AntiConLX recap: Brand governance in the age of digital transformation
Companies need to make changes to the way they govern their brands. We chatted with Caitlin Burr, Design Lead at Utility Warehouse, to learn how she takes a modern approach to brand governance and management at her organization.
A recap from our talk at AntiConLX Global
Caitlin Burr joined Utility Warehouse (UW) in late 2019. She started as a Senior Designer, bridging the gap between the contract creative team that was brought in specifically for UW's rebrand and the in-house BAU design team that was focused on maintaining the current brand. She soon stepped up to Design Lead, which is what she's been doing for the last 3 years. In that time, she has found herself naturally taking up the mantle of brand guardian as part of her role.
She recently spoke with Jo Kahil, Customer Success Manager at Frontify, for a talk on brand governance at AntiConLX Global on May 25, 2023. See below for the recording as well as a lightly edited transcript of the conversation.
1. What challenges does design solve at UW?
Let’s face it, utilities and home services aren’t sexy. Or exciting. Or fun. So design has allowed us to be playful, and we’ve crafted a sense of personality through our branding. It has also helped us hammer home our reputation. We're a 25-year-old business that trades on the London Stock Exchange, but until recently most people had never heard of us. Through our rebrand we’ve created a cohesive brand experience that speaks to the established company we are.
The design range that was built into the brand look-and-feel also means we have a lot of tools in our arsenal for the many channels and touch points we utilize on a daily basis. For instance, when we first launched and didn’t have a library of custom photography to utilize, we leaned heavily on our illustration style until we worked out a better photography solution. So, yes, design has helped solve quite a number of challenges for us.
2. Design touches so many aspects of a business. To give us an idea of your brand ecosystem at UW, which stakeholders (internally and externally) do you work with regularly?
For being an in-house creative team, we actually run very agency-like and contribute to almost all areas of the business.
At UW we have three distinct audiences: Customer, Internal / Employee, and then our unique route to market, The UW Partner network. The majority of briefs coming across my team's desks come from Marketing and Product teams representing these audiences. That includes separate teams for each service of Energy, Broadband, Mobile and Insurance, along with Internal Comms and PR, Social, Digital Advertising, Learning & Development, HR, Partner Events, Training, Facilities, and more. I like to think it’s a mark of a successful brand when so many teams are excited to implement the look that they are vying for the design team’s resources and efforts.
There is also a lot of influence from the Partner network so we’re often designing with them in mind and have been known to incorporate their feedback or ideas into our workflow.
Besides that, I also manage the typical relationships with several external vendors, agencies, and freelancers.
3. Utility Warehouse went through a rebrand. What did you learn from that process? And how has your martech stack helped with the rebrand?
Getting to be a part of the rollout of our rebrand was an invaluable experience. I had never worked for a company as large as UW. More than a year after the launch of the rebrand, my team was still discovering bits of marketing collateral that needed to be updated. At the start of the rollout it was all about getting everything in line and keeping a tight grasp of the brand. We wanted to avoid any deviation that could snowball and end with us in the position where we were pre-rebrand, which was a business with about 40 different shades of purple, over 30 mini sub brands, and zero consistency. We relied heavily on Frontify as our living, breathing brand guidelines and digital asset manager, keeping it our ultimate source of truth and the central place we could direct anyone in the business to.
Once the brand was firmly established, it was time to widen the scope of what we would consider on-brand just to keep up with demand for fresh campaigns, events, new tools, and initiatives. We’ve been welcoming new tools and platforms to scale these efforts along with making sure our brand guidelines on Frontify are kept up-to-date and reflect the latest brand development.
4. Can you give us a few examples of the new tools and platforms you just mentioned? Have they helped scale creative output?
Truly, Frontify has been a key platform for us. It was initially an education tool when we launched and communicated the rebrand, but it has evolved to be our digital asset manager and go-to location for all things brand. We are now even doubling down and introducing a self-serve design templating solution through Frontify which has been really well received so far. It’s extra great to be able to offer this solution within the same platform with a familiar UI. We hope this means adoption will be higher as a result. With no limit to the number of self-serve templates we can create, this should have a major impact on lightening the load of repetitive tasks coming into the design team. This will allow for energy to be spent on more valuable ad hoc work, which is obviously much more engaging for designers to focus on and a better use of their time.
Alongside Frontify, another tool we’ve been using is Snappr, an on-demand photography service (think Uber but for photography). Snappr has allowed us to become really agile at capturing new imagery and means we’ve been able to build up our photography DAM library at pace.
Retortal is another tool we’ve just launched - this one is targeted at UW Partners. It’s a social posting tool that allows the business to provide an extensive library of approved, on-brand designs for our Partner’s organic social channels with personalization allowed within strict parameters that we set. This is perfect for our needs, as Partners are chomping at the bit to market themselves. Previously they have gone to sometimes outrageous lengths to cobble together their own designs which can be disheartening as a designer to see it online, diluting the brand. So we’re very excited about that tool, too.
5. According to a recent report from Brand Directory, Utility Warehouse saw significant brand value growth this past year, increasing 118% to £364.4 million. Because you work at such a fast-growing company, how do you view brand guardianship?
Every brand needs a brand guardian. There needs to be that strong voice that is decisive and assertive with the confidence to stand up for the integrity of the brand. Sometimes it really is a matter of picking your battles though. It’s worth considering the audience and the shelf-life of a given asset. For example, if it’s someone’s very first exposure to the brand, either as a new employee or a new customer, I tend to be much stricter about designs adhering to the core brand than say a campaign that is running for a limited time. You do need to offer some flexibility or the brand could go stale or risk becoming white noise.
Bringing the business along for the journey of the brand is key. It's important to get them onboard and then follow through with the tools and education they need in order to feel empowered to use it within the parameters you’ve set. It’s also important to keep a good relationship with other teams so you don’t find out they’re creating and publishing work in the background without your oversight. The Creative Team at UW prides itself on being approachable and collaborative. This has led to all manner of teams throughout the business using our expertise to elevate their projects, which is a nice feeling.
6. Technology is only as good as its adoption. How have you increased the adoption of your marketing tools like Frontify?
We started by keeping the tools we used very focused. Frontify was our brand bible and the one place we could direct all brand enquiries. We then kept Frontify relevant for people by updating it as the brand evolved and by continuously building up the DAM libraries. We’re now in a position where we’re rolling out self-serve design templates through Frontify. As I mentioned before, I like to think part of the reason it’s been so well received in testing is because it’s a familiar platform everyone is used to using already.
For other tools in our arsenal, like Asana, we make training part of our on-boarding process so staff in Marketing are exposed to it from day one. Then we offer general tune-up sessions if we start to notice bad habits.
We also recognize when tools aren’t working and look to find alternative solutions. We don't want to ask people to adopt a tool that doesn’t deliver. And I’d like to think that means the wider business trusts that when we introduce a tool we want them to adopt, it’s worth their time and energy.
7. Lastly, what are some current pressing challenges that you're trying to solve on your team?
I’d say the biggest challenges we’re currently experiencing come from the company’s growth since launching the rebrand in 2020. There are still growing pains even now when we discover areas that weren’t previously considered or factored into initial design decisions. But on the flip side, we also developed a few design systems or rules that are unnecessarily complicated in hindsight. As we look to roll out the self-serve design templates, it' s an ideal time for us to streamline these rules, dissect what is and isn’t working within the brand, and keep it evolving.
Learn more about how you can achieve effective brand governance
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