• Transform magazine
  • January 27, 2023


Going beyond brand guidelines and playbooks

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Tom Gilbert, executive creative director of Design Bridge Shanghai, discusses alternative thinking and solutions to brand inconsistencies in media and sales channels which can plague brand governance.

Brand owners and brand designers share a common sinking feeling when they observe the brand that they invested so much love and attention into appearing inconsistently across multiple media and sales channels. Of course, it’s frustrating and demoralising, but more importantly it’s not helping the brand reach its full potential.

In the world of marketing, the importance of brand building and its principal structures are widely understood; recognition and desirability, built from consistent and frequent positive emotional experiences with a brand, help to power brand growth. Despite this, the surrounding ecosystem is becoming more and more complicated, leaving plenty of room for inconsistencies or potential negative experiences, and creating plenty of difficulties for the people responsible for brand governance.

Current attempts to solve these issues come in the form of brand guidelines or playbooks; mammoth documents outlining the brand strategy, how it converts into an identity and then rules and suggestions on how to use said strategy and identity system to your advantage - with maybe a few mocked-up touchpoints on the 250th page. This method can work, but the larger the brand, the harder it is to regulate. Consequentially, this is made even harder for global brands dealing with locally nuanced markets and consumer behaviours.

It’s clear there’s a need for more thinking in this space and alternative options to guidelines and playbooks. One thought is for brand agencies to invest more in the approach and the talent required to make ideas happen. This would mean that brand teams have a single point of contact and the support of a bespoke design team, equipped with a deep understanding of their brand. Not only would this make the process more reliable but would ensure that the brand is brought to life in the hands and lives of consumers. Additionally, if the agency has talent with a deep understanding of each significant market, it will help the brand to be as globally consistent as possible yet remain locally relevant.

Global brand design agencies are well positioned to rise to the challenge but are similarly aware that there’s still much to achieve to be a true partner that brand teams can rely on for global brand governance and consistent execution in an omnichannel approach. As such, we should strive to strategically simplify the complexity of the challenges faced by global brands. Firstly, by identifying the unmet need of their consumers, both globally and locally, followed by designing a consistent brand identity that can be used across all markets and, lastly, by creating consistent and coherent brand experiences. That is, in my opinion, the simplest way to ensure brand consistency and subsequent brand growth.

To make this happen, we need to recognise an internal need to continuously up-skill teams, ensuring they remain aware and knowledgeable about multiple communication and sales channels. We must also utilise a diverse team of talent, capable of implementing the strategic ideas into real experiences; strategists and graphic communication designers are a must in any brand design agency, but to make the ideas come to life we need to also invest in industrial designers, CGI artists and animators, motion designers, UX/UI designers, software engineers, and creative producers. A fully formed multi-disciplinary team capable of weaving a brand world of consistent, relevant, and timeless brand touchpoints, the very fabric of brand growth.

To go beyond brand guidelines and achieve a seamlessly synchronized design system, we must ensure that we deliver beyond the expected; setting a standard for the brand touchpoints that can then be realistically replicated globally. This is achievable by hiring multi-talented and multicultural people all over the world, with new and desirable skills. Ultimately, helping the brand deploy their concept both physically and virtually in a globally consistent, yet locally relevant, manner. Sounds complex, yes, but it’s achievable with the right partners and a determined yet definitive vision for what’s right for the brand.