Burn your brand book and embrace creativity
Brand books typically hold the keys to a brand’s strategy, direction and future, but Ed Bolton, director at Frog, suggests that it might be an outdated guide in need of revival. He proposes reworking its contents and embracing fluidity in pursuit of creativity.
When was the last time you opened your brand book? Is it sitting on the server gathering virtual dust? A brand book can be full of inspirational, strategic and creative thinking, laying the foundation for the brand to go into the world. But in most cases, they are only ever looked at when someone heads to page 34 to grab the RGB color values. They end up neglected, outdated and overly hefty. Does anyone care about the exclusion zone of your logo? Or that the left margin is 2x the height of X?
In the past brand guidelines, brand bibles, brand books – whatever you want to call them – were essential documents for global brands. They would use multiple creative agencies, with different specialisms, situated across the world and all with varying levels of skill. Brand books were a key tool in maintaining global consistency and control.
Frog on why burning the script and embracing a less formulaic approach could work / Yaoqi via Unsplash
Over time, the books grew, as if agencies had to prove their value by the number of pages instead of the quality of what was on those pages. Some of the better ones tell the story of the brand in a rich and inspiring way, but most often they are glorified PowerPoint presentations. The world has moved on: the art of creative expression for brands has taken a massive leap forward, but the way it is documented hasn’t.
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While it is important to set a solid strategic and creative foundation – logos shouldn’t be messed with, an ownable typeface can go a long way and a core color can become an iconic asset – you don’t need a hefty brand book to control it. You need to set the basics and have great creatives execute on it. (As legend has it, the best brand book ever was for Nike, which simply said on one page: “Don’t F with the swoosh.”)
So, it’s time to burn your brand book and do this instead:
1. Lead with experience
One of the most important strategic elements to direct creative expression is your brand’s personality. How do you want to come across to your audience? First, use your individual flair to set fixed elements (such as logo, core color, typeface, image style, design system and tone of voice) without being too prescriptive. From there, plan your customer experience and change your flexible elements (such as photography, illustration, graphics and messaging) to appeal to their emotional needs through the brand experience.
The Starbucks Creative Expression is a wonderful design system that keeps the core of the brand intact while allowing creativity to change with the seasons. In its words, it’s a “fresh new design system that maintains the core elements of our brand while keeping our customers’ experience central to creative expression, [bringing] purpose and cohesion to every interaction customers have.”
2. Take risks
We live in a world where everything is branded – from pet food subscriptions and pasta delivery services to beer boxes and parking tickets – with a proliferation of bland creative expressions driven by the rise of the tech companies over the last decade. This means lots of white space, bright color palettes, geometric sans-serif fonts and quirky animated icons underpinned by basic brand guidelines explaining how to achieve consistency. As a result it’s all, well, a bit boring.
Thanks to the advent of the metaverse and the rise of decentralization, pioneering brands are embracing an element of weirdness and fun in their brand identities. But you can’t do this when your inner ‘brand police’ doesn’t allow it. Instead, think of your creative expression as a living brand that needs to be fed new and exciting stimuli.
So, give the rules a day off, play with your flexible elements, take risks and get strange. Consistency is important, but your audience cares more about how your products and services delight and engage them, and that means going off-piste once in a while.
3. Invest in creativity
The level of creativity coming out of schools and universities across the world today is at a staggeringly high level. The democratization of tools as driven by the internet and social platforms means that graphic design is much more accessible than ever before. London and New York are losing their crown as centers of branding excellence and incredible agencies are popping up around the world, from Amsterdam to Stockholm to Bangkok. This, along with the availability of remote collaboration, means that accessing amazing creativity, no matter where you are in the world, is much easier.
Of course, brand books are there to standardize the implementation of your brand, but don’t let this lead to a standardization of your creative expression. DAMs (Digital Asset Management systems) are useful tools to define templates that anyone can use for your low-level communications. Get those set up and rolled out consistently, then source great creatives and give them a proper induction into your brand. They will reward you with brilliant executions.
So rip out the best bits, then burn your brand book and embrace creativity!
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frog is a leading global creative consultancy, part of Capgemini Invent. We challenge the status quo to craft and build transformative human experiences that win hearts and move markets.Find out more