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We’ve always said any interaction between your organisation and the wider world is part of your brand. But like many things we’ve always taken for granted, the coronavirus lockdown is testing the limits of this truth.
Under lockdown, your people are more likely to interact with customers, clients and stakeholders from their own homes, using videoconferencing tools like Zoom and Microsoft Teams. Does that mean their surroundings – the living rooms, kitchens and bedrooms pressed into service as home offices – ought to align with your brand?
We’ve seen plenty of examples of people arranging their Zoom backdrops to build their personal brands recently. Various commentators and politicians have appeared on the news in front of carefully arranged bookshelves, clearly intended to indicate their intellectual leanings or even promote their own books. It’s become enough of a trend that there’s now a Twitter account dedicated to analysing the subtle and not-so-subtle messages of the bookshelves.
But it’s natural to expect someone’s home to reflect their personal brand. For most people, bringing their employer’s brand home is a different matter. It takes effort, and is likely to have an impact on their work–life balance.
For some, that impact will be positive. For those of your people fortunate enough to have dedicated office space in their home, making that space feel more reflective of your brand could actually help maintain that work–life boundary. These employees could benefit from clear suggestions and guidelines. If your brand is vibrant and creative, maybe it’s okay for clients on video calls to see a bit of colourful clutter. If it’s a warm and friendly brand, maybe there’s no need to move those family photos out of frame.
For everyone else, though? Asking them to introduce your brand to their living spaces will only blur the work–life boundary – a boundary that surveys suggest is already under huge pressure from the lockdown. Half of the respondents to an Institute for Employment Studies survey in April 2020 said they weren’t happy with their current work–life balance, and 48 percent said they were putting in longer and more irregular hours than before.
It’s fair to expect a reasonable level of professionalism on video calls made from home; no dirty laundry in the background, for example. But asking any more than that isn’t fair or healthy at the moment. Remember, the customers and clients your people are video calling are in the same boat. If your people’s lives intrude a little on their video calls, they’ll understand.
We’ve always found it useful to expand the lens of brand to cover, not just written and designed communications, but interpersonal interactions like customer service phone calls and engineer call-outs as well. It’s a more holistic approach to brand, which can strengthen the overall experience for your people and your customers.
But in this unusual and difficult situation we’re in, the power of your brand is best used to support your people, not to put more on their plates
For example, why not provide your people with a selection of custom branded backgrounds for their video calls? This gives their contacts a more branded experience, while removing the need for your people to be self-conscious about their surroundings, and avoiding your brand outstaying its welcome in anyone’s personal space.
Supportive actions like this can help remind your people why yours is an organisation they can believe in, even through difficult times.
Brands around the world are being forced to rapidly revise their employee engagement strategies, as they unexpectedly switch to remote working to combat the spread of the coronavirus COVID-19.
Some of the world’s biggest corporations, like Apple and Google, have instructed employees to work from home. Data from Vodafone shows that internet data usage in the UK is up 30%, giving an idea of the scale of the change.
We’re in the same position: the whole Redhouse team is currently working from home. (Our hours and capabilities are unchanged, and clients can still reach us as usual by email or phone.)
Look for advice on employee engagement, and you’ll find many variations on the same theme: that technology is all very well, but there’s no substitute for face-to-face interaction. As such, in-person meetings are still a big part of many organisations’ engagement strategies.
This worsens the crisis. Not only are employees dealing with uncertainty, and having to get used to unfamiliar systems and working practices, but the usual strategies for keeping people supported and engaged aren’t built for a workforce of isolated home workers. There’s a big risk of people feeling adrift, losing direction, and teams losing cohesion.
The coronavirus has accelerated the issue, but it’s something brands were going to have to reckon with sooner or later. Remote working was already on the rise. In 2012, 39% of employees worked remotely, even if only for a few hours a month. By 2016, that was up to 43% of employees.
Because of the virus, more organisations now have infrastructure in place to support remote working. Even once the immediate crisis has passed, it’s unlikely things will go back to exactly like before. Now that remote working is possible for more employees, more employees will choose that option.
It’s a wake-up call for brands to rethink their internal engagement strategies. How do we keep people feeling supported, feeling part of the team, when the option of bringing everyone together in the same room is off the table?
In the coming months, we’ll all need to look towards organisations that adopted remote working early, to discover new best practices for internal engagement.
Adapting to this shift is likely to require new channels, tools and technology, but these won’t make the difference on their own. To make them effective, you’ll need an internal culture change. Your people will need to feel trusted and empowered to work independently. They’ll need to feel supported by their colleagues even when they can’t just tap them on the shoulder for advice, and understand their responsibility to support others in turn. And all your people will need a stronger understanding than ever of your brand: the vision and purpose they’re all working together to achieve.
So when the all-clear sounds and there’s no more need for social distancing, don’t just slip back into the old way of doing things. Take the opportunity to learn from this difficult time; to learn what your organisation and your people are capable of, and how best to support those capabilities and succeed in a changing world.
No one moving into their first home today expects to still be living there when they retire. No one starting their first job today expects to stay there for life. And just like homes and jobs, a logo isn’t made for life any more. It’s made for now.
There are a few historic brands that still use their original logo today – or at least a slightly updated version of it. Twinings’s logo dates back to 1787 and since then, very little about it has changed. The same goes for Coca-Cola (1887) and Ford (1909) – classic brands whose logos have outlived generations and generations of consumers.
But in that time, our attitudes to ownership, property and longevity have changed. Homes, jobs and many more parts of life are temporary or shared, our idea of belonging is much more fluid – and this influences brands both new and old. One of the first to adapt to the new world was BP, which scrapped an almost century-old logo for a new, more environmentally conscious one.
Rather than aiming to withstand the test of time, unchanging, brands now prefer more flexible identity systems that can adapt to the ever-changing needs of the market. When we embark on a branding exercise, we expect to create something with a shelf-life of around five years (at least for the visual component – the company’s purpose and values ought to last longer). That’s shocking when you think of the hundred year-old logos that still exist today.
But it’s not just the longevity of the visual identity that’s changed; it’s also the idea of what a logo should be. When the Tate Gallery rebranded in the early 2000s, instead of a traditional logo, it started using a whole suite of different logotypes, signifying the dynamic and constantly evolving world of art. A few years later, the city of Melbourne rebranded itself with a capital M that could take almost any colour and contain a plethora of different patterns.
Even more recently, a new trend towards simplicity has spread from the world of tech and startups. Google, Uber, Airbnb and most recently BT have chosen simplicity over character. Clean, sans serif type, flat colours, effortless graphics and friendly photography characterise a trend that brings together rather than separates brands.
The trend is now appearing in sectors like fashion (Burberry), finance (Mastercard) and the public sector (see the identity we developed for the PSR for an example of the positive impact simplicity can have on a brand).
These trends towards flexibility and simplicity lend themselves to a more relaxed, conversational personality that today’s consumers respond well to. Brands don’t want to present strength and power any more (for example, we rarely see capital letters in logos now). Instead, they want to be partners, or even to take a secondary/supportive role, with the client or customer as the hero of the story.
The world of strict (and strictly policed) brand guidelines is on the way out. This is a more creative and agile environment where a brand is a flexible, plastic thing, and the logo is only a small part of the overall identity and brand experience. A brand for now is one that responds to the needs and attitudes of the audience – and can change as they do in the future.
From issue 1 of the Brand Report
Business-critical assets and publications are the canaries in the coalmine of brand. When these assets drift off-brand, it’s a sign that your organisation is losing confidence in its brand – and it could be time for an update.
Take the university prospectus as an example. Part marketing brochure, part tourist guide, part course catalogue, the prospectus is the keystone of a university’s annual student recruitment campaign.
And the weight of responsibility placed on prospectuses shows through in their design. It’s clear that most universities take extra special care to make sure these vital publications have a big impact.
But treating important publications (or microsites, or campaigns, or apps) as special cases can damage the overall cohesion of your brand.
We’ve seen behind the scenes of enough branded design projects to imagine the process. Designers lay out the content, following the brand guidelines. Then people start wondering whether the on-brand designs will have the necessary impact. They ask for extra colours, typefaces and graphics to make the content stand out more.
The instinct to make sure a business-critical communication really grabs its target audience is a good one. And more often than not, the result is a high quality communication that’s sure to have an impact.
But when that impact isn’t matched by the brand’s other channels, its effect is severely dampened. This lack of cohesion can even be damaging, giving the impression of an organisation that cares about getting people in through the door, but not about giving them a quality experience once they’re inside.
Move with the times
If you’re looking at a draft design that follows your brand guidelines and worrying that it won’t land with your audience, that means it’s time to revisit your brand.
Maybe your audience has changed, maybe design trends have moved on, or maybe the brand has been the same for so long that it’s simply time for a refresh.
Whatever the underlying reason, it’s important to stop tinkering with that one design, get that back on brand, then pull back and consider what changes might be right for the brand as a whole. How would new or updated colours work on your website and in campaigns? How might new styles for impact stats interact with existing visual hierarchies – or enhance your social media posts?
Only once the refresh project is complete, and all changes formally documented with an update to your brand guidelines, should you start incorporating the new brand into your business-critical communications (as part of a full roll-out across all your channels).
Unless everyone’s on the same page, a cohesive brand is impossible. But with efficient communication, your brand can adapt and evolve while remaining cohesive – ensuring you’re always achieving the right impact with the right people.