Skilled ‘Chef’ Keeps Brand Together

The Business News: Joe Berger on Brand Communication

I’ve often made the analogy that brand communication is like gourmet cooking. You have ingredients (brand elements) and recipes (brand standards). And then there’s the magic that happens to turn those elements into beautifully plated gourmet dishes. It’s in that last step that brands sometimes run into problems. Because, no matter how good the ingredients, no matter how detailed the recipes, sometimes capturing the spirit of your brand just takes a chef.

While some organizations work with a single partner for their marketing and branding needs, others engage multiple firms (often within the same discipline.) We’ve frequently been asked by clients to collaborate and integrate efforts with other firms. Many believe by bringing multiple partners to the table, they are assured of getting the best ideas and the most effective work possible.

While this model may result in an abundance of concepts and approaches, that very fact can also be a major weakness. The danger is a lack of consistency and alignment among the various efforts, despite the best efforts between firms to work in the best interests of the client. Digital efforts look and sound completely different from offline tactics. The integrity of the brand erodes as individual preferences worm in.

There’s a certain, intrinsic quality to the brand development process that is difficult to transfer effectively to another person or firm. While we try, it cannot be articulated or spelled out in style guides or graphic manuals. It is a spirit that must be felt, internalized and expressed intuitively. Like a fine dish, it takes experience and talent to capture the flavor and nuance of a brand.

Like a great meal, executing a brand takes an incredible amount of focus and finesse. Here’s three essential things to developing a brand:

Brand elements: The “ingredients”

In developing the elements of a brand — colors, typography, imagery, voice and tone, etc. — we often liken them to the ingredients used in a recipe. These ingredients are combined in unique ways to create “dishes” (ads, websites, etc.). Some brand guides go only so far as to detail the ingredients and provide a basic platform for how they interact with each other. They cannot dictate higher strategic endeavors, such as generation of campaign concepts and other big ideas — efforts that can never be distilled to a step-by-step process.

Brand standards: The “recipes”

To provide clients and their partner firms with better guidance and greater marketing autonomy as they go it alone, we may follow up the elements with what are typically called brand standards. This deeper investment in the brand development provides “recipes” for creating a whole host of tactics — detailed instructions and templates for a defined set of needs.

Again, with the proper tools and a well-trained and talented staff, clients can produce a great number of marketing tools consistent and aligned visually. However, no standards manual can accommodate every possible scenario a brand will encounter and the client will have to wade into uncharted territory. The level to which they’ve internalized the “spirit” of the brand is the level to which they will be successful.

The “Chef”

For a brand to truly thrive over time, it must be able to adapt to changing needs while staying true to its DNA. This requires a deep understanding of its soul and the nuances that can be explored to best express it. It is the difference between a skilled cook and a seasoned chef.

You must first understand the rules, in order to know how to break them.

A chef will veer from a recipe depending on the situation — the quality or availability of ingredients, the tools at hand, etc. It is often necessary to improvise and “break the recipe” in order to achieve the results they’re looking for. By-the-book may be palatable, but a bit of intuition can make it gourmet.

Knowing when to break the rules can be one of those unspoken, instinctual and largely unteachable abilities. The kind best left for true masters of a craft. The end result is often more effective, more “on brand” than if the rules were followed precisely.

Joe Bergner is the creative director and brand consultant with O’Connor Connective in De Pere.