This guest post contributed by Liz McClellan
“If this business were split up, I would give you the land and bricks and mortar, and I would take the brands and trademarks, and I would fare better than you.”
– John Stuart, former CEO of Quaker Oats
We’ve heard this quote before, but 100 years later it still resonates so powerfully. Consumers love brands and it’s no longer just about paying a price premium for a coveted branded product. We have started to attach huge value to low-cost brands, and it’s always a proud moment when you are complimented on a designer handbag purchased from Marshall’s or Target.
While there may be huge differences between luxury and every day value brands, the common denominator that unites all marketers is the desire to build and protect their brands. Brands after all, contribute substantially to the bottom line of most businesses.
In the omni-channel environment in which today’s marketers operate, this is a daily challenge. Many marketers struggle to manage the marketing ‘assets,’ the sum of which make up the external face and value of a brand.
This was underlined by some independent research that North Plains recently commissioned emedia to carry out regarding how marketers track and share their brand assets. Surprisingly, 70% still rely on email to share assets with third party agencies and over 50% of respondents having zero security in place.
Some steps to take to protect your brand identity
There many methods including the obvious legal channels that companies and brands can and do adopt on a daily basis to protect their most valuable assets. Unfortunately it’s not always possible to control what happens to your brand externally. This means action to protect brand identity is often reactive and remedial, whereas it should be proactive to prevent problems occurring in the first place.
So, is there anything that marketers can do to better protect their brands? The answer is yes, because they can control the internal management of the brand and its’ related assets and IP. This gives a brand owner the confidence that what is being put out into the world is consistent (in terms of tone, visual identity and quality standards) compliant with any regulation and ultimately 100% “on brand.” Bottom-line benefits include reduced risk of litigation and associated costs.
In essence, managing these assets – the jewels in the brand’s crown – comes down to two steps: processes and systems. Neither sound very sexy, but they don’t have to be onerous or complicated, if the right approach is taken.
This involves creating a culture where people understand a) marketing assets have an intrinsic value and need to be treated with respect and b) they have some accountability for making sure that happens. Think wide: the strategy should encompass every part of the organization involved in external sharing of brand assets. Not just marketers, but anyone responsible for distributing or using assets externally.
A happy customer is a marketer’s strongest tool – For this reason, many companies have begun hiring brand ambassadors to promote products or services to customers for the sole purpose of creating customer advocates. It is imperative that the brand ambassadors reflect the integrity of the company’s brand from a visual and operational point of view.
Legal and procurement need to be involved too; from the perspective of adding that understanding around issues such as rights protection and suppliers’ adherence to how they represent the brand. Consider mandating that anyone creating assets must follow a rigorous approval or review process. Also consider implementing an internal training program that teaches the importance of brand management, to create internal evangelists of brand values.
Overcome siloed thinking and asset management by creating a marketing ecosystem where all digital assets are in one place, covering content from idea conception through to finished work and on-going iterations.
Systems to support brand identity
So how do you create this single ‘community’ for assets? Digital asset management (DAM) is the answer to which marketers are increasingly turning, using technology to take the stress out of dealing with multiple assets (even a mid-sized brand might have in excess of 100,000 brand assets).
A good DAM will provide control and visibility over all the assets for a brand, from creation through to distribution and archiving, including approval tracking and rights management. An immediate benefit of a DAM is that users can see which assets already exist, giving them the potential to re-use existing material, rather than commissioning new content or artwork. Clearly, this removal of unnecessary duplication saves both time and money for the organization.
One global organization that North Plains works with has estimated savings in excess of $3.3 million per year, just through eliminating requests to external agencies to send over images.
DAM also helps with risk mitigation For instance, ensuring that the digital rights management information associated with any asset ‘travels’ with the content helps to prevent inadvertent misuse. Similarly, DAM protects the brand itself, ensuring that its values and visual integrity are retained, regardless of application or location. DAM can also help ensure adherence to industry regulation and codes, which can be critically important in some industries, where it’s important to ensure the correct processes and supporting technology are in place before they can go-to-market.
DAM comes in all shapes and sizes, from being built in-house to systems offered by a growing brand of third party suppliers. Here are some ‘best practice’ attributes for which to look:
- Ease of use – sounds obvious, but people will only use a system that is simple and intuitive to use. If they have to spend lots of time learning how complicated functions work, then they won’t bother. Access to assets needs to be transparent, without having to scroll through endless menu options.
- Control – consider giving different people (agencies, management, marketing team members) different levels of access. Also think about having asset ‘gatekeepers’ who are responsible for ensuring that the finished asset is uploaded to the right location in the right way.
- But not too much control – there is a fine line between control and flexibility: users must be able to not easily access the right assets, but also to use and manipulate them sufficiently (though of course without affecting asset integrity).
Brand is what differentiates companies from one another in the marketplace. Ultimately, the main function of any marketer is to protect this sacred brand identity. For obvious reasons measures in place to manage brand assets are no longer a ‘nice to have; they have become a ‘must have.’ By preserving brand integrity companies can afford to scale and reinvest time, energy and resources into new R&D that anticipates and meets the changing needs of tomorrow’s consumer.
Liz McClellan is CMO of North Plains Systems, a leading provider of digital asset management solutions.