Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

When it comes to your brand’s identity, don’t predict – prepare.

By Brett Zucker, CMO of Monotype

Remember back when ‘The Future’ was a comfortable place that belonged to dense analyst reports, dramatically-lit conference stages, and glossy strategy decks? That future is, suddenly – and across pretty much every market vertical -happening right here, right now.

As COVID-19 swept the globe, trends that had been brewing for decades were accelerated like never before. Many businesses have had to adapt to not just digital-first but digital-only. In a matter of weeks, entire workforces went remote, while at the same time fielding an avalanche of customer enquiries and launching new products and services to help meet an entirely new set of customer needs.

I’ve always believed that predictions by futurists and analysts only get you so far. The last six months have proven that to thrive; brands need to be prepared… and prepared for anything. Every company board has digital transformation where it belongs at the top of the agenda – but to be ready for any eventuality, that transformation needs to be framed as a continual process, a constant evolution – not as it so often is, a final destination.

Interestingly, while many business leaders I speak to are focused on achieving digital transformation within their business, few thought before the pandemic to include their brand identity (and the creative team who manage it) in that process – despite the fact that brand identity is their single biggest consumer touchpoint. So when it comes to brand identity, what does digital transformation look like, and what does being prepared actually mean in practice?

Being prepared means being ready as a brand to adapt to ever-changing circumstances – whatever those circumstances happen to be. Right now, we’re dealing with a pandemic, but a well-prepared brand should, in theory, be ready to respond not just to force majeures and global crisis, but micro-trends, consumer shifts, new technologies… in fact, new anything.

A brand identity is not, of course, just a question of logo and colours. At its most effective, brand identity is a unique, consistent customer experience of company voice, visual style, and vision. Consistency in brand identity matters even more in times of change – because only with consistency can a business win and maintain their customers’ trust. But how to be consistent while at the same time being prepared for anything?

Let’s look at the last six months as a case in point. Customer behaviour has changed faster than ever before, and with it, the demands and expectations of customers. Those businesses with digital transformation in place have rapidly launched new apps, services, and products. But core to the successful adoption of these new offerings is the brand’s identity and its ability to flex around new offers while remaining consistent.

Consistency of identity signals to customers that you’ve put thought and care into the offer. It reassures them they’ll receive the same level of quality and service they expect from the experience they knew before. And it helps show at first glance that it’s really you and not a scam. Pandemic-related scamming is up 400%, so anything that allows secure brand trust is at an all-time premium. Brands that have invested in developing their proprietary font are in a great position here, but every brand now needs to specifically assess how they are maintaining brand consistency – and how successfully they are conveying trust.

And brand consistency is where many businesses have fallen. A consistent but agile brand identity simply isn’t possible without a unified creative team, empowered with the right tools, platforms, and software. That’s why, for many organisations, the sudden shift to remote has been especially challenging for their creative team, disrupting the creative process itself. For example, designers need to be in constant sync – sharing ideas, drafts, feedback, and of course, brand assets. Companies are learning that collaboration tools aren’t ‘nice to have’ extras – they are an essential part of being prepared. Without them, the creative process itself is at risk, and with it, the brand’s consistency and innovative capacity.

The interpersonal aspects of collaboration are easier to solve with video conferencing, Slack, email, and old-fashioned phone calls, but sharing assets and files is a different story. Many brands still store assets like fonts on local servers or even individual team members’ computers, which creates a significant challenge when teams can’t access them. Cloud-based asset management provides a central management system teams can access from anywhere, anytime. Coupled with cloud-based design programs, this allows your creative teams to work unimpeded come what may.

None of us – not even the most highly-paid futurist on the conference circuit – could have predicted COVID-19 and the impact a near-global lockdown would have on the way we live and work. It’s been heartening to see that the investment many businesses made in digital transformation have enabled them to rise and meet the challenge for their customers with new products and services. However, the pandemic has also shown that creative teams have all too often been left out of digital transformation projects, even though they are among the most impacted by changes such as remote working and the need to deliver consistent brand identity across rapidly-changing products and services.

While we can’t always predict what will happen, we can ensure our brands are prepared to meet whatever challenges arise, and in times like these of uncertainty and change, I predict that’s something consumers will increasingly value.