Avoid graphic standards trap

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The scene is typical: branding experts conducting strategy sessions with senior executives routinely fostering the need for a singular brand image extending across every aspect of the company. While it is true that a single brand image enables companies to project a strong identity, it is critical not to allow this visual representation to evolve into a companywide graphic standards trap that will obstruct unique selling propositions or creative messaging.

As marketing communications professionals, we have created a complicated mess by putting a greater emphasis on a single graphic identity. A company’s official symbols-such as logos or colors-help differentiate it, but this graphic representation is a result of a successful brand-building program, not the other way around.

When discussing what it takes to breed a successful brand, it is important to understand that success is not based on a single graphic identity. On the contrary, successful brands are expertly crafted through a systematic philosophical approach.

First, it is important to engage in an exercise of information gathering. Begin with a fact-finding mission to uncover everything about your company or your client: markets, audiences, perceptions, competitive pressures and external market drivers. Once you have all the information, begin establishing the differentiating characteristics of the brand through the development of positioning statements and supporting taglines, and then move forward with the creation of a distinctive brand architecture.

Only then should the visual representation of the brand be developed, which includes the logo, colors, imagery and other visual elements. Do not be afraid to check your brand’s message in the marketplace to get a quick read on its receptivity and acceptance among those who really matter: customers, prospects and partners.

Finally, develop a creative launch strategy. How you unveil your brand and supporting messages is as important as the brand itself.

A brand message crafted around unique value propositions creates a compelling story that serves as the basis for effective sales and marketing messages in advertising, direct mail, brochures, public relations, Web site material and Internet marketing. Key messages will build a case for how the value proposition addresses its targets’ specific needs and interests-a vital step between strategy and execution of a marketing communications program. Keep in mind it is not advantageous to "brand" your approach to branding because no two branding programs are the same.

By freeing your communications from the unnecessary shackles of graphic standards, you will allow yourself to focus on building messages that are effective in increasing your bottom line, not your fashion sense.

David Martino is president of Martino & Binzer, Avon, Conn. He can be reached at [email protected]

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