The Struggle to Thwart Brand Bandits

October 1, 2014

It’s rather innocent, really.

By Laurie Hileman

An office manager in a far-flung franchise location tweaks your logo to fit a flyer she’s putting together for their next local event.

A client tries to save a few bucks by using a local printer to print 10,000 of your sell sheets. The colors are a bit off, but the price is right.

They are brand bandits and they’re unintentionally pilfering one of your company’s most valuable assets: your brand identity.

In an increasingly competitive business world, the ability to create and sustain a consistent brand is becoming essential for survival. Brands are built over time through the messages you communicate in every medium and how consistently you communicate these messages. Even small migrations from corporate identity standards add up to big losses in the value of a brand.

“Building and defending a brand’s position in the market starts and builds from each individual’s behaviors and actions. The inverse is also true in that dilution of brands happens at the individual level,” says Randall S. Rozin, global director of brand management and marketing for Dow Corning Corporation, a global leader in silicon-based technology and innovation.

So how do you protect your brand in the hands of your well-meaning but non-marketing stakeholders? Companies large and small are turning to digital storefronts (DSF) to provide coordinated, consistent, and relevant materials in an easy-to-use and easily accessible format. Within a digital storefront, corporate identity materials are standardized—and your brand is protected from the unintentional pilfering of the brand bandits.

Here’s a look at how two organizations are using digital storefronts to increase the effectiveness of their marketing departments, strengthen brand identity, and create major cost savings on an annual basis.

Northwood University

“Who can take a university seriously when they see something different from three centers within a hundred miles?” asks Belinda Hawley, project manager for marketing communications at Northwood University, Midland, Mich., when describing one of the many challenges faced 10 years ago by the university’s then newly formed marketing department.

Although the business school had long been known for its success in developing future leaders at locations in Michigan, Florida, Texas, and Switzerland, it was facing a bit of an identity crisis. As a new branding campaign started underway, Judy Fox-Marchev, director of advertising and marketing, understood having consistency in the marketplace with their print communications was even more important than ever before.

They turned to the university’s digital storefront with The F.P. Horak Company. Originally part of a purchasing agreement, the storefront quickly became one of the marketing department’s strongest tools in their branding arsenal.

“The storefront helped us pull everything together, so we could streamline the pieces, the messages, and monitor the proper use of our branding elements,” says Fox-Marchev.

The storefront is currently home to the university’s stationery, envelopes, business cards, brochures, admissions pieces, applications, invitation templates, and more. Products are readily available and readily viewable to the hundreds of employees at their locations around the world.

“Everything on the site has the correct logos, the correct colors, so that they are not out creating their own or using other vendors who may not know what our standards are,” says Hawley. “Something as simple as letterhead could look very different if every center worldwide did their own.”

Employees who were once used to doing things on their own—and who often preferred it that way—are now enjoying the easy-to-use system and the time it saves them. Several of the items are print-on-demand, with customizable fields allowing selected materials to be designed for specific locations and programs. Employees manage their own budgets, and the site is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week for orders.

Putting ordering in the hands of employees adds a welcome level of accountability and has led to better cost control at the university. In the past, it was not unusual for people to order 20,000 brochures, store them in a closet, and end up throwing most of them away at the end of the year when facts changed.

Today, over-ordering has significantly decreased. And, since Hawley and Fox-Marchev can monitor usage through the storefront, others whose marketing efforts need to be ramped up can also be identified.

Cost savings occur from a human resources standpoint, too. “We don’t have to dedicate a human resource to take care of ordering and maintaining things in that capacity at such an intense level,” says Fox-Marchev.

Hawley and Fox-Marchev are glad to see the days of people designing brochures with logos toting a mortar board and little feet have come to an end. “The storefront has helped keep things professional and consistent,” says Hawley. “It makes my life so much easier.”

Financial Service Centers Cooperative, Inc.

Two staff ÷ 1,500 clients = One heck of a marketing challenge

Such was the case at Financial Service Centers Cooperative, Inc. (FSCC), Ontario, Calif., the nation’s largest credit union shared branching network, with financial access points at more than 6,700 locations in all 50 states, Puerto Rico, Guam, and on military bases in three foreign countries.

To help ease the onerous task of providing marketing services to credit unions in multiple time zones, Nathan Rogers, vice president of marketing for FSCC, turned to a digital storefront for its unique blend of accessibility, customization, and cost savings.

“One of the things we run into, being we are a network, is [our clients] have a hard time figuring out how to promote us,” says Rogers. “Providing a method for them to do some customization of our already-designed marketing materials has given them the ability to pop in and find what best fits their marketing plan, plug in their logo, plug in their items, and then go with it.”

And, with Rogers and his team members no longer having to place orders and guide clients through the marketing process, they now have time to heartily expand their offerings to clients.

“By adding in the storefront, we were able to more than quadruple the number of marketing and service items that our clients have been able to order and put in place,” says Rogers.

The storefront also reduces the need for policing brand standards. In years past, credit unions used FSCC logos and materials at their own discretion, despite having brand guidelines. Some would change the logo colors to match their own institutions, and others might change—or omit entirely—the FSCC tagline. With predesigned postcards and statement inserts with editable regions now in the storefront, effective marketing is effortless for clients.

While the cost savings of protecting a corporate identity are hard to quantify, Rogers quickly points to immediate cost savings resulting from the storefront. He references the task of supplying necessary hand-written receipts and transaction tickets to every credit union, a task that required an outside vendor due to the high volume and frequency of ordering. It was a hefty expense for FSCC.

“We were able to bring that back in-house, meaning more than $30,000 coming back into the marketing department,” says Roger.

Even better? FSCC is able to offer the items at a lower cost to their clients.

“The storefront costs us nothing. No matter what we have out there, it is totally paid for by the income we generate from the everyday supplies credit unions have to have,” Rogers says.

And the storefront is making an impact internally, too. Because FSCC’s 27 employees are in various locations throughout the United States, all sales materials, letterhead, envelopes, and even the company’s event display cases are accessed via the storefront, freeing up valuable office space and eliminating logistical headaches for staff.

Turning brand bandits into brand builders

Employees are key brand ambassadors and often the first to deliver, or not, on your brand promise.

“The easiest thing to do is to make promises. The hardest part is keeping them—and making sure your employee understands what promises the brand makes and their role in keeping true to the promise,” says Rozin, who serves on the editorial board of the Journal of Brand Management, as well as on the Business-to-Business Marketing Communications and Global Marketing Committees of the US Association of National Advertisers.

“For a company to really perform well, it has to connect its organization’s strategy to each employee’s role, and clearly define the actions to be taken by each employee to help deliver on the strategy. This is as important for a two-person company as it is with a 20,000-person company,” Rozin adds.

With a strong connection to your company’s overall strategy and easy-to-use tools like a digital storefront, you can trade the masks of your brand bandits for the smiles of confident brand builders.