Bye-bye brand police: Governing brand in a decentralized workforce

The jobs of brand and creative professionals, regardless of company size, are growing in complexity. More than just developing and deploying a brand that can rise above competitive noise, they must also ensure brand is understood and adopted in every aspect of the business—from strategic positioning and identity systems to customer and employee experiences. It’s no easy task, and one that requires a lot of education, consensus building and collaboration between teams to build and sustain momentum.

Through work with teams at GE, Chick-fil-A, Pratt & Whitney, FrieslandCampina, Polaris, ThinkBank and others, we’ve deconstructed what modern brand organizations are doing well in order to manage their brand effectively through thoughtful governance models.

The truth is, that while brand has become a strong influencer in every aspect of a company, there’s confusion as to the role it plays and who should be responsible for it. Marketing, communications, human resources, the C-suite, legal? The answer is yes to all of these and more.

For many global companies, brand comes with layers of complexity that require more than a single person or team to be responsible for its successful implementation. And for smaller companies resource limitations require more work from fewer team members. To navigate these dynamics, it’s important for any team responsible for brand to build a governance model that extends the understanding and responsibility of delivering a consistent and meaningful “experience” to their teammates.

In order to do this successfully, let’s consider three aspects of governing brand implementation:

  1. The components of your brand
  2. What must be managed
  3. Who should help manage


Because of the ambiguity over what brand could impact, it’s important to define what it is exactly. Brand is more than a position or visual system. It’s the combination of a company’s or product’s value proposition, story and experience delivered in a way that creates a meaningful and lasting impression. The elements of brand can vary company to company, but the basic buckets are:

To cultivate a strong brand, governance teams need to share the following mindset:

Brand is equally mechanics and magic: There is a bigger experience that needs to be cultivated and managed around any brand. It’s equally the quality of the product or service and the way customers experience it. Or better said, the mechanics of getting the simple things right are equally important to the unique aspects of a brand that give it life and personality. Together these re-enforce “why” that company/product is more valuable that it’s competitors. If you focus only on the mechanics you’re always fighting to stand out. If you focus only on the magic, you risk stalling out on product or service improvement.

Brand must be proactively managed: In the past, brand was policed. Advertisements, sales pitches, and other marketing materials were created, reviewed and controlled by a brand manager. But as brand influences more aspects of a business and shows up in more ways, it has to be the responsibility of more than the core “brand team” in order to strengthen. But that expanded group of owners must learn to be proactive about how the brand shows up – always thinking about how to bring it to life through their work.

Strategic versus rigid focus: In order to manage proactively, more people need to understand the promise and personality of a brand. They need to understand what’s sacred to a brand’s identity and what can be bent or evolved. Working through a governance team, brands can be discussed more often, and decisions on how to bring it to life become more fluid. The work to bring a brand to life becomes a “we’re all in this together” activity versus a “here come the brand police,” moment.


More than ever, it’s important for a brand to clearly define both the fixed and flexible aspects of its visual identity, products offers and experiences. These definitions guide internal teams by letting them know where they have creative freedom and ultimately free up your team by directing their focus to monitoring the fixed aspects.

Work with your governance team to agree on what brand-impacted activities/materials are most important to be focused on (e.g. advertising, customer service, environment, sales experiences). Then agree on which have flexibility to “bend the rules” for reasons such as low priority, lack of team resources, or an opportunity to experiment. All as long as we aren’t losing the purpose of our brand.

Activations of brand are impacted by two types of assets:


Once the system is in place, proactively maintaining and delivering the brand requires that those with core responsibility for a brand create an environment and support group that makes governing the brand easier for everyone. Especially when team resources are tight. Three roles, all of which need to be trained, informed and armed in their own ways, are critical to this:


Every company has different working norms and therefore benefits from slightly different brand governance team constructs. But the general guidelines are as follows:

Governance requires thinking about the components of brand that need to be managed, how the elements inside them should be controlled and the best type of team structures needed to build commitment to and engagement around bringing it to life in the most powerful ways.

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