Seeking DIY Brand Compliance

Donna Lehmann shares three things brand managers can do to help campus partners uphold brand compliance.

October 13, 2016

Brand and web managers in education, at some point, all spend time reining in schools and departments who go rogue. You know what I mean – the department website sitting outside the content management system (CMS) using a non-standard design. As a web manager, it was my job to convince or gently coerce that department into compliance.

Now I’m head of a marketing department and this aspect of my responsibilities has increased dramatically. And it’s not just non-standard websites. Instead, there are non-standard flyers, posters, emails, t-shirts, letterhead, and coffee mugs. There are 10 variations on the color maroon and dozens of Fordham logos being birthed every semester by staff, faculty, and students.

I know I’m supposed to be our brand champion, but more often than not, I just feel like the brand police, and it’s not a role I relish. The reasons I struggle are two-fold. One, when I speak with the “violators,” they tell me about needs that aren’t being addressed. And two, my case for compliance isn’t strong enough, and no cross-functional committee or faculty senate will accept “Because I said so” as a legitimate reason.

What is a brand manager to do? Start with these three areas:

1. Modernize Visual Identity Standards

The illegible tagline that’s not at the proper resolution, the word mark in Garamond instead of Whitney, a poor approximation of the PMS color. These rogue applications are often the result of a department doing the best they can on a deadline. The mascot wearing a toga, the logo in plaid, clip art. These rogue designs are often the result of creative impulses that lack an outlet. They reveal a lack of centralized resources from which departments can draw and no one to help them solve problems.

In the central office, we do the best we can too. Thousands of requests a year from every level compete with institutional priorities and overtaxed budgets and staff. If our response to projects we just can't accept is “Here’s the logo. You’re on your own,” then how can we expect anything better?

At the least, we need visual identity guidelines and online resources, but mine, like perhaps yours, are sorely out of date and inadequate to meet the demands of our increasingly visual world. The DIY landscape has changed dramatically in the last five years, and shareable content that we can customize with our brand is everywhere. Do guidelines address social media usage, web fonts, or Google docs? Are there good examples of use cases and detailed instructions on how to resize an image if need be? What about templates for Powerpoint, Word, and email?

2. Harness the Creative Impulse

All of this may seem overwhelmingly pedantic and soul-crushing for colleagues who appreciate the opportunity to be creative. I understand how strong that impulse can be: I worked for years with web editors who, despite technical hurdles, embraced the design aspect of the web with fervor. And it’s not in anyone’s best interest to aim for blanket uniformity, especially in an era when competitive differentiation has become paramount.

UC Berkeley’s brand manual was recently brought to my attention by a junior designer in my department. A thing of beauty itself, the document is part of an impressive brand site with content guidelines, extensive templates, graphic elements, and brand architecture, among other features. The sample color palettes really blow me away. They utilize Berkeley’s blue and gold with no less than 14 accent colors for various moods from subtle to bold and formal to casual. It’s something to truly covet because you can see how they maintain brand consistency across vast possibilities of variation.

3. Focus on the User/Audience

While I may be living and breathing the Fordham brand and feel in my bones the need for our schools and departments to speak the same language, both verbally and visually, I know that’s not true for everyone. The case for compliance can seem rather esoteric among faculty and staff, especially for those that want to stand out amongst competing events, organizations, and degree programs.

It’s the job of the marketing office to articulate and bolster the parent brand. It’s also our job to make schools and departments part of our brand family by helping them define their sub-brands and understand how to leverage the qualities of the parent brand to their advantage.

Back when I was having to entice rogue websites into joining us in the CMS, I had some persuasive rationale. When navigating between web pages, we don’t want people to feel like they’ve landed on Mars upon reaching a department homepage. It’s genuinely disconcerting. “I thought I was at Fordham, but now I’m not sure.” It’s a strong user-focused argument because users can’t tolerate a lot of uncertainty on the web. A familiar look and template builds trust.

And that’s really what branding is all about — imparting an aura of quality and trust. It’s the heavy lifting that an institutional brand does so that schools and departments can flourish and extend themselves into niche markets. This is a mutually beneficial relationship, and it relies on familiarity, standardization, compliance, and yes, some policing.

Donna Lehmann is the senior director of marketing and communications at Fordham University in New York City


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