“Brand debt” and how to avoid it

In agile tech projects, when

  1. shortcuts are taken,
  2. code is not written to specification,
  3. changes aren’t documented,
  4. tickets aren’t signed off on completion,
  5. test code isn’t written,

then the project incurs “tech debt”.

Tech debt

Sometimes startups take on tech debt knowingly, in the “move fast break things” methodology.

Bigger companies do so too when a particular project needs to be implemented quickly.

But the bigger the team, and the bigger the project, the more the tech debt can build. And the one sure thing about debt… the bailiff comes knocking sooner or later.

Brand debt

Recently, I came across an article that talks about the marketing equivalent… brand debt.

Software incurs technical debt, marketing incurs “brand debt” — Scott Brinker

For small startups, the brand is very much shaped by the personality of the founder or founders.

This ensures a level of control over every single marketing output. All outgoings can be written in the same tone of voice. The colours and fonts can be used consistently. Images and photos can be chosen coherently. In short, the marketing content will invariably be on brand.

For larger companies, staying on brand can be a little more tricky. The founders may no longer be able to review every output of their company. Thus a “brand champion” must oversee the implementation of the company’s brand in the marketing material.

The role of the brand champion is very important. If enough material is created and distributed that doesn’t look, feel and sound on brand, then a marketing team can incur brand debt.

The dangers of brand debt

Tech debt can grind your development to a halt. Brand debt can grind your business to a halt.

For, if too much brand debt builds up, it can destroy consumer trust which is much more serious and much harder to pay off!

Tech debt vs. Brand debt

What causes brand debt?

Cause 1: Individual personalities

The first cause of brand debt comes from the make-up of a marketing team.

A marketing team is made up of individuals. Without guidelines for how the company wants the marketing material to look and feel, the personality of each individual can creep into the marketing output.

This isn’t bad in small quantities. It can even be good if a company values quirkiness and individuality in their brand, and they have employed the right people. But it can snowball and lead to an incoherent brand message over time, if it is not monitored.

Cause 2: Variety of marketing touchpoints

The second cause of brand debt is the sheer number and variety of marketing touchpoints in existence today.

In the complex world of digital marketing, marketing teams are constantly testing for traction on many different platforms. Each platform has its own look and feel, and so marketers look to produce content tailored for the platform they are targeting.

Again this is a good thing as long as it is monitored. But when pieces of marketing content are more in tune with the market/platform they are testing than with the brand they are representing, this can lead to brand inconsistencies and brand debt.

Avoiding brand debt

Brand debt is caused by a lack of process and structure when creating branded content. It can be mitigated by taking the following measures.

  1. Creating a strong connection between the design and marketing teams.
  2. Drawing up some detailed brand guidelines for your company.
  3. Putting checks and measures in place in the brand guidelines to ensure that any marketing material agrees with both its destination (i.e. touchpoint) and your company’s brand identity.
  4. Using brand management software. This can help bring your brand identity to life, so that the whole marketing team can instantly access their brand guidelines, elements and assets when creating marketing content.

If you have enjoyed this blog, please follow me on Twitter @patrickwoodhead. I am a co-founder of Pilcro, an app that makes it so easy for marketing teams to be consistent with their brand identity.

I also write about other things. Check out my blog called The Secret to a Longer and Happier Life is Hidden in Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.

Originally published on www.pilcro.com.