Is your marketing sending mixed messages to your prospects and customers? That might be the case, but it’s understandable. In any growing business, all hands are usually on deck to get things done. That’s great when it comes to productivity, but when you have various employees creating everything from event flyers to large graphics without any centralized brand and design controls, the result can be a messy collection of collateral materials and messages that don’t reflect your business goals.
“Many small business owners wear several hats,” says Christina Okubo, founder of Los Angeles-based brand consultancy O/Department. “Often, they have a sense of the importance of consistency, but they may not have the filters necessary or the time and controls it takes to implement it,” says Okubo, who worked with brands like Levi’s and Target prior to launching her firm.
Don’t fret. You can get everyone on the same page, literally and figuratively, with a few simple steps:
1. Review Your Materials
It’s important to first be clear about the visual images you’ve been putting out and what needs to be done to get them looking and sounding like they’re from the same company, says Becky Wang, co-founder and head of strategy for Crossbeat, a New York City branding agency.
“People not only have to recognize you, they have to feel the authenticity—that the way you’re acting and the way you’re speaking as a brand is consistent, as well,” she says. From a visual and marketing standpoint, that means looking at your color palette, logo, brochures, website, social media presence, and other elements you’re using to communicate about your brand, she says. Look at where these materials look on target—and where they don’t.
2. Put Your Guidelines in Writing
It’s easiest to get everyone on board with how your brand should look if you outline some basic guidelines for external communications, Okubo says. That includes the specific colors your company uses, how your logo should be presented, and the type of typography you use for various pieces. If you work with outside vendors to handle some design, they may be able to offer input on specifics, such as the exact color or typeface. In addition, the guidelines will help other creative vendors ensure they’re producing the right look, as well.
3. Provide Context
Sending out brand guidelines without any explanation can feel like an admonishment to employees who were just trying to do their best to help get messages and information to key audiences, Wang says. When you distribute the guidelines, include a positive letter stating how the guidelines are meant to strengthen the brand, which benefits everyone. If it’s possible to have an in-person briefing process, that’s best, Wang says.
4. Create Systems
As your business grows and adds in-house design and marketing staff or works with an outside agency, create systems and protocols for creative needs. If a department needs a flyer or special Web page designed, requests should go to the creative team to ensure a consistent look in all images and external materials. As more projects funnel through professional designers and branding experts, the challenges of disparate messages and representation will begin to fade.
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