Digital CI Management: A New Paradigm
Everything that touches a consumer is the brand.
All this talk of brand value is all very well, but the day-to-day challenges of managing the brand toward the goals set out in the brand strategy are enormous. Nowhere is this more evident than in the process of managing the brand identity: the physical logo/s and its application.
As brands go, we all agree that they are much more than the logo or packaging or signage that exposes them to their consumers. As branding becomes a more and more sophisticated science (or art, even), so it becomes clear that everything that touches a consumer is the brand.
That said, there is also no doubt that the manifestation of the brand on everything from business cards to the sides of blimps is a core part of the responsibility brand managers and marketers have on their plates. And while one may not be able to quantify the impact of the wrong Pantone or disproportional tagline, it is clear that an inconsistently applied identity is one that begins to fray at the edges and blur in people’s minds.
All of this is, by now, common sense in the marketing world, and indeed within most organisations. The problem is that the tools utilised to manage the use of the corporate identity are inadequate to the task at hand, and lack certain key features without which the full benefit of a uniform identity cannot be realised.
I want to present here a new paradigm in corporate identity management, which utilises the latest software technology, to facilitate not only alignment throughout the organisation in terms of brand application, but also introduces a hitherto impossible feature: accountability, down to each individual who ever commissions a business card or poster, and even to external agents who mix the ink and wield the silkscreen.
What is the existing paradigm?
Officially, the existing paradigm consists of two important players: the CI (or brand identity) manual, and a review process.
Companies have traditionally spent significant amounts producing spectacular, shiny CI manuals, often as part of the delivery of a brand overhaul. Design agencies specialise in presenting the brand in glossy and compelling print booklets, and I’ve seen ones bound in brushed steel, A3-sized and on the best quality paper. No expense spared.
While it is important to give the CI its rightful weighting by articulating it in such a grand format, print is a medium which does some things extremely well, and others not so well.
Firstly, and obviously, print documents cannot be changed once printed. They can sometimes be added to, but often a change requires a reprinting. The more beautiful and plush the manual, the more expensive to reprint. Even if the format allows for “plug-ins” like extra pages in a file, printing many copies of additional pages is not cheap.
Secondly, print is an inertial medium: it’s hard and slow to move about. Sitting in Nigeria and urgently needing the latest CI manual can only be remedied by (at best) an overnight parcel service. And heaven forbid the manual expands often. You can add endless distribution costs to the endless printing costs.
As a partial aside, this distribution problem has led to many convoluted and sometimes amusing workarounds which desperate marketers employ under pressure. From photocopying and faxing the correct colours (or is that, correct shades of grey) to scanning and emailing the manual, bringing email servers to their knees in despair, to begging designers to extract bits of freehand files and burn them to CD in time for the DHL delivery guy.
Finally, and perhaps most problematically, you have no idea who has looked at the manual, and who has not, at any given time. Maybe the marketer in Lusaka read it before he commissioned the signage for the new retail store, and maybe he didn’t. Maybe the print house got the right version of the logo file, and maybe they didn’t. The end result is, ultimately, the only test, and that’s a rather expensive way to find out.
Of course, you can still hold the responsible person accountable for incorrect results, but there are, after all, so many people to blame in a production process. From the designer to the printer to the manufacturer, not to mention simply blaming poor results on an out-of-date manual, never updated by head office.
While all of this may seem like very basic management problems, and not particular to CI management – a valid observation – CI management has many combined challenges which makes it far more difficult to manage than a lot of other processes within a business. The necessity for constantly updated information. Access to physical computer files, across a wide geographical area. And absolute insistence on accuracy. The print method of managing just won’t do to meet these challenges, and neither will being stubborn about holding people’s feet to the fire.
Which brings us to the second part of the current management process, namely reviews. Many corporations have employed one or other human review process – from panels to CI Overlords – who must sign off each and every item before it goes into print or into production.
This can obviously be successful, but it doesn’t take me to point out how cumbersome and troublesome a strategy this is. What if your marketing team is spread out around the country, or around the globe for that matter? Isn’t this really just an admission that the current mechanism for distributing information isn’t working?
The New Paradigm
So, as with so many things these days, along comes technology with a possible solution. We think (‘we’ being the technologists of the world), that it’s a solution that has the potential to make enormous improvements without introducing enormous learning curves.
A little history, to start off with.
Several years ago, several products emerged on the market (both locally and internationally) which sought to take the pain of CI management away. In essence, these products attacked the link in the chain between the design agency and/or internal marketing team, and the production houses. They tried to “automatically” generate routine items such as business cards, letterheads, posters and so forth without any human intervention. Simply type in the name of your new employee, and out pops a business card with logo and layout and font correct at your supplier, ready to print.
These systems, while revolutionary at the time, largely under-delivered because of a few basic problems:
• Cost: they tended to cost a huge amount. Arguing that the benefit in decreased production costs would be huge, they tried to price themselves as a fraction of this saving. Fraction or not, it was often in the millions, and that severely limited the market.
• Poor technology: because many of these systems were developed by design companies with a limited understanding of technology, reports of poor technical performance was common. And people lost faith in them.
• Wrong part of the problem solved: the most serious problem, is that companies weren’t ultimately struggling with the process of generating cards or posters in itself. The real problem – that of managing and distributing content, and tracking usage – was not solved by these systems.
Fast forward to today, and there is a new generation of CI management tools emerging which focus on the CI as content, applying ‘content management’ principles to the problem. Content management is a fairly new breed of technologies which focus on the problems of creating, editing, distributing and tracking use of digital content within and without an enterprise. A corporate Website, for example, would use a content management system to allow the company to publish information, show it to the right users, and track usage statistics.
These new CI Management applications have a number of core features:
1. Load and Edit CI content
No-one imagines for a moment that the role of the designer or the design agency will be taken away by technology. Nor will any major overhauls of the brand be tackled in an automated fashion by a computer.
However, much of the “brand growth” on a day to day basis is through new applications of the brand. For example, the CI may never have been printed on a parachute, and that may be the task in the lap of an events co-ordinator in the marketing team. Once the application has been designed and worked out, it needs to be added to the CI manual so that it can be used again for the next parachute.
As noted above, the print medium is no good for handling this kind of growth.
These digital CI Management tools not only offer the advantage of no printing costs when changes are made, but they provide basic “publishing” tools enabling the company or design agency to simply drop in the new application instructions into a template, and they are automatically updated on the system. No costly design time.
In addition, any edits or modifications or clarifications or adjustments can also be made by anyone capable of filling in a form. And the changes are instantaneous.
So what isn’t, right? Why is this important?
Put simply, accessibility. The greatest benefit that the Web has brought is that everyone can see the same things on their computer screen, no matter what computer they’re using or where in the world they’re located. With a standard Web browser installed (and let’s face it, all computers have this from the outset these days) they can gain access.
Furthermore, the best CI management systems offer Web-based tools for editing and managing content. So now, you can distribute responsibility to users in remote locations, and provided they have basic computer technology, they will be able to participate fully in the content process.
3. Highly auditable
One of the wonders of accessing content in this way is that it’s easy to determine who looked at what. This apparently simple mechanism becomes a powerful part of the management process for organisations with good CI Management software.
Now, if the parachute has the wrong logo on it, the business can determine whether the person commissioning the parachute referred to the manual, whether the printing house downloaded the correct logo file, whether the team responsible for keeping the CI information up-to-date published it in time. And so on. There’s almost no limit to the kinds of reporting one can extract.
Accountability is a buzz-word, but it’s an important buzz-word. This feature does away with tedious review cycles and finger-pointing. It is immediately clear who has or has not used the tools at their disposal, and when feet are held to the fire, you can be sure they’re the right feet, and the right fire.
4. Customised and Comprehensive
Finally, the best of these systems can be configured specifically for the organisation implementing it, to reflect their CI and their CI elements, but can also contain everything. Instructions and guidelines, illustrations, actual downloadable files. Because hard-drive space is cheap, there is really no limit to how much detail can be loaded into the system.
With all software purchases and implementations, there are costs involved. And choosing the right vendor and technology is, as ever, all-important. Also, dealing with IT people on the issue of CI management can be daunting for marketers.
That said, the costs are quickly recoverable in real savings. Apart from diminished printing and distribution overhead, solving the problems described here means that CI users will actually have access to the information they need, and fewer mistakes will be made. These are hard costs they can easily be measured before and after the system is implemented. And the project can have definite and clear financial goals. A rarity in the marketing world.
A paradigm shift happens for many different reasons. Sometimes, a new need emerges which creates new solutions to meet it. Sometimes, an old need is conquered by new technologies and new ideas. Digital CI Management is of the latter variety.
This new technology is not something that any company with a big marketing team, who is doing extensive brand work, can ignore. It is a vital part of keeping brand integrity, building brand value and creating an aligned and accountable team.
Cambrient Internet Applications
Jarred Cinman is the Product Director of Cambrient Internet Applications, a leader in CI Management software in South Africa. He has been in the Internet industry for 8 years, starting Johannesburg’s first Web development business in 1995. He is currently in charge of the development of Cambrient’s software products, including the Online CI management system.