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Yes, you should be a hard-ass with your brand.

Organizations that are serious about their brands will spend the time and money to create something that is compelling and thoughtful. And after months of development, they will launch it into the world and immediately begin to fight off its degradation. Not from hackers, or vandals, or any other breed of ne’er-do-well. Not even from rivals. It’s their own troops that are the worst offenders when it comes to bastardizing the brand.

“No, you can’t put that neon-orange starburst on the brand materials.”


“Because it’s not in the brand guidelines.”

“But it really makes it ‘pop’. Don’t you think?”


“But the brand guidelines don’t say that I can’t put a neon-orange starburst on everything.”


Never overestimate the brand sensibilities of those down the line. And for Pete’s sake, don’t give them the latitude to interpret the brand.

I saw this happen at a local location of a national restaurant brand. The store manager decided to paint messages on the windows in neon paint. He successfully succeeded in making a very well-done brand (that charged a premium price) look like a competitor to Crazy Eddie’s Deli & Discount Appliances Warehouse*. Actually, Crazy Eddie looked to be winning the brand battle.

Brand leaders don’t defend their brands just because they don’t want some amateur mucking up the cool aesthetics.

They are protecting a valuable asset of the organization. An asset that can contribute up to half the valuation of some companies.

It’s not just about the fuzzy value of aesthetics. It’s also about the economics.

Sales people will whine. Local store managers will whine.

“The brand guidelines are too restrictive.”

They’re not. Actually, from my experience, those that whine the loudest usually haven’t bothered to crack open those guidelines.

Here’s the thing. People who create those guidelines do so with an incredible amount of hope. We’re not looking to restrict things. In fact, it’s just the opposite. We want to create something so elegant and intuitive that it can spawn endless expressions that amplify the brand and continue to build on the equity the brand has established.

Help everyone to see that these guidelines aren’t a set of rules that outline what you can’t do. They are a starting point. A springboard for creating something amazing. Start building a cohort of brand believers. And let them help you propel your brand to greatness.

And with those few that still want to put orange starbursts all over everything — don’t be afraid to be a hard-ass. Because there’s simply too much at stake.

*The name has been changed to protect the clueless.

Dan is an expert brand strategist and author of the book Big Audacious Meaning — Unleashing Your Purpose-Driven Story. He is a founder at Will & Grail — a brand innovation company, helping organizations find their unique, undeniable and unshakable sense of purpose and create innovative experiences that bring it to life.

Originally published at on May 7, 2020.

Written by

Dan is an expert brand strategist and author of the book Big Audacious Meaning — Unleashing Your Purpose-Driven Story. He is a founder at Will & Grail.

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