Aligning Objectives

Ever feel like pulling out your hair because nobody in the organization seems to be on the same page? Do the management and employees have different perceptions on what the brand means? Do people in the organization have varying opinions on the target segment that the company is trying to serve? Time to think of a brand manual

It’s a common feeling in the corporate world. Varied understanding of the organizational values, business strategy and meaning of the brand mean that there is an inconsistent perception of vision, mission and objectives across the organization. This results in misguided efforts from various fronts. Marketing managers may conceptualize products working on a faulty understanding of the segments that the company is targeting. The sales force may focus on the wrong kind of customers because of a failure to understand the positioning of the brand. All this leads to confusion in the consumers’ mind about the meaning of the brand, eventually diminishing its equity. And of course, it makes the CEO want to pull her hair out!

In addition, many companies don’t have clearly defined guidelines that employees can follow when it comes to communication, both internal and external. This results in each person using their own styles, fonts, colours and language, depending on personal tastes and preferences, to represent the corporate brand. Combined with the less than perfect understanding of the corporate brand identity, its vision and objectives, this is a recipe for a brand disaster.

This is where the brand manual comes in handy. A brand manual is a document that provides users with comprehensive information on the corporate brand. It contains information on the company’s vision and mission – the reason they are in the business. It defines the objectives of the firm, both long-term and short-term. The brand strategy, and the business strategy from which it is derived, are clearly defined in the brand manual. In addition, it contains clear guidelines on use of the corporate name, logo and signatures. Users can refer to the brand manual to find out how to use fonts, images, styles and colour palettes in their presentations and documents. This helps the company spit out consistent and coherent communication through all its channels.

An additional benefit that a brand manual can provide is the elimination of duplication of effort. Everyday we perform tasks in which we reinvent the wheel. Duplication of work is a major reason for the Pareto principle – 80% of our productive work comes from 20% of our time – simply because we spend so much time doing something that has already been done. A brand manual can provide an archive of templates for communication so that someone using it doesn’t have to go through the trouble of starting from scratch. Imagine if you had access to templates for spreadsheets, presentations and emails that are used frequently. All you would have to do is supply the content and not worry about the formatting, layout and style. Wouldn’t you have a lot of free time on your hands?

If your company is thinking about getting a brand manual designed, there are a few aspects that should be kept in mind while deciding on the project. The brand manual is meant to house the essence of the corporate brand in a readable, easy to understand manner. This means two things. First, whoever is designing the brand manual must first understand the essence of the company the manual is meant for. Time and effort must be spent researching and understanding what the brand means to its various stakeholders and what it wants to become in the future. Second, the designer and creative writers must use language, imagery and typographical styles that make sense to the end user of the manual. For example, if supermarket clerks are reading the manual, it shouldn’t contain too much management or creative jargon. Otherwise, they will simply stop using the manual or worse, start interpreting the manual in their own way.

Once the brand manual is created, the employees must be encouraged to use it. A lot of new initiatives that a company takes fail because employees are reluctant to evolve and adapt. Let me narrate a recent experience I had with a storage equipment manufacturer which illustrates this point. The company, a medium sized manufacturing unit with a turnover of about Rs. 140 Crores, had recently implemented a sales dashboard – a software package that provides up to date information about a host of things to the sales force. The sales dashboard provides information and visualization aids to the sales force that helps them make quick fire decisions. In theory, the dashboard should have improved sales productivity by leaps and bounds since it reduces the time needed to research each prospect before making a pitch. This would justify the money (a significant amount) spent on the software since even a small increase in sales productivity increases the bottom line by a significant amount. However, when I asked a dozen or so salesmen how often they used the dashboard I got a nasty shock; only 2 of them said they use it at least once a week. Well the point I’m trying to make is that unless people use the tools given to them, they add no value. The management must make a concentrated effort to educate the employees about the advantages of using a tool – such as the brand manual – and how it will add value to them. This requires a commitment from the very highest level. In addition, employees must be given a sense of ownership in the project. This can be done by taking and incorporating suggestions made by employees themselves about what goes into the brand manual, how it should look and where it should be (hard copy or online).

A brand manual can add significant value to your organization. However, like any other tool, the management must understand its applications and benefits before making the decision to get one. Once that decision has been made, careful selection of a vendor is a must. In parallel, employees must be educated about the brand manual and how it will add value to each of them. They should be included in the decision making and the design so that they feel an involved and get a sense of ownership. If a company follows these steps, a brand manual may be the solution that prevents early hair-loss for the CEO!

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2 Responses to “Aligning Objectives”

  1. richard Says:

    thanks for the education on brand manuals, simple enough concept to boost productivity and project a company with its image clearly enough. how big do you reckon a company should be to have something like this implemented?

    • sumanbhat Says:

      Companies of all sizes can use a brand manual, but the composition of the manual might change according to the size of the organization. In a large organization, the company vision and objectives sometimes do not filter down to all the employees. It may also have a number of people or departments dealing with different stakeholders at different times. In such a company, a detailed brand manual outlining all aspects of the brand are needed. In a small company comprising of a handful of people, there is less need for a formal document describing the reason for being in business or the objectives that are trying to be fulfilled. In such a company a brand manual should contain guidelines on communication to various types of stakeholders including customers, suppliers and partners. It may also contain templates for documents prepared frequently such as rate cards, purchase orders, invoices and bills. Such a brand manual would be much more concise than one used by a large organization and can easily be developed in house.

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