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SHO R&D

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What is a Brand System?

Branding plays a major role in how organizations communicate with their world. A brand system is the visual and contextual manifestation of your organization’s brand and how it is distributed. A Brand System is defined as a complex structure with multiple layers and guides which work together to create unified, consistent and flexible brand assets that communicate a brand’s intended value. It provides a clear path to communicate a consistent narrative about who you are and tells a powerful story. It communicates your organization’s mission and values while helping audiences understand why you matter to them. A strong brand system is the backbone of a solid corporate identity.

When a brand system is effective, it is the single source of truth for all things brand related. It is used by teams internal and external to the brand to create branded content, build websites, create UI experiences, and create physical print collateral. Designers use it to quickly create wireframes or mock ups to hand the developers. Developers leverage to easily pull code to implement on those designs. Marketers use it to generate content to be shared throughout multiple channels. Sales uses it to update their slide decks with approved content. And all teams use it to onboard and train employees.

A brand system is a brand manager’s best friend. As brands mature, more hands are involved, more assets are created, and more distribution channels are used. This leads to a problem called Brand Sprawl. Brand sprawl is the messy, uncontrolled spread of unapproved branded materials by both internal and external parties that occurs naturally as a business grows. A brand system provides a way for brand managers to more effectively reign in the use of their brand across teams. An effective brand system puts controls in place to govern who uses the brand and how they use it.

“A brand is a living entity-and it is enriched or undermined cumulatively over time, the product of a thousand small gestures.” (Michael Eisner, Former Disney CEO).

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Elements of a Brand System

A brand system is a collection of visual and contextual elements that allows someone to effectively and confidently communicate the brand story. Those elements are:

  1. Logos - Logos of all variations, colors, sizes and uses are typically stored within the brand system. It will also typically include how to use and not use the logos.
  2. Colors - A single brand can have several approved colors. These official colors, as well as shading variations, will all be defined within the brand system. 
  3. Typography - Fonts and where they should be used is another key element of a brand system. It will outline the appropriate font for things such as headlines, titles, quotes, etc.
  4. Brand Mission & Values - a brand system will describe the mission and value of the company. This will capture the tone of the brand and expresses your brand persona and core values through written words used to communicate with your audience.
  5. Imagery & Illustrations - When building a piece of content there almost always needs to be some visual aid. The brand system will provide plenty of approved options when choosing that visual element.
  6. Icons - typically in a brand system, you’ll find a set of approved symbols that can be used in print, web, slide decks, etc.
  7. Interactive Elements - Elements such as buttons, links, menus, forms, etc are an important part of your brand system as the need for digital experiences increases.
  8. Videos - both short and long form videos are a big part of your brand system. As digital marketing increases, so too does the use of motion through video or even GIF.

An effective brand system will have all of these elements in some capacity. A great brand system goes into all of these elements in great detail. All of these elements are generally displayed in some kind of interactive, cloud-based style guide that combines some elements of a content management system with the functionality and searchability of an asset management system.

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Importance of a Brand System

There are plenty of good reasons to have a brand system.
Here are just a few.

Improve Team Collaboration

 A brand system should connect teams that have typically worked in a silo. Designers, developers, marketers, and agencies can all work from the same playbook. These playbooks should specifically spell out how a new product or website can be designed, built, marketed, and distributed across multiple channels. When brand systems don’t exist, team members spend hours searching email, Slack, Teams, SharePoint, DropBox, etc. searching for that single element.

Manage your Brand Across Many Formats

From a technical perspective, your brand will be distributed in many formats. Your brand system will capture all of these formats and have clear playbooks or guidelines spelled out on how to use the particular asset in that particular format. Even to the extent that different file types or sizes are preferred. For example, when posting on Instagram, you’ll want to use the optimal image size, rather than just taking whatever asset already exists which may have been created for an entirely different purpose and platform.

Create a Consistent Brand Experience

A brand system will ensure consistent style in your communication, marketing, advertising, and public materials regardless of whether those assets were created internally, externally, or by an agency. No matter where someone interacts with your brand, you want the same look and feel to be persistent throughout. A brand system provides a single source of truth for any brand contributor.

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Impress Key Stakeholders

Your company’s public image can have a major impact on your bottom line. So making sure your brand is nailing those first impressions, and putting your company’s best foot forward is key. Even in small interactions with your brand, a potential customer, investor, or partner is forming an opinion of your company. Make every interaction meaningful.

Share your Mission, Vision, and Values.

One of the primary purposes of your brand is to elicit emotional responses from your audience and make them feel a certain way about your company. The way your brand makes your audience feel shouldn’t be confused, it should reflect your company's mission, vision, and value. In order to do that effectively. The branding and style of your company shouldn’t be a secret or private. By spreading your company’s aesthetics, you also get to spread your corporate  mission, vision, and values.

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Future of Brand Systems

Historically, brand systems have been a luxury reserved only for the biggest, most wealthy brands. These large brands spend millions of dollars developing and enhancing their brand systems in an effort to curb brand sprawl. Typically, they are an amalgamation of several software systems including a digital asset management component, a content management component, a style guide component, and possibly some design system components as well. These systems are typically integrated together by large scale dev teams or by third party vendors for a huge fee.

With no-code and low-code software and AI being more accessible than ever, brand systems can now be built more quickly and affordably. There are also products like BrandOS, that allow clients to build customized brand systems through a single software platform rather than relying on custom development.

Particularly in today’s increasingly digital world, a cloud based tool to collaborate, share, build, and distribute your brand is growing in importance. With employees scattered all across the country, having a single platform to work with will enable brand contributors to create assets with confidence.

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About SHO

SHO is on a mission to end brand sprawl and change the way brands bring beauty and clarity to the world. With its unique BrandOS, SHO.ai enables brands of all sizes to quickly and easily build new brands from scratch, create new branded material, manage existing branded assets, and more by leveraging SHO.ai's powerful AI engine that has been trained by some of the brightest minds in brand design. To learn more about Brand Systems please visit www.sho.ai.

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