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The perils of putting your brand in the hands of others

Has anyone ever messed with your logo? Played around with the treasured symbol of your brand? The one that represents millions of dollars in brand value?

No matter how jealously you guard your brand standards, there will always be those people who just can't resist the urge to leave their own mark on your mark.

This challenge is even greater if you're running a not-for-profit or if you are a cause marketer because you rely on corporate partners and other organizations to help you get the word out. For a profile, you want your logo on their publications, their events and their communications ... but you don't want them to change the colour, introduce a new "creative" tagline or add a "cute" accessory reflecting their own message.

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So how do you ensure brand consistency? While there isn't a magic solution, there are some things you can do to protect your brand.

Use a carrot, not a stick

It's important to tightly manage your brand but being a strong Brand Cop runs the risk of triggering subversive behaviour from corporate partners, franchisees or even internal teams. They would rather ignore your guidelines and execute their own expression of the brand.

To mitigate against this, help people understand why the brand guidelines are in place. Tell your employees and partners about your brand story. Explain how every action adds to (or subtracts from) the brand's market power. When people understand the impact of each branding decision, they are more likely to want to play by the rules.

Of course, you have to be clear about what the rules are. How much leeway do you want to give to those who have permission to use your brand? The clearer you are about defining the parameters for how your brand can be used, the more successful you will be in ensuring that its value is not compromised when others use it in their communications.

Be clear with anyone who gets permission to use the brand and let them know your expectations regarding usage approval.

Put your brand in context

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One of the most important things a marketer can do is understand the environment where the brand lives. Study where it touches those you want to connect with - from print to Web to the signage on your building - and see how your audiences "experience" you. Look further to partner publications, trade shows and promotions. Is there consistency? Have you provided people with brand alternatives that fit every need - or are you forcing them to improvise when it comes to how the brand is used?

Doing the right thing

Instead of giving people a 200-page brand guideline binder that gathers dust on shelves, offer people tools that make "brand compliance" easy. Provide them with templates and "ready-to-go" kits for every situation. Take a page out of Lululemon Athletica Inc.'s book and offer customizable tools online. This approach ensures consistency, cuts down on the back-and-forth approval process, and makes it fun for others to work with your brand.

Another tip: When you're developing your templates, test them out with the people who will be using them. That way, you can avoid potential hiccups and you'll end up with better brand communications.

Pick your battles

You definitely want to ensure that everyone in your marketing team understands the importance of correct trademark usage. But, other battles may be less important - or even tough to win. Consider how the Internet, blogging, YouTube and social networking have changed the face of branding. You can't stop people from saying what they think about your brand.

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In this age of transparency, you need to establish authentic connections with your stakeholders. If you monitor blogs, you'll find out pretty quickly if people outside of your walls see your brand the same way you do. Instead of arguing with them, think about what you can do with this information.

Maybe you need to improve your customer service; respond more quickly to complaints; tell people about the good things you're doing in the community.

Whatever the issue, this feedback is invaluable, but only if you solicit it and act on it. Your logo is only as strong as the brand behind it.

Appoint brand champions

This starts from the CEO on down. If you have people throughout your organization who are passionate about your brand, it will show up in your workplace, in communications, and in peoples' attitudes.

But if you act like you don't care about your brand, why should anyone else?

Andrea Southcott is president of ad agency TBWA\Vancouver

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