The blurry boundary between work and play, what information is private versus public, fades even more with the challenges of 2020 – leaving many brand leaders with questions about what information to share, and where. And brand centers are no exception. Should more brands make that content public?

Modern brand centers, which house central guidelines, assets, and training, play an important role in bringing a brand to life while educating and inspiring those who use it. Though historically only made available to employees and vendors, here’s why we should all expect to see more public-facing brand centers in 2021 and beyond.

Why now? The new reality

Culturally, we felt the last scraps of the traditional 9-5 workday evaporate as work-from-home became a permanent feature for many corporations in 2020. We witnessed previously rigid companies scramble to take on more agile information sharing and content collaboration practices. We connected with our coworkers more than ever before in unexpected ways as we got to know their home offices and family schedules. And many teams were more productive and creative in light of these changes.

What we experienced was the birth of the new corporate world – one that embraces the rules (or lack thereof) outside of its concrete walls and boardroom banter in favor of increased freedom. One that leaves employees, partners, and onlookers alike considering what brand information should no longer be kept under lock and key.

A critical step for corporate brand teams, amidst this change, has been to ensure brand guidelines and assets are accessible to employees and partners from anywhere, anytime, creating a single source of truth for brand management. And the best brand centers are those that inspire while also providing key information quickly.

Now, in the wake of this new corporate world, brand teams across the globe are exploring what could be achieved if their brand center – their core source of truth – was also available to the public.

What are the benefits of public brand content?

The idea of public-facing brand guidelines is not revolutionary. Industry leaders have been doing this for years, beta-testing what happens when the public has access to your brand information alongside employees and partners.

The arguments against locking up brand centers have often stemmed from the question, “What’s the risk?” Traditional concerns such as, “What if someone gets our logo and starts applying it?” are rendered irrelevant in an age of Google search and images. Brand teams should instead be thinking about the missed opportunity of not making some assets and guidelines public.

Following the challenges and proven success of the world’s interest and need for information accessibility in 2020, it is likely that the new era of brand leaders will be more likely to make the jump to public brand guidelines this year…especially considering the following benefits:

1. Increased brand awareness and approval
A brand’s story plays an essential role in humanizing the brand. It’s a thread that ties together the fibers of a company and, while important to inspire and connect current employees, is also significant for building positive awareness and trust with the public – which may include future customers.

Salesforce was cognizant of this responsibility when it began the process of creating a new brand center in 2020. Its new brand-center site now includes a multitude of public-facing pages as well as expanded content for employees and partners behind a login. “We were thoughtful about what brand content to make public on our platform”, shares Karen Sommerich, Director of Brand Strategy at Salesforce. “We want people to know what makes Salesforce the brand it is, and to understand why we make the decisions we make. So it was obvious to us to include in the public pages our brand origin story and brand promise.”

2. Stronger brand equity
Key visual identity elements (such as the logo) are the most well-known attributes of a brand. Strengthening the correct usage and availability of those assets outside the organization is an important way to increase reach while reinforcing the brand identity with accuracy.

This principle also resonated with Salesforce. Sommerich continued, “Another consideration in what content to make public is that our broad community of Salesforce advocates will want to use our logo, so we want to make sure they use it right and with our permission. Therefore, we included the assets, guidelines, and permission request instructions for all to understand.”

There is gravitas in being a brand that outsiders want to learn about, study, and reference. Help your brand make the most of that type of exposure by providing them with assets and content you want to be seen.

3. Attract new talent
In an era where companies are fiercely competing for talent and where there is increasing recognition of the importance of design thinking, brands are using their brand centers as a way to showcase their leadership in the space and attract the best.

One of our favorite examples is Starbucks and how its design flexes, based on the moment of the customer journey. Alternatively, Zendesk showcases its culture in its brand center with its opening line that states; “it’s the happiest place on Earth with free admission”.

Both examples give a sneak peek at the expression and design culture one could expect at either company, drawing interest and approval from aspiring employees.

4. Showcase industry expertise
Similar to the opportunity above, public-facing, brand-center content is also a fresh way to attract positive attention in the industry. Potential employees and clients alike are looking to work with the best-in-class companies and be ahead of the curve.

In this way, lifting the lock on the brand and design can elevate the company’s stature and position it as a leading, innovative, forward-thinking organization. You can see this come to life in two public-facing brand sites: Audi’s story on “redefining progress” and IBM’s ethos of “building bonds”.

Where to begin

If your brand is circling towards a brand refresh or brand-center platform update, now is the right time to consider how making some content public may improve your brand equity without pulling back the curtain far enough to cause any harm. For many, the discussion about what content to make public will be unique to each individual brand. As you examine your own circumstances, consider unlocking these brand staples for public consumption:

Consider making these brand guidelines public:

  • Brand story or history;
  • Brand purpose;
  • Key brand philosophies (e.g., perspective on design);
  • Brand codes (elements that appear across all communications, such as logo, color palette, typography);
  • Brand portfolio/high-level brand architecture;
  • Employer value proposition;
  • Brand applications/brand in use;
  • Broadcast or media assets available.

The future of brand governance

Brand teams are learning that a well-told brand story is no longer reserved purely for internal marketing team members, and can be just as relevant to potential partners, consumers, investor relations, NGOs, future recruits, and even a source of pride for current employees.

The year 2020 taught everyone that the public wants information and needs access. Though a small step in response, throwing away the key that locks up historically private brand details is still a large step into the brave new world of brand governance for many. Public brand centers will go from an early trend to the standard in coming years as the new era of global brand leaders grows. These new leaders will continue to evolve and, as they strive to humanize their brands, so will the positive impact of democratizing access to their brands’ identity.

Cover image source: Balázs Kétyi