A corporate brand doesn’t just “happen.”
There are many facets that need to be addressed before that logo is designed. A lot of people understand the importance of brand standards to their external audience, but as important (if not more so), is to make sure all employees are “on board” in conveying your corporate brand—the unique, distinguishing essence that sets you apart from all your competitors.
Your corporate brand conveys to your stakeholders and the world:
Who you are
What you do
Why you believe what you do is important
Whom you are benefitting with your service and/or product.
The first foundational step of building your company’s brand standards is to ask the question, “Who are we?” You’d be amazed at how many times you can sit three to five people from the same company in a room, ask them all that question, and receive three to five totally different answers. The materials that should be used to lay the foundation of your corporate brand are as follows:
Brand audit: Examine what kind of message and image are being portrayed to your audience through print collateral, your website and advertising.
Competitor audit: Take a close look at how your industry peers measure up to their branding efforts.
Discovery session: Gather the top movers and shakers of your company for an open, honest discussion of their thoughts relative to:
Who are we?
What do we do?
Why do we do what we do?
Who are we helping?
Where do we want to go?
It’s recommended to have an branding expert help you navigate through the above steps and facilitate this discovery session, with the goal to encourage people to open up and share their opinions and thoughts in an open-minded, constructive, non-judgmental environment.
The branding agency will provide those same folks that participated in one or more of these above steps, a comprehensive report revealing what was identified in the evaluation, audits and discovery session. The report will also provide recommendations on areas identified as potential conflicts or stumbling blocks as the branding process moves forward.
After all management is in agreement about what your company stands for, what your mission is, who your customers are, and what your promise to those customers is, it’s time to take this information to the rest of the company. Employees are a corporation’s biggest cheerleaders—the ones your customers interface with every day, so it’s crucial they agree with, and believe in, the corporate brand (remember, it’s not just a logo).
The next step in the process is to start building the framework of your brand on the foundation that’s been laid. Elements of this framework include:
Elevator Pitch: This speech is used to quickly and simply define your company and its value proposition in two minutes or less—the time it would take to share your story with someone on an elevator.
Goals: An overview is created of where your company is currently, and where it wants to be in the next one year, three years and/or five years.
All facets of the brand framework should be imprinted on every company member’s brain and ingrained in their daily activities. This is why it is crucial that everyone in the company, from the executive level down, practice what these tenets preach.
Now that the foundation has been poured and the structure is established, it’s time for the branding agency to implement the brand strategy and apply it to the visual exterior of your brand—the logo. Trust the branding agency's expertise to develop a visual representation of everything your company stands for now, and hopefully, for years to come. Unlike the “foundation” phase, this should not be a “created by committee” endeavor. Likewise, this is not the time to let the boss’ 16-year-old aspiring artist niece or nephew come up with their interpretation of what might be a “cool” logo.
The branding agency will take into account all the information from the discovery phase, and determine what the best approach would be for your company’s visual representation.
Wordmarks: freestanding words or multi-letter abbreviation groupings, a.k.a. logotypes. Think eBay, IBM, CNN and Google.
Letterform: created from a single letter. Honda, Uber and McDonald’s are all letterform logos.
Pictorial: illustrated symbols of recognizable things. Examples of pictorial logos are Starbucks, Twitter and Shell Oil.
Abstract: not necessarily representing anything otherwise recognizable, like abstract art. Nike, British Petroleum and Pepsi are all well known examples.
A successful, memorable, impactful logo should include:
Personality: The Nike “swoosh” exemplifies action and movement. Make sure your logo reflects who you really are—because that’s what your customers will see.
Appropriate colors: There are mountains of data that have been collected on people’s emotional reactions to different colors. Again, select colors that reflect your personality, i.e. aggressive (red), environmentally conscious (green), fun (yellow), confident (blue), etc.
Usability across all mediums: Too many times, a company will fall in love with a logo (more than likely created by someone other than an expert logo designer), generate the signage, business cards and incorporate it on their website for all the world to see, only to discover (too late) that the logo does not represent well in reverse, or in black and white, or in a vertical space, or in embroidery on a polo shirt, etc. You get the idea...
If what your company does is not immediately recognizable in the logo, whether it’s represented as letterform or pictorial (and you don’t have millions of dollars to spend on an exposure roll-out campaign), a short, concise tagline may be in order. It can be the differentiator between your brand and the rest of your peers. To test your logo/tagline knowledge, here are some examples of dynamic, memorable taglines and/or slogans—name the company they belong to:
Just Do It.
I’m Lovin’ It.
The Happiest Place On Earth.
The Few. The Proud.
The Ultimate Driving Machine.
A Diamond Is Forever.
Although the taglines listed above don’t always appear with their corresponding logos, (and are recognizable in of themselves), they accomplish the basic criteria that any tagline should convey: clarify your company’s position/mission, communicate an important attribute of your brand, and help people recognize and remember you.
Now that your brand has been built on a solid foundation—a sturdy framework and memorable visuals—it’s imperative to make sure the brand is used appropriately in all materials and is consistent across the board.
Brand standards guides spell out different elements and applications of the newly established brand. For smaller companies, a compact and comprehensive list of “Do’s and Don’ts” relative to logo, fonts, color palette and “elevator speech” messaging may suffice. In larger corporations, complete brand identity guides specify rules about everything from the spacing allowance between the logo and other content to acceptable length and weight of rule lines to acceptable materials and substrates for indoor and outdoor signage. No matter how basic or extensive, the litmus test for an effective brand standards guide: it’s easy to understand, is written in “layman’s terms” and doesn’t leave anything up for “interpretation.”
Every company needs standard brand guidelines that are instilled into every employee’s mind in order to:
Keep brand consistency across all areas of the company.
Convey the brand correctly to internal as well as external audiences to avoid mixed messages and misrepresentation.
Let your employees be your best “brand ambassadors” by having everyone on the same brand page.
Hopefully this article has conveyed the importance of brand standards for your corporation. Since the brand you present to the world can make or break your success, put the thought, time and effort into it on the front end with the help of professional branding experts.