Brand (over)management: Managing brands with too many managers.

Allow me to wistfully remember a time when a brand’s content was created by just a few people. Renegade factions of product managers didn’t or couldn’t insist on using Comic Sans on sales sheets. Brand managers would have laughed at the idea of anyone having the ability to instantly share their point of view, unedited, with the public.

But, times have changed.

Brands have to suck it up and learn to manage multiple, fragmented communication channels. It’s a social world, and there’s no going back. Lucky for them, I’ve got a handy 4-step process to get control of a brand.

First, someone has to own the brand. This is the most important thing. So repeat it. Someone has to own the brand. Whatever their title, whatever you call them, this is the person responsible for the consistent representation of the brand. The key is this position cannot be toothless. The brand owners need to have the power to compel compliance. Without it, nobody will take them seriously and your brand will begin to reflect the varied tastes and personalities of the multitudes that have access to a copy of your logo and Microsoft Office.

Next, create a brand strategy that includes answers the important questions about your brand. You’ll have to articulate where your brand fits into the competitive landscape, as well as how it relates to other brands within your organization. If you can’t plainly say what your brand represents and why anyone should care, no one else will get it. This is hard work, but only after you answer the “why” and “who” questions about your band can you move on to the easier questions about “what” and “how.”

Third, create a set of brand guidelines and graphic standards. This is where you define tactical stuff like colors, fonts, and logo use. Of course, don’t forget my personal favorite—the list of stuff you can’t do. An oft-neglected component of brand guidelines is the voice and personality of the brand. Yes, that can be included in the brand strategy, but there are usually many folks in an organization that will fall into a meeting coma when discussing conceptual topics such as a brand’s voice, so it never hurts to repeat this.

As you prepare the graphic standards, spend some time thinking about all the places where you’ll see cracks appear in your brand. Be sure to include things like PowerPoint templates, email signatures, and voicemail greetings. These are all touch points that should serve to reinforce your brand.

Finally, it’s time to communicate. This is also a critical step in the success of your brand-building quest. It takes time. You’ll feel like you’re pushing a boulder uphill. That’s because you are. But remember, this is important. I’ll conclude with some advice to help you along.

Develop a thick skin. To many folks in any corporate organization, squishy things like brand personality and voice are the emperor’s new clothes. They just can’t see. Be patient and don’t try to make them see it. Speak their language, and let them figure it out. For example, many people outside of marketing have difficulty relating to branding but they understand the importance of teamwork and collaboration. When branding guidance is framed in that context they are far more able to grasp the importance.

Reward good behavior. There is a balance between using a carrot and a stick. If you set up recognition for employees that excel as brand representatives then you will see an acceleration of progress. These rewards don’t have to be expensive or elaborate. If you have regular internal meetings it could be as simple as a shout out to the folks you want to acknowledge. As things evolve you can incorporate more formal recognition.

There are many pitfalls along the road to a strong brand. Sometimes we marketing types are our own worst enemy. We live with the same brand elements day in and day out. And as creative types, we yearn for some variety. Resist the temptation to ignore your own brand so you can do something new and fun. If you want fun take up a hobby.

The value of a strong and consistent brand is well documented. Keep fighting the good fight. We’re here when you need help.