Brand is not just a logo, not just a visual identity. Sure, it’s where the concept came about – branding irons marked livestock with a symbol that identified each beast as the property of an individual. But brand means so much more. It’s how you want to be perceived. It includes every possible visible facet of your company. Ultimately it’s a feeling you wish to invoke. And feelings, we all know, can be volatile, unpredictable and irredeemably damaged.
So how do you maintain the brand you were aiming to create, its identity and integrity? With rules, I’m afraid. Rules and a robust system of procedures to enforce them. Above all, you need the buy-in and support of the company’s upper echelons and the support for and from a team dedicated to reputation management.
At a minimum there are four sets of rules you should have in place; a checklist of policies which ensure brand protection and reputation management.
- Press policy
- Social media policy
- Corporate identity guidelines
- Style guide
‘No comment’ can do more damage than silence. It carries the whiff of guilt. Equally you don’t want staff, and that should include Board-level personnel, chatting to the press at will. Every company should have a press policy in place, directing all press enquiries to a PR department that’s skilled in dealing with the wiliest or most persistent of journalists.
PR gets a bad name – some regard it as spin, hiding the truth, an excuse for news, and worse besides – but without the benefit of a sound press policy your company can miss out on the chance to pass on positive news, and carry out damage limitation on negative news. Your PR department protects your brand, your investment, your clients, and the livelihood of all your employees.
Social media policy
Like it or loathe it, social media is more than a passing fad. According to a UK Global Web Index survey conducted in January 2009 people trust the opinions of their online social network, and even bloggers they’ve never met, more than television news presenters, and only marginally less than colleagues. Around 40% of UK adults use social media at least once a month, and that number is predicted to increase. Ignore it at your peril; embrace it to control it.
Quite a few companies have suffered adverse publicity through the internet. It’s word of mouth on a global and instant scale. Construction companies have had site staff film dangerous and foolish antics and published their footage on YouTube, complete with company name emblazoned on seemingly ironic safety gear. Elsewhere staff have used social media to deliver damning verdicts on their employers and colleagues. Bad news folks, on the web nothing is truly private. A zero-tolerance attitude towards social media won’t protect you and can even generate negative publicity in itself. It’s time to take social media seriously.
Corporate identity guidelines
The original meaning of brand still matters as part of a whole. Designed well, a logo and rules about its application can influence public perception. Beyond the use of such established psychology, a company’s visual identity is a statement of professionalism. Consistency is sacrosanct. Any change should be undertaken with a specific aim in mind, and carefully timetabled and introduced. Shoddy use of your visual brand smacks of a ‘don’t care’ attitude, and even at a subconscious level your customers and clients may react negatively.
Think about it – when you receive mailings from Virgin trying to convince you to take up their latest broadband offering – every word, every colour, every instance of logo is positioned just so. If global firms place such importance on corporate identity, why should you be any different? If you want clients to respect your brand, you need to do the same.
A style guide might be built into your corporate identity guidelines, but should be available as a standalone document. It should go without saying that both style guide and corporate identity manual are distributed to every department and available to every individual. Of particular importance are bid teams, marketing, PR/comms teams, secretaries/PAs, print & graphic design departments, as well of course as any external PR, marketing, creative or design agencies you engage.
Your style guide isn’t just about when to use a capital or when an abbreviation is acceptable, although these are vital components. It outlines your corporate tone of voice and increases consistency across your communications channels. And as with visual identity, consistency is the essence of a professional image. Why would you want your clients, or even your own staff, to receive anything but the impression you wish to convey?
And why am I, a copywriter, telling you these things? Two reasons. With a background in corporate communications and public relations I’ve seen first-hand how everyone from salesman to Board member can put a foot wrong. I’ve also seen how useful an external perspective can be and how important it is to have your policies worded in such a way their contents are not just understood but embraced.
You’ve spent time and money, sweat and tears creating a brand of which you can be proud – now don’t overlook protecting it.