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Brand Shepherds Ensure Brand Success

Michael Ukstins

Michael Ukstins   July 24, 2019

The organizations that our internal creative teams support value and want to protect their brands, often committing significant resources — time, people, money — to do so. Much more than a logo, colors or typefaces, their brand is a promise made to consumers about the kind of service they can expect when interacting with the organization. The best brands reflect and extend the organization’s personality, essence, culture and values. Marketers want to ensure that these attributes are represented in the way business is conducted and apparent in every consumer interaction and touchpoint.

Here are five ways in-house teams are uniquely positioned to help achieve those goals.

1. They live and breathe the same culture.

In-house creative teams live and breathe an organization’s culture and brand — they’re surrounded by these elements. Brand becomes part of the team’s core and natural thought process. Highly experienced with the building blocks, they assemble brand elements out of habit – in new and interesting ways. For example, they’re familiar with a number of solutions that fit a long horizontal logo into a rectangular ad space.

Creative work is about solving problems and shaping ideas. And, as with any familiar and repeated activity, efficiencies and quality benefits are gained from having experienced internal players doing the work. This grounded core gives creative teams an advantage when exploring new ways to execute the brand, bringing new talent onto the team and empowering other organization stakeholders to self-execute creative products. The result is natural brand guidance — not rule enforcement.

2. They shepherd, not police.

Shepherds, in the traditional sense, ensure livestock all head in the same direction. But not by micromanaging each individual animal. Rather, they provide the guidance, motivation and soft touches that extend their reach far beyond their own arms. This approach to managing large flocks — each with their own mind — isn’t far off from how in-house teams can help lead large organizations through numerous brand touchpoints.

Like a shepherd with a carefully fenced pasture, staff and dog, in-house teams have their own familiar tools to help corral communications in the right direction. These include

  • Developing brand guides and keeping them relevant
  • Training employees and educating new people on how the brand should be used across different deliverables
  • Being a friendly, approachable resource that colleagues turn to for direction

Persuade, inspire, lead. Don’t mandate.

The danger of “policing” is that it can stifle creativity, bottleneck valuable initiatives or — just as harmful — build resentment, erode trust and turn people off from seeking future guidance. It’s the dreaded, “I’ll just do it myself and not tell you about it,” scenario, possibly applied to projects with a great deal of visibility and unfortunate ramifications. Have the courage to strategically herd the flock rather than keep tabs on every errant sheep.

3. But sometimes, they enforce.

Understandably, police exist for a reason. Without someone enforcing rules, there’s potential for chaos — everyone doing what they want. Thinking back to our definition of a brand, how can organizations set consistent expectations in customers’ minds if communications differ in appearance, quality or message tonality?

Inevitably, there will come times when errant sheep need attention — a gentle push back in the direction of the herd. Leveraging this mindset and asserting guidance are some of the ways in-house teams can influence outliers including:

  • Being a single source of authority
    It’s useful to have a single source of truth, a steady court of opinion to align different interpretations of brand among stakeholders. Like experienced judges who understand the law and how to fairly apply it, in-house teams that are positioned as a brand authority can mediate these differences. There’s value to entrusting experienced creative professionals versus relying on gut instinct, an external agency’s opinion or colleagues who “took a design course in college.”

  • Encouraging a sense of unity
    Nobody enjoys being told no. And we’d never want to suppress creativity. In-house teams have an opportunity to encourage and align stakeholders around a higher calling: the brand. It’s not a discussion about whether Bob from accounting — who whipped up a flyer in PowerPoint and had it printed at a local Staples — is a good graphic designer. It’s about reinforcing the need for consistency and quality in the eyes of customers.

  • Making business value judgements
    In-house teams understand and share an organization’s overall business goals. As such, they can help make tough value judgements — defining levels of effort relative to the expected value of output. They can determine how far (and when) to push back, and when to simply let things go. For example, Bob’s self-designed flyer might work fine for a company picnic but not for distribution to investors. External agencies might be more inclined to create beautiful work, regardless of the cost.

4. They help brands evolve.

Brands don’t (and shouldn’t) remain static. They evolve through exposure to new tactics, changes in the cultural landscape or simply to avoid getting stale. Not too long ago, guerilla marketing, digital advertising and social media didn’t exist. And now, in-house teams help explore new pastures of augmented reality and experiential design.

A good set of brand guides defines the pasture — fences inside which creative teams are free to explore different ways to use the brand. And as brands evolve, in-house teams can keep these guides up-to-date and relevant. Ever notice how guides feature meticulously designed creative work — balanced headlines, copy and beautiful photography? The creative team’s real challenge is executing one-off deliverables— the quarter page ads with imperfect client copy, for example.

As creative teams try new and interesting ways to apply the brand, they can capture learnings and support a thriving, evolving brand.

5. They know the inside, too.

Thinking about brand as a reflection of an organization’s culture requires a mind-set that assumes everything happening inside is just as important as what’s going on outside. Employees contribute significant hours of their time and want to feel energized, motivated and inspired by their brand. In-house teams have an opportunity to be internal evangelists for the brand. Deputize others in the effort. Set a high bar for standards and make a case for why internal presentations need to reflect the same spirit as external digital advertising.

In-house teams can also serve as brand educators — getting new employees, especially potential clients, up to speed and familiar with the brand. Lunch and learns, webinars and taking a friendly hands-on approach with new employees all go a long way towards encouraging converts. Understand when to let that internal presentation with bad clip art go, and when to throw resources at getting it right. That fine line of demarcation needs to be carefully and thoroughly articulated to the creative team and all brand stakeholders. Only then can you be sure your organization is consistently, powerfully and authentically representing your brand.


Michael Ukstins

Mike Ukstins is a creative professional with an international MBA and leadership experience in both agency and corporate settings. Currently managing Cella’s creative studio at Fresenius Medical Care, Mike leads and inspires others with insistence on quality, innovative problem solving, and meticulous attention to detail. He began his career as a graphic designer, has a passion for travel and currently resides in the Boston area with his wife and three energetic daughters. 

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