Branding as the “B” Word
I was talking to someone recently who was complaining about how they have so many restrictions now on how they can create materials for their department and even on how many pages and what content their department can have on the website. Apparently they used to have quite a bit of information on the website and now with a minimal one-page only rule (for that department), they are getting complaints from consumers. I asked her why all the changes and she leans in, lowers her voice and says “It’s BRANDING” with both her tone (and a little hand gesture) indicating complete disgust.
Apparently last year they were “re-branded”, with the help of a good-sized, well-known local marketing firm, and a lot of staff are not that happy about it. Quite a few people don’t like the new logo or tagline or a lot of the new rules. To me, the logo seems fine, but the tagline IS one of the worst I’ve ever seen and as for the restrictions – a style guide is a great tool but not if it results in serious annoyances for your staff and constituents.
So this scenario brings up multiple concerns to me, including:
1. From a nonprofit’s perspective, you expect a larger well-known firm to know what they are doing and if you have no experience in branding, you are relying entirely on their expertise to guide you – what if they guide you in the wrong direction? Or if you are headed in the wrong direction, will they have the skills to quickly move you in the right direction? If you are going to go to the expense and effort of hiring a firm to assist you, include a good-sized focus group into your process (that includes staff) to help evaluate the direction and details so there are less likely to be problems down the road.
2. Clearly people have had negative experiences with the branding process – most likely directly related to the experience they had with the contracted firm or with the organization’s ability (or inability) to get the staff involved and on board; combine this with a lack of understanding about the real purpose and value of branding and you get a recipe for revolt. This is one of those times where it’s important to review a potential contractor’s portfolio and be very careful in your hiring process; don’t assume because the firm is big that they will do a job right or that they are the right ones for the job!
3. Leaving the creation of the style guide completely in the hands of the super-controlling rules and regulations people can end up stifling creativity in the organization and cause problems with your constituents. You can have consistency without going overboard. Some good resources for creating a style guide: