You know that saying about building a plane in midair?
That’s what I did at the last company I worked at. I came in, brand-new to the industry and brand-new to being a marketing team of 1.5, and I was asked to not only host a huge party, but also launch a website, within 4 months of starting.
Lucky for the firm, I thrive on that kind of chaotic energy. Challenges energize me in such a unique way. You want me to memorize a bunch of lines and put on a show in a 24-hour span? Done. You want me to create and publish a class in one week? Plenty of time. Want me to prep for a 50-mile walk? I’m already lacing up my shoes.
I’ve been known to perform a miracle or two in my day
There’s something to be said for pulling off something truly miraculous. We launched a 300+ page website in 4 months with 120 revised pages and no SEO snafus. We also got 160 people to show up to our office and have an absolute blast.
However, once I came down from that high, I realized that I needed to start formulating a larger game plan for the business.
In my role, I inherited no less than 8 email lists, all with different rules and different overlaps of subscribers. We were kind of using one CRM and also kind of using a practice management system. There weren’t set rules or protocols for anything. Most of the projects we took on were because someone suggested it and we ran with it, not because they were data-driven or based on a bigger strategy. It was a lot of “this is the way we’ve always done it” mentality, or habits that have never been examined.
Good processes can be hard to come by
Before I go on, I want to say something very important: This way of operating is NOT unusual. So many companies experience this kind of scope creep with their marketing projects, or any projects, for that matter. The pile keeps getting bigger and the plan is to make sense of it all eventually. But then, another urgent project gets in the way.
This is all to say that I recognize the immense amount of inertia businesses have to work against to do something new, especially if that’s to stop everything, take a step back, and figure out the best path forward. And I’m not necessarily proud of this, but it took a global pandemic to slow me down enough in this role to go, whoa, I can’t just be saying yes to every project that comes across my desk. I’m one person! We need a plan.
Enter the brand manual.
What is a brand manual?
Believe it or not, I’ve never Googled this myself. This is purely my definition and my approach cobbled together from years of experience with brands, going “it would be nice to have all this in one place.” This is my brand manual definition:
A knowledge repository
It serves as your resource for everything there is to know about your brand. A brand manual can include your voice, personality, your target audience (personas), your overall strategy & approach, what you’d like to accomplish in the next year, templates you use, and more.
A “hit by a bus” document
It can be that “hit by a bus” document – I kinda have a love/hate relationship with the overall idea of “hit by a bus” documentation, because it is such a morbid way of putting it, but it’s certainly eye-catching. Basically, if something terrible were to happen to me, but I wanted my brand to live on, the knowledge needs to exist outside my head and be documented SOMEWHERE. The less grotesque way of thinking about this is cutting out a bunch of time when you add someone new to your team. The onboarding process can be made that much smoother with a brand manual on hand.
A resource for vendors and onboarding
A brand manual is also a great resource for vendors. I’ve sent brand manuals to people who have done merch for me, or worked on graphic design elements, for example. Instead of reinventing the wheel and explaining the same things over and over, you can just plunk down your brand manual.
A reference for governance
It also can be your repository for governance, the founding principles of your business. Instead of writing a mission, vision, and values or guiding principles and never seeing them again, put them in a brand manual, where they can be revisited and evaluated regularly. And don’t worry, I’ll be talking a LOT about governance.
A guiding light and source of clarity
But here’s the big one, the value I found in the first brand manual I made time and time again – Clarity. If someone came to me with a project idea, and it didn’t tie into our goals that were outlined in our brand manual, we didn’t do it. Before that, I had a hard time staying focused or saying no. After that, it was a breeze.
So, why do you need a brand manual?
I’m guessing you’ve already identified yourself in some of the previous bullets. However, it stands reiterating that brand manuals are useful for people who are looking to get everything together in one place. They serve as a good reminder to slow down and move forward with a targeted intention, not just throwing spaghetti at the wall. I strongly believe our brand manual not only helped us continue to grow our web traffic, but also helped us focus and reach our goals quicker.
By now, you might be thinking, oh cool, another marketer who’s all talk and no action. If something sounds good or unique enough on paper, people will buy on. But that’s not what I’m about.
I’m building a platform on substance for a very obvious reason. My content and offerings will not stray from that theme. What I’m going to do is document my brand manual, and the manuals of a few other clients, to show you what it does for their businesses, and in extension, what it can do for you. Now, I won’t give EVERYTHING away for free, but I’ll share just about everything. And along the journey, I’m planning on launching a do-it-yourself brand manual as well as opening up some other things if people are interested (thinking some group or 1-on-1 sessions to help you build the manual of your dreams). My goal is to make you wonder what you ever did without this guiding light.
Just recently, I was working with a client who’s still working on pinning down the exact voice and angle they’re trying to portray in their writing. They also asked me for stock photography, but because they didn’t have any style guide, I had to give 3 or 4 wildly different options and just hope something hit right with them. All of that indecision, while incredibly common, can waste a lot of time. I couldn’t help but think, “Wow, I wish they had a brand manual.”
I hope you stick around for the journey. It should go some very exciting places. Please reach out with questions if you have them!