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Protecting the Brand: The Role of Brand Standards in Integrated Marketing Communications

David Hazelton

David Hazelton has over 30 years of professional experience in design, branding, and marketing. As design director for ProShares, David is responsible for brand consistency across all channels of the company’s marketing, advertising, and corporate communications.

Prior to joining ProShares, David spent over a decade in boutique agencies. During that time, he used his branding and marketing talents to enhance the brand image of clients like OSHA, the National Institute of Mental Health, the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. 

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David Hazelton recently joined us on our weekly podcast,  Marketing Communications Today

Nathan Pieratt: When we talk about protecting the brand, from your perspective what does that mean?

David Hazelton: I'm very deliberate when I use the word protecting the brand. There are so many people within an organization that have access to branded materials and the capability to alter or change them. It can be the executive team members, sales team, lots of people outside the marketing department have access to materials and when you work within an organization that has all those people with the capability to alter the brand, a lot of times they refer to the person in my role as the logo police or the brand cop. Some more negative phrases get used, but I always like to reinforce with them that it's not about being punished for using branding correctly. It's about me teaching them and educating them on how to protect the brand. We know that consumers don't always trust brands as much as they trust other consumers or trust influencers. So the more we can do to increase our brand consistency, the more we do to build that trust. So once you explain that to everyone and really get them on board with the idea of protecting the brand, then they all become sort of brand ambassadors themselves and really get to understand that.

David Hazelton

NP: What are the challenges and some of the oppositions that you're running into as you try to protect the brand?

DH: There are people who don't want to hurt the brand necessarily, but don't realize what they're doing and very often it is the authors of brand content. We have a lot of subject matter experts that are producing content for our marketing and very often I'll hear the phrase, "Well I want this piece to look special. This one needs to stand out. I don't want this to look like all the other pieces." It's important to make them realize that this inconsistent brand usage can create confusion. It can damage credibility. What I'd like to explain to them is that while they bring credibility and gravitas to the marketing materials through their research, through their writing, the other half of that equation is the brand itself and that also carries a lot of credibility and trust. We don't want to produce a piece just to make it look different—that looks like a bad brand knock off or doesn't look like it came from our brand. That's really important to build trust with the consumers and to have that consistent communication throughout everything that you produce. At the end of the day, we're all human beings and we make decisions based on emotion. But, we can't always brand based on emotions and the example I sometimes use with clients that say, it's that if you think of a company like UPS, I guarantee you that brown is nobody's favorite color, especially the shade of brown that those trucks are, but they don't paint the trucks to please certain people at certain times and definitely have a hot pink delivery truck came up to your door you probably wouldn't have the same trust that you would if it was the brown truck that you know and rely on. You would think it was a bad knock off, maybe they subcontracted the services, something. So it's really important to keep all of those brand elements in place to help build that trust and consistency.

NP: What are some of the tools that you're using to maintain that consistency within the organization?

DH: First and foremost is a brand standards manual. That can come in a few different forms. Generally it'll include a brand statement that talks about what your brand represents, what your brand's personality is and then it will also have all of your brand elements in there with the proper way to use them and those are things like your logos, your corporate fonts, your color palettes and it may also include your writing style and your voice. Now very often that is in a separate manual. Some organizations will have just the graphic standards manual and then a writing style manual. Sometimes they are combined into a larger brand standards manual that has all of these elements, but that's really critical. Most large organizations are going to have that, but there are some smaller groups, maybe smaller associations and places like that that don't have that and sometimes it's just sort of in the back of the art director's head and that's where all the brand standards are kept. It's really good to have it in writing I think because it gives you really the authority to say, "No, it needs to look like this." It's just better to have it written down, especially if you're working with contractors or remote teams. That way everyone can have access to the same information. The other tool that I like to always mention and use to sort of maintain that consistency over time is having a brand audit, and it's really important from time to time to sort of spread out all your materials and look at them in big marketing departments. It’s important to look at all your materials and look for the odd man out.

NP: How do you balance keeping a brand consistent while keeping it fresh?

DH: The guardrails are there to help you, not to restrict you too much. They're really guidelines. One thing is just to keep aware of current design trends and to find a way to fit those into your brand standards. You can maintain the personality of your brand, but not really stray from your guidelines and what I mean by that is you have the same personality you've had your whole life, but you're not wearing the same clothes now that you did 10 or 15 years ago and your brand shouldn't either. There are ways to keep it current while still being true to your brand and that's important to do.

NP: What is the graphic designer's role in IMC? How has that changed over the years, if at all?

DH: I've definitely seen a change over the years. I think graphic design has finally got a seat at the table. I think for years it was looked at as the last step on a conveyor belt and sort of a technical step, and it was looked at as decoration, not design and being integrated. Can't tell you how many times I've heard people say, "Well just make this look pretty before it goes out the door." I think now we're finally at a point where design is more respected and being looked at as a strategic partner in the process. People are bringing design in early in the process and really allows the designers and the design team to think things through and to think some concept will apply all the way through an IMC campaign, not just for one element. A lot of times if you do something at the last step to make something look good, it's not going to work for the other pieces in that campaign. I know I'm being invited in and my team was being invited in early on to sit down and to strategize and to think about how videos are going to work and how certain visual concepts will translate from the video to the print component and all of the pieces that relate with that. I'm happy to see that we're finally at this point, and I think that IMC's really benefiting from bringing design in early in the process.

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