4 Signs It’s Time to Throw Your Brand Book out the Window

brand book showing illustrated branding elements

Many marketing departments live and die by their brand book. After all, it provides an essential guide to how all your visual assets should look and what they should seek to communicate. But sometimes a brand book isn’t enough. Maybe the design doesn’t quite fit a particular campaign, or perhaps it no longer accurately represents your brand — in which case, it may be time for a rebranding or brand development project. Whatever the case may be, you’ll need to know what to do when your branding guidelines aren’t providing the direction you need. 

Let’s take a look at 4 situations in which it might be time to look beyond your current branding.

1. Your brand book is a blast from the past.

Design trends and audience preferences change. Lately, it seems like they’re changing faster than ever. That doesn’t mean your brand needs to shift with every new trend — in fact, quite the opposite. Ideally, your brand would be timeless — something that people can grow to recognize over years, even decades. 

That said, every brand begins to show its age eventually. Even well-established brands like Budweiser, McDonald’s, and Mastercard have undergone successful rebranding or brand design development projects. If your brand is telling your customers that you’re behind the times, you may be overdue for a change.

brand book and style guidefor NEA

2. Your branding doesn’t communicate who you are. 

Maybe your core product offerings have changed. Or perhaps your company has revised its mission statement and has altered its messaging accordingly. Every healthy organization needs to stay agile. And your brand book should adapt along with it. 

On the most fundamental level, your branding communicates who you are as a company: what you value and what you hope to achieve. If your brand book just isn’t telling that story any more, it may be time to move on.

3. Your sub-brand has a unique target audience. 

When Coca-Cola rebranded Diet Coke to appeal to millennials in 2018, it felt like a necessary change. They wanted to appeal to younger audiences’ more adventurous approach to food and beverages by offering “bolder flavors.” And with more and more consumers opting for lower-sugar beverage choices, it was essential for Coke to stay relevant. 

Changing the core Coke brand would have risked alienating countless loyal customers — the company remembered that all too well from its “New Coke” fiasco in 1985. That’s why it was necessary to clearly define a sub-brand with distinct packaging and a different approach to their marketing efforts. 

That sub-brand needed its own visual language — a set of guidelines that, while nodding to Coke’s core brand book, also added to it, and adjusted it where necessary to speak to this particular sub-brand’s core audience. 

How do you know whether your sub-brand needs its own visual language? One big sign is that the target audience for that sub-brand is distinct from the audience that your brand as a whole seeks to reach. If you want to speak their language, you might need to define your campaign’s visual language. (Want to learn how? Check out our free ebook, “Visual Language for Marketer: 2 Steps to Higher Campaign Engagement.”)

Curious what visual communication can do for you?

cummins brand book showing color palate and illustration style

4. You’re planning a new visual marketing campaign. 

Speaking of campaigns, any marketer worth their salt knows that each one is unique. Each visual campaign requires clearly defined goals and target audience(s). 

But your brand book was designed to achieve company-wide goals and reach the broader audience of your company as a whole. That means it’s not always optimized for particular campaigns. 

Imagine, for instance, that you own a clothing company. Maybe you’re planning a campaign to promote your line of sportswear. Only a certain segment of your company’s audience will be interested in running pants and sweat-wicking shirts — and that segment has their own preferred methods and styles of communicating. A brand meant to speak to people of all ages and genders just isn’t designed to engage your more athletic audiences.

Again, a visual language is the answer here. But it’s important to understand that a visual language won’t ignore your brand book. Rather, it will complement it and expand upon it as needed. That way, you’re still building brand recognition.

Whether you’re undergoing a brand design development project or simply planning a visual language for your next campaign, your brand book will be an essential part of your visual marketing efforts. Knowing when to use it — and when to throw it out the window — is an essential part of any marketer’s job.

Erin McCoy

Author Erin McCoy

Erin McCoy is director of content marketing and public relations at Killer Visual Strategies. She earned her BA in Spanish with minors in French and Russian, and holds 2 master’s degrees from the University of Washington: an MFA in creative writing and an MA in Hispanic literature. She has won nearly 2 dozen awards in photojournalism, and has dedicated those skills to boosting Killer’s brand recognition and thought leadership in visual communication. Since Erin took on her marketing/PR role, Killer has been named a member of the Inc. 5000 for 4 years in a row; has been featured in such publications as Inc., Forbes, Mashable, and the Huffington Post; and has been invited to present at such conferences as SXSW and SMX Advanced.

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