Managing a brand is not unlike managing a football team: you can get the line-up right, brief the players ad nauseam, and do your best to stifle gossip in the tabloids, but there is little you can do about an injury to your star player which throws all your calculations into disarray.
A scare or product recall can reverse months of careful global ad campaigning, sales, profit and the share price. No amount of planning can help – efforts must be directed at damage limitation. International businesses are increasingly removing the guesswork – and the risk – by planning for it in a big way. The problem is then to ensure brand consistency, often across widely differing markets and an increasing variety of contact points with the consumer.
In the past, a consultancy might have drawn up largely written brand guidelines governing the use of a logo, the kind of photography required, print size and typeface. But increasingly brand owners want something which goes a lot further. For example, following Toyota’s decision to set up separate car dealerships for Lexus in Europe, differentiating the brand from the parent company, the first independent Lexus agency has just opened in Bristol, and 54 will follow over the next 18 months. While Lexus does not directly own these outlets, it is determined to cut out confusion in the brand message. This means providing a uniform service, a consistent image and influencing staff behaviour.
“Our UK network will be half the size of some of our competitors, but we have to cover the same size territory,” explains Lexus UK director Stuart McCullough. “So our approach will be based much more on what the customer wants from the brand. Customer service will be the foundation of the franchise.”
McCullough says these outlets will use the Lexus name, and not the name of the operating company over the door. Agents will have to sign up to a set of operating standards, there will be standard design features and retail equipment, and Lexus will even provide its own merchandising service to guarantee consistent sales messages.
Three brand manuals have been developed for Lexus by Marketplace Design, mapping out areas such as customer handling, as well as more tangible applications of the brand such as print, advertising, point of sale and corporate clothing. Brand management is split into three areas: the brand builder, which regulates elements of graphic design; the architecture and interior design handbook, focusing as much on the resulting customer experience as it does the building blocks that create it; and the business handbook, which serves as an operations manual.
“Companies are now far more worried about the consistency of their brand, as consumers become more brand literate, and subscribe to them more readily,” says Marketplace managing director Bryan Brown. “Brand manuals are becoming partially operations manuals as more attention focuses on getting it right from start to finish.”
While in the past Marketplace has put these sorts of guidelines into electronic formats, it still attaches great importance to more traditional media. “A CD-Rom, for example, often does not get the level of usage that you might expect, though in some cases it works,” Brown says. “A document has a political weight that says: ‘This will be done’. A media presentation does not usually have the same weight.”
Being able to control a brand from its first steps as an independent name is one thing, but the sheer growth of existing brands can be a headache. With a 40 per cent increase in sales last year, IT solutions company Logica carried out a global brand audit to sound out customer and staff perceptions. It discovered a mismatch between the “grassroots” image of the brand and the directors’ sense of what the company stood for.
Dragon Design Consultants worked with Logica to develop naming conventions across various divisions and products, and internal and external messages were sharpened.
Then came the tricky part: formulating and presenting guidelines for the brand identity in its broader manifestations. The visual side of this involved new literature and advertising advice, as well as a Website – soon to be followed by staff and client magazines and an intranet.
But one of the most important elements in Logica’s identity overhaul is a brand guide, which will be reinforced through a programme of presentations, from corporate level to employee brand workshops. “Ultimately, it comes down to face-to-face contact, especially when you want to reach people in the workplace,” says director of marketing and communications Marc Campman.
“There is an increasing focus among IT companies on brand-ing,” says Campman. “Our greatest challenge is that the market is becoming more competitive, and we realise our biggest asset is 8,500 staff worldwide. That’s where we can achieve our biggest impact with our branding activities.”
As with Lexus car salesmen, Logica’s staff are often in no man’s land between the brand and the customer, in this case because employees can sometimes be working for up to two years on a client’s site. In such cases, staff consultants who regularly go to clients and meet Logica staff take on particular importance in ensuring the right messages are coming across.
Often a design consultancy will know the brand better than an ad agency, and will be better placed to work on the strategy behind a campaign. But at the same time templates should allow managers and local agencies sufficient freedom to work effectively within different markets.
As companies seek new ways to express the essence of a brand, both internally and externally, the guides and manuals developed by consultancies are evolving into new forms. Coley Porter Bell took this lateral approach in developing material for Seagram’s whisky brand Four Roses.
Managing director Amanda Connolly says: “Rather than trying to describe what a brand is like in words, we are trying to bring it to life visually. The book is completely image-based, hardly uses words at all, and does not even show products or packaging. But it captures everything the brand is about. You can almost smell it.”
The medium selected for guidelines will usually depend on who is going to be using it, and where.
Feelings for a brand
The material may have to be portable, and if electronic media is used this will make it easier when information needs to be updated. “But in an ideal world a combination of elements, such as CD-Rom and printed material, would make the communication of the brand as multi-sensory as possible,” Connolly says.
The idea that a brand evokes a set of associations and emotions can deepen employees’ feelings for a it, says Coley Porter Bell. For the recent launch of Confetti, a Website about weddings, staff were brought in for a “visually rich” day devoted to the brand and what it stands for. “The brand image should not be produced in isolation, but in conjunction with the company,” says Connolly. “And, ideally, as many employees as possible should be involved in generating the brand.”
Having been involved in generating brand values from the outset, staff at Confetti were given access to similar visually-based material in CD-Rom format.
The more diverse manifestations a brand has, and the more organisations that use it, the more difficult it is to manage. Measured against these criteria, Manchester United, for example, must qualify as one of the most problematic identities to enforce.
“It’s about keeping control of a brand that’s everywhere, from the front of shops to magazines, and in the hands of a host of licensees” says Kate Killeen director of marketing at consultancy Springetts. “When we looked at all this, it was quite scary.”
Springetts tried to create a consistent Manchester United identity – supplied in printed and CD-Rom formats.
This was a diplomatic, as well as a creative, tour de force, says Killeen, since the material had to spell out the reasons why it made sense for a licensee, who was paying for the privilege, to reinforce a uniform brand. “You have to strike the right balance between being the policeman and simply sharing best practice,” she says.
Intriguingly, Shell is thought to have sneaked a copy of the new Manchester United brand guide to use as a model for similar material of its own. The multinational obviously knows a winner when it sees one, and presumably hopes to learn something about brand loyalty, too.5
DESIGN SHOW 99
The UK’s leading design companies are showing innovations and concepts to highlight life in the 21st century at Design Show 99.
The three-day event at the Business Design Centre in Islington, London, ends on October 14.
The show features completely new designs by companies such as Wolff Olins, Interbrand Newell & Sorrell, Minale Tattsersfield, JKR, London Design Bridge, Blackburns, Tutssels, Brand Union, Conran Design Group and Enterprise IG. Each has picked an aspect of life or business and provided its vision of how it will change by 2010.
It is the world’s biggest event for design in business. Aimed at buyers, the show enables senior decision-makers – from marketing directors to brand and design managers – to catch up on the latest developments.
Now in its fourth year, the event covers all forms of graphic design – corporate identity, branding, packaging, literature and new media – as well as retail, exhibitions and product design.
Highlights include industry debates and business insights from brands including Nike, Nestlé, BT, Nokia, Boots, British Airways, Superdrug, Thomas Cook, Glaxo and Psion.