Herding cats: A guide to branding consistency

Kim Breeding-Mercer
Senior Graphic Designer

On your commute this morning, did you pass by a Starbucks? A McDonald’s? A Target? You recognized those businesses by reading their name on the sign, right? No, you didn’t. You saw that two-tailed mermaid, the golden arches, and that red bull’s eye symbol. You didn’t need words to tell you who they were.

Why not?

Let’s answer that question with another question: Have you ever seen Starbucks use a two-tailed pirate instead? Or driven by some fuchsia arches? Of course not. Logos work because they are consistently represented.

The same goes for your association’s image. Or, it should.

You might have a fantastic modern logo, or you might still be using some clip art adopted by the original Board of Directors twenty years ago. You may have a robust style guide with Pantone colors, fonts, and art elements all defined, or you might just have a general typeface preference. No matter where your branding is on the swank scale, consistency is the key to recognition in your industry.

However, when you work with volunteers, achieving consistency of effort can be like herding cats.

No two volunteers will create a document the same way. Your logo might get stretched out of proportion to fit an awkward layout space, somebody might decide everything needs a shadow box around it, and yet another person thinks headlines look nice in script fonts. Whether it’s an education flyer, event marketing piece, or press release, if your identity is not represented in a consistent way, you are essentially putting fuchsia arches on your own McDonald’s.

Even when you employ the services of an association management company, you may still have certain members who want to do their own flyers, or send their own email campaigns. Embrace their enthusiasm! Let them market you! But herd those cats a bit, and give them some guidelines:

  1. Provide all volunteers with a copy of (or a link to) your association’s style guide. This can include definitions of common terms and acronyms, and how to display trademarked items, as well as acceptable fonts, colors, and logo treatment.
  2. Have a proofing process. Let everyone know up front that no volunteer is an island, and designate someone (or several someones) to be available for proofing of materials before publication.
  3. Give them templates. Make them easy to use and easy to find. (Utilize the services of graphic designers when things get too complex. The hours you spend trying to format a registration form in Word are not worth it, if a professional using a program like Adobe InDesign can do the same thing in thirty minutes. Pick your battles!)
  4. Educate them! Explain to them that they are stewards of the association’s identity, and their commitment to its goals is helped by always portraying a consistent image.

You will never herd all the rogue cats, but you can minimize their impact by creating a culture of pride and protection around your association’s identity.

Help the rest of the world to recognize you, and to see you as a professional organization, by making sure to always put your best face forward!