Your official business brand starts with a logo and – hopefully – some guidelines about how to use it. But brand is far more than that: it’s about using words, symbols and imagery in careful combination, and using them consistently. Moreover, brand isn’t a single static concept: it grows and develops in tune with changes in the business. Brand is organic. And organic things evolve and decay if they aren’t cared for.
Healthy businesses change over time and a healthy brand must keep pace with these changes. Over time, whether from inside or outside the organisation, there are changes and developments that result in a strong risk of the brand identity dispersing and weakening.
There are a number of reasons why brands decay; here we’re going to look at just four of them:
The first point in the lifecycle of a business when brand decay is often observed is early on.
When a company starts out, it’s a beautiful idea with huge potential. But small start-up businesses often don’t have the money to spend on a full range of fancy collateral and professional branding, so they settle for an inexpensive logo and a website made by a friend using a free template and free images, which is a perfectly reasonable way to get a business up and running and visible.
But once the business is a little more established, the brand image isn’t quite right anymore – not quite up to scratch. Sometimes, too, there’s a change in emphasis early on, as the business adapts to clients’ needs, and the original expectations and business offering shift.
This leads to an “ugly duckling” stage, where brand and reality are out of sync. The business has grown and matured, and the brand image doesn’t reflect this: the original duckling-feather brand needs to transform into something more mature and professional.
It isn’t just start ups that change: more established organisations that are evolving may also experience brand decay.
In bigger and more mature organisations, even when there’s a clear strategic approach to growth and when the central mission and vision remain constant, staff turnover, changes in products and services, and the need to keep up with evolving client needs mean that a business can be rather different at year end from how it started out. Again, there may come a time when there is a mismatch between the current brand and what the business actually needs.
In addition, when a business is growing, it’s tempting to avoid committing to employing more staff immediately. But relying on bought-out service providers can be detrimental to brand.
There are a number of areas where bought-out expertise is very common, and where external suppliers are granted authority to communicate on behalf of an organisation. This can have a major effect on consistency of messaging, and there are three main areas where brands are particularly vulnerable:
All these different people are communicating on behalf of your organisation, and if you don’t constantly micro-manage, it’s very hard to be certain that everything is kept on brand.
It sounds as if keeping things in-house might help. But this isn’t always a solution.
Limited budgets frequently lead to localised, in-house communications, where we get untrained and inexpert staff doing their best. Perhaps they are creating social media content or producing their own presentation slides; maybe each department produces its own leaflets independently, each person creates their own email signature and sets up their own out-of-office responders. It’s important to recognise that goodwill is not the same as skill and, however good your staff intentions are, if there is no qualified central supervision, your brand will probably begin to fray at the edges.
Each time your business communicates, every visual or verbal expression of your business, whether in print or digital format, from a business card to the sign in the foyer of your office building, from pay slips to glossy printed brochures, from email signatures to social media avatars, from the company website to blog posts, serves to define your corporate identity.
Each of these communications reveals something about the company’s self-image and about its attitude, and each is an opportunity to strengthen – or weaken – the way others see your brand.
By making sure that everyone – in-house staff member or external collaborator – who produces any kind of content or communication for business realises how vital your brand is, and is fully informed and equipped with the tools and understanding to convey the agreed message, you are creating a cost-effective system to establish, consolidate and promote your brand.
But the more people who are communicating on your behalf, the more disperse your message will become, which is why brand curation is vital, with regular reviews of messaging content and presentation. This will allow you to consolidate, re-group and move forward together.
Your brand needs care and attention if it is to continue to serve your business needs.
Phone: 0798 661 3437
Gwyneth Box is director at Tantamount, a full-service agency with international experience in brand creation and development. Working across sectors in both print and digital spaces, Tantamount specialises in creating outstanding designs and inspiring experiences that communicate corporate values and engage with customers and other stakeholders, turning them into fans and advocates for your brand.