How consistent is your public face?

Many businesses have graphic identity guides. Some guides can fill up entire binders going into minute detail on every possible design scenario. These guides are an important piece in consistent branding, however, there can be a gap when it comes to individual ad campaigns.

I’ve recently been noticing inconsistencies in what I’ll call spin-off pieces created by clients (not just my clients, but many businesses). Spin-off pieces are created in-house by client teams and, with the best intentions, are designed to fit with the current ad campaign. These could be things like newsletters, email marketing or employee communications to name a few.

The problem is that without a clear guide for the current campaign, small changes can creep into the designs. Sometimes the wrong weight type is used in the headline or a photo is reversed to better fit a particular application. These initially seem like minor details but soon you have half a dozen pieces that are all slightly different from eachother. These projects typically happen away from the eyes of the agency and the small variations can leave the original campaign diluted.

Will the client notice the problem? Maybe, maybe not. Will the consumer notice? They probably won’t put a finger on the details but I believe that it does make a difference in brand perception.

The solution isn’t difficult but it does require deliberate action. Agencies and designers need to talk to the client about possible in-house spin-off projects that may borrow from the campaign. If such projects are a possibility then the creative team can develop a simple one page guide that covers basics such as type weights used in copy, tagline placement, color palettes (with color values for print and screen) and any other details specific to the campaign. A brief guide will be simple to follow and will actually make things easier on the client.

However, the responsibility can’t all be left to the creative team. Clients need to be aware that design choices are made for a reason and it’s important to remain consistent throughout communications. Without client buy-in the guides will be ineffective.

As an art director I’d love to be able to sign off on every single piece of communication that a client puts out. Unfortunately that’s not realistic. The next best thing is developing a clear set of guides that can be followed so that future pieces can build on the work of the initial campaign and create a stronger brand.