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Four Branding Guideline Questions You Should Be Able to Answer

Craig Dunaway

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Branding guidelines provide a national standard for how your company is represented to your customers. They should also help provide brand consistency, which leads to better trust and understanding from consumers.

Branding guidelines provide a national standard for how your company is represented to your customers. They should also help provide brand consistency, which leads to better trust and understanding from consumers.

1. What are the branding guidelines?

When it comes to building a brand, especially one that is memorable in the consumer’s mind, it’s all about consistency.  Iconic brands are memorable because their presence is defined by the repetition of the same logo, fonts, color schemes, and images. They become instantly recognizable, bringing us a clear sense of reliability and security. Think “Golden Arches.”

Branding guidelines include set requirements for marketing materials. This includes your logo, including dimensions, PMS colors and which version should be used, where and how. Think of the different collateral you create—your logo likely needs to be adjusted to match different marketing materials. For example, you may use a logo with a border if the background is dark and one without a border on a light background. You may also have different logos for different marketing materials.

Brand guidelines often include design elements like conflicting colors to avoid advertisements or which kinds of promotions are approved. Create a marketing mission statement as part of the guidelines, and make sure all materials and campaigns fit with it. For example, Penn Station’s marketing mission statement is “our food speaks for itself.” That means Penn Station doesn’t heavily discount, so franchisees aren’t permitted to constantly offer marketing materials or campaigns like constant couponing that could be perceived as diminishing the quality of the brand.

Iconic brands create very specific guidelines for each marketing campaigns. These include guidelines on photography size, positioning, fonts, colors, and approved taglines. If alternatives exist, you should define it for the designers, so it’s not left to chance, guesswork or someone else’s personal opinion. One person or department should approve all marketing materials, so they can ensure that the advertising meets the branding guidelines. It’s easy for someone without a trained eye or brand expertise to accidentally squish a product photo, change the dimensions on a logo, or perhaps even worse, use outdated or discolored materials. Assigning a person or department to approve and help create materials will ensure consistency.

The guidelines should come from the top with executives working through designers to create a guideline book. That book should be shared with any advertising agency your brand works with. You should also provide agencies with the latest materials they can use, including logos and photography. 

2. Why should you set brand guidelines?

Every time a consumer sees an inconsistency in messaging or branding, it could decrease their confidence in that brand. Having a different logo on a billboard than on a direct mail piece, for example, can confuse customers. Branding guidelines ensure your marketing materials are sending a consistent message across the board.

Once guidelines are set, it’s important to enforce them. Performance evaluations are a great way to make sure all your locations are following your operations manual and brand guidelines. If an area representative sees something that doesn’t fit, they should confirm that it wasn’t approved and ding the franchisee on their performance evaluation while reminding them of the importance of following the guidelines. These meetings can also be a good time to remind franchisees that the marketing department is available to help create materials or put them in contact with approved vendors.

3. What should you do when you update your branding?

Every company needs a refresh now and then, which takes time and money to create and implement. Penn Station updated its logo four years ago, but franchisees are on a seven-year remodel plan. This means some restaurants haven’t remodeled or updated their signage yet.

To help maintain consistency, companies can incentivize franchisees to update their locations with the new logo. Look into finding vendors that can provide a new sign for a more reasonable price and send reminders that the new logo is available and ready to be used. Some companies even offer temporary royalty discounts or use the national advertising fund to help offset the costs. At Penn Station, we were able to utilize our buyer power with a national sign company and leverage this power for better pricing for franchisees who were willing to update signage before the required timeframe in their Franchise Agreement.

For locations without the updated exterior sign, you can still make sure the interior matches the brand guidelines. The new logo should be displayed in the restaurant on items like napkins, cups, and point of sale marketing. Photography and other in-store collateral should match current brand guidelines, as well. Require all stores to follow other signage guidelines, like keeping it clean and lit up.

4. How do you adapt brand guidelines to fit different regions?

Consumers in different regions may respond to different kinds of marketing. Make sure you leave room for some customization in your branding guidelines. For example, one of Penn Station’s approved logos is a simple PS… This looks great on highway signs as it is short and concise, but it is only used in markets like Cincinnati where brand recognition is strong. Further, it’s easy to read.  If you’re still establishing the brand in a newer area, use the full logo to help build brand awareness.

You also should adjust to fit customer preferences. Some areas may prefer different menu items than other regions. Consumers may respond to a beauty shot of your product in one area, while other regions may have a better response to an organic photograph. When you create a campaign, make sure the advertising design and content fit with the demographic you are targeting. Regardless, although there are variations, the core messaging of your creative content should be clear and concise highlighting what the brand does well and why you fill a customer’s need. It’s important to remember the creative should be about engaging with a new customer or enticing an existing customer to return sooner—not to simply be ‘creative.’

Brand guidelines are crucial to establishing a consistent message and gaining the trust of your customers. After you create a comprehensive design and marketing strategy guidelines, it’s important to enforce them.

Craig Dunaway has been president of Penn Station since 1999. Before joining Penn Station Inc., Dunaway was a partner at the regional accounting firm of McCauley, Nicolas & Company, LLC in Jeffersonville, Indiana, where he had worked since 1982 in various staff and managerial positions. Dunaway has a bachelor’s degree in accounting from Indiana University and is still a licensed CPA. Dunaway formerly had ownership interests in a Papa John’s® franchisee that owned 11 stores, and he served as the secretary/treasurer for that Papa John’s® franchisee. In addition, he had ownership interests in Coastal Cheesesteaks, LLC (headquartered in Raleigh, North Carolina) until June 2011 and in Louisville Cheesesteaks, LLC (headquartered in Louisville, Kentucky) until January 2014, both of which are Penn Station franchisees. While a shareholder in those Penn Station franchisees, Dunaway served as secretary/treasurer. Penn Station was named one of the Best Franchises to Buy by Forbes in 2016 and 2018 and one of the Best Franchise Deals by QSR Magazine in 2016 and 2017.

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