Is it time to refresh your brand architecture?
Deflating the bullshit around brand identity and why a new brand bible it doesn't have to cost the earth
I love creating brand architecture books. The name of my company alone should be clear evidence of the fact. But what I enjoy more than the nuts and bolts of identifying a brand mission, positioning, personality, vision, values, tone of voice and design style is the fact that, if budgets are tight and you're just starting to grow an acorn, the whole process can be done by a team of just one - you.
There's no right or wrong way to define a brand - everything is subjective, albeit there is a best practice methodology to defining your brand's framework within the parameters of what your customers need and want - below you'll see some of the methods I've found most useful over the years to you deliver the best guidelines possible.
Over the last 18 years I've witnessed the creation of every type of brand guidelines book there is to see. From back of a napkin startup notes (now a multi million pound online bingo operator) to a 1.5 million Euro Magnum Opus with a CD Rom embedded in the cover and Astroturf pages ("You must feeeeel zee brand, Harry" was the quite frankly outstanding piece of hyperbolic marketing clap trap it was sold with).
The world's best brands aren't at the top of the recall, respect and success leader boards by accident. They constantly reinvest in themselves to stay fresh, relevant and exciting to an ever changing and expanding audience of customers across new devices and through new, ever changing media channels.
Starting with the foundations, a brand architecture traditionally starts with a Mission Statement. From this paragraph defining the goals and objectives of the brand you expand into a brand positioning statement and thenceforth a brand personality. This triptych acts as a tripod for your brand's tone of voice, copy style and design style to rest upon. Your logo, if it needs updating, is the cherry on top and if you feel a strapline is beneficial in certain media then you can summarise your mission in a catchy manner to appeal to the glancing eyeballs of potential customers.
In simple terms, and depending on your budget, your brand architecture should be built on some version of the following foundations:-
1/ Research Phase - you ask your customers and internal stakeholders a number of questions relating to their perception of your brand
2/ Discovery Phase - I would explore this information and start to define a series of Workshop agendas. Ideally these Workshops are held with a maximum 15 people in the same room (although I have done a couple with more than 5 offices dialing in by video conference).
3/ Draft Phase - Stage 1 Architecture is defined, specifically brand mission, positioning, personality and tone of voice. These are then fed into another Workshop session to hone down towards a set of guidelines that are not only accepted, but largely loved by the majority.
4/ Detail Phase - Logo, font, typography and copy guidelines are defined - either with your in house design team or an external agency. If needs be I have a number of design professionals that I know and trust from lengthy experience.
5/ Polishing Phase - we debate and chip away at the final draft before putting your new, refreshed brand guidelines into a Brand Architecture Book, or 'Brand Bible' as it's sometimes known.
The book, on hard or soft form can then be shared amongst all internal and external stakeholders, shareholders and agencies to better explain what your brand really means, what it's trying to say and how it's saying it.
You might be running Apple or (rather more likely) developing a growing business with limited resources. Either way, you have the responsibility to your brand and yourself to create solid, impactful and relevant brand guidelines.
At the core, your brand architecture is about consistency that conforms that every website, marketing campaign and customer communication looks, feels, sounds and smells the same. This consistency engenders and efficiency that means people develop a recognition, empathy and fondness for your brand sooner. This in turn makes your marketing more effective, from initial brand awareness through DR acquisition, conversion, retention and latterly reactivation.
In every media, every day you'll be able to speak with one voice, look the same way and act as a singular entity. And once you're doing that, every single penny of your marketing spend will perform better.
This isn't hard sell sales speak, its universal truth proven by every brand you can name. And all it takes is you and some of the most enthusiastic members of your team spending a few hours in a room with a bunch of customer and competitor research in hand using breakout exercises to bring your ideas to life in the context of your business strategy, target audience and competitive environment.
It definitely shouldn't cost you the £100k + quoted by most brand strategy and design agencies who peddle their wares (and put Astroturf in their brand books)
So if you think your business is lagging behind and everything your marketing team produces feels just a little disconnected then a brand refresh project at the start of 2019 might be just what you need to tie everything together.