Fulfilling the brand promise

Brands must strive for consistently high quality and control their identity without killing local flexibility, as David Benady reports

Every time you try on a pair of Nike trainers, buy the latest gizmo from Apple or swig from a can of Coca-Cola, you expect a similar experience and level of quality. A brand is, after all, a promise of consistency.

Successful brands convince us that their products will be of uniform quality wherever they are consumed by carefully controlling the use of logos and colour palettes in their packaging, advertising and marketing materials. In a world of cheap but realistic fakes, having a consistent identity is crucial to a brand’s credibility.

However, there is a balance to be struck between centralised corporate control over brand identity and allowing retailers and overseas offices flexibility in its use.

Train operator Eurostar faces the challenge of making sure that its brand is recognised in travel agents around the world as well as in train stations across southern England, France and Belgium. Eurostar marketing director Lionel Benbassat says that achieving consistency is vital for the brand to be easily recognised by customers and to help it stand out from rivals. Equally important is for the branding to accurately promote Eurostar’s philosophy and values.

It is largely down to Eurostar’s salespeople to check that the brand is being used in the right way through their relationships with third-party sellers. But there is a limit to the level of control the company can exert, says Mr Benbassat. “It can’t be very strict. We have to be flexible as we work with different parties. We need to be able to fulfil the needs of everyone and give a set of tools which are used in different contexts and can convey different messages,” he says.

Only by getting staff to buy into brand consistency can success be guaranteed

Brands are starting to gain greater control over the use of their identities via the web. Digital asset management (DAM) systems allow companies to store their brand identities online. Staff and third parties all over the world can access these materials, ensuring they use only the most up-to-date logos and images.

Eurostar uses a DAM system provided by brand management software firm Brandworkz. “In the past, brands would have top-down centralised control. That doesn’t really work any more; people don’t want to be force-fed advertising and branding. There is more local involvement nowadays,” says Brandworkz’s chief executive Jens Lundgaard. DAM systems help this democratic approach to brands, allowing local markets to tailor central messages to their particular needs.

Another player in the DAM market is Adgistics, which refers to its services as brand asset management (BAM). Chairman James Waite points to Ford dealerships in the UK, which were responsible for creating a wild melee of different marketing materials. With a BAM system in place, the dealerships can now pull advertising templates off the website, and send pdfs of their ads to local papers safe in the knowledge they are high quality and on-brand.

Compliance is another area where DAM systems can help. For instance, Amnesty International lost control over how it credited photographers of images used in its materials. The organisation signed up for the Asset Bank DAM system, which enables it to instruct users on when and how to use the images, and continually reminds users to credit them appropriately. This has introduced a high level of compliance.

One criticism of DAM and BAM systems is that many potential users are put off accessing them by the sheer mass of material that has to be waded through. So it is vital that staff are trained in their use, while the sites need to be cleverly curated, edited and kept in order by either the DAM provider or the brand’s marketing department.

Indeed, only by getting staff to buy into brand consistency can success be guaranteed. As Vicky Bullen, chief executive of branding agency Coley Porter Bell (CPB), says: “Brand-owning companies are not like armies. You can’t just order people to be consistent; you have to make them want to be consistent.”

She gives the example of fast-growing premium whisky brand Chivas Regal. It was losing control of its identity as sales boomed in countries across Asia. CPB was tasked with creating brand guidelines that would encourage local markets to use materials based on its core brand values, rather than imposing a single over-arching brand plan. “Our guidelines were primarily designed to inspire people,” says Ms Bullen.

Global brands once strived for complete control over their identities. But, with the rise of digital technology, that control has slipped. A balance must be found between imperialism from the centre and expression tailored to local needs.