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The Problem with Brand Guidelines

By Jon | 5th Jan 2015 | Posted in Marketing

Where Some Of Us Are

From a digital marketers perspective, brand guidelines frequently make our lives difficult. Within the disciplines of content marketing and social media, standing out succeeds. However, to stand out you frequently have to be controversial, humorous or entertaining. We know how to do this, and creative agencies have been doing it for decades.

Nevertheless, we often face an uphill battle getting ideas signed off, especially with larger brands, due to enormous brand guideline documents, internal politics, and various internal teams that just don’t interact with each other. A cynic would call “brand guidelines” self-limiting legislation that make content and social media marketing annoyingly difficult. However, consumers buy into brands – there is legitimacy in a brand that stands for something. A great video introduction to this concept is Simon Sinek’s Ted Talk, “Start with Why.” So, where does the land lie?

The Road to Failure

Frequently, digital teams and agencies don’t have a seat at the table with regards to overall brand development, and for good reason – traditional brand marketing is not usually our area of expertise. It is outside of our spectrum of responsibility and usually outside our comfort zone. Agencies are even further away from being able to have input into brand development as we are not even sitting in the same office as the brand team. The end result is either an absolutely ridiculous level of back and forth and waste of resources in getting content pieces approved, or the finished content has been so overly sanitised that it loses all virility and PR power. When we spend time and money on failed projects, nobody is happy!

In some sectors, such as luxury, the situation we face is magnified.  So often these brands can’t talk about anything other than their products or services. One defence I’ve heard of this approach is from Rory Sutherland in our first video podcast, where he states that some brands rely on consistency as it is absolutely critical to their consumers. However, this doesn’t make it easy for digital teams to produce highly shareable content. The content becomes advertising and pure advertising isn’t frequently shared extensively unless a) It’s really incredible advertising or b) You are one of those brands consumers are absolutely in love with. Incredible adverts and brands people obsess about are the minority, not the majority.

There is a simple solution, albeit a fairly boring and pragmatic one. That is to simply create useful content – or ‘branded utility’. This content offends nobody. It becomes a functional part of a brand’s website and can tick the boxes of being on brand, achieving positive digital PR (with the lovely links that help a brand’s organic search visibility goals), and having large numbers of consumers share the content voluntarily across their social media profiles. However, it’s a bit shortsighted to only use one ‘hook’ all of the time. There is likely a limit to how much genuinely ‘useful’ content you can create in any market – and consumers could get bored.

A Better, More Long Term Solution

Just as how social media made marketing, PR, and customer services departments and agencies talk to each other, I believe the same needs to happen with brand marketing and content marketing teams and agencies. Real discussions need to be organised. Brand marketers may have to give up a little bit of power. Digital teams may need to be realistic and tame their ideas. It’s all for a good cause, though – success. Successful content marketing will vastly increase brand exposure and direct acquisition capabilities, whilst at the same time making every department look good.

Everybody’s happy.

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Jon Buchan
Hannah Brown
Jenny Longmuir
Tess Bowles
Lee Buchan
Asher Baker
Bree Van Zyl
Sam Reynolds
Aida Staskeviciute
Laura Reddington
Dipak Hemraj
Jess Collett
Gemma MacNaught
Laila Khan
Gary Buchan
James Hackney
Stuart Lawrence

Jon Buchan Chief Executive Officer
07949 283 785
Hannah Brown Creative Yet Technical Manager
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Jenny Longmuir Content Marketing Editor
Tess Bowles Social Media & Content Marketing Manager
Lee Buchan SEO and Social Media Executive
Asher Baker SEO & PPC Manager (and Lord)
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Bree Van Zyl Video Productionista
Sam Reynolds Copywriter
Aida Staskeviciute Graphic Designer
Laura Reddington Copywriter
Dipak Hemraj All Rounder
Jess Collett Copywriter
Gemma MacNaught Head of UX and Conversion Rate Optimisation
Laila Khan Head of PR
Gary Buchan Managing Director
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James Hackney Client Services Manager
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Stuart Lawrence Chief Technical Officer
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