The Importance of Brand/Visual Identity Standards

Brand standards build value at lower cost, nurture loyalty, deliver strategically—and prevent fraud.

I’m sometimes asked why identity standards and consistent “branding” (in a very old fashioned, literal, logo sorta way) is important. While the answer to that query may be obvious to marketing types, it’s not so obvious to others, so I put together this brief collection of reasons. You’ll note that none of these are about artistic expression, “looking good,” or make the assumption that consistency is inherently valuable. Also, please note that here I am talking about visual identity/style guidelines (e.g. treatment of logos, marks, colors, and other trade dress) rather than strategic positioning (e.g. brand promise, essence, single minded proposition, etc.)

Consistent Brand Standards Result in Cheaper Operations

Consistent brand identity conserves resources across the entire organization. Instead of individuals spending time creating novel “designs” for their materials, they can rely on established standards and reusable templates — and in turn focus their efforts on content, where they have unique, department specific, and valuable expertise. (Notably, when departments resist the use of templates and attempt to produce their own novel designs, they often actually produce things that aren’t novel at all: they tend to just paint things the official color and add a generic logo.)

Since identity standards objectify design decisions in a professional process, they eliminate the emotional element that non-professional designers often attach to their work. Resources are saved across the board: in initial design time, in production, in meetings, and in reuse. Lastly, identity standards ensure that vendors receive materials in correct formats, so the costs of “fixing” poor materials provided by customers no longer needs to be built into pricing.

Consistent standards help organizations communicate more efficiently.

Materials based on consistent standards communicate more effectively because they emphasize content over adornment. Efficient communications ensure smoother operations. Efficiency in communications — and consistency thereof — are a critical element of risk management, reducing an organization’s exposure to service complaints and lawsuits.

Standards increase quality and reduce mistakes.

Keeping visual design tasks with trained designers and editors (and letting non-designers use templates designed for proper output) increases quality — from aesthetics to production. Further, designers and editors are on the lookout to make sure images and language appropriately includes things like diversity and strategically important messages — and they ensure that unflattering images and messages don’t make it into the limelight.

Standards make fakes easier to spot.

We live in an age where anyone with a computer can create an “official looking” document or images. The ability for customers to notice the differences that separate bona-fide material from fakery can only result from consistent brand identity. Particularly in an organization where customers/constituents feel ownership (and may produce their own “fan fiction”), it’s critical that official materials stand apart from those produced ad hoc by volunteers, overzealous stakeholders, or individuals who simply don’t agree with the organization’s plans.

Standards protect copyrights and trademarks.

Organizations invest resources in creating valuable intellectual property, assets, and marks. To the extent that these materials are delivered inconsistently or without protection, that value is reduced — and the costs of legally defending intellectual property rise.

Standards build real dollar value.

Virtually every study agrees: institutions with consistent brand identity have larger goodwill values. More importantly, organizations with well-managed brand identity can consistently charge more for their products. The ONLY proven method for charging a premium for essentially the same product is in creating a desirable brand — and that comes in part from brand/visual identity standards.

Standards build loyalty, trust, and forgiveness.

Also well studied and widely accepted: organizations with consistent brand identity engender greater loyalty and trust than those without. Well branded institutions benefit from greater “forgiveness” of mistakes, which can be a significant factor in risk management and litigation cost.

Brand identity is just one component of how strategic branding forwards organizational goals — by finding advantage in difference, by rallying stakeholders around common and strategic messages, and by creating positional distance between the organization and its competitors. Brand identity standard are universally considered to be a small — but critical — aspect of strategic branding.