Improving your brand’s agility in the digital age

Tim Wood
By Tim Wood | 14 February 2024
Tim Wood.

What’s a brand? The answer used to be simple - it was a memory in someone’s head that they attributed to a product, service, value, or logo. And while that still holds true today, in 2024 brands have to work a lot harder to build those memories. 

Back then you were showing up in a handful of channels, and competing against brands in your competitor set. Now, brands are expected to be everywhere (or at least most places), and they’re competing for attention in very busy arenas. How many times have you heard from your agency, or told your clients, “we’re not just competing against our competitors”? That sentence didn’t exist 10 years ago. 

It’s no understatement to say that the creative and media landscape today bears very little resemblance to what it did. But here’s the thing. Almost all brands still use the exact same resource they were using decades ago to manage this increasingly complex world - the brand guidelines document. 

Now to allay the concerns of our good friends in the brand department, I’m not advocating we do away with brand guidelines documents. Not at all. As yet more channels and platforms emerge, it’s vital we continue to capture and define what those changes mean for our brands. And the brand guidelines document is the place to do it. But as these documents have continued to grow (and grow and grow) their use as an operational guide has inversely diminished. 

To illustrate what I mean, try thinking about it like this. Let’s imagine that your standard brand guidelines document is akin to an anatomy textbook. It outlines all the elements; all the parts that come together to make up the whole brand. It’s comprehensive and detailed. But there’s one thing an anatomy textbook never does; it won’t tell you which muscles to recruit, in what order, to do a push up. They’re very good at ‘the what’ of the body. Far less instructive about ‘the how’. And in much the same way, many brand guidelines documents are falling into this trap. 

By their nature, brand guidelines documents also tend to partition different brand expressions by channel - tv, print, social, digital display etc. Modern campaigns very often encompass multiple channels, which can lead to confusion as clients and agencies debate which aspects of a brand should be used to ensure creative consistency across the channel mix. Or, different agency partners in the village might only focus on the brand guidelines section that relates to their remit: cue the creative squabbles. 

So, what’s the answer? Good news friends, there is one and it’s relatively simple to implement. You can do it right now; it’s called BrandOS. It sounds like marketing jargon because it is, but if you’ll permit me the term for the sake of this piece, it’ll help me explain how they work. Put simply, BrandOS (or CampaignOS if it’s defining an ad campaign) is really just a cheat sheet that you specifically create as part of the creative development process. And it’s typically not longer than a single page or two, at most.

On it, you decide which brand and campaign elements you’re going to use for a particular scope of work. And that’s it. Sounds simple, right? It really is, but agency and marketing teams working at speed rarely take the time to bother. But there are some really good reasons why you should think about using them:

Speed. Whatever the scope of work, from the very beginning everyone is on the same page, literally. Instead of the creative work showing up as it’s created, and then being judged piecemeal, everyone has agreed in advance, so creative rollout and development is much quicker. Of course, creative development might necessitate that the Brand/CampaignOS needs amendment. That’s fine too, do it; Brand/CampaignOS is meant to increase agility, not constrain it. 

Clarity. Larger clients often work across multiple internal teams and/or with agency villages. Brand/CampaignOS streamlines this. Instead of everyone having a point of view about which section of the brand guidelines they believe is most relevant, it’s already defined. But what if other teams and partners need elements added or amended? Sure, have that discussion. 

Differentiation. Question for the larger clients. Have you felt like all of your work was starting to look the same? Different product/marketing teams, different verticals, yet it becomes hard to discern any difference? Unless you’re talking about fully defined sub-brands, most brand guidelines documents provide little to no guidance about how to stay on brand while also differentiating. BrandOS solves that, immediately. Each vertical/group/team etc gets its own BrandOS to use, all based on the previously approved elements in the brand guidelines document.  

Flexibility. Campaign creative comes and goes. Brand elements tend to change much more slowly. Rarely are they ever captured alongside each other. And how many times have you worked on a campaign that would have greatly benefited from the one-time addition of a bespoke font, or some other element, only to be told that changing the brand guidelines document is not possible? Brand/CampaignOS fixes all of this. You can see your campaign (creative and brand elements) together on a page. And provided everyone agrees (including the brand team), you can simply add the one-time element, strictly confine it to that scope only, then remove it when the scope concludes without needing to change the entire brand guidelines document. 

Defining the elements you’re planning to use upfront might feel constraining. But think about how most campaigns and scopes roll out in reality. ‘What’s on brand’ often becomes an evolving, subjective, and sometimes tense discussion based on many points of view. But, in my experience, that process rarely serves the work. Brand/CampaignOS is a simple, pro-active strategy that gets everyone aligned early on, which usually makes the process run much better overall. So, I invite you, give it a try. At the start of your next campaign, build a CampaignOS during the ideation phase. Collectively agree on it upfront. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised. And if you need more information about Brand/CampaignOS, feel free to get in touch. 

Tim Wood, Executive Creative Director

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