You are doing your brand standards wrong!

Dear Marketing Industry,

We need to have a talk. It’s about your brand standards.

I went through around 30 brand standards books in researching the brand standards guide for Brand Marketing Blog, and I have used another 50 in my career to date. I would give the average one a low C-, barely a passing grade. No judgement here; I have created a few brand standards guides, and I fell into the same traps I see over and over again.

It is so upsetting because good brand standards can almost be magical. It is optimistic, visionary, fun, immersive and compelling. It paints a picture of a company that you would not only buy from, but invite them to your house for a late summer barbecue. Watch this video on Moving Brands vision for HP and tell me you would not sign up to be part of HP tomorrow.

So let’s go through some of the typical pitfalls:

Mistake 1: What we can’t do, not what we can.

Keep a stranglehold over design so everything looks the same.
Some brand standards make so many rules that designers are left with one solution for any given problem. Keep the logo on the bottom left, use these colours and only these colours, heaven forbid, you take a candid photo.

Restrictive brand standards are made to create a consistent brand, and that is admirable. A customer should look at any product or promotion from a business and recognize the company. I am totally on board for this goal.

But good brand standards set up a framework with pieces at the designer’s disposal to build something that is more than the sum of its parts. The standards should be like a Lego set; the pieces are well defined, but they can be built into something extraordinary.

Mistake 2: Huh? Personality… What’s that?

There is no recognition that brands have character.
Most brand standards out there do not acknowledge that people relate to companies the same way they relate to people: with attributes and personality traits.

An organization should be made up of people with diverse personalities and backgrounds. The diversity people in a company is a great thing for innovation and social justice but is a nightmare for presenting a unified brand personality. If a company is to have any hope of setting a personality inside and out, the brand standards are the best place to communicate it.

Mistake 3: Written for everyone, usable by no one.

The brand book is not written to be used.
Graphic designers have typically used brand books as a reference guide for the company’s logos and colours. Later on, they have become style guides for copywriters as well.

Unfortunately, they fail in both constituents. They put heavy handed dos and donts that bad designers / copywriters don’t follow anyway, and good ones don’t need to be reminded off.

Now, more people in organizations are generating content that is going to be consumed by customers or potential customers. They all have different information they need to pull out of the book.

Talk to the people in the organization about how they use brand standards, and write specific sections write for them. Use chapter or page linking in Adobe PDF to have them skip to the parts they need quickly.

Mistake 4: Etched in stone.

Brand standards are not forever.
Most brand manuals are written and finalized as if they are going to be used from now until the end of time. Then they inevitably are rewritten and re-finalized in 5–8 years time.

The brand book is a live document. It should always be changing. Your market and your knowledge of your customer is always evolving; why shouldn’t your brand book?

Yours sincerely,
Colin Finkle