Some organisations spend millions of pounds on defining their visual corporate identity. Some go beyond this to define the corporate personality in terms of mission statement and market positioning. The output of this expensive and time-consuming programme is the Corporate Identity Guide, an invaluable asset to any organisation serious about marketing and brand perception.
Corporate identities matter because brand perception matters. From the Nike ‘Swoosh’ to the McDonald’s golden arches, a strong brand identity is obviously effective; that’s why people spend so much time, money and effort on establishing one. And it’s why every organisation that takes marketing seriously establishes a corporate look and feel that infuses everything from business cards and letterheads, to collateral, web sites and ads.
But the visual look and feel of an organisation is only half the story. What about the content?
It seems only common sense that companies that recognise the importance of corporate fonts and logos should also recognise the importance of establishing consistent marketing messages. After all, when marketing any company, it is crucially important that the organisation should stand for something.
On the whole, however, companies just don’t do this.
The PowerPoint problem
In the past, global blue chip companies have referred Writing Machine to their ‘corporate marketing messages’ – and given us a list of 40 or 50 factual bullet points scattered across a PowerPoint presentation or two-page document. Other companies have extremely well-crafted and intelligent positioning statements for each of their products, but absolutely no corporate context. (In design terms, that’s rather like having the world’s most impressive business cards – and nothing else.)
What companies don’t tend to have is a properly systemised, top-down, entirely consistent, detailed documentation of the message hierarchy that completely defines a company in its marketplaces. What they need is a hierarchy of messages which starts with, perhaps, a single corporate mission statement at the top, works down through a suite of supporting, evangelical marketing messages, right down to product-specific supporting messages. And for each of these messages in this hierarchy, they need several paragraphs of well crafted, fact-filled supporting copy to truly empower marketing professionals both within the organisation, and outside of it.
Value across the business
When you think about it, such message guidelines are every bit as crucial to successful corporate marketing as design guidelines.
If the corporate will exists, message guidelines can (and should) become the foundation – and discipline – for every relevant below-the-line marketing activity. Multiple agencies, for example, can be given the message guidelines and instructed to ensure that everything they do communicates these messages to the target audiences. Similarly, internal marketing professionals, even internationally, can be directed to ‘sing from the same hymn sheet’ – precisely because the hymn sheet now exists. In fact, this document can and should reach all the way to the grass roots of the organisation, including customer service and support teams.
This document also has great value at a tactical level, where all proposed marketing activities and deliverables can be forced to undergo a messaging ‘so-what?’ test. Does the proposed event, or deliverable, reflect and reinforce one of the marketing messages? If not, can it be adapted so that it does? And if the answer is still ‘no’, then the question must be asked whether the project in question is a good use of marketing budget in the first place.
The whole point of creating message guidelines, then, is to ensure that strong, consistent visual brand identities are matched by equally powerful, consistent marketing messages. In other words, brand perception needs to be far more than skin deep.
Paul Ayling is the founder and CEO of Writing Machine.