Once you’ve gone to the trouble of creating a recognisable brand, how do you look after it?
You might think brand guidelines are an unnecessary modern invention, but they’re actually as old as the hills, and a key part of your brand identity.
Elizabeth I, a master at personal branding, was an early adopter. She wished to promote herself as a powerful ruler. So she commissioned a chap called Nicolas Hilliard to create 16 ‘miniatures’ of her and gave them to key supporters.
She then established a council to control her personal image, which was allowed to destroy anything that it felt wasn’t ‘on brand’.
So despite growing wrinkly, toothless and pockmarked, we’re left with the serene image of the chalky white face, neck ruff and jewels.
Now of course it’s much harder to control things if they go awry.
We have so much media at our fingertips — each one an opportunity to interact with your audience, and add a new chapter to your story — but each vulnerable to mismanagement and mistakes.
While it’s unlikely you’ll do a Ratner or a United Airlines, it could still be damaging if you fail keep your brand consistent.
Clients will judge you on the exception rather than the rule. If your brand’s elements differ across platforms, it can cause confusion and distrust.
It can also affect your bottom line: In a study done by McKinsey & Company consistent brands outperformed inconsistent ones by 20%.
So where do you start?
Take a look at your business as if you’re a client. Think of all those places your brand currently appears. Not just the obvious places like your website, stationery and social media accounts, but less tangible, more ‘multisensory’ elements.
What it’s like to phone you, to listen to your ‘hold’ music, to visit your office or use your loo? Is it consistent with that brilliant feeling you gave them via your website, or is the office a mess and your crockery chipped?
Does the email you send afterwards reflect the same feeling and tone, or does it revert to something more formal?
After she got tired of sitting for portraits, Elizabeth I gave artists approved facial forms to paint from instead— ensuring ultimate consistency.
You might not need to be quite so rigid, but a set of guidelines — even a page or two long — that explain how your brand works and how it should be presented, can do wonders for your brand image and keep your image in check.