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Looking Good in Print: How to Manage Your Brand

Here's how to manage your visual brand on a daily basis.

C. Marie Swift, 06/28/2006

So you have a great logo and stunning business cards. Your brand is developed so now you can relax and not worry about that again until you run out of cards or need to update the information on your letterhead, right? Wrong! Marketing-savvy advisors oversee their visual brand every day.

As with any investment, a logo and business identity package must be well managed if you are to maximize your return. Every time your business name or logo appears in print is an opportunity to reinforce your brand. Taking control of the details of your brand will help you make the most of these opportunities.
Begin with a Solid Foundation
Remember, your stuff should look like your stuff. So your first step to ensuring a consistent look is to have a well-developed brand. Ideally, you have worked with a marketing professional and experienced graphic designer to create a logo that expresses your unique qualities and the benefits you can bring to your target market.

The next step is to know your logo and understand what gives it that special spark that says it's your brand. A strong visual brand has a deliberate structure that can be built upon:

The logotype is the unique way fonts and lettering spell out the name of your company. Graphic designers spend more time working with these few words than any other aspect of brand development, selecting just the right font and spacing the letters just so. Usually they will create the logo in a computer drawing application and change the type from characters to objects that can be manipulated and altered in a unique way. In addition, using a drawing program to create a logo protects its integrity so that it cannot be unintentionally altered when being used in other applications.

Brand Mark
Nike's swoosh, Gerber's baby, and the NBC peacock are examples of well-known brand marks. Essentially, they are shapes, pictures, or sometimes monograms that partner with the logotype to form a logo. Not all logos have brand marks, but unless your logotype is outstandingly unique and dynamic, a special mark is recommended.

Brand Management Tip
Request a variety of logo file formats from your logo designer that can be used in almost any application, including: "Vector outline" .eps files, "RGB" color and black and white jpegs, and high resolution "CMYK" tiffs.

Tagline or Descriptor
Words that are not part your business name, but are used in conjunction with the logo are part of your identity. Whether it's a special slogan or a simple description of what you do, it should to be visually designed to reinforce the logo and maintain a consistent look whenever and wherever it appears.

Brand Management Tip
Request copies of your logo files with your tagline and also files of your tagline by itself. In addition, ask your designer the name of the font and any special spacing used for your tagline.

The science of color is a very complex subject with many intricacies and variables, including light, pigment, and human perception. You don't need to become an expert in color theory to manage your brand, but grasping a few basics concepts will save you time and money in the long run.

There are three basic methods for "building" color:

  • The spectrum you see on a computer monitor is created with three different colors of light--red, green and blue (RGB).
  • The prints you make on your desktop printer are created with four different colors of ink--cyan, magenta, yellow, and black (CMYK). This is also the method used for building colors in professional full-color offset printing.
  • The colors used by professional printers for most one- or two-color print jobs are mixed from various base ink colors using a special formula to match chosen swatch colors (similar to how paints are mixed at the hardware store). These formulas and color swatches are standardized within the printing industry with the Pantone Matching System (PMS).

PMS colors are identified by numbers and also by the type of paper they are being printed on because different papers absorb ink and reflect light differently and this in turn affects the way the colors appear. There are several different swatch books that show how each color appears on various types of paper, such as coated, uncoated and matte. When choosing or matching colors, make sure you're looking at a swatch book that represents the kind of paper your finished project will be printed on.

Brand Management Tip
Request the "build formulas" for your logo colors in the three primary standards: RGB, CMYK, and PMS. Keep these numbers handy for quick reference.

Once you have invested in the initial phase of building your brand--your logo--you can protect the value you've built by simply recording the pertinent information for future reference in a document called "brand standards." The brand standards for many large organizations are several pages long and provide specific instructions for using the logo and tagline in nearly every scenario imaginable.

Consistency is key to brand management. Every time your logo appears in print (or online) it is an opportunity to reinforce your brand. Identifying standards for how your brand is represented allows you to control your image and reduces the risk of others making arbitrary decisions about how your business is represented.

You could engage your designer to write your standards for you, but since you are responsible for managing the brand and ensuring that the standards are maintained, writing your own standards will help you develop a more complete understanding of what they are and why they exist. The standards can also become a working document that grows as you make decisions and refine your brand. An initial standards guide might include:

  • The exact phrasing, capitalization, and punctuation of your tagline
  • The font and any special spacing used in your tagline
  • The color build formulas for each color in your logo

Managing your brand also means managing digital files. Make sure you have all of your original logo files backed-up on CD. And keep jpegs easily accessible for use in custom documents and presentations.

Create a Framework
Once your logo is developed, the next step is usually creating collateral--printed materials such as business cards, letterhead, envelopes, etc. As these items are developed and produced, be aware of the details and record them in your brand standards document.

Layout alignment
Where does you logo appear on your business cards and letterhead? Is it on the right, left or centered? This is a detail that you will want to watch because layout alignment is a powerful element in visual communication and speaks volumes about the personality it represents. Centered layouts are the most formal and conservative. Left justified layouts are practical and unpretentious. And right justified are untraditional and "out of the box."

Once your layout alignment is determined, repeating this alignment whenever practical will strengthen both the visual and implied aspects of your brand.

If your contact information appears in Helvetica on your business card, it should appear in Helvetica on every other printed piece you have, as well as in advertisements.

Once your letterhead is designed, determine a font and point size for letters that are written on it. Once again, consistency is key. Your stuff should look like your stuff. Business collateral is not the place for personal expression and letters written in script or unusual display fonts can give readers an undesirable impression. Leave nothing to chance, determine a standard and stick with it. Times New Roman or another traditional serif font are recommended for hardcopy correspondence and 12-point type is recommended for best readability. PAGEBREAK

Also pay attention to the details in your punctuation, such as if phone numbers have parenthesis around the area codes. If you want to look more progressive, use all dashes or dots, like this: 800-659-0099 or 800.659.0099. Using parenthesis connotes a more traditional, conservative firm: (800) 659-0099. Pick a style and stick with it.

Brand can be expressed through as many ways as humans communicate to each other, both direct and implied. Paper is a very powerful tool that can be used to reinforce your brand. The subtleties of texture, weight, color and brightness speak volumes the same way a quality watch or silk tie can refine your personal image. For instance, the way a business card feels in a person's hand can make a difference as to whether they keep it or throw it away.

Choosing a paper for your identity materials can be as exciting as choosing the fabric for your new sofa, but once again make your decisions consciously and with an awareness about what it says about your brand. Remember, your stuff should look like your stuff so find a great paper and stick with it. This means choosing a name brand paper that any reputable printer will have easy access to. And it should have classic--not trendy qualities and won't likely be discontinued before you're finished with it.

With some coaching and advice, it may be okay to use a variety of paper to create your identity as long as they are coordinated to reinforce what you want to say.  For example, sometimes using a trendy specialty paper for note cards or invitations can be a good way to draw special attention to the piece, provided it reinforces your brand. Neon bright orange fliers might get people's attention, but not in the professional manner that infers integrity and longevity.

Brand Management Tip
When you record your paper specification in your brand standards, include:
  • The manufacturer's name and product name (e.g., Neena is the manufacturer, Classic is the product line)
  • Specific color - papers often have creative or descriptive names for their colors and the difference between an ivory and cream side by side can turn out to be a glaring mistake (e.g., Solar White, Avon Brilliant White, Natural White, Glacier Ice, etc.)
  • Texture (e.g., linen, laid, felt, velum, crest, bond, cotton)
  • Paper weight - which tells whether it is a cover, text or writing paper (e.g., 110# cover, 80# cover, 70# text, 24# writing)
  • If you have a high-quality cotton paper, record the percentage of cotton content, which can range from 25% to pure.

Finally, if your paper has a manufacturer's watermark, identify that in your standards - and be sure that all team members and commercial print shops are instructed to run the paper through any print process with the watermark so it is readable from left to right (not upside down) when held up to the light.

Build and Expand
Simply becoming aware of the details in your brand standards then paying attention to the printed materials that your business sends out will start you on your way to successfully managing your brand. As you become more confident through practice, you can begin to expand and experiment, perhaps by extending your brand into materials for a special event or ad campaign. The possibilities are endless.

Creativity and unique forms of expression can be helpful in managing and further developing your brand provided they are kept in check by operating within the framework you've invested time and money in building. As you approve each new printed piece--including shirts, pocket folders, advertisements, signage, newsletters, even your Web site--ask yourself these questions:

  • Does it comply with your standards?
  • Does it express the inferred qualities you want people to associate with your brand?
  • Does it look like your stuff?

If the answers are yes, then you are successfully managing your brand and protecting your investment.

This article was co-written by Christy Barron, who has been art director of Impact Communications since 2002.

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