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24.02.07 + Branding

Let's make annual brand diagnostics a thing

Cars regularly get 18-point safety checks; isn’t it time brands did, too?

Brands are like cars - there’s a lot under the hood, and they need regular maintenance to run smoothly. Director of Creative Strategy Mika Saulitis offers an 18-point brand diagnostic to keep your brand in good shape.

After ignoring the sticker on my windshield for the better part of six months, I finally bit the bullet and had my oil changed. While I was waiting for the crew to finish, I found myself staring at an 18-Point Safety Check poster on the wall. There was something that drew me to it—probably because my entertainment options were either that poster or counting how many windshield wipers they had in stock next to me.


But there was also something illuminating about it. I’m not a car guy by any means, so identifying the key components I need to prioritize—and the ones mechanics prioritize checking—was both helpful and reassuring. Sure, maybe a little gimmicky, but I dug it.


It got me thinking…shouldn’t there be something similar for brands? A checklist of sorts to ensure that the key elements are running efficiently and are as impactful as possible.


Building and maintaining a brand is complex; it’s a living, breathing entity with visual, verbal, behavioral, and sonic elements that shift and evolve regularly. But there are some simple steps that brands can take to ensure their “check engine” light doesn’t go off.

Often, branding conversations are geared toward big, splashy changes. They revolve around taking a large step back, reimagining core strategic and creative elements, and building hundreds of deliverables to bring this new vision to life. The “rebuild the engine ” solution, to keep this automotive analogy going.

But sweeping rebrands are just a small part of the branding process—and are, in fact, often not the solution to maintaining a healthy and impactful brand (as Trollbäck+Company’s CCO Alex Moulton recently wrote about here). More often than not, a brand can benefit from taking a small step back, assessing the performance of a handful of specific assets and elements, and making slight tweaks to optimize performance. You know, getting your oil changed so you ideally don’t get to the point of needing a new transmission.


Building and maintaining a brand is complex; it’s a living, breathing entity with visual, verbal, behavioral, and sonic elements that shift and evolve regularly. But there are some simple steps that brands can take to ensure their “check engine” light doesn’t go off.


THE 18-POINT BRAND DIAGNOSTIC


FOUNDATIONAL BUILDING BLOCKS

  • 01 / Target audience
    • Are we reaching our desired customers, and if not, why?
    • Are the segments identified still relevant?
    • Are there unidentified or aspirational segments we need to add?
  • 02 / Landscape evolution
    • Have new entrants impacted our defendable territory?
    • How have existing competitors evolved?
    • Has the cultural landscape shifted, and if so, how have we adapted?
  • 03 / Internal feedback
    • Do internal stakeholders understand why our brand exists beyond making money, and can they apply that higher calling to their daily efforts?
    • Practically speaking, what’s working, and what’s not, for teams that steward our brand–i.e. are there any assets that aren’t being used or need to be built?
    • Are third-party partners able to effectively bring our brand to life?

HERO BRAND ELEMENTS

  • 04 / Name
    • Is our brand name still resonating and being activated to its full potential ?
    • Are modifiers being used that are no longer necessary (Inc., TV, Ltd.)?
    • Is our name being used consistently across all touchpoints and platforms?
  • 05 / Logo
    • Does our logo still stand out and motivate engagement?
    • Is the current version being used everywhere, or are old versions still out in the wild?
    • Does it work in large and small (favicon) applications, or is a secondary mark or additional supporting elements required?
  • 06 / Positioning
    • Is there a clear promise that comes through in our design, voice, and marketing?
    • Does it need to evolve based on shifts to our core products or services?
    • Does it need to evolve based on shifts in the competitive or cultural landscapes?

VERBAL IDENTITY

  • 07 / Brand voice
    • If someone described our voice in three attributes, would it align with our internal aspirations?
    • Does our voice sound consistent and cohesive, no matter who is writing?
    • Are the current guidelines clear and actionable, or is more guidance required?
  • 08 / Tagline or Brand Mantra
    • If we have a tagline, is it necessary and does it clarify our brand for audiences?
    • If we don’t have a tagline, are we communicating our promise succinctly without it?
    • Does our tagline align with the mood and tone of our brand’s voice and design?
  • 09 / Marketing
    • Is there a unifying platform that streamlines our decision-making for marketing?
    • Does the platform feel as true to our brand today as it did last year?
    • Does the platform resonate with our audience as much today as it did last year?

VISUAL IDENTITY

  • 10 / Design + animation
    • Is there a unifying creative concept that influences all design and animation?
    • Does our creative concept still ladder up to, and visually bring to life, the positioning?
    • Does our creative concept translate consistently across all brand touchpoints?
  • 11 / Typography
    • Are our fonts, weights, and sizes being implemented consistently?
    • Are rules around when to use all caps, title, and sentence casing being followed?
    • Does our typography still align with our positioning and stand out in the market?
  • 12 / Color palette
    • Check a handful of assets: do the color codes align with those in our style guide?
    • Does the implementation of color feel consistent, or are rules being broken?
    • Are any new colors being used that aren’t in the style guide? Are they necessary?

SONIC IDENTITY

  • 13 / Mnemonic or Sonic Logo
    • If we have a mnemonic, is there consistency with when and how it’s implemented?
    • Is it being used frequently enough for our audiences to associate it with the brand?
    • If we don’t have a mnemonic, are there other audio cues that signal our brand?
  • 14 / Music
    • Are there consistent themes with the music being selected in our brand assets?
    • Has music felt “off” in any of our brand assets, and if so, why?
    • Has our approach to sourcing music worked (specific soundalikes vs. general vibe)?
  • 15 / Voiceover talent
    • If we’re using one VO talent, does that voice still feel like it aligns with our position?
    • If we’re using multiple VO talent, is there consistent criteria for the selection process?
    • Is using VO more or less successful than GFX, and can we lean more/less into that?

IMPLEMENTATION

  • 16 / Styleguides
    • Which guidelines are used most frequently, and are they easily understood?
    • Which rules and guidelines are most rarely referenced, and are they still necessary?
    • Are there any rules or guidelines not written that internal teams need guidance on?
  • 17 / Toolkits
    • Do our toolkits cater to the technical capabilities and specs of our internal teams?
    • Is anything overly-complex, or overly-simple, and how can we improve it?
    • Are any assets being built from scratch that could be streamlined via toolkit?
  • 18 / Tech specs
    • Do our employees have the software/plugins required to perform at the highest level?
    • Do our employees have the hardware required to perform at the highest level?
    • Is there new technology that internal teams desire, but has not been implemented?

There are literally hundreds of elements that make up a brand, and it can be hard to know where to start when it comes to updating, evolving, and adjusting. But just as my local mechanic didn’t feel the need to check every detail of my car–the cloudiness of my headlights, the dustiness of my dashboard, the lack of valve cap on my right rear tire–you, too, can focus your attention and efforts on the brand assets that are most important to maintain and evolve. Just 18 assets, to be exact. Because hey, if that number is good enough for Ronald at the car shop, it’s good enough for me, too.


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