One of the things that we as a design agency struggle with is deciding when we should stick with using a client’s brand standards when they are asking us to break the rules.
We always want to think outside the box and give clients what they want, but part of our job is to elevate a brand to the highest level. First, a quick lesson on the “levels” of a brand:
- Brand Absence – You could have the most amazing, world-changing product, but no one knows about it because you haven’t invested in strong branding. Unfortunately, this is a crowded level – many, many companies don’t view branding as an important asset, and therefore don’t invest the necessary time and money to place themselves within the spectrum of public awareness.
- Brand Awareness – You’ve invested in some branding, but people still don’t know enough about who you are to trust and invest in your product.
- Brand Preference – Your brand is the well-known, well-trusted standard, and people look to you as the go-to. Think of the best-known wireless companies. The caveat is that people are also willing to switch to another brand if your product doesn’t meet their checklist criteria.
- Brand Insistence – Your brand and its associated product fulfills a unique need, and people are only willing to use that product if it’s marked by your brand. Think of your coffee locale of choice – odds are, it’s Starbucks (or, on our local level, Dunkin’s!). Would you really be willing to risk the guaranteed flavor and efficacy of your morning coffee on an off-brand product?
- Brand Advocacy – Your brand sells itself, without any major effort from you. People buy your product simply because of its association with the brand you’ve created. Apple lives at this level – at this point, all they need to worry about is maintaining their emotional connection with their audience.
As “brand shepherds” we hope to elevate a company’s identity past the bottom two levels and into the third and fourth. Clients often don’t realize that by pushing us outside of their existing brand standards they can hurt the equity of everything they’ve already built. We are talking about real commercial equity: dollars, people! Some of the largest companies have a huge stake in their brand, up to 40-50%.
A few recommendations to keep brand erosion from happening:
- Be realistic about your brand style – If you push for something edgy and modern when your current brand elements reflect a more traditional look, the end result may feel disjointed and confusing to your audience.
- See the value in keeping your brand consistent – Making your brand the strongest it can be is always the goal of any design agency. Audiences are drawn to consistency, so though using the same elements time and time again may seem boring to you, it will ultimately help identify your brand more quickly and hopefully start building an emotional attachment to your company.
- You can change, but change completely – Evolving your brand can be a great idea, but make sure it is done deliberately and not piecemeal. Everyone needs to be on board with the change, by which I mean that all members of a company need to maintain the decided-upon brand standard whether they personally approve of it or not. There are many people within a company that touch the brand, from the CEO to the Customer Service Representative, and if they are not implementing the brand changes correctly it can bring down the level of the brand. Finally, teach the entire company the new rules. When rolling out brand changes, make sure that everyone is on the same page so it is easy for them to incorporate into their daily workflow.
- Trust in your design agency – You are paying for our expertise, so let us guide you.
All of this doesn’t mean we don’t want you to push us so you get the best design possible. However, when we advise the avoidance of totally atypical colors, or the use of a “fun” font for your brands event signage, we’re usually trying to negate audience confusion and continue the upward trajectory of your solid, successful branding.