January 29, 2020

Brand governance – bringing agility to branding
Author:
Magdalena
Sikora
and
Michał
Wituszyński

Illustration: Jędrzej Chojnacki, Brand Advisory Team

In the world of big companies and highly competitive markets, it is extremely important to build and maintain a strong brand. Recognition and a positive image support customers’ buying decisions. Going a step further, if we manage to create products or services of desire, we secure a loyal audience and stable profits.

Of course, brand management is not easy – and it’s not obvious what approach is best. An experienced brand expert operates with a variety of different tools and methodologies, and they would say that selecting the proper one depends on the wide context and long-term goals. What applies universally to all brands is that they evolve (at least they should) in order to keep up with the constantly and rapidly changing world.

In this article, we want to share a few insights into how we deal with brand governance in the context of big companies.

The role of brand governance

What is brand governance? The brand police? A helpdesk, a teacher, or an advisory service? All of the above? In truth, it involves interaction with different audiences, responsiveness, inspiration and empowerment.

Brand governance helps not only to guide consumers, employees, and vendors through the visual aspects of the brand but also to make sure the brand is visible and active in all fields of interaction.

Consistency within a brand is as important as the flexibility factor, making it more unique, personalized, and authentic, and enabling the evolution of its elements. Governance doesn’t necessarily mean only restrictions, policies and following a set of strict rules. Assisting with projects and sharing knowledge about basic principles is also the opportunity to start a dialogue and create a space for exploration and interpretation.

What is the essence of it all? People, emotions, and the message. Spreading knowledge about core values that you carry and want the world to associate with the company. Values that employees relate to and that future generations will think of as unique. The brand is your ID, your voice, who you are, and what you represent. Your signature character and style present in every detail and immediately recognizable.

Illustration: Juliusz Peszko, Brand Advisory Team

Brand communication – the old way

Many companies do not have any dedicated expert or team to curate the development and implementation of their brand image. Designs are based on the brand book established at some point in the past, and further works depend on the creative input by the agency and the sense of aesthetics of the client. Although sometimes it is enough to get satisfying results, the results are more of a lottery. Control over purposeful brand image construction may be random and not consistent throughout all of a company’s communication.

It is no longer enough to create a brand book at one point and let it live its own life. A well-designed branding system supports its testing, gathering feedback, and implementing improvements to adjust to changing requirements and become even better (rather than outdated) with time. Also, more and more often brand communication is created not only by brand experts and designers but also by all other employees, specialized in completely different fields. We need to adjust brand manuals to make them easy to use for all. We can’t predict what would be the best instructions so that non-designers are not excluded from using the manual, it needs testing.

Consistency is key to strengthening brand image

The target goal for the whole company is to constantly strengthen its brand image, which, in the long term, builds an advantage over competitors and helps with building a stable business. Probably the hardest part of it is to create consistent brand communication across the whole company. It requires alignment between different business agendas, worldwide locations with local cultures, different roles and skills, etc. This kind of consistency can be achieved through one centralized cell, which supports the whole company’s community in proper brand implementation at all internal and external touchpoints.

This cell’s function is what we call brand governance. Depending on a company’s size and characteristics, it may be just one expert or even a team. The ideal brand governance team mixes different competencies to operate with a holistic outlook at experiences that the brand creates with its customers. It includes expertise in branding, strategy, communications, design, user experience, research and analytics, marketing, change management, and sometimes even more. In practice, a brand governance team provides creative direction for the most important brand projects, conducts trainings, offers brand consistency check and design support, and – in the long run – keeps the brand alive, evolving, and being constantly adjusted to the changing reality.

Illustration: Jędrzej Chojnacki, Brand Advisory Team

Flexible guidelines and constant support

Nowadays, branding needs to be a flexible, responsive, and constantly improving system. Modern brand books, allowing for easy updates instantly visible for all employees, are one part. The other is an expert or a team of experts responsible for curating the brand implementation and development. Such a branding team serves designers as well as all other employees or external providers of the company. Together, they create designs that build the brand image consistently.

Brand evolution

Change is unavoidable and important to keep the brand relevant and alive. Brand governance, or advisory, helps with natural evolution of the brand and its development on a long-term scale. The brand must live, breathe, and evolve with the company. Brand compliance and consistency are as important as integrated growth. They should lead to empowerment built on collaboration, not compromise.

The brand evolution process is an integrated development, cocreated with clients and employees. It’s an investment that pays off in the long term. It makes the brand stronger and more captivating while making its users and audience more aware and conscious.

Illustration: Wanda Pietrzak, Brand Advisory Team

Cooperation with creative agencies

When cooperating with a creative agency, it is beneficial to have an expert in brand design matters on your side. In most cases, managers requesting work from agencies have an economic background and know their business goals. In fact, the role of creatives is to translate business goals to communication goals and create an engaging brand experience based on that. So, it is vital that managers are able to brief creatives as precisely as possible, then assess the quality of designs and its consistency with the overall brand image. It requires a branding and design background, thus, nowadays, it is a good practice to share the responsibility for effectiveness of such cooperation within a multidisciplinary team of marketing and brand design experts. In the end, the better the brief, the better the results of agency’s work and returns on investment.

Illustration: Magdalena Sikora, Brand Advisory Team

Good assets management and resource-efficiency

Another part of brand governance is managing assets to utilize designs that have already been created. It requires a system for storing, structuring, and distributing – as well as constant curation. However, once a design is created (either using the internal resources or by an external partner, as in the process mentioned earlier) it can be re-used many times, in different locations globally and for different campaigns. In the long term, it makes all the past, present, and future projects much more cost-effective and gives the possibility to get the most out of each finished design. We all know cases of painfully meaningless double work just because of a lack of information, etc. So why pay for something that has already been created?

Education, communication and feedback

Here, you are a teacher and a student at the same time. Insights you get as feedback allow you to explore new solutions as well as to find a common ground for inevitable differences. Interaction with people helps with the natural evolution of the brand and takes many forms – scheduling training sessions and regular updates, supporting them even in the smallest tasks, answering questions, adjusting tools, and providing templates and free to use resources. In the end, educating and promoting the brand knowledge (not only with clients but also among employees) creates a community that truly understands and cares about the brand and its challenges.

Employees independence

Successful brand governance inevitably leads to developing the independence of the company and increasing brand awareness. It leaves a positive impact on employees who can identify with the brand and feel a part of the process, encourages them to create and develop on-brand projects, and allows them to educate others. Brand assistants help to take over the responsibility for effectiveness of collaboration with various agencies from managers and make the brand consistency aspect easier and more effective. A positive experience of such collaboration also has an educational aspect, as in the future it will allow the designers to understand the look and feel of the brand better, and it will preserve integrity of all brand-related elements.

Illustration: Wanda Pietrzak, Brand Advisory Team

How does it translate to revenues?

It is often the case that the biggest brands in the world provide products or services very similar to many other competitors. So how do they manage to gain better revenue? Of course, we all know terms such as brand recognition or brand value. But for some, the way a company empowers them seems a somewhat mysterious process, built on hidden, complex strategies, or it looks like a result of an accident. In reality, it requires a well-designed brand and a solid system to implement it consequently.

For many years, creative agencies and design studios have built great expertise in designing the brand. However, a good design alone does not magically create instant great revenues. A brand is just a construct, an abstract thing that starts to mean something when it is being used.

The way we use it is even more important. It makes the brand work for or against the company’s business goals. Thus, it cannot be used randomly. Creative ideas by an agency are great – but only if they go together well (meaning the agency, or any other entity involved in the project, understands the brand really, really well). Personal aesthetic choices in brand communication may also be risky.

Summary

We can see there is blank space; an important set of responsibilities which should be filled by a brand governance team. The centralized team advising on all brand-related projects ensures that all created designs, no matter the time and location, work well with each other and can be easily mixed and re-used many times in the future. This way, each project becomes not only a one-shot thing, but an investment in a sustainable library of brand assets.

The other thing is, the longer a brand governance unit works within (or for) a company, the more knowledge other employees acquire. They may become independent brand experts as well – and this is a simple way to cut costs.

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