Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Have you heard about the census?

In case you missed the billboards, television, radio, print, online or direct mail advertising, there's a census going on! Many are growing tired of the $133-million campaign designed to increase survey return rates. It's a consistently branded message with high saturation, and for heavy media consumers, those messages can be hard to escape.

Those of us who work in higher ed, particularly in marketing communications, can experience similar saturation with our own brand messages. The same color palettes, the same typeface families, the same look on brochures and print collateral, the same Web design. Even if there is latitude in the brand's application among different audiences and demographics, the consistency of a well-managed brand can feel boring for those who live it every day.

For some, the temptation to revamp brand guidelines every 2-3 years can be great. But right around the time we want to abandon the design ship, that's when our outside audiences are just beginning to identify and recognize our look. This impact is magnified in Web site designs, where it takes time for users to grow accustomed to the placement and organization of links and content.

No, we shouldn't let our designs to become dull and dated. The key is to take a balanced approach in adding fresh elements while staying true to the core brand imagery. Sophisticated designers and strong creative directors can maintain this balance; we just need to keep reminding ourselves and our internal counterparts that we are not our own target audience.


  1. Very good point. Visual communicators especially tend to want to do something new and/or creative, and it's a tough task for some to adhere to consistent graphic identity standards that they see day in and day out. I can attest to the importance of sticking with a standard approach to visual identity to build awareness. Since Jan. 1, 2008, when our campus changed its name, we've tried very hard to be consistent with the identity. So far, all indicators show that the effort is working (all the numbers are moving in the right direction, but even internally, we are still trying to build brand awareness. If only we had a just a slice of the U.S. Census' $133 million...

  2. I can only imagine how much harder brand enforcement could be with a name change. But yes, $133 million would go a long way!

  3. It is very hard to keep the visual portion consistent even when there are many ways for it to get changed. As you mention, the brand identity should remain consistant. However, one way to keep things creative and fresh is to evolve the brand - not necessarily do a complete creative overhaul. Change a few things here and there. See February's Brand Bounce Newsletter for an article on this (3rd article on the left). It asks if you want a free strategy brief on the subject too.

  4. Totally agree, Travis. An evolutionary approach is easier on outside audiences and Web site users, not to mention that it makes for a better transition for publications with a long shelf life. Having trouble finding the back issue of the Brand Bounce newsletter. Do you have a link?