Why I’m having nightmares about brand

When I first started working in marketing, my manager (we’ll call her ‘Brandy’) seemed to use the word ‘brand’ about a million times a day. This seemed like a lot of talk about brand. Maybe even too much, I thought.

But then I started working somewhere (we’ll call it ‘Fuse’) that just did not seem to understand anything about brand or branding, and before long I was saying the word ‘brand’ all the time too. And thinking about it when I got home. And even now I no longer work there, I still think about their brand all the time – including my efforts (in vain it turned out) to improve it.

Brandy taught me so much about brand, especially the importance of using certain elements consistently across all touch-points, so your audience can see and connect with one unified look and feel. Elements such as:

  • Logo
  • Colours
  • Images
  • Typography
  • Layout
  • Tone of voice.

There a quite a few things to consider here, so it’s perhaps not surprising that sometimes things can slip – for example finding an image that seems to work really well for a specific piece of collateral, even if it doesn’t match any other images your organisation has ever used. But that was the least of my worries at Fuse…

For one thing, there were 5 (FIVE!) versions of the logo. There was a different version on the website compared to on a leaflet compared to on a book compared to on a pen compared to on Twitter. It was a mess. The basic style guide that the organisation had produced many years before (which incidentally only covered logos and fonts for some reason – nothing else to do with brand!) did mention which version of the logo should be used where – but often these ‘rules’ were flouted and I couldn’t tell what was going on or why. If I was a member of the public looking at these different things with the different logos, I might not even realise they were all from one organisation.

Back at the place where Brandy and I worked together there was a great rule that images had to be child-focussed, positive and limited to one strong image per design – rather than lots of little ones. But here there were no rules of this kind, so there were frequently lots of random images on any one design (none of them any good because they were from a cheesy online stock photo place), and there was never anything to tie them together. When I first arrived I tried to tactfully suggest that we needed to use images better, and perhaps invest in a decent image library. By the time I left I’d pretty much lost the ability to be tactful on the subject, but still nothing changed.

One of the strongest assets Fuse did have at their disposal was their corporate colour. It was strong, vivid and unlike any colours used by their competitors, so they had the potential to really stand out from the crowd. But mysteriously this colour was hardly used beyond the corporate letter-head. I worked with the designer on a daily basis and 9 times out of 10 this amazing colour didn’t make it into a design. One issue was that it was a 5th colour, and so could cost more to print, but rather than the director taking the decision to invest in the printing or change the shade just slightly, it was usually abandoned in favour of another, completely different, colour. I did everything I could to make sure new marketing collateral did feature this colour, and finally things were starting to look more unified, but now I’ve left I’m not convinced this legacy still lives on.

On top of this, there were two different fonts just in the LOGO, so that looked a bit of a mess. Also, the official ‘corporate font’ was problematic in that: a) not every member of staff had it on their computer; and b) external people certainly didn’t have it on their computers, meaning they wouldn’t be able to see it anyway! In the end I decided the typography was the least of my brand worries and the tech issues were out of my control, so I managed to cope with people using Arial instead.

Yet another issue was the layout – too often the logo was hidden away, lacking any prominence, and images and messaging overlapped so that neither of them were very clear. I always tried to steer the designer in the direction of placing the logo in the top right hand corner, nice and big, with headlines and other text in their own spaces, and photos/graphics in their own spaces too. But again this just didn’t happen most of the time, and there wasn’t much more I could say or do on the subject.

And don’t even get me started on tone of voice. One of the biggest campaigns the organisation was working on when I was there had messaging that can only be described as snide. I don’t know who took the decision to use that sort of tone, or how they thought it was appropriate, but certainly no one from the marketing team was consulted before hand, and then it was too late.

Now I’ve left Fuse I often lie awake at night thinking about all this. I know that before I arrived people didn’t seem to think there was an issue with the brand – my predecessor actually said they had ‘a strong brand’ in her handover notes. But as soon as I arrived I spotted that the brand wasn’t working and set about coming up with solutions to fix it – including saying that we needed proper brand guidelines covering everything I’ve just mentioned. My manager agreed change was necessary and fully supported me in my mission – also identifying the need for backing from higher up in the organisation in order to really bring about the changes.

Yet it seemed that no one was willing to listen to us or respect our expertise. Time and time again the marketing team wasn’t even consulted on new projects, so poorly branded materials kept being churned out, and no one with the power to help did anything to change this. Essentially the very people the organisation had hired as marketers were being ignored, and as a result more and more damage was being done to the brand. That’s a big part of the reason I left Fuse – I’m not sure how anyone could continue working under those circumstances.

I know it’s time to move on now – these issues are theirs now, not mine. But I suspect thoughts about their logos, colours and images will still creep into my head every now and then. That’s the power of brand.

Australia Observations

Environmentally (un)friendly

One thing I love about Australia is how ‘green’ so many people and places are.

Whenever I go shopping or eat out I am greeted with a plethora of organic ingredients and products, and it’s so easy to find local produce – not just from within Australia, but from your own state.

Take Alex’s favourite beer, Mountain Goat. It’s certified organic and it’s from just down the road in Richmond – so it’s only had to travel about 9.5km to get to our fridge!

Mountain Goat from down the road
Mountain Goat from down the road

There’s a brilliant organic shop near us, where everything seems to be environmentally friendly, organic and locally-produced, from the vegetables and bread to the laundry detergent and jute bags. We even made our own peanut butter by smooshing some peanuts through a machine into a tub – with literally nothing else added!

We also managed to find the same organic hand soap we’d just used up at home, and were about to buy it when we looked at the label. We were expecting to see that it had come from just down the road, like our beer, but were surprised to find it had been imported. From America!

Soap from 8,000 miles away
Soap from 8,000 miles away

There’s something not quite right about a shop that claims to be all about organic, environmentally friendly produce, but then stocks imported soap from thousands of miles away, leaving a massive carbon footprint behind.

Needless to say we ditched that soap in favour of another one on the neighbouring shelf – which came from Riddells Creek (just 60km away!)

Australia Observations

Australia and adoption

Last night’s news included a brief story on adoption in Australia. My ears pricked up at the mention of the word ‘adoption’ because I’ve spent 6 years working in communications at leading fostering and adoption charities in the UK, so I was very interested to find out about the situation in Australia.

It turns out Hugh Jackman and wife Deborra-Lee Furness are calling on the Australian government to urgently overhaul an adoption process they say is destroying children’s lives. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, Furness has ‘slammed Australia’s ”anti-adoption culture”, saying the country’s inaction on the global orphan crisis is a disgrace’.

She also said it was ‘a ”disgrace” that, with 18,000 children in foster care in NSW needing a family, only 65 were adopted’.

Adoption is always a tricky topic, but this story is particularly interesting because it seems to be trying to tackle the low adoption rate of Australian children within Australia, alongside a call for more adoptions of international orphans. But surely these are two very different areas that are hard to compare?

Take Furness’s comment that the number of orphaned children across the world is increasing, while adoption is decreasing, and her statement that:

“It’s a crime, what happens to these abandoned kids. They end up institutionalised and then have developmental delays and mental health issues, the human conditions, the kid on the street who becomes prey to predators, it is rife with danger and these children are vulnerable.” Read the whole article.

Of course, what can and does happen to vulnerable children on the streets across the world is horrific, and we should all do whatever we can to fix it. Adoption isn’t the only answer though – thanks to aid organisations like Save the ChildrenOxfam, and Plan International, there are many options for people who want to make a difference (and thanks to these charities’ infrastructures, the difference they make is on a large scale).

But the thing is, the situation in Australia is very different. Most of the children who come into the care system are not orphans on the street for whom adoption is the only option – in reality they often need a new home because of issues such as parental substance abuse and neglect. And most of the time severing all legal ties through adoption isn’t the right answer.

Instead thousands of children in Australia and the UK can and do benefit from the incredible work of highly trained foster carers and social workers. The child has a safe home for as long as they need it, while their birth parents receive support and learn better parenting skills, so they can be reunited later on if things work out. If the child can’t go back to their birth parents then there’s permanent fostering or an SGO to consider. These types of social care probably aren’t seen much in the developing world, if they even exist at all.

It’s a highly complex area, and I’m not sure I’ll ever fully understand it. I think the main thing to consider is that there are vulnerable children desperately in need of help everywhere – whether it is an orphaned toddler from a worn-torn country, or a neglected teenager from your own city. Adoption can be one way to fix things, but it’s not the only way. Thanks to aid organisations, local charities and foster care providers, there are many things we can do to help at home and away.