May 05, 2009
Marketers in large organizations often struggle to ensure communications from other departments present a consistent brand message. How is the sales team using the logo on their PowerPoints? What language is being used on press releases? What template should that letter CFOs office use?
See how the marketing team at The Wharton School got everyone on the same page by creating a brand standards website, complete with how-to guidelines and downloadable resources that maintained brand consistency across all channels of communication. This article outlines five key components of a brand standards website, and offers 12 tips on creating the site and getting everyone to use it.
In 2005, marketers at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania faced a branding challenge: The business school was turning 125-years-old, and everyone who performed any marketing as part of their job was expected to use a new, 125th-anniversary logo and write about the event in press releases, print collateral, and on departmental websites.
The team wanted to make sure that all outbound communications consistently represented the Wharton brand, but they didn’t have a staff member they could dedicate to monitoring brand standards. So instead, they redesigned the marketing department’s website with tons of new content to do that job.
"It really came out of the need of saying, ‘Our resources are not going to grow and we want to do a better job of ensuring brand consistency,’" says Karuna Krishna, Director, Marketing. "We really built [the site] around what we get asked every day."
The redesign included step-by-step instructions for using brand elements, as well as templates and other downloadable resources that allowed anyone in the organization to create their own press releases, Web pages, letters, videos, and other communications that maintained a consistent tone and appearance.
Here is Krishna’s top advice for creating a brand standards website, and making sure everyone in your organization takes advantage of the resource:
Creating a Brand Standards Website: 5 Components
Wharton’s Brand Standards website provides faculty and staff everything they need to disseminate a consistent brand message and visual identity.
Components of the website include:
1. Definition of brand values outlining Wharton’s three brand values and how they differentiate the school from other educational institutions
2. Design standards guide outlining how to most effectively use Wharton’s graphical elements, including logos, colors, fonts, and photography
3. Writing guide – outlining how to produce clear, consistent, concise communications aligned with the brand
4. Templates and resources – outlining specific formats for stationary, cards, website design, correspondence, Power Point presentations, press releases, event materials, print collateral, merchandise, advertising, and online videos
5. Process – outlining specific approval and review processes for different affiliations, such as faculty and staff, students, alumni, and external groups
(See Useful Links section, below, for links to the different sections of the brand standards site.)
7 Strategies for Building a Brand Standards Website
->Strategy #1. Collaborate with all departments
The team shared the task of creating brand standards with all departments that would eventually use those guidelines.
“We decided long ago the rules are really about implementing something that can work so we don’t build them on our own,” Krishna says. “We work with the group that’s going to execute them.”
When building standards specifically for students, for example, the team worked with the department that manages student affairs. It created a sense of ownership of the standards, which increased usage.
->Strategy #2. Make it easy for participants to share questions and suggestions
Many ideas for brand standards came from the “editor’s inbox” – an email address created to gather all marketing-and-communications-related questions from faculty and staff.
Krishna’s team also surveyed administrators in each school department about what templates, resources, and guides would be most useful in helping them create marketing materials and messaging for their departments.
“Some of [the standards] were obvious if you think about: What are the key ways we communicate,” says Krishna. “We know that our faculty is out there making presentations.”
->Strategy #3. Use simple explanations
Every time Krishna’s team built standards around visual identities or messaging they asked themselves: Are these explanations too complicated?
The team used clear, concise language to explain rules and guidelines, such as:
o “Allow clearance space all around the logo. This will ensure that the logo will stand out.”
o “We encourage the use of the two-color logo against a white background.”
o “Decide what it is you’re trying to communicate, check against the Wharton brand values, and be sure that it reflects the Wharton experience effectively online.”
->Strategy #4. Use positive language
The team wanted people to use the brand standards site, so they shifted away from negative language such as, “Don’t do x, y, z.”
Instead they created language around things people should do, such as:
o For website design – “The logo should link to the School’s homepage: www.wharton.upen.edu.”
o For correspondence – “State the purpose of the letter early, preferably in the first paragraph.”
o For merchandise –“No matter what merchandise you select, it must represent the Wharton name in quality.”
“We don’t want you to say, ‘Whoa, this is so scary I’d rather not use it at all,’” says Krishna.
->Strategy #5. Less is more
Krishna’s team always ask themselves: Is this too much information?
They limit the number of tips or suggestions to lists of 3, 5, 7, or 10, because those numbers easier for people to digest. Anything greater than 10 is too much information, says Krishna.
Tip: Ask yourself, what are the three to seven most critical tips for implementing the standard? The rest can be suggestions.
->Strategy #6. Test your standards and guidelines first
Krishna’s team will not create brand standards around a communication channel before they test the channel themselves. For example, before writing guidelines for online videos, the team created their own videos to see what should be included in the standards.
“We had executed one or two of them so we could iron out the kinks,” she says. “When you begin to see where the system breaks down, you pull back on the standards and make them a little more generic.”
->Strategy #7. Be opportunistic
As soon as a need emerges, the team builds standards around it. When one department created a holiday card for its stakeholders, for example, the team decided to build brand standards around holiday cards.
“We build them every time somebody does something wrong,” she says. “This is very much an evolving site.”
5 Strategies for Communicating Brand Standards
->Strategy #1. Send monthly newsletters
Wharton’s InStyle newsletter goes out to all faculty and staff once per month.
A typical newsletter highlights a theme, such as:
o How to deliver an effective and properly branded video
o How to write clearly and effectively about the brand
o How to effectively “dress up” an event with branded promotional items.
Then, the newsletter provides three to five tips, illustrations, examples, and links to relevant pages on the brand standards website.
For example, a recent edition provided:
- Five tips on taking re-usable photographs, plus links to additional Wharton photo resources.
- A Q & A section answering a question about using Web images for printed brochures.
- A small box telling recipients: “The Brand Ambassador Is In: Schedule an hour with the Brand Ambassador to help work out your branding issues.”
(See a link to the newsletter in the Useful Links section, below.)
->Strategy #2. Conduct bi-annual marketing meetings
Every six months, Wharton’s marketing department conducts a large marketing meeting. They invite everyone whose job includes a marketing function (typically 60-80 people).
The goal of each meeting is to roll out new features or tools on the brand standards website and identify new initiatives for the department, Krishna says.
Tips: Be sure to provide lunch, and keep the meeting to one hour. Both will ensure the meeting is well-attended.
->Strategy #3. Educate new staff
Krishna’s team makes a presentation at every staff orientation to ensure new hires know about the Wharton brand, the brand standards website and other services the marketing team provides.
->Strategy #4. Attend stakeholder meetings
The team presents new standards and tools at key stakeholders’ meetings.
Key stakeholders for Wharton include:
- Business Administrators, who manage the production of memos, press releases and power point presentations at every department in the school
- External Affairs Department, which does outreach to alumni
- Executive Education Department, which does outreach to executives
->Strategy #5. Offer one-on-one advice sessions
The team lets faculty and staff schedule one-hour advice sessions on anything relating to brand standards.
“We have those meetings regularly with people who are starting a new website, just to offer our expertise,” Krishna says. “We’re getting more people asking for reviews.”
In addition, the editor’s inbox gets more than 50 questions per month. Prior to the site redesign, the inbox got only a handful of questions per month. “We see the questions as being very positive because it means people are thinking about it,” Krishna says.
Useful links related to this article
Creative Samples from the Wharton School's brand standards website
The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania