In the late 1600’s, Jonathan Swift, the Irish satirist said, “The proper words in the proper places are the true definition of style.” I’ll bet Belfast to a brick that he could never have envisaged how true his statement was when applied to the subject of managing a brand.

‘Brand Management’ is one of those industry vernaculars, like ‘Mission’ and ‘Vision’ statements which most businesses don’t really understand, but pretend to. The reason I’m so certain of this is that in all our discussions with thousands of clients I’ve never had one ask me “What the hell does ‘Brand Management’ mean?” That is a very good indicator to me that most businesses think they should know but are too self conscious to ask. So without further ado I’ll humbly contribute to a better understanding.

“Brand management is the application of specific marketing standards to a specific product, product line, or organisation. It seeks to increase the product’s perceived value through continuity and thereby increase brand franchise and brand equity.”

One of the most vital disciplines of brand management is echoed in Jonathan Swift’s words – “The proper words in the proper places…” which for us ‘brand nazi’s’ means that during the life of your current brand, you should never, ever allow anyone to change, alter, manipulate, edit, add to, modify, vary, transform, revolutionise or adjust your precious brand… and in case you didn’t get it the first time, the words are “NEVER, EVER”.

If you need a good reason there are hundreds, but for the sake of this blog let’s just reserve it to one – any changes to a brand appearance reduces the potency and value of YOUR asset.

The real question may be, ‘how to manage and control a brand?’ This is an especially vexing question for larger companies whose various offices are separated by geographic distances, and whose personnel believe that their own idiosyncratic creative contributions to the brand’s iconic graphics are more valued than the graphic who thoughtfully designed it! You’d be surprised how many people fancy themselves as artists!

The solution to good brand management is of course to create a ‘rule book’ – a document which tells the myriad of people you entrust with your valuable brand, exactly how you want it to be projected. More or less a case of “the proper words in the proper places”. It’s called a ‘Style Guide’.

Now if you believe that this is just another money making product dreamed up by the graphics department to earn an extra quid – think again. There are no greater economic rationalists than airlines, yet I do not know of one which does not have a style guide. I recently had occasion to be briefed by a large accountancy mob. I left with a brief and a command in the shape of their style guide – all 160 pages.

A style guide is not just another quality control document to ensure you follow procedure. It’s a serious document which companies should use to DEMAND observance. Suppliers, such as press, print and sign writers should be given copies of the style guide, noting that non-adherence to precise replication of the branding image and corporate style will result in the non payment of the account.

If you don’t have a style guide then you’ve left your brand projection to the vagaries of your personnel and that may be considered negligent. Just watch how quickly others define a new set of undesirable boundaries for your brand. Good luck to you – you’ve saved a few bob but don’t act surprised when your rationally developed and professionally designed imprimatur finishes up looking like a sow’s ear.

It’s rather like Chinese whispers during World War Two. The message was, “send reinforcements, we’re going to advance” and after it’s travelled through twenty people it suddenly became, “send three and four pence, we’re going to a dance”.

Your brand is sacrosanct. It’s not a toy for every man and his dog to play with. Honour it and it will reward you more than you could ever believe. A style guide tells your people and your service providers that this is what they MUST do. It effectively says, this belongs to our company, mess with it at your peril. It demonstrates to them that you’re serious about your brand. It puts you in charge.

At Jack in the box you lose your right arm if you so much as think about a change. Our style guide is the bible and if you attempt to change it? Well it’s execution time!

The ‘right words in the right place’ – now that’s a style guide!