Every brand needs a guardian. It needs someone to uphold its core values and deliver a consistent output. This is about living and breathing a brand – knowing all the intangible but critical aspects from how your receptionist greets people to the type of coffee you serve – as well as the practical aspects such as knowing that the logo should never be printed smaller than 25mm across.
Successful brands have guardians who have spent time gaining this depth of knowledge and who have an instinctive feel for what is right and what will work. Yet all too often, in our experience, no one person takes control, responsibility is split between people or departments, and the brand is left unguarded. Dilution inevitably occurs and the delivery of the brand and its values across the business declines.
Who guards the brand?
One of the main reasons this happens is that marketing personnel change roles so often. According to recruitment consultants Spencer Stuart, the average tenure of a top 100 brand company’s marketing director is now just 22 months, while brand managers frequently come and go even more rapidly. There are many good reasons for this to happen, but it does make it difficult for marketers to act as brand guardians.
In this context we are seeing more and more brand teams look to their agencies to act as a brand steward. This approach certainly has its merits, but it is worth noting that this can only ever work as a partnership. No agency can ever hope to be the sole guardian of a brand. It will always rely on the marketers’ in-depth knowledge of the day-to-day workings of that company.
Agencies are able to bring a degree of permanence though, as well as an external perspective and objectivity, helping in-house teams to see new possibilities and learnings from different companies and sectors. Equally, while branding is only one of a great many areas for marketers to consider, the brand consultancy should be packed full of experts who specialise in only that topic.
Brand guardianship is an important and challenging role, and not every agency will be able to do it. Here are six questions to ask of any agency you are considering appointing to this role.
Can you trust them?
This should always be the first and most important question. You need to trust them to do the right thing. This is an essential part of any relationship with a brand guardian – more than anything else you need to know and trust all the people at that agency.
For smaller marketing teams, where they need an agency to act as an extension of their in-house team, this becomes even more critical. If they get it right then it can cut down layers of communications and ultimately save time and money.
Do they keep their staff
A brand guardian should be a repository of information about the brand, holding all the values, stories, facts, and so on that make the brand what it is. This can only be built over time, and so it is essential that the agency does not churn through staff. Not only will the knowledge dissipate, but you will spend far too much of your time training up new people.
For our healthcare client, it is the other way round. The same people at Incorporate have worked for them for more than 15 years, meaning that we work as an extension of their in-house team. Perhaps the best evidence of this is that all new members of our clients marketing team spend half a day of their induction with us.
Do they take time to understand you and your products or services
Brand guardians have to invest time to understand the nuances of the brand as well as all the more prosaic and technical issues across the business. Marketers should insist on an agency that makes the effort to learn these details.
Do they propose brave ideas?
Successful brand guardianship is not about keeping everything the same. It is about creating relevant evolutions within an existing framework. So, you need to ensure the agency you partner with as your brand guardian has the ability and the courage to make these proposals. Without these evolutions the brand could quickly become stale and irrelevant.
Do they deliver work that is about the brand, not about them or their style?
There are many agencies that can produce beautiful work. We like to think we do too. Yet what you need is not necessarily beautiful work. You need a pragmatic agency that will deliver the right solution for you, rather than work that looks good in their portfolio.
Are they able to creatively engage your staff to understand the brand and its values?
Brands are lived and breathed by the people in your organisation who deliver them, whether that is through a new advertising campaign or speaking to a customer in-store. Consequently, one of the most important, and under-rated aspects of brand guardianship is the ability to creatively engage staff to understand the brand and its values.
This should be done actively. Marketing teams and their agencies should be evaluating and shaping what people inside the company are thinking, saying and doing, with the aim that everyone in the organisation is upholding the values and delivering a consistent output – everyone in effect becomes a brand guardian.
We already play a brand guardian role for clients such as Alliance Healthcare and Fidessa. If you’d like us to help you safeguard your brand all you have to do is ask.