You wouldn’t spend thousands of pounds on a sparkling new kitchen and never clean it. You wouldn’t buy a top of the range new car and then never get it serviced, letting it slowly fall to pieces. You wouldn’t spend millions rebranding your business with a sexy new logo, strapline and mission statement, only to forget about it the minute the signage is installed. Oh, hang on a minute! It would seem that some companies do.
Much emphasis has been put on rebranding choices and how the 2D logo manifests itself in the reality of 3D life. But what about the rest of the brand? Yes, a new logo may look pretty, but we all know that a brand is more than that. The brand is inevitably tied up in the human experience of the product or service:
If the brilliant new e-reader in the pretty new packaging falls apart just after the warranty expires, then that’s your brand.
If the receptionist in the beautifully designed hotel foyer ignores you while she finishes chatting on her mobile phone, then that’s your brand.
And if the shiny new sign outside that swanky new restaurant gets covered in pigeon poo (sorry) that no-one bothers to clean, then that’s your brand.
As the implementors of brand identity, responsible for the ‘bits people see’ (the lighting, the wayfinding and signage, etc.), to say that the discovery of a hastily-applied bit of masking tape to a once-beautiful store directory stabs at our pride (and even a little bit at our hearts for the more sensitive of us) is an understatement. For this achieves not the effect desired by the employee who applied said masking tape – namely, to re-direct customers to or from another department in the store – but rather, what this says to the customer is “We don’t really care about how we present ourselves to you. We don’t really care what you think of us. We take you for granted”. That is the brand. Regardless of how faithfully the logo is reproduced on their new uniform.
But so often, a maintenance programme is either shunned as being too expensive to set up or, more commonly, not considered at all. Many brand owners like the appeal of the ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ stance which I can sympathise with. The implementation of a rebrand is more often than not the most expensive part of the whole process. As Endpoint co-founder Paul Veness says, “What people don’t always realise is that the implementation costs can be 20 to 30 times the design budget”. So having just spent this amount of money, it’s no wonder that companies want to take a moment to regain a sense of composure. Emotionally, the job is done and dusted. The rebrand has been rolled out across the estate. The signage is up. Everyone can relax.
But having forked out however many thousands or millions of pounds on the hardware, shouldn’t this be seen as an investment worth protecting? In terms of brand image, failed lighting or dirty, broken signage is never going to be desirable, and customers will notice discrepancies. Rather than waiting for something to go wrong and reacting to it, a proactive approach to ensuring your physical brand assets should be adopted. Regular maintenance and servicing will result in enhanced performance and extended life, saving you money in the long term.
Still not convinced it’s worth the setup costs? Let’s look at the pros and cons:
A reactive or unplanned approach to sign maintenance is one that relies purely on emergency call-outs, which can be costly as it may involve long-distance travel and out-of-hours charges. Also, as the engineers won’t have planned to visit the site, they may not have the right kit with them resulting in the need for a re-visit (more cost – yawn). Similarly, the unplanned visit will very rarely coincide with a convenient time during which to carry out the work, so your customers may be inconvenienced or revenue lost while the work takes place. Each replacement item, be it an LED light strip or new acrylic panel, will have to be ordered as a one-off which is usually the most expensive way of ordering a product.
A well-thought-out and managed maintenance programme will address most of these issues. Instead of single emergency call outs, a planned programme will minimise site disruption as work can be scheduled to take place at the most convenient time. It will take the geography of the estate into account and minimise travel costs. Engineers will be able to ensure they have the right kit with them, reducing the need for re-visits. Regular inspection of each site will result in signs that are less likely to suddenly fail and ensure that they meet current health and safety measures (which should keep your legal team happy). And of course, regular cleaning (no more pigeon poo!) can only enhance your brand image. Also, if a bulk store of replacement hardware is available for those times when replacing a sign or lighting element is unavoidable, you will benefit from economies of scale rather than paying that expensive one-off cost. Of course, a reactive approach will be needed to deal with unforeseeable situations such as vandalism or storm damage, and so a contingency budget should be set aside for this.
In addition to maintenance on a practical level, continued communication with the branches of the company is equally important. With high staff turnover in sectors such as retail and leisure, it’s essential that the thinking behind the brand is communicated clearly and regularly so that each employee feels involved and understands the reasons behind the physical manifestation of the brand that they live with day in and day out. Communication and training, combined with regular site visits, will reduce the number of instances of masking tape on the store directory, or a regional manager deciding to ‘logo-up’ an off-brand item like a rubbish bin.
I know it’s not glamorous. It’s not exciting. And it doesn’t exactly get your pulse racing. But once you’ve decided to protect your physical corporate image by putting a bit of investment in maintenance, I guarantee you’ll be glad you did.