The Brand Book, The Guide to Expressing Brand Identity – the bread and butter of design agencies. Beautiful tomes with all eventualities considered. Logos, framing, grids, strap lines, imagery, type, tone of voice, colours, mandatories, digital. You name it, it’s covered. The in house design team or brand franchisees can’t go wrong at consistent presentation of brand identity.
Hmmm…true, to a point. But what if the heart of the brand is in the hands of 300 front of house staff who meet and greet and serve and delight (or disappoint) their customers every day. They express brand identity in a way conventional guides never can.
What if 90% of those 300 brand enthusiasts don’t have English as a first language? What if the way the chefs in a restaurant chain plate up and present the food says more about the brand than any grid or strapline can? What if that’s the key to one extra visit each year?
Guides to brand identity have to go where the brand’s frontline lies. They can’t stay in design comfort land specifying type and colour when the frontline lies in how the brand handles social media. Motivating 300 front of house staff to say the right brand message might be less about control and more about inspiration. It might be about driving initiative not conformity. And that’s why Brand Identity Guidelines don’t go there. They don’t know what to say or how to say it. If it can’t be designed we don’t touch it.
In the meantime they become at best a misnomer and at worst marginalized in a comfort zone and ignore the brand’s true soul.
I flicked through a well known bank’s brand book recently. The last section was Digital – the internet is the least sticky medium so we might need some animation and movement – to paraphrase the intro. So now here’s the guidelines for website, banner, email and powerpoint.
That’s it. Really.
The most important customer channel was the shortest part of the guidelines. Why? These are the only bits we can design so we don’t cover social, or how we respond on line, or how quickly we respond, or how we create content, how we engage in social media or how we create the brand conversations on line.
Unless brand identity guidelines start to move to include the brand’s beating heart they’re at risk of being useful, but marginal productions.
We wouldn’t dream of producing brand identity guidelines that don’t go where the brand engages with it’s customers. Staff, on line, on plate, wherever the frontline lies.