Financial services firms express their brands through a plethora of digital, physical, and experiential touchpoints. With so many opportunities for consumer impressions and interactions created by employees across a variety of departments, it’s no surprise that effective, consistent brand representation can be hard to achieve.
It’s imperative that financial services firms like yours master operational brand governance to address these challenges and to succeed in the industry’s rapidly evolving competitive landscape. If your brand is misaligned or misrepresented, you risk confusing customers, eroding their trust, and suffering reputational damage.
What is operational brand governance?
Operational brand governance refers to the infrastructure required to ensure consistent and effective implementation of the brand across your marketing and brand operations — all channels, touchpoints, and stakeholders.
In this case, we attach the word “operational” to the more well-known term “brand governance” for a reason. It’s a way of acknowledging that brand governance goes way beyond the development and enforcement of your brand guidelines. Operational brand governance is really the framework from which your organization needs to operate in order to properly adhere to your brand strategy, build the value of it, and support the intended employee and customer experience.
Getting this right takes knowledge and commitment, and it means defining what we refer to as the four key pillars of governance:
People – roles, responsibilities, ownership, and accountability
Process – effective, efficient, and well communicated
Training – onboarding, education, empowerment, and engagement
Technology – resources, tools, and platforms that support the infrastructure
A strong operational brand governance infrastructure goes well beyond the responsibility of the marketing and brand team. It requires the participation and effort of every area of an organization to properly and effectively influence all the various activities, interactions, touchpoints, and materials that comprise your consumers’ and employees’ experience of your brand.
Operational brand governance for financial services companies: Why it matters
Up until the financial crisis of 2008, many B2B financial services firms underinvested in their brands. Instead, they led with their product offerings. However, in the wake of 2008, as financial services firms started the process of repairing their reputation (and that of their industry), they began investing more heavily in their brands.
In addition to walking a tightrope when it comes to reputation management, financial services companies are heavily regulated, of course, and must take special care not to say anything promissory about their products and services. Meeting these regulatory requirements while also competing in a demanding and ever-evolving industry is a balancing act—one whose success depends on a consistent, authentic, and well-executed brand.
And the key to a consistent, authentic, and well-executed brand? Operational brand governance.
The challenges of operational brand governance in the financial services industry
For any company in any industry, operational brand governance is a major undertaking. It requires internal alignment, cross-team collaboration, attention to detail, and diligence. But there are a couple of realities that make operational brand governance especially challenging for financial services companies.
The first roadblock is the sheer volume of brand-related touchpoints across any financial services firm. From marketing collateral and customer statements to branded environments at branch locations and customer service interactions, the overall number of touchpoints means that branding discrepancies are more likely to crop up.
Secondly, the ownership of the customer experience is highly distributed. This means many branded touchpoints are managed by departments with looser ties to the brand team and a lesser understanding of the brand (as well as the importance of brand governance). It can be challenging to simply identify all the stakeholders who influence the customer experience. But proper operational brand governance requires that you do this to offer proper training and support, as well as develop a structured and streamlined process for approvals and audits.
Finally, the proliferation of digital channels and user-generated content means that the customer’s voice is an increasingly present influence on your brand. Given that financial services firms must be especially diligent in managing their reputations, this is no small matter. These companies must build operational brand governance for agility and flexibility, allowing staff to keep close tabs on what’s being said in the market and responding swiftly and appropriately.
How to strengthen your firm’s operational brand governance
Many B2B firms that have succeeded in creating a strong brand program and brand strategy don’t put the proper time and resources into building a brand governance infrastructure. They put together the brand guidelines, of course, but they don’t do much beyond distributing them. It’s a set-it-and-forget-it mentality that simply doesn’t work in organizations with so much complexity.
The result? While the marketing team may be consistently on point with their messaging and campaigns, other customer touchpoints may not align with those messages. Having so many other internal stakeholders managing their own interpretation and expression of the brand (such as product developers, salespeople, and call center operators) breeds misalignment and that leads to an inconsistent customer experience.
Following are a few tips that will help your team get operational brand governance right.
- Get buy-in from the C-suite. Your executive leadership sets the example for your entire organization. Ensure your leaders understand the need to protect the investment just made in your new brand strategy, with a strong and clearly defined governance infrastructure. If they can walk the talk by embodying the understanding that brand governance is a priority, the rest of your organization will follow suit.
- Elevate brand responsibility beyond the marketing team. Your entire team must rally around the idea of protecting your brand. To get this sort of buy-in, start with employee training and engagement programs. Engagement programs are like internal marketing campaigns. They don’t just define the brand strategy—they explain why it matters, how it impacts customers, what the value of the brand is, and how each employee is responsible. Many companies get caught up in the “what” of their brand strategy. But your employees won’t truly care about the brand until they understand the “why.”
- Be agile. The reality is that today’s consumers can essentially co-author your brand. The things they say on social media and other digital channels contribute to consumers’ overall perception of your brand in the marketplace. As a result, your operational brand governance infrastructure needs to be nimble enough to stay in tune with the many digital channels in the marketplace and respond quickly as needed. Consider operational brand governance to be a living process, one that employees actively engage in.
As a financial services firm, you know that your company’s continued growth rests on the success of your brand. And the best way to protect your brand is with operational brand governance.