Are your ‘partners’ ruining your brand?

Using a quasi-franchise, independent-owner model might be saving you money, but costing you brand equity.

Small business owners are kind of screwed when it comes to marketing: They need marketing/communications stuff, but they can’t afford a full-time marketing person, and they’re usually on a super-tight budget. So they shop around for (what seems like) the best price – but that leaves them with different suppliers for their website, business cards, collateral materials, content strategy, social media…

And then this happens:

Bad graphic for Learning RX

learning rx graphic

Example of bad branding from Learning RX

Marketing materials with all kinds of different visuals, fonts, colours, messages – even the logos aren’t consistent.

At best, you’re not getting any cumulative value from your marketing efforts, because none of this is working together to create a cohesive whole; at worst, you end up losing business because potential customers don’t really understand what you’re selling or they think you’re an unprofessional organization.

Why does this matter?

Because the first step to making a sale – and the key to generating repeated sales – is building a relationship with potential customers. ‘Branding’ is just a way to facilitate that relationship, by providing visual and textual cues that trigger feelings of recognition, familiarity and trust.  When your brand identity is all over the place, those cues misfire; you can’t build recognition and familiarity, let alone trust. Relationships take longer to create, if they happen at all – which means you end up spending more money on marketing just to stay in the same place.

In the case of LearningRX, above, this creates two problems:  LearningRX headquarters doesn’t get the cumulative benefit of their various branches’ advertising, because it all looks and feels so different, and individual franchise owners don’t get the cumulative benefit of all this LearningRX advertising because the audience isn’t connecting it all together.  So the audience never thinks “Wow, I keep seeing this LearningRX company everywhere – maybe I should check them out.”

How can you protect your brand, even if you’re not a marketing expert?

I tend to think that even small businesses are best served by engaging some kind of brand steward who can coordinate all marketing efforts and make sure it’s all working together. But I know this isn’t always possible, so in the meantime, here’s what you can do:

  • When you first get your logo done (or updated), make sure the designer provides you with source files. This should include high-res AI or PSD files including your logo and fonts
  • Make a note of your official colours (PMS/Pantone/HEX)
  • Make sure you know your official fonts (the ones in your logo, printed materials and website)
  • Tell anyone who touches your brand – web designers, print shops, event coordinators, etc. – that you expect them to use your official logo, iconography, colours and fonts exclusively. If your colour palette is purple and green, they shouldn’t be injecting red headlines into anything
  • Keep track of your images. If you have used a particular photo as the background to your homepage, that’s what should be on your printed materials, too
  • Make sure you get source files for all your marketing materials, every time. That way you don’t have to worry if your designer moves to Bali next year and won’t return your calls.

Keep your source files and notes on your fonts and colours in a safe place that you won’t forget about it.  The #1 cause of inconsistency, in my experience, is when a client can’t find their source files (or the person who did them in the first place) and subsequent suppliers are forced to recreate or approximate a design.

Remember:  If you’ve done your due diligence and provided the supplier with the source materials and documentation, and they come back with something that doesn’t look consistent with previous materials, it’s okay to say “Hey, this doesn’t match what we’ve done before.  Are you sure you’ve used the correct fonts/colours/images?” or even “Dude, what the heck?  Why did you stick a huge orange headline in there when you know our colours are purple and green?”