Brand Management Basics: How to Grow a More Relevant Brand Ecosystem
This document will empower you to devote more time building brand value and less time managing off-brand communications.
Each marketing communications tactic and customer touchpoint you develop contributes to building brand value for the organization.
Developing a Seamless Brand Infrastructure
Imagine if all of your marketing communications were consistently on brand.
The outcome would result in a precise story through which your brand purpose was made clear. And why audiences should think about your organization only within the competitive landscape.
But this can only be achieved by maintaining a seamless brand infrastructure.
All communications must be in sync. Everything. The content presented within the advertising, brand identity, fundraising, packaging, podcasts, publications, seminars, social media, videos, and website must track back to a central brand communications and design strategy.
Through the years, Michael Patrick Partners has listened to and learned from market leaders.
A recurring problem many clients share with us is the excessive time they must devote to correcting off-brand marketing communications.
Chief executive officers have stated that key talking points—presented to segmented audiences—are fragmented.
Chief marketing officers have offered similar statements. We routinely hear that the current positioning strategies are not being implemented across the enterprise—messaging is being diluted from within.
And a brand manager recently told us: “Our image is consistently inconsistent. Because we’ve made so many incremental changes to the identity system over the years, excessive time is spent policing the brand.”
To help resolve these issues, our design studio has created essential brand management tools to help refine and evolve brand infrastructure.
The Value of an Outsider’s Perspective
To start, maybe it’s time for an outsider’s epiphany. Or a creative partner who just gets you better.
In most cases, an objective party is best suited to move a brand forward.
Today’s business obstacles presented by COVID-19 and employees working from home have posed extraordinary challenges never envisioned. Marketing managers who apply objective recommendations from outsiders are thriving on multiple levels.
An educated outsider arrives with no preconceived ideas.
Bringing in people who think differently—and have vast experience—means internal teams are exposed to practices that can help them in the long run. It often equates to identifying more compelling marketing tactics that contribute to differentiating your brand, improving management processes, and enhancing brand relevance.
And this approach to team-building often leads to strengthening internal resources.
Organizations benefit from interaction with external creative partners who typically work faster than their client counterparts. Juggle multiple assignments with ease. And propose novel marketing strategies.
Consider outside help to memorialize and build your brand. The outcome will ensure all internal company ambassadors—from communications to marketing to sales—understand the brand framework more clearly and are therefore empowered to support a central story.
Essential Brand Management Tools
Your brand infrastructure environment must be integrated from end to end.
Essential components applied to refine and monitor a seamless brand infrastructure include a strategic brand communications strategy, an engaging brand identity system, a forward-thinking brand architecture, and comprehensive brand management assets.
Each marketing communications tactic that an organization develops must contribute to building brand value. Presenting a disciplined, holistic story by applying persuasive talking points and homogenous design will ensure audiences focus on (and recall) a strategic message.
In contrast, presenting disparate messages and allowing gaps to exist within the brand identity system cannibalize efforts to heighten brand recall.
The process required to build a more relevant brand resembles a marathon rather than a sprint. However, organizations that put in the time are rewarded with a brand that will evolve exponentially and logically.
Our philosophy—when faced with brand relevance challenges—is to promote the institution first and its products and services second. This means identifying the institutional brand drivers—an organization’s overarching guiding principles—as compared to those presented by competitors. And then passionately nurturing a relevant brand image.
A relevant, honest, and consistent brand image will support an institution during periods of market dominance and market challenges. Consider the many organizations that have remained strong by implementing a disciplined brand infrastructure. Top-of-mind brands include Apple, Coors, Jeep, McDonald’s, and the University of Notre Dame. By maintaining an unwavering institutional brand, those leaders continue to be rewarded with generations of faithful brand advocates.
A single-approach solution to brand management will not work. Identify what is most critical for your particular situation.
Brand Management Overview
Our goal is to help you build brand value at a specific period within an organization’s life cycle.
And while this document is not a deep dive into comprehensive brand management best practices, the processes do provide objective insights that will empower marketing professionals to evolve the relevance of messaging and aesthetics as it relates to their respective brand.
With that said, not all brands require an extensive brand infrastructure.
An early-stage startup should not commit to an intricate array of brand development resources early in the game—it’s important for a startup to be nimble. A restrictive branded environment could pigeonhole a startup and prevent it from responding quickly to market opportunities.
On the flip side, an organization that has successfully evolved into an expansion stage will benefit from comprehensive brand management tools—resources that ensure marketing management can communicate, implement, and monitor a harmonious brand infrastructure across all channels and segmented audiences.
And an organization that’s considering an IPO or acquisition requires a completely different approach to solidifying a market presence.
Think beyond a one-size-fits-all solution to brand management. Identify the solution that is most appropriate to move your brand forward.
Brand Communications Strategy
Distinguish your organization from the competitive landscape through a relevant market presence.
An integrated brand communications strategy includes identifying target audience personas, establishing brand drivers, and composing a differentiated message.
Brand Management Toolbox Your brand management toolbox should include the following: competitive messaging audit, brand driver analysis, SWOT analysis, brand platform, messaging system, and brand architecture modeling.
Competitive Messaging Audit Competitive monitoring helps develop distinctive campaign themes and avoids implementing messaging and creative directions in use by competitors, thus further differentiating an organization and mitigating any confusion in the marketplace.
Benchmarking Survey Before initiating work on a brand communications strategy, it’s prudent to hear from key stakeholder groups regarding their views of your desired market position. An online Likert scale survey can be used to gather data.
Target Audience Personas Personas are determined based on assumptions regarding demographics, interests, pain points, values, fears, motivations, and knowledge of your offerings.
Brand Communications Strategy Audit If a formal brand communications strategy has been developed for your organization, the brand platform and messaging system must be evaluated and observations made that address the relevance of messages presented to the segmented audiences.
Brand Driver Analysis Brand drivers are an organization’s underlying guiding principles. By memorializing the brand drivers, everyone within an organization can focus on, and contribute to, a fluid audience brand experience.
Brand Purpose A brand purpose statement is rooted in your business philosophy—a high-level thesis—to make stakeholders aware of why the organization exists and how it benefits the lives of those who experience the brand. The goal is to clarify what external audiences should expect from interactions with your brand as a whole. It’s an internal declaration—not published for the outside world—to guide and hold everyone accountable to the larger picture.
Value Proposition A value proposition is the desired emotional connection between an organization and the audience—the functional requirements, emotional response, and self-expressive attributes. It helps guide prospective customers through the buying journey, explains how a purchase will enrich their lives, and confirms their wise decision to acquire your brand. The value proposition is applied to strike a common chord with existing and prospective customers that leads to a higher value placed on your brand than that of competitors.
New SWOT Analysis In recent decades, the business world discovered that large companies are vulnerable to innovations and marketing tactics applied by seemingly weaker rivals. As a result, the old SWOT model has evolved to include more dynamic criteria.
Brand Platform (New or Revised) A brand platform is an essential brand management tool used to memorialize brand drivers. It helps ensure stakeholders understand and authentically represent the brand throughout all marketing activities.
Manifesto A manifesto is a call to action that reveals an organization’s culture and the desires of its target audience. Mentioning products and services in a manifesto is fine, but it’s not as critical as concentrating on audience care-abouts.
Messaging System A clearly articulated messaging system solidifies a market position, elevates a brand reputation, and reinforces a customer’s decision to purchase. The system is target-audience-driven and includes an overview of the audience’s key decision-making influences (care-abouts). Think of this work as translating points of difference into compelling, memorable content to be used throughout all touchpoints to bring your story to life and ensure consistency of content across all marketing channels.
Key Messages To break through today’s crowded information environment, you must determine one primary message to lead your brand communications strategy. From there, three to four supporting messages and talking points can be applied to help build brand value. In all cases, it’s critical to avoid the use of platitudes.
Taglines (To have or have not?) Not every organization needs a tagline. Developing a tagline, power slogan, or positioning phrase requires scrutiny and evaluation. A good tagline reflects your brand purpose—a generic tagline can be detrimental to a market image.
Legal Compliance It’s imperative to identify the legal restrictions and compliance requirements that will impact the messaging strategy—involve your legal counsel.
Brand Identity System
Your market image is a manifestation of the overarching brand identity system.
Components of the brand identity system form a brand personality and communicate a general impression of innovative versus conventional, playful versus serious, or luxurious versus frugal.
Competitive Creative Audit To ensure that a creative strategy is distinctive—whether it’s for a startup or growth-stage brand—complete an audit of the brand identity environments that exist within your competitive landscape.
Rorschach Test To initiate a startup or refreshed brand identity process, examples of branded environments you believe to be exceptional should be reviewed. Consider this a type of Rorschach test to learn visual and messaging preferences of your stakeholder groups.
Stakeholder Survey If a brand refresh is being considered, it’s prudent to conduct an additional online Likert scale survey with stakeholder groups to inform them of the assignment and identify requirements to achieve early adoption.
Creative Positioning There are many ways to develop a brand identity system. Think of the creative positioning step as a mood board that establishes expectations, recaps goals, and analyzes potential design and copy approaches—elements that embody the creative positioning strategy. You must also examine a strategic use of color palettes, imagery, and typography families.
Positioning Theme Positioning themes are used to direct creative strategies. Superior themes are honest and aspirational, suggest an outcome, and avoid generic axioms that can be applied to any organization or product.
Logo (or Wordmark) Brand identities that serve an organization long-term are simple, engaging, and easy to reproduce. A logo or wordmark cannot drive a brand’s success. However, our focus-group experience has proven that a relevant symbol (logo) that suggests the organization’s market or metaphorical interpretation helps strike a common chord with audiences.
If a brand refresh is being initiated, the initial exploration includes a historical reference of changes that have been made to the existing logo or wordmark through the years—along with a recap of the identity elements that must be preserved and weaknesses that can be evolved.
Animated Logos and Sound Marks Motion and sound present a unique brand personality. For many brands, a sound mark is just as significant as its visual counterpart.
Photography, Illustration, and Video Considerations Distinctive photography, illustration, and video imagery are essential elements used to achieve a particular graphic style or brand personality. Your goal is to use imagery in order to present a memorable, differentiated brand.
Color Palette Primary, secondary, and tertiary color palettes are developed to express the brand personality.
Social Media Templates A social media plan and creative executions are developed to ensure that the content tracks back to the brand communications strategy throughout the recommended social media platforms.
Email Marketing Campaign Templates Email marketing campaign templates are created to ensure that messaging and design are consistent with the creative positioning strategy.
Online Display Ad Templates Online ads pull the positioning theme through to digital channels. Strategies are developed to measure and optimize performance.
Literature, Merchandising, and Packaging System Templates System templates include sales and marketing literature, merchandising, and packaging. And when printed literature is necessary, use recycled FSC-certified paper.
Rollout Strategy Defining a rollout strategy ensures a smooth transition from distributing the first customer touchpoint through completion of an employee brand engagement kit.
Do not assume audiences know how your organization outperforms the competition—tell a complete story.
Brand Architecture System
No organization is too small to have a formal brand architecture system.
Brand architecture can be complex and a bit tricky to navigate—there isn’t enough room on these pages to explain best practices. However, one of the foremost modern authorities on the subject, David A. Aaker, has shared his expertise with the world. For a clear understanding of the subject, add his books to your library. Listed below is a summary.
Overview Simply stated, the purpose of brand architecture is to articulate how the roles of multiple brands function within an organization—how they interact or stand alone. There are myriad roads to follow when devising an appropriate structure. A forward-thinking brand architecture system results in coherent decisions and a reduction in the cost to manage a portfolio of brands. It also promotes a proactive mode of brand management and prevents brand erosion from within.
Brand Architecture Audit Brand alignment begins with an internal brand architecture audit. It’s an enlightening exercise used to understand existing strategic relationships between brands. Seeing those relationships mapped out is extremely helpful to outline (or adjust) an existing or anticipated architecture.
Architecture Relationships As mentioned above, brand architecture relationships are determined based on the complexities of existing or anticipated portfolios—this involves devising overarching strategies most commonly dictated by a branded house or house of brands. Within those environments, the roles that brand extensions, endorsed brands, sub-brands, and the like must play are then clarified.
Acquired Brand Guidelines Organizations that grow through acquisitions require guidelines to identify brand hierarchy relationships between an institutional (parent) brand and new additions. Identifying brand associations within the enterprise ensures that messaging and design work strategically to build brand value.
Beverage and Food Packaging Systems A forward-thinking system is essential for beverages and food. And while a one-size-fits-all strategy is easy to implement, be certain it is the most advantageous solution to grow market presence. Similar to literature design templates, product packaging designs must be envisioned and system guidelines produced to ensure a seamless brand experience.
Professional Services Systems A strategy is also required to market professional services in the banking, finance, insurance, and medical fields. Visual and naming relationships must be identified for products and services offered to segmented audiences.
Academic Systems Colleges and universities benefit from a clearly defined architecture to ensure that branded systems for athletics, centers, offices, partnerships, programs, and other school entities are correctly applied. While this can be seen as an extremely arduous undertaking, the rewards are far-reaching. An additional critical step to building a relevant academic brand portfolio includes making certain that managers who are responsible for guiding peripheral campus entities understand the value in establishing synergistic relationships within the brand portfolio.
Naming Architecture Systems A key component to managing a successful brand outcome is creating a product- and service-naming architecture. The best practice is to embark on the naming exercise before any design begins.
Brand Identity Lockups Designs for brand identity lockups for packaging and co-branding programs require special attention. In many cases, critical thinking must be applied to evaluate and expand the institutional brand identity guidelines to include special circumstances that fall outside obvious marketing requirements. Make certain that primary brand identity lockups have been translated for brand architecture applications before the need arises.
Brand Architecture Guidelines Once a brand architecture system has been completed, comprehensive brand architecture guidelines are created to communicate key design elements and sample applications.
Brand Management Assets
Fastidious management of brand assets is essential to maintaining on-brand communications.
No tactic, touchpoint, or message (internal or external) is unimportant—each item within each marketing channel must be on brand and express brand drivers.
Writing Style Guide and Messaging Lexicon Comprehensive writing style guides and messaging lexicons ensure content providers present cogent persuasive marketing talking points and a consistent thread of tone, punctuation, and style.
Digital Files Digital files must be created for a logo or wordmark, along with peripheral brand architecture entity lockups.
Brand Identity Guidelines Comprehensive brand identity guidelines articulate the brand architecture, brand identity, brand platform, messaging system, and writing style guide.
Online Brand Identity Guidelines Distribution Site A password-protected online brand identity guidelines distribution site is the perfect solution to ensure a consistent, up-to-date branded environment throughout all marketing channels.
Employee Training and Brand Engagement Creating brand management tools is one thing; having marketing teams eager to integrate new strategies into their day-to-day routine is another. Employee brand engagement kits communicate why a seamless brand environment is vital to the organization’s future and how each employee has the ability to impact the market presence in a positive way.
Brand Litmus Test When a project is initiated, messaging and design must be reviewed early on in the process. Waiting until a project is in the final stage of completion is too late.
Congratulations—you’re on the way to cultivating a more relevant brand ecosystem.
Distinguish your organization from the competitive landscape through a relevant market presence.
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