What is brand governance and enablement (how do you master it)?
The way we govern our brands needs to change. It’s time to say goodbye to control and hello to employee enablement. Here’s why and how to do it.
It used to be pretty easy to “control” brand consistency before digital channels became the primary avenue for connecting with customers. Companies could hire a single brand manager to take control of their projects, and every customer-facing campaign, product, and communication received their approval before going out the door.
But in today’s world, that “top-down” approach to brand governance simply isn’t possible. Companies need to publish more content faster to keep their brand top of mind. And with more digital channels than ever, the old brand governance approach is impossible to scale.
As workloads increase, brand managers either spend their days picking which campaigns they can ignore, or creating backlogs that affect the whole organization. Teams are left waiting in the queue or forced to take shortcuts to complete and publish their projects on time.
Companies need to make changes to the way they govern their brands. Here’s how you can take a modern approach to brand governance and management in your business.
What is brand governance?
Brand governance encompasses all the efforts made by a business or organization to control the presentation and use of its brand in both internal and public spaces. Often, this includes brand guidelines, brand asset management, and approval workflows that ensure all projects reflect the desired brand identity.
Essentially, brand governance often refers to all the work done by a company to control the use and presentation of its brand. It includes how the brand’s used internally (within the business) and how it’s presented externally (in public spaces, both online and offline).
Brand governance doesn’t just cover your brand’s visual identity. As well as working to improve visual consistency, it also looks at how the brand sounds, which includes messaging and tone of voice.
There are two main approaches to brand governance:
- The “iron fist” approach, where your brand manager acts as the sole guardian of your brand identity
- The “lean” approach, where the entire organization is responsible for developing and maintaining a consistent brand identity.
The “iron fist” approach was the traditional approach to brand governance. It seemed like the best option — with one person solely responsible for the brand, they’d know exactly how it should look and feel. Unfortunately, it wasn’t as effective as most businesses thought because it didn’t eliminate “off-brand” collateral and campaigns.
Teams still created “off-brand” content if they were using out-of-date brand guidelines and assets or didn’t have access to the guidelines to work from. Then, they’d face delays waiting for the brand manager to review and correct their work before they could publish it. This approach created tensions between teams and left employees feeling disconnected from the brand — it felt more like an inconvenience than a core part of the business.
The “lean” approach is the modern approach to brand governance. It enables everyone to work on brand projects asynchronously and increases brand advocacy within the organization. Employees and external partners feel more connected to the brand and more excited to share it with the outside world – both on and off the clock.
With this approach, the brand team hands off brand guardianship and governance to other departments in their organization. Teams can work on their own projects using the shared guidelines and assets. Then, brand managers can stop feeling like the “brand police” and instead spend more time answering questions, updating brand materials and guidelines, and holding regular brand workshops to strengthen brand knowledge. As a result, everyone feels closer to the brand, and better understands its value to the organization.
While the “lean” approach is often associated with small, hip startups, it also holds a lot of potential for larger, more established companies.
Why brand governance is essential for fast-growing brands
Effective brand governance helps you build a consistent brand and customer experience. It provides three main benefits.
1. Effective brand governance helps build trust
Brand governance makes it easier to develop a strong, recognizable identity for your brand. It helps your whole team be consistent in their use of visuals, messages, and how they communicate and express your brand values, so everything you publish is on-brand.
Staying consistent in your visual style, messaging, communication, and values helps build trust in your brand through recognition. You provide a consistent customer experience across all touchpoints, wherever they interact with your brand. For example:
- Watching a brand advert on YouTube
- Reading an email from your marketing team
- Getting a post-sales notification
- Or contacting your customer support team.
If you provide a consistent experience every time a customer interacts with your brand, you start to build trust. And trust helps strengthen your relationships with your best customers until they become brand ambassadors or champions.
2. It strengthens employees’ connection with the brand
A strong brand can be an effective employee retention tool. If employees feel connected to your brand, it gives them a sense of purpose that’s bigger than their individual job, so they’re working for more than just their paycheck.
The modern approach to governance allows all employees to create and use brand assets, so it becomes part of their job. They can see how their work affects the brand and helps build its reputation.
Brand governance makes it easier for employees in every department to engage with brand-related projects. Providing regular training and centralizing your brand assets gives everyone access to the tools and templates they need to use the brand in their work, which helps them feel more closely connected to it.
3. It increases internal brand ownership and accountability
Brand governance gives employees a shared sense of ownership for your brand — something they actively want. In our study of more than 750 brand, marketing, and design professionals, 69% of people said they wanted more ownership over the development and management of their brand.
Effective brand governance helps employees across the business strengthen their understanding of the brand. They understand what it means to the company and its customers, and why it’s so important. Once they appreciate that brand building is more than just paying attention to logos and colors, they start to recognize the value a consistent brand brings to the business.
This helps them appreciate their contributions to the brand and encourages them to take more ownership and responsibility.
How to achieve brand governance excellence
Your brand governance strategy aims to empower teams across your organization to shape your brand. So you need to ensure you have the right digital solutions, processes, and resources available.
From a technology standpoint, you need solutions that allow you to standardize your organizational brand processes, increase efficiency, and keep everyone on the same page. Brand managers also need to set up clear processes for change management, create a proper training plan, and support team members as they adapt and learn to use the brand “correctly.”
Here’s how to achieve this.
Make your brand vision public
Your teams can’t help you build a recognizable, cohesive brand if they don’t know what it should look and feel like.
Start by sharing your brand guidelines with employees across your organization. Your design team will use it for custom design requests, and everyone else will be able to modify ads, presentations, and one-pagers without veering off-brand.
Most companies’ guidelines focus on their visual brand elements — logos, color palettes, fonts, and images. But it’s also valuable to share your voice guidelines with your employees, as it can improve consistency in your company’s communication.
Sales and Customer Support teams will be better able to say the right things. Marketing and HR can convey the right messages in their campaigns and outreach. It will even help product managers and developers use the right tone when crafting UX copy and building customer-facing solutions.
However, if you want to make sure your teams are always on-brand, static brand guideline PDFs aren’t enough. Your teams need the most up-to-date information in real-time. That way, when changes are made to the guidelines and assets are updated or replaced, no one is left out of the loop.
With Frontify’s Brand Guidelines, you can move all of your design and messaging rules to the cloud. You’ll maintain editing rights, but everyone in your organization will have 24/7 access to the information. That means you won’t have to send out a new PDF anytime a change is made, or worry about whether your teams are using the right assets.
Brands are ever-evolving. Even if your core color palette and messaging don’t change, your voice and stylistic choices can. So as your brand evolves, it’s important to keep everyone informed. This can mean the difference between a successful pivot and a bunch of off-beat campaigns.
Take Coca-Cola, for example. Their slogan, logo, and overall messaging have changed drastically over the past few decades. But they’ve been able to make these changes feel seamless because their employees were kept in the loop, and they made a unified shift from one version of their brand identity to another, each time.
Fortunately, communicating with your employees doesn’t have to be complicated. It can be as simple as sending out a brand newsletter to update your employees as guidelines change. In fact, with Frontify’s Brand Updates, you can create and send out branded newsletters easily. It allows you to customize your messaging by team and department, so people get the most relevant information for their roles and priorities.
Develop a brand governance framework
A brand governance framework will give internal team members the top-level information they need to represent your brand correctly. It helps everyone in the company understand how their role contributes to building the brand and who can provide support and answers to any brand-related questions.
Develop your brand governance framework by:
- Mapping out people’s brand responsibilities, both at a departmental and individual level
Setting out the processes that will help achieve brand compliance, such as approvals and feedback
- Sharing details of available training and resources to empower people to learn more about the brand
- Listing all the tools and technology they should use to create, use, and store branded assets. For example, brand guidelines, digital asset management tools, or creative brand templates.
Companies should develop a brand governance framework as a first step toward achieving brand governance excellence. Developing a framework forces you to think about your brand within the wider context of your company. Creating the framework will help you develop the processes and internal resources that will help you achieve and maintain brand compliance across all teams in the business.
Use brand governance tools
Brand governance tools make it easier for everyone to access and use brand materials, giving them greater ownership over brand-related work. While technology isn’t the answer to all your brand compliance challenges, the right tools can make it easier to achieve.
Companies can use a range of tools to manage their brand, such as:
- Brand guidelines tools
- Digital asset management tools
- Platforms to manage file sharing and permissions
- Design tools
- Collaborative online workspaces
Alternatively, you may find it easier to use an all-in-one brand management platform like Frontify. The main benefit of an all-in-one platform is that all your tools integrate with one another. This means you can access your brand guidelines and approved assets straight from your design tools, giving you one dedicated place for everything related to your brand.
Centralize your brand assets
When your employees need assets, they need them now. They can’t afford to wait hours or days for someone to send them the right logo or share approved images for certain campaigns. And you don’t have the bandwidth to respond to every request that lands in your inbox, anyway. If you do, you’ll never get to the projects that actually need your attention.
Unfortunately, if all of your brand assets are locked inside your desktop computer or stored in the marketing department’s shared drive folder, neither one of you has a choice.
Thankfully, you can avoid this stress by centralizing your brand assets and storing all your documents, logos, images, videos, and collateral in a shared, online asset management system. For example, Frontify’s DAM helps employees and other stakeholders access everything they need on their own. You won’t need to email back and forth or worry about publication mistakes. They’ll have exactly what they need on-demand.
Protect sensitive information
Effective brand governance combines employee empowerment and enablement with creative control to ensure the long-term health of your brand.
Even when you involve your entire organization in the brand building process, you don’t want everyone to have access to everything. If they do, it puts your brand at risk. Document the different permissions and access rights in your brand governance framework to clearly explain who has access to what — and how to change that if necessary.
For example, if you work with freelancers or external agencies, you don’t want them to view or download internal documents that aren’t relevant to them. Graphic designers might need the HEX or RGB numbers for your color palette, but they don’t need the details about your messaging. And if you’re working with a copywriter or social media marketer, the opposite is true.
By setting up access controls to your brand guidelines and assets via Frontify’s Access Rights, you can decide who has access to what and for how long. This simplifies freelance and agency contracts and makes offboarding easier, as you can revoke access as soon as employees wrap up their last day.
Train people regularly
The better your employees understand your brand, the better they are at keeping their projects aligned with it. So training your employees is an essential part of your brand strategy to document in your brand governance framework.
Training should cover:
- The value of your brand identity
- How and when certain brand assets should be used
- How to find and download brand assets
- Where to access your brand guidelines and how to use them
- The best ways to collaborate on cross-functional projects
- How to submit projects for feedback and approval by the brand team
- How to request support from designers
- How managers should guide brand projects and correct mistakes within their departments
And this is true no matter how many hundreds of employees you have or what your work environment looks like. Regular training will help your employees become knowledgeable, confident brand experts, well-equipped to build a memorable brand.
Offer help if needed
Even the best-laid plans don’t always go according to plan. Sometimes unexpected problems or questions pop up.
In these situations, it’s best not to leave your employees and external partners to figure it out on their own. By encouraging them to reach out to you via Slack, email, intranet, or SMS, you can offer a vital layer of support to your organization’s brand management efforts.
You can answer their questions directly or point them to the guidelines that will. You can even solve problems preemptively, by implementing solutions designed to clear up confusion, like Frontify’s Workflows, collaboration spaces, approval processes, and more. With a variety of options available, you can rest assured you won’t be stuck answering FAQs all day long.
Master brand governance now — and in the future
For brand managers, maintaining absolute control over your brand may feel more comfortable and safe. But it isn’t the best option if you want your brand to be the best it can be — and it gets even more challenging as the company (and team) grows.
The sooner you can enable everyone in the business to take shared responsibility for the brand, the better. However, things can get complicated as the company scales, and you develop different global and regional variations of your brand.
So to help you learn brand governance best practices from some of the top experts, and their experiences governing global brands, we’ve put together this report that you can download below.