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Brand Governance: Brand Cops Becoming Brand Coaches

By Lisa Merriam
Member, Board of Directors

Brand governance used to be a command and control proposition. Companies were in charge of their brands and they told people how to use their brands. Brand guidelines specified right and wrong; rules and regulations enforced by a brand cop with oversight over what was and was not “on brand.”

No more.

Brands are out of control. 

In today’s fragmented media environment, where everyone has accesses to  high speed, high frequency, high reach communications, brand cops and brand usage rules are left trampled in the dust. Fans and foes create content with your brand at internet speed—and you cannot possibly reach them all with lawyers and cease-and-desist orders. Brand governance through command and control no longer works.

Brand governance through inspiration and empowerment.

Brand governance is by no means dead. It has evolved, at least with forward thinking companies. Smart companies are replacing their brand cops with brand coaches. Coca-Cola recognized this dynamic in the early days of social media when they discovered the second most popular page on Facebook was a Coca-Cola page. The trouble was, it wasn’t created by Coca-Cola; it was a fan page created by two guys in Los Angeles. Rather than sic their lawyers on die-hard Coca-Cola fans and millions of followers, Coca-Cola embraced them. They flew the page creators to Atlanta and gave them a total brand immersion and education. Coca-Cola worked with the fans as a brand coach to co-create a successful and engaging brand experience that Coca-Cola did not own.

Coaching a brand community.

Brand governance today requires a nuanced approach. Brand usage guidelines still matter and trademark lawyers are not out of business. What is changing, though is how the guidelines are used. No longer are official rules locked in a password-protected part of the web site. Savvy brands make the guidelines and official brand asset files accessible to all. Educating the public about how to use the brand and inspiring them to use it well keeps most communication “on-brand.” You can explore an example of this modern brand coach approach from the ultimate business coach in Tony Robbin’s style guide

Coca-Cola continues to support co-created brand communication, from the famous “Mentos Guys” and their Coca-Cola geysers to sponsored Coca-Cola art exhibitions.

The new brand governance mandate.

Educating and empowering, then supporting and celebrating are the new brand governance mandate. To get the most benefit for your brand, watch what is happening, connect with fans that are using your brand in communication, participate, adopt and adapt. Hire the brand coach and put the brand cop into retirement.