Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Should You Bend the Branding Rules?

It’s so tempting. What if we move the logo this one time? Can we change the voice of the copy in just this piece? Before you know it, you’re bending branding rules and guidelines left and right.

Is it okay to bend the rules? As with most direct marketing questions, the answer is complex and may even vary depending on the circumstances.

When to follow the rules.

The branding guidelines help keep the brand focused by ensuring that the logo or “signature” is used consistently and that the marketing materials you produce have a synergistic appearance, tone, and brand message.

I believe it’s important to have branding guidelines that can be used across all types of media. Your company’s print ads should convey the same image as your direct mail. Your website should feel and look like your television ads. It’s especially critical if you are communicating across different marketing channels. For instance, if your TV ads are driving prospects to your website for more information, you want them to immediately know they’ve arrived at the right place by having the visuals and message of the website match the TV ad.

Direct mail, websites, and email communications are the areas where companies are most likely to slip and forget to adhere to the brand. Ask yourself these questions to see if your
direct and Internet marketing materials are on track:

Direct Mail
• Are you consistent with type fonts and treatments?
• Do you use photography and images that follow brand guidelines?
• Do you maintain the “voice” of the brand in copy?
• Does the content convey your unique positioning in the marketplace?

• Is your core message immediately clear to site visitors?
• Is your brand image consistent throughout your site?
• Does your website work in harmony with other media channels?
• Do you keep your promises on your website?
• If you removed your logo, would your customers know it’s you?

• Do you use a consistent email template for all your emails?
• Do you follow the branding guidelines for subject lines, signatures, and email content?
• Do you adhere to graphic standards, including font choice, color palettes, and images?

When to bend the rules.

Let’s face it, direct marketers like to bend the rules — a little bit. For direct marketing, some of the typical rules of advertising don’t apply. Or, they might need to be reshaped.

Sometimes, it may be necessary to “bend” the branding guidelines or to expand on them in order to take full advantage of the marketing tool being used. Here are some examples of when you might bend the rules:

Direct Mail
• Photography or imagery that works for print or television may have less impact in direct mail. The product may need to be demonstrated, or for a service, a feeling may need to be portrayed.
• The copy tone is often more urgent and expressive in direct mail. It may require more emphasis and a drive to spur consumers to action.

• The Web offers a unique opportunity to speak to many audiences. For instance, if you want to reach customers, prospects, and a sales force, you may need to adjust the copy tone and appearance of different sections of your website to provide more relevant information based on the audience.

• An email must be quick. While it’s important to be professional, you may need to be more abrupt and to the point.
• You must be careful using clever wording, double meanings, and puns online. Consumers are more wary of email messages and may question your credibility.

Building the image and brand presence of your company and its products or services takes patience and time. And, it requires the ability to remain consistent. It’s easy to become bored with the same logo and message, but that adherence to the brand is what will eventually make it stick in consumers’ minds. Following the corporate branding guidelines and standards will help you remain loyal to your brand.