Burn your brand book and unleash your creativity

Brand books usually hold the key to a brand’s strategy, direction and future, but Ed Bolton, director at Frog, suggests it may be an outdated guide in need of a revival. He suggests revising the content and adopting fluidity in the pursuit of creativity.

When was the last time you opened your brand book? Does it sit on the server collecting virtual dust? A brand book can be full of inspirational, strategic and creative ideas and lay the foundation for the brand to go out into the world. But in most cases they are only ever looked at when someone goes to page 34 to get the RGB color values. You end up neglected, outdated and overly vigorous. Anyone interested in your logo’s exclusion zone? Or that the left margin is twice the height of X?

In the past, brand guidelines, brand bibles, brand books—whatever you want to call them—were essential documents for global brands. You would use multiple creative agencies with different specializations around the world and all with different skillsets. Brand books have been a key tool to maintain global consistency and control.


Frog on why burning the script and a less formulaic approach might work / Yaoqi via Unsplash

Over time, the books grew, as if agencies had to prove their worth by the number of pages and not the quality of what was on those pages. Some of the better ones tell the brand’s story in rich and inspirational ways, but mostly they’re glorified PowerPoint presentations. The world has evolved: the art of creative expression for brands has taken a giant leap forward, but the way it’s documented hasn’t.

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While it’s important to have a solid strategic and creative foundation—logos shouldn’t be tampered with, a custom font can go a long way, and a core color can become an iconic asset—you don’t need an extensive brand book to control it. You need to lay the groundwork and run great creatives on it. (Legend has it that the best brand book ever was for Nike, which on one page simply said, “Don’t F with the swoosh.”)

So it’s time to burn your brand book and do the following instead:

1. Lead with experience

One of the most important strategic elements for direct creative expression is your brand personality. How do you want to reach your audience? First, use your individual flair to establish fixed elements (such as logo, core color, typeface, visual style, design system, and tone of voice) without being overly prescriptive. From there, plan your customer experience and change your flexible elements (like photography, illustration, graphics and messaging) to address their emotional needs through the brand experience.

Starbucks creative expression is a wonderful design system that keeps the core of the brand intact while allowing creativity to change with the seasons. In his words, it is a “fresh new design system that retains the core elements of our brand while keeping our customer’s experience at the heart of creative expression. [bringing] Purpose and cohesion in every customer interaction.”

2. Take risks

We live in a world where everything is branded — from pet food subscriptions and pasta delivery services to beer crates and parking tickets — with a proliferation of boring creative expressions fueled by the rise of tech companies over the past decade. That means lots of white space, vibrant color palettes, geometric sans-serif fonts, and whimsical animated icons, all backed by basic brand guidelines that explain how to achieve consistency. As a result, everything is, well, a bit boring.

Thanks to the rise of the metaverse and the rise of decentralization, pioneering brands are incorporating an element of weirdness and fun into their brand identity. But you can’t do this if your inner “brand police” won’t let you. Instead, think of your creative expression as a living brand that needs to be fed with new and exciting stimuli.

So give the rules a day off, play with your flexible elements, take risks and get weird. Consistency is important, but your audience cares more about how your products and services excite and appeal to them, and that means going off-piste every now and then.

3. Invest in creativity

The level of creativity coming out of schools and universities around the world today is at an amazingly high level. The democratization of tools, driven by the internet and social platforms, means graphic design is far more accessible than ever. London and New York are losing their crowns as hubs of brand excellence and incredible agencies are springing up around the world, from Amsterdam to Stockholm to Bangkok. Along with the ability to collaborate remotely, this means accessing amazing creativity anywhere in the world is much easier.

Of course, brand books are there to standardize the execution of your brand, but don’t let that standardize your creative expression. DAMs (digital asset management systems) are useful tools for defining templates that anyone can use for your low-level communications. Set them up and roll them out consistently, then source great creatives and give them a proper introduction to your brand. They will reward you with brilliant executions.

So rip out the best bits, then burn your brand book and let your creativity run wild!

At Frog, we help brands win hearts and move markets. For more information visit our website and contact us.

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