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Brand guidelines for brand managers

16 March 2018

Leading brand development in the charity sector is not for the faint hearted.

Brand managers will know it needs diplomacy, thick skin, positivity, and patience. Instead of dictate rules, here are some of the best practice principles we discussed during the last Brand Breakfast on brand management and curation, which can help build the groundwork of a solid, responsive and compelling brand.

Brand strategy and story

The foundation of a strong brand is a clear articulation of what you stand for, often called a ‘brand strategy’. This is commonly made up of a vision, mission and values. However, best practice on brand has moved on and brand leaders are often taught to focus on purpose, proposition and personality. Regardless of the jargon, it should cover what you do, how you do it, and why. The ‘why’ is critical to connect people to your cause through shared beliefs and values to build support.

You may want to underpin your brand strategy with what you want your audiences to ‘feel, think and do’. And it should be based on core insights to make sure it is differentiated and authentic. I’d also recommend creating a brand story which outlines the problem you seek to address, your solution, and a role for supporters in achieving it. If you haven’t already, I’d also recommend having a look at our Best Practice Guide on branding.

Brand frameworks not guidelines

Brain Research UK

When the brand strategy and story are in place, you can bring them to life through visual identity and tone of voice. It is one of the biggest challenges in charity branding. You’ll need enough consistency to make sure your brand is instantly recognisable, but enough flexibility to meet the needs of your different audiences or internal departments from services or research, policy and campaign, to various forms of fundraising, much like Brain Research UK’s new brand, Macmillan Cancer Support’s ‘creative spectrum ’, or Crimestoppers’ refreshed brand designed to work for “Stoppers” and “Supporters”.

Macmillan Cancer Support

Not even brand geeks like me want to read guidelines that could match the length of War and Peace, so I’d recommend clearly defining the elements that make up your identity (logo, favicon, colours, fonts, photography, graphic devices, illustration, iconography, etc) and applying them to key applications to demonstrate they work. I’d also recommend translating your values or personality into tone of voice principles.

Creativity not conformity

Design Week recently ran a feature called I hate brand guidelines, stating that so few people bother to give them more than a cursory glance, that a whole, new career was born, known as ‘brand manager’. It’s why brand frameworks, or operating systems, are becoming increasingly popular to enable creativity within set parameters.

In terms of tools, I am still a fan of spirit books which capture the brand’s essence and mobile friendly guides which are easy to scroll through. Ultimately, you want the management part of the job to become as simple as possible so you can focus on developing the brand strategically and creatively. Craig Robson, National Trust’s visual identity manager said: “The ongoing curation is the biggest challenge; the hardest graft is in building the relationships to get things done.”

Carrot not stick

There is nothing more unaesthetic than a policeman

Arthur Conan Doyle, author of Sherlock Homes

The best way to get people on board is through education and inspiration, demonstrating why the brand is important and the impact it can make. For this, I use many tools. Try interactive presentations that educate people about brand holistically. Use market research, facts and figures, to build the business case. And visual demonstrations such as “walls of shame,” where you collate and mount examples from across channels and departments, together with examples of a well-curated brand or integrated campaigns. After all, seeing is believing.

Sheona Michie, head of brand and marketing at Action for Children said: “You have to eat an awful lot of carrots; sometimes it helps to keep your eyes shut”.

Evaluation and health checks

There is no point investing blood, sweat and tears unless you know it’s paying off, so I’d recommend creating a dashboard of key metrics, which should be measured by target audience segment and in light of media spend, both yours and your nearest competitors. Finally, health checks or audits are a must to make sure things are progressing well and to pinpoint areas than need fixing or finessing. Find out more about measuring your brand.

Charity branding can be tough going, believe me I know. But when you see the brand you’ve helped create making an impact in the world there is no greater satisfaction. As one colleague once said: “It’s like laying a big egg.”

Further inspiration

Celebrating flexible visual identity design

Measuring your brand: it takes more than one measure

Creating a brand to accelerate the progress of brain research


Banner Photo: Jelleke Vanooteghem on Unsplash
Inline Image: The Team

Dan Dufour

creative brand strategist, BrandDufour

Dan is specialist in brand purpose and one of the sector’s leading brand strategists. He has worked on brand development across all sectors including Rightmove, London 2012 and Cancer Research UK. He's best known for his award-winning work across all corners of the charity sector, including Shelter, Parkinson’s UK, RSPB and Scope. Dan established CharityComms Brand Breakfast and is an author of our best practice guides to branding and integrated communications.