“You know what, Stan, if you want me to wear 37 pieces of flair, like your pretty boy over there, Brian, why don’t you just make the minimum 37 pieces of flair?”
You’ve spent years refining your company’s brand to make it clear, simple and compelling. The research has been analyzed, the logo has been tweaked, the message platform clearly defined, your personnel have been briefed on your brand concept and how to apply it in their jobs. So how do you keep it that way?
Let’s hope your brand is based on more than the number of pieces of flair that Chotchkie’s employees in the movie Office Space were required to wear. But even though Chotchkie’s parody brand was hilariously generic, their diligent manager, Stan, still had to enforce it. At least, he tried to.
In the real corporate world, major companies take brand continuity seriously. Corporate communications departments develop clear rules for graphics and manage messages very closely. Senior management sees that they are empowered to do so. Customer relationship management is a real department, not just a bullet point. Even the legal department keeps a watchful eye.
The brand police at Disney are especially well known. Not only do they exert rigid control over every aspect of their brand within their properties, they are renowned for their outreach program, also known as suing the pants off anyone who dares to paint so much as a pair of Mickey Mouse ears on a mural in day care center. (OK, it was three day care centers and Disney never actually sued, they just threatened to.)
Enforcing the brand is tough and the digital world has made it even tougher to control and oversee. In a time where anyone can simply make a screen grab of your logo and place it into any kind of document they choose, a good police effort makes sense for even the smallest of firms. In addition, social media has really blurred the lines-if you are encouraging social media use as a means of marketing, but not managing your message platform, you’ll inevitably run into problems. But control it too rigidly and it could sound like the Stepford wives are running your Facebook and Twitter accounts.
Just like real cops who don’t enforce every little infraction, but come down hard on a true transgression, brand police efforts require judgment. That said, here are some guidelines for keeping a brand program intact without alienating the entire company.
Empower it-No brand continuity program can succeed without clearly stated support from senior management. If employees, vendors, or distributors who represent your brand know that a misuse can get the attention of a president or senior VP, there will be far greater compliance at all levels.
Centralize it-Keep the police force relatively small, but with enough capacity to respond. Give this group exclusive control of electronic files and ask them to track where they are sent and for what purpose. Asking these questions sends a message to legitimate users that you are watching and care about how the files are used. Be sure that they have a method for keeping the most up-to-date files in circulation and eliminate or quarantine older versions, which can so easily pop up at the wrong time.
Be responsive– A key part of any brand police effort is a streamlined approval system. Set up one that can keep pace with today’s business world. Clearly communicate what your time requirements are for review and then meet those requirements.
For smaller companies, it should be at least two people to avoid bottlenecks. Larger firms may have several personnel trained to review and approve, including by location or division. Part of their standard issue tools should include a brand identity guide that defines basics such as corporate colors, typefaces, and logo use (and misuse). These guides vary greatly, depending on the scope of communications. Often an in-house art director becomes the keeper of this information, but it should always exist in a formal document.
Guard the entire brand experience-this is where enforcement can get a bit tricky. So much of a brand can be defined by the experience of buying, using, eating, or staying. Service culture is critical for many companies. Coaching employees to interact consistently and according to plan goes far beyond what a corporate communications department can handle. Many times, this part of brand oversight falls to the service managers and others whose team members interact with the customer or prospect. They typically use employee customer surveys and reviews or inspections to evaluate the intangibles of service. As the CEO of an in-home service company once said to me, “When it rains, my biggest concern is whether our technicians are wiping their feet before they go in your house.”
A good brand police force is effective at keeping its brand or brands clean and shiny. Their customers see consistent graphics and well-ordered messages; service standards are met or exceeded, ensuring that the brand experience is positive and on target. And more often than not, a company with a good brand police force has employees who understand and deliver on the brand better than those who don’t. So if you want your employees to wear 37 pieces of flair, just say so. But let them know you really mean it.