Adams & Knight Marketing Blog
POSTED BY: Bill Knight

RIP, brand standards manuals!


(A previous version of this article appeared in Medical Media & Marketing in August 2014.)

Time to face reality. The standard “brand standards” manual is painfully irrelevant — particularly for the healthcare market.

Filled with rules about picas, point sizes, PMS colors and prescribed templates, these manuals just aren’t useful in times when so much of each brand’s story is being shaped by what others say about us — from physicians and caregivers to patients and family members.

So don’t waste one more minute or dollar on a typical brand standards manual. Instead, fine-tune your brand engagement guide — and offer your brand advocates tips on how to effectively interact with others on behalf of your organization.

Don’t require that everything looks identical.

Today, our communication outlets are too diverse in nature to mandate graphic consistency. Yet most brand standards manuals still focus on cookie-cutter templates across all media. In the din of today’s fragmented media world, those templates often become just wallpaper. Of course, there still needs to be some guidelines on how the logo should be used. But allow marketers some flexibility to express the brand’s positioning in the most breakthrough, compelling way possible for each medium. 

Shape a brand personality that sounds cohesive.

Today, the voice of a brand is even more important the look of a brand. Start with an attitude audit. Review how your brand “sounds,” such as when:

• employees answer the phone and greet visitors

• representatives share/comment/reply on social media

• leaders address media inquiries or customer complaints

• staffers present at community events

• music plays in elevators or when callers are put “on hold”

Then determine how you’d like your brand to sound, even as you allow for that score to be interpreted through many brand ambassadors.

Engage the most important audience first . . . your employees.

Unlike a brand standards manual which is written for marketers, a brand engagement guide should be targeted at employees and other brand ambassadors. In fact, medical marketers should make sure every employee — not just the “communications” department — has a copy of your brand engagement guide. Clarify the values and strengths you want to be known for as well as the positions you want to stand for and comment on (or not!) — so that others can better represent the soul of the brand in all kinds of conversation. 

Given the growth of social, mobile and experiential marketing, it is high time to think of branding as more dimensional and interactive. So don’t just update that old brand standards manual this year. Start developing a true engagement strategy!

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