How to Stand Out in a Brand Standards World

How to Stand Out in a Brand Standards World

What would a communications program be like without brand standards? Inconsistent-and ineffective because of it. Providing an inconsistent brand experience would undermine a company’s brand and program objectives.

Large corporations need to adhere to brand standards to communicate a consistent identity and voice. Standards help build brand equity and they also support the company’s strategic message, making it more credible and powerful. It’s reassuring for a customer to hear the same voice and see a consistent visual expression of a brand. If they trust the brand and have had good experiences with it and its products, a consistent brand experience can, in their mind, confirm the wisdom of their choice and the value of continuing their relationship with the brand.

It would be hard to overrate the impact and value of consistency. Take Apple, for instance. Would you recognize a communication from Apple if it didn’t use Myriad, didn’t have clean design, or if it dropped its casual, friendly tone for a more formal expression? Not likely. We might not think about it, but we’re so used to the visual and verbal signals inherent in a top brand’s identity that we notice when one of its key elements changes.

While standards can provide a consistent brand experience, it’s actually more challenging to communicate the ways in which a product or service is differentiated from its competition. How can you make the message anything but standard while adhering to the more restricted range of creative options allowed by brand standards?

Embrace the brand standards. Read the guide fully and understand the constraints. Make friends with the company’s brand gurus and ask questions; there might be a few details that haven’t been completely thought through, and your real-world experience gives them the opportunity to fine-tune things. If you have questions about a particular issue and need more clarification or explanation, it’s likely others do too.

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Tell a great story. Brand standards attempt to standardize all aspects of communication from tone of voice to typography, and typically include templates that determine page design and placement of content. But companies still need agencies to play the role of information architect and storyteller, so it’s essential to effectively position the product’s benefits and explain its real-world value in ways that will engage, convince and motivate the target audience.

Push it strategically and creatively. While standards can limit creative options, smart agencies treat standards as a challenge and an opportunity to excel creatively while using any imposed limitation to their advantage as storytellers. How can you capture the target audience’s imagination and say something new while restricted to a template? It can be something as simple as finding the right image to work with a powerful headline, or creating a new or updated storyline for a product-strategic and creative approaches that work within the constraints of the brand standards but deliver anything but standard results.

When presented with standards, the first thing to think about is what you want to say to the target audience about the product, not how the standards limit what you can say or how you say it.