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4 Secrets of Scalable Brands

Lara Sinclair — 7 May 2021


“We need to scale marketing.” You’ve probably heard those words more than once. Executive teams tend to utter them to coincide with periods when the workload of the marketing team is set for a sudden increase.

But what does it really mean to scale marketing? How can you ensure your brand is scalable? And why does it matter?

Scalable brands, like scalable companies, are those that are able to perform well under an increased or expanding workload or scope.

Scalable brands can operate without being hampered by their structure or available resources when faced with increased production needs.

A brand system that scales well will be able to maintain or increase performance and efficiency even under the pressure of larger operational loads.

And a marketing team that can scale will be able to manage the demands of a growing brand without increasing headcount or production costs at the same rate of growth.

What is at the heart of a scalable brand?

Key to the concept of scalability when it comes to branding and marketing is understanding that you don't need a bespoke design for every project.

In fact, what is branding but a systemised way of displaying and repeating the core brand elements that make your brand unique so as to build recognition and familiarity within your target audience?

Also integral to the idea of scalability is accepting that a scaled marketing team works differently from an unscaled team: it selects its designs, systems, tools and processes to take account of the fact that while a lot of repetitive work underpins every successful, consistent brand, that work does not need to be manually created each time.

The ability to re-use and re-produce core brand elements in a systemised, automated way to take the grunt work out of repeatable marketing tasks is at the heart of achieving a scalable brand.

Scaled marketing teams inherently know and capitalise on this: they prioritise applying their personal attention to the strategic work that generates the most value for the brand, and set up their brand system, tools and processes to take care of the rest.

This means putting your brand in the hands of multiple people within your organisation, within strict brand guardrails, and avoiding the production and approval bottlenecks that often bring marketing to a standstill.

What a scalable brand might sacrifice in originality, it will more than make up for in brand consistency, efficiency and impact over time.

It’s also important to note that scalability doesn’t mean sacrificing quality: if anything, the opposite is true as a scalable brand ensures your marketing materials are always reproduced in keeping with your brand guidelines, down to the fine detail.

How to build a scalable brand

So how can you ensure your brand is scalable so your marketing team can easily handle high-volume increases in repeatable marketing tasks while still investing time in the strategic thinking and attention to detail that underpins business growth?

1. Scalable design

Ensure your brand is designed to scale. Avoid heavily manual, individualised design concepts, such as complicated deep-etching and customised photography. Or create a streamlined process for incorporating them, such as a one-off photo shoot designed to cater for all your photographic needs.

It’s also worth considering how your brand uses elements such as:

  • Colour blocking: Can you retain the same design elements but distinguish different product lines through the use of colour?
  • Photographic treatment: If the treatment you apply to your imagery is what conveys your brand, rather than how you capture the image, this can add speed and flexibility to your photographic choices.
  • Accessible fonts: Customised fonts may not be able to be correctly displayed in every application. Consider more accessible font choices to underpin a scalable brand and ensure your font selection matches the channel -- for example a serif font for long-copy print executions and sans serif font for digital channels.

    In its recent brand update, social media brand Twitter took a scalable approach to its imagery, applying treatment in layers to signify its new-look, “imperfect by design” branded Tweets.

    The new guidelines means it’s easy to repeat the process but vary the outcomes to create an on-brand execution.

2. Component-based brand system

Scalable brands are created from a suite of visual assets that work well together across all channels and foreseeable applications in which your brand will appear.

They should be able to be assembled like building blocks to create on-brand marketing materials for your primary brand and any sub-brands.

Once you have clearly established the core components of your brand and how they work together, you’ll need to define how your brand should appear for all concerned -- and how it should not appear.

That means documenting your brand system in your brand guidelines or style guide and distributing them across your organisation.

Doing this will reduce the amount of time and effort wasted across your organisation on off-brand executions.

The more explicit and detailed you are, the less likely users are to transgress.

Don’t forget to document the basic foundational elements, such as:

  • Company vision, brand mission and brand purpose
  • Brand values, voice and personality
  • Brand story, positioning and messaging
  • Visual identity
  • Text and language-based components

Include clear examples of incorrect representation of your brand to avoid any confusion.

When it comes to your visual identity, think about how your brand utilises:

  • Brand architecture
  • Logos, lock-ups and secondary marks
  • Primary and secondary colour combinations, and the proportions in which they are applied
  • Fonts, font combinations and type scales
  • Imagery
  • Backgrounds and pattern
  • Grids and space.

IBM’s comprehensive brand system outlines just about every conceivable brand component and how it should work in different situations.

For example, all designs are based on a 2x grid.

Just one family of fonts, with specified sub-fonts, is used.

And its type scale is built on a single equation to provide hierarchy for all types of experiences, and clear instructions are provided for how copy should be treated within containers, within headlines, and so on -- simplifying every future design job.

3. Templated omnichannel production

Scaling your marketing efforts will enable you to cover all the emerging new marketing platforms and customer acquisition channels your organisation may need in order to grow. One of the first things to remember is to maintain a consistent experience across all your channels.

For each channel and specific brand execution, highly scalable brands design once, then re-use many times by making a template of the approved design for every repeatable execution available for use throughout the organisation.

Establishing how your brand should appear in every channel will protect brand consistency from the outset. Digitising and templating those designs, incorporating dynamic customisation and automatic resizing within your brand guidelines, will enable them to be rapidly edited and reproduced without utilising production resources.

Retailers, franchise networks with local area marketing requirements, tertiary education institutions and centralised brand teams working with dispersed stakeholder groups will particularly benefit.

For example, at Britain’s Durham University, the marketing team worked with Outfit to translate its comprehensive brand style guide into an omnichannel suite of on-brand templates for every repeatable execution, from brochures and social tiles, to banners, posters, websites and so on.

While following the ‘design once, re-use many times’ rule, the templates were created to be flexible enough to accommodate the needs of multiple departments, colleges and professional services while always remaining on-brand.

“We have on-brand templates here,” says marketing operations manager Rebecca Richardson. “You can customise them in various ways, and it's always going to look like it's been produced by central marketing or from one of our designer partners.”

Since adopting the templates, the university has made significant budget and time savings, with 4,682 hours of external and internal time to produce the more than 1700 pieces of content created within those templates saved in 2 years -- savings worth £374,560 in agency design fees alone.

4. Elimination of manual processes

Wherever possible, scalable brands eliminate manual processes, using triggers to automate the actions that need to follow.

For example, a qualified lead might spark the creation of a sales record, automatically generated sales emails, or reminders to call. Similarly, customer renewal processes can be initiated automatically, with documents personalised using lists from your CRM database and produced using on-brand templates -- eliminating countless hours of production and administration time and minimising the risk of cut-and-paste errors.

This can be done through API-based integrations between your tools or with individual automation processes, saving time across the broader organisation beyond marketing.

Approval processes can also be automated within or between tools, expediting those feedback and amendment loops that can slow down organisations and prevent brands from getting executions to market.

Benefits of a scalable brand

Brands that incorporate scalable design, component-based brand systems, technology to facilitate rapid editing and re-use of marketing materials within brand guidelines and automated processes are well on their way to becoming scalable brands.

Truly scalable brands are responsive to their environment and can be agile when responding to changes in the market due to their efficiency and speed.

And best of all -- improvements in speed and output happen even as design and production costs are reduced, and brand, design, operations and marketing management time is freed up for the high-value, strategic work that drives growth.

To ensure your brand is in the best place to scale, download this free ebook we produced with HubSpot: How to create effective brand guidelines!