Customers expect to have the same positive experience with a brand every time they come into contact with it.
They want to see the same colors, read the same type of tone in content, watch the same style of videos, have the same virtual experiences, and so on. Essentially they are seeking a strong and consistent corporate narrative and cohesive brand strategy.
This can put a lot of pressure on businesses to perform. And the people who often feel that pressure most acutely are the brand managers – the ones inside the organization who are tasked with managing all of the brand’s touchpoints and making everything come together into a seamless experience for customers.
But, it shouldn’t be this way. And in fact, it doesn’t have to be this way.
By delegating some of the responsibility of managing the brand, brand managers can alleviate the pressure they feel and start functioning as actual managers, rather than wearing tons of different hats. This sharing of brand stewardship, so to speak, can also help them ensure that employees are invested and participating in the brand management process.
What is Brand Stewardship?
Before we get into brand stewardship, let’s dig into the term “stewardship” a little bit. Put simply, a stewardship is a responsibility. It’s a trust given to a person to care for someone or something in the stead of the person it belongs to.
For instance, a child could be given stewardship over a family pet, like a goldfish (or a 500 lb tiger). As its steward, the child is responsible to feed it, clean its bowl (likely with some help from a parent or guardian), and protect it from disturbances, like the family cat. This stewardship gives the child responsibility for something the whole family enjoys, while getting the child invested in the growth, happiness, and life of the goldfish.
This principle can be applied perfectly to a brand and business as well. You don’t have to give your employees goldfish to keep on their desks, though. Instead, you can give employees shared responsibility over your brand. These responsibilities will vary in scope and size, but all can be given with the expectation that employees will carefully use the resources and tasks entrusted to them to maintain the integrity of your brand.
In the past, employees only had one way to be good brand stewards. They could make sure specific brand assets were, well, on-brand. But as the concept of a brand experience has taken shape, it’s become important for the definition to expand.
Today, brand stewardship involves all aspects of your brand – from the obvious, like infusing color schemes and designs into your marketing campaigns, to the less often considered, like chatbots and embodying your company values in every interaction with customers.
Who’s Responsible for Brand Stewardship?
The truth is, creating a brand experience is too big a job for a few people. It simply isn’t possible for a small team to create and cross-check all digital assets, develop every on-brand product, and represent the brand to every customer.
Good brand stewardship requires the buy-in and co-creative work of employees and executives at every level. Everyone needs to be involved. Not only does doing so make a huge difference in the workload of brand managers and their teams, but it also drastically increases employee buy-in on the branding.
Why Does Brand Stewardship Need to be a Collaborative Effort?
While we’ve already discussed several reasons why the collaborative nature of brand stewardship is better than traditional brand management, there are a few amazing benefits that we’ve yet to point out. Here are three major ways that brand stewardship can positively impact your brand.
Aligns Employees Across the Organization
One big pain point that organizations face is lack of alignment between departments and teams – and the inevitable branding chaos that ensues. Brand stewardship not only unites teams by giving them a common goal to work toward (i.e., a solid brand experience), but also by giving them specific responsibilities that move the entire organization closer to that goal.
Gets Employees More Invested in Your Brand
The more you care about something, the more effort you’re going to put into it. This applies whether we’re talking about a fitness goal, a hobby, or a job.
Brand stewardship gets your employees invested in your brand, by giving them a meaningful responsibility – and an opportunity to make a difference. And the more invested they are in your brand, the more likely they are to create powerful on-brand assets and embody your brand values in their interactions with customers.
Future-Proofs the Brand
Building a brand takes a lot of work – and it can be scary to think that the whole thing could fall apart if you were to move on or if one of your team members were to leave.
Brand stewardship virtually eliminates this risk, by spreading the responsibility of your brand across hundreds (or thousands) of people. In this case, any number of your employees could move on, move up or change roles and your brand identity would stay intact.
How to Make Brand Stewardship Everyone’s Responsibility
1. Develop a Plan
Before you can turn your employees into brand stewards, you need to develop a plan. And not just a generic “the marketing team will handle marketing and the R&D team will handle R&D,” plan, either. It needs to be specific.
You can do this by figuring out exactly what stewardship you want each of your employees to have over your brand. For instance, you can ask yourself:
- What role will this person fill? Will they be working on assets and collateral, hiring new employees or building new products?
- Will this person have regular interactions with customers and leads? Or will they work more in the background?
- What brand information do they need to be successful? Do they need brand assets like logos, image folders, and color schemes? Do they need the brand voice guide?
- How large a role do they play? Will they be working on a team or individually?
- Do they need support from other teams and departments in the organization?
- Do you need to create cross-functional teams for specific projects or responsibilities? If so, who do you need for those responsibilities?
Once you figure out exactly what everyone will do and map out what they need to do it, successfully, you can start getting your employees involved.
2. Facilitate Employee Buy-In
To get your employees invested in their specific stewardship, you need to help them see the value in it. So take a little time to explain that to your employees. Point out the purpose of their specific responsibilities and share the impact that their responsibilities can have on the brand.
The point is to get everyone excited, because the more excited they are about their stewardship, the more effective your plan will be.
3. Share Brand Assets
One of the last things you need to do before getting underway, is make sure everyone has complete, continuous access to the assets and people they need to be successful. The reason being: it enables employees to create and roll out on-brand projects, without requiring brand managers and marketers to spend all of their time doing tedious tasks — like sending brand assets to different individuals and teams and answering questions about asset use.
All you need to do is create a shared space, which all employees can access, where the most up-to-date versions of your brand assets (and the guidelines for using each one) are stored. This will ensure that they have the tools they need to be successful.
4. Give Feedback & Rewards
While getting more responsibility for the brand may be an exciting prospect for many of your employees, the transition will not be perfect. There will be misunderstandings about responsibilities and mistakes made with the execution. So, offer feedback. Correct mistakes. Provide suggestions for improvement. Doing so will help your teams become better brand stewards over time.
Since this will likely feel like an extra expectation put on them, you also need to make sure your employees feel valued for the contributions they’re making. You can praise them, offer high-value rewards or celebrate as an organization. The point is to do what motivates and invigorates your employees.
Don’t forget to recognize the “smaller” contributions, too. Remember, even small things can change a customer’s mind about your brand.
Making sure brand stewardship is an organization-wide thing can be incredibly challenging, especially if you’re trying to implement it across your organization. However, with so many rewards on the table (the least of which being less emails asking about brand assets), it’s so worth it.