamentally, is not fit for a mobile-first world. People will look at your materials online (mainly on their phones or tablets) and you need your assets to work in that format. We’ve found that over 90% of digital visitors drop off when they get confronted by a PDF. You’ve done all the hard work getting them onto your site and then they leave without reading your work.

Conduct a digital audit/amnesty of where your brand shows up. You can lots of this via Google and Google News and other alerts systems. Equally, ask your people where they have tried to use your digital assets but failed. What stopped them from remaining on brand. Is it a lack of understanding on how to use existing formats or is it that the brand team needs to catch up with what the business needs?

Be clear with your people about the changes you’ve made. Share the new guidelines on your intranet or via email with colleagues to let them know why you’ve done what you have and why. Educate them as to how to use your assets in a digital approach and they’re more likely to remain ‘on brand’.

Use an agency to help you (obviously!) We can help to see the wood for the trees. We are less attached to the internal politics or the past of what you’ve ‘always done’ and we can really suggest some innovative, inexpensive ways to make a huge difference to your audiences.

Check out our brand services pages to understand how we can help you navigate from print to digital in no time at all.

Jon Bolton
Creative Director

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