Brand Guidance vs Optimization—Which one will win? General

The relationship between branding and performance marketing has, in my opinion, caused surprisingly little discussion. This might have something to do with the hype surrounding the Internet and social media in recent years. Nevertheless, the topic is still a really interesting and important one. If you come across any earlier discussions on the same topic, please link them in the comment section.

Honestly, I keep thinking that branding—particularly strict brand guidelines—is all pretty amusing, really. Maybe this is why marketing is still not taken seriously, even when the company is making its biggest decisions.

When I chose marketing to be my major at university, my biggest fear was that I would end up becoming a marketer—someone just waving his hands about but not able to justify his decisions based on reliable data. However, after attending a few branding courses at university, I’ve started to change my mind a bit. The brand is often the company’s single most important factor. Without a brand, a company is completely at the mercy of its competition, forcing it to mainly focus just to reducing costs of manufacturing.

Brand building and management are very challenging, with only a few ways to get it right. Brand consistency is a big part of building a brand, especially if you want it to be long lasting. This is why many companies have very strict brand guidelines. In recent years, some companies have moved towards more liberal brand guidelines, which could help them to respond more quickly in today’s changing world. In particular, when it comes to social media and the Internet, a brand must be able to react faster to different things and to seize various phenomena. It is a constant balancing act—what is suitable for a brand and what is not.

Tom Fishburne – Brand Guidelines

Tom Fishburne – Brand Guidelines

Thanks to the Internet and digitalization, the amount of data available has increased. Most of the biggest brands today are taking advantage of a variety of marketing metrics, trying to optimize their marketing’s effectiveness. However, it is almost impossible, when trying to optimize a brand, to avoid collisions in terms of how far a brand can be stretched to the limits of its consistency.

For example, what should a company do if the A/B test shows blue to be a better color theme for its website, but red as a color is a key factor of the brand’s identity?
—Ignore the results completely and don’t even consider renewing the brand? In this case the company would be missing out on an important clue that the brand might need some change.
—Use blue for the brand’s website but keep the red for all other marketing communication? In this case the brand would be less consistent, which could impact people’s perception of it. For example, wouldn’t it be strange if Fazer’s website was red rather than the blue for which Fazer has been well known almost all of its time.

—Start renewing the brand look and feel based on the results of the A/B test? In this case the company would be successfully renewing and strengthening the brand in reaction to the changing world. Of course, there is always the chance that removing an important factor of the brand’s identity and continuity could destroy the brand in the longer run.

There is no one simple answer to the dilemma and every case is unique. But what about if you make only small changes to optimize the performance of each channel? Over time you may find that the whole marketing communication becomes something of a mixed soup, possibly affecting people’s perception of and loyalty to the brand. Alternatively, using each channel as efficiently as possible could make the brand even bigger and stronger.

But if the whole foundation of a brand depends on how people feel about it, and what emotions it evokes, what does it mean when we change that foundation? Can small changes and optimization really weaken it that far?

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