Are Brand Guidelines Suffocating Your Ability To Innovate?

image of branding guidelines

Your brand is one of the most powerful assets your organisation has. It serves as a short-cut to decision making as it should be instantly recognisable. Rightly or wrongly brands are closely guarded internally within organisations to prevent distortions or miscommunication of positioning and the value proposition. But how do our brains respond to brands and do brand guidelines help this process?

How Does Your Brain See A Brand?

The brain sees a brand as an object. Brands are no more than a mental representation of  a product in our mind. They are a means to an end as we purchase products to achieve explicit goals (e.g. listen to music), whilst the brand meets our psychological goals (e.g. enjoyment & autonomy).

Even if we use the brand as an extension of ourselves it is still desired for a current goal. Marketers talk about how brands connect with people emotionally, and positive emotions are important to encourage purchase, but we mainly respond emotionally to brands because they helps us to meet important psychological goals.

Do Brands Have Personalities?

A neuroscience study by Marketing Professor Carolyn Yoon (2006) cast doubt on the popular view that brands are like people and have personality traits. Further, research suggests that brand loyalty is mainly accounted for by availability and habit, with relatively few brands connecting to consumers at an emotional level. This means that brands need to evolve and respond to consumer needs as otherwise we may move onto a different brand which is perceived to be more strongly associated with achieving a set goal.

Consistency Or Customer Experience?

Brand guardians sometimes appear to be obsessed with maintaining consistency, whether it’s the fonts, messaging, colour, language, or imagery used. This creates a risk though that the brand becomes fossilised and unable to respond to changing customer needs and trends.

Consistency is fine if it is appropriate and it works better than an alternative. But people will  normally respond more positively to a great customer experience, even if there are some differences in how the brand is presented, than a consistently poor experience.

“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines”
 Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

What Defines A Brand?

What matters about a  brand is how real people interact with it and what stories they pass onto each other about their experiences. Trust in a brand is not generated by assurances and promises in documents, but instead we learn to trust a brand through actions.

The important relationships are the interactions our customers and employees have with each other, whether face-to-face, over the telephone, via our website or through other means of communication. It is not via the largely illusionary relationship we have with the brand.

Aligning With Business Objectives: 

There is also a risk that focusing on consistency prevents marketing from testing changes to how customers interact and view the brand. In the digital space this can stop the A/B testing of new experiences that may be more effective at engaging visitors and improving conversion.

A/B testing is designed to align each web page with the goals and objectives of the organisation. If we are limiting this process because of brand guidelines then we are essentially acknowledging that brand guidelines take precedent over the businesses goals.

This cannot be healthy for either the organisation or the brand as it prevents the evolution of the brand in response to changing customer preferences. Further, most brand guidelines are developed without any scientific evidence to support them. They are largely based upon subjective opinions and those judgements should be tested to ensure they are optimal for the brand. By trying to use guidelines to prevent change we run the risk of suffocating brand development.

Thanks you for reading my post and hope you have time to view some of my other posts on website optimisation, marketing, market research and psychology. You can access all my posts here from my index page.

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  • About the author:  Neal provides digital optimisation consultancy services and has worked for  brands such as Deezer.comFoxybingo.com, Very.co.uk and partypoker.com.  He identifies areas for improvement using a combination of approaches including web analytics, heuristic analysis, customer journey mapping, usability testing, and Voice of Customer feedback.  By  aligning each stage of the customer journey  with the organisation’s business goals this helps to improve conversion rates and revenues significantly as almost all websites benefit from a review of customer touch points and user journeys.
  • Neal has had articles published on website optimisation on Usabilla.com  and as an ex-research and insight manager on the GreenBook Blog research website.  If you wish to contact Neal please send an email to neal.cole@outlook.com. You can follow Neal on Twitter @northresearch and view his LinkedIn profile.