Taking Care of Brand-ness

Matt Kollmorgen In our media-saturated world, instant recognition is everything. Effective branding has become the touchstone of consumer trust and the engine of growth. More than ever, brand identification is the means by which a company establishes credibility and the market measures worth. According to BusinessWeek, the dollar-value of the nation’s top five brands – apart from calculable sales – tops out at $68 billion. In recent years – with the examples of Nike or Starbucks as historical reference points – the importance of protecting and promoting brands has received voluminous attention. The power of branding is no secret, yet remarkably few companies have the necessary tools for mastering brand stewardship. There’s a reason for that. The tools have not been easy to come by. By contrast, software packages for supply and inventory, finance and human resources or workflow and information, are available in great abundance. Most marketing departments are not similarly equipped. That’s a considerable detriment, because the need for up-to-date brand management has never been greater. Multi-tiered corporations launch new brands and sub-brands continuously, and the defin ition of brand has evolved from simple logo treatments to elaborate marketing strategies with corporate-wide application. The result? Marketing departments are hardpressed to negotiate the magnitude of messaging that’s needed to connect with buyers. Complicated production and approval cycles and convoluted file types diminish brand impact, and that means a delay in seizing opportunities. We are a society that buys on the basis of brand, and we have a keen eye for detail. Once a brand gains ground in the marketplace and becomes a recognizable symbol of our proudly consumerist culture – a process that has been greatly accelerated but will always be elusive – it is imperative that the brand be precisely marketed. Deviations in color, shape or placement send an aversive message to buyers. The public has come to equate logos with the company and products they represent, and the identifying image must be reliably executed. Buyers overwhelmed with information and image instinctively seek what they know and trust. Brands perceived as squishy – brands that seem to morph from day to day – quickly squander that trust. They can’t compete for mind-share with professionally executed campaigns. The question is how to turn today’s technology toward the protection and promotion of brand equity. Taking the trouble to audit agencies, printers, and agencies to ensure they have identical logo versions and compatible digital media – and that those elements are properly handled – is a first step. Corporations frequently have multiple versions of files at various vendors, leading to confusion and mistakes. The traditional method of maintaining

order, a brand-standards-and-guidelines book, is expensive to produce and unavoidably static. Brand usage evolves before new books can be printed. The solution is hardly matter of theory: Brand organization requires centralization. Brand assets should be committed to a central holding zone, the sole purpose of which is to provide the correct and consistent use of the brand in its various applications. All involved enjoy full access, but subcontracted brand caretakers assume final responsibility for correct usage. In today’s world, there’s little room for argument that such a repository should be web-based. The technology for managing, protecting, and distributing the numerous digital files that make up a brand through the web – and for keeping close track of them – is well in place. Companies that fail to take advantage of such technology and leave their brands vulnerable to misapplication – and to inconsistent recognition – do so at their own peril.

Matt Kollmorgen, Director, Marketing & Branding Technologies at Aquent Consulting, can be contacted at (617) 535-4584 or mkollmorgen@aquent.com.