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The State of Brand Governance in 2023

by Lee Dussinger

The brand marketing renaissance is here. We’ve seen AirBnB, Lego, and several other international companies announce runaway success from their brand-first marketing efforts. 

Pivoting to a brand-based marketing strategy, or simply dedicating a greater percentage of budget to brand efforts, is an increasingly popular strategy in 2023. Rather than wholesale buying clicks, impressions, and sales opportunities, companies are investing in creating a brand that resonates with their audience. When your customer base feels like they have a relationship with your brand, what you sell becomes more than just a purchase – it becomes a part of who they are. 

Not only does investing in brand marketing earn long-term customer loyalty, but established brands are the best positioned to thrive during a recession. It’s easy to see why brand excellence is an attractive target for marketing leaders. Maybe that’s on your mind, too.  

However, if your brand is going to be the tip of the spear for your business engine, protecting it in the market becomes all the more important. Brand governance has long been seen as the leading discipline dedicated to safeguarding brands. We’re going to establish a working brand governance definition, consider its relevance in 2023, and explore other ideas around maintaining a unified brand in the market.  

What is Brand Governance?

What is brand governance?

Brand governance is defined as the formal process to ensure creative and messaging consistency for any brand communications or messaging. Typically, a brand governance framework is a set of rules and practices with which brands explicitly state what can and can’t be done. Generally, this framework lives in a document or a series of documents that are strictly applied to all content, assets, communications, materials, and more. When creating marketing content, this often looks like an extensive series of “do’s and do-not’s”.  

There are clear benefits to a robust framework that shepherds your brand. For one thing, when you govern with a relatively iron fist, building brand alignment through consistency becomes much easier. 

In addition, governance protects the company from costly errors. (Consider it a failsafe against being sued.) In certain industries that face stricter legal requirements in how they market, you benefit from adhering to the classic brand governance definition. The medical field is a prominent example of a brand type that requires more precise marketing control. In addition, companies that have an extensive international presence (and thus face a wider variety of legal requirements) find the structure essential.  

Lastly, a retraction is not an option in the 21st century. In this always-online digital age, a brand mistake can haunt you more than ever. Governance doesn’t guarantee you’ll never make a mistake, but employing a framework should make it far less likely.  

Of course, there are also downsides to this practice as well…

Why Some Brands are Moving away from a Governance Model 

As powerful as a formal framework for brand governance may be, it’s no longer ubiquitous in enterprise marketing organizations. 

Of course, the mandate to create a consistent brand and protect it from mistakes is more pressing than ever. Moving away from the brand governance model is something we have seen from our customers – as well as in the way we manage our own brand at Opal.

(Opal works with many of the biggest brands in the world – see our customer list here)

Here are a few reasons why enterprise organizations (and more) are moving away from strict governance:

Need for Humanity in the Brand – Brands need to be more responsive to their audiences, particularly on social media. Brands need to be able to respond to the world quickly and candidly. In a word, brands need to be more human. Leaders are finding that you can’t lock that opportunity at a human moment with your audience behind a multi-part governance framework

Rigidity Can Squash Creativity – When every marketing asset will be audited with a concrete set of “do’s and do-not’s”, that can have a potentially adverse effect on creativity. Opting for looser brand guidelines over governance empowers brand content marketers – while still protecting the brand.     

More Content is Made Than Ever – The digital age has meant a proliferation of marketing channels – and a proliferation of content to match. This means the modern marketing team is met with a greater appetite for quality brand content for their audiences. The need for more content and new types of content can lead to the traditional brand governance framework feeling restrictive.  

Extra Time and Steps – The mandate to apply a formal brand governance model to every piece of content is time consuming. A team member other than the original content creator needs to manually audit the content to ensure there are no violations.   

Marketer Specialization – Your marketing team members are skilled and specialized. They know what your content needs to include to succeed on a given platform. Ultimately, leaders are beginning to fully trust their marketers to do what they do best. After all, when you put together  a good team, they care about the brand just as much as you do. 

There are practical issues with a brand governance structure, however, that doesn’t mean guidance over a brand goes away. You can’t earn an effective and aligned brand through an in-the-market free-for-all. Instead, brands are implementing a looser, but still consistent, set of brand guidelines. 

Brand Identity Guidelines vs Governance 

You still need to equip your teams with the resources to understand how to communicate brand voice. Brand identity guidelines provide guardrails for marketing, but they tend to be less overarching than a full governance framework. These are some of the key differences between these two methods of brand oversight:  

1. Best Practices – Rather Than Specifics  

In general, brand guidelines will be a series of best practices rather than prescriptive rules. While there may be some stringent guidelines to avoid being sued, modern brand identity guidelines are more interpretive. They highlight essential info like the brand pillars and brand story to guide the marketing team’s content and communications. Ultimately, the best brand guidelines provide enough information to ensure that marketers have the freedom to create outstanding content.  

2. Inspiration vs. Audit 

Another way to understand the difference between brand governance vs brand guidelines is to examine at what stage in the content operations process they are applied. Traditionally, a brand governance framework is used as a rubric after content has been created. On the other hand, brand guidelines often live alongside the marketing brief and provide guidance when the content is being created.

3. For Content Creators – Not Approvers 

Another differentiator is who uses each of these document sets. Guidelines are for the team members to reference themselves when engaging with customers in real-time or when creating content. While all team members should be able to reference governance materials, that framework is implemented by an additional approver or team. 

The Modern Method of Implementing Brand Governance  

While brand governance may be less universal in 2023, it is still a valuable practice for some organizations. Depending on the level of control your market and your brand requires, governance should be a part of your strategy

The right platform and the right processes can make a brand governance framework successful and efficient. Here are two factors to keep in mind:

Powerful Approval Workflows Needed – The content publishing cadence for brands in 2023 tends to be rapid-fire. However, adhering to governance doesn’t need to slow you down. The right software platform can build governance approvals into the workflow. So as soon as the content is ready, it can automatically be sent to be checked to ensure it meets governance standards. This keeps the approval process moving as quickly as possibly – all while ensuring that this crucial step is never missed. 

Build Governance and Guidelines into Briefing – Better marketing briefs can upgrade almost any marketing organization. However, for teams working in accordance with tighter governance structure, it’s essential. Pairing the brief with both the brand identity guidelines and the brand governance documents ensures that your team understands the parameters from the start. 

Explore the Opal Platform

 If you’re interested in a software platform to bring your brand planning from idea to execution – you’re looking for Opal. Opal can equip your briefs with key brand info, expedite the approval process, and do much more to enable you to bring brand content to your audience.  

That’s why top companies like Target, GM, and Starbucks trust the Opal platform when managing their brand experiences.

To fully understand how Opal can enhance your content planning and review process, you have two options:

Firstly, you can request a product demo from one of our experts who will guide you through everything the platform has to offer. They’ll provide you with a comprehensive look at how you can plan, create, and calendar your content in Opal.

Alternatively, if you prefer a hands-on approach, free trial access might be the ideal option for you. This will grant you full access to all of Opal’s features. Start your free trial now, and you’ll automatically be entered into your very own Opal experience!

About the Author

Lee Dussinger

Senior Content & Product Marketer

Writing about campaign briefing, brand alignment, omnichannel marketing, content operations and more

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