Branding experts agree that your employees rank at the top of your most valuable brand assets. Where opinions may vary is how to communicate to them in order to foster brand understanding and compliance. I have spent the past 10 years helping many corporations, both large and small, with brand asset management. During this time, overwhelmingly, the question I most often receive is “Can’t we just deliver PDFs of our guidelines instead of creating a whole Web site?” There are three primary reasons behind this question:
PDFs are much better at presenting proper design and will better support our brand.
Not everyone will want to/can access a Web site every time they want to reference the brand guidelines.
PDFs already exist. Why go to the trouble and expense of turning them into Web pages?
These are all excellent points, and all quite valid. But let’s examine each of these points more closely.
PDFs are better at presenting design
It's easy to be seduced by the idea of using PDFs to display our brand guidelines. After all, we want the guidelines to look their best and PDFs to print well, look great on screen and have wonderful consistency across operating systems. Plus, designers can use their favorite layout tools to provide leading, kerning, ragging and color control to a level that is not quite possible with a Web page. And don't we want our brand guidelines to showcase the brand with the best design possible? We do, but limiting our guidelines to a medium created with print delivery in mind is not representative of the many channels that influence our brand expression. The brand also needs to live on the Web, video, banners and signage. Why not lead by example and show that proper, visually interesting, on-brand materials can be created without being limited by the output? Inspire your communications professionals to embrace all media available to them.
Not everyone will have access to the Web site
With Internet access nearly ubiquitous, this is a point that is becoming less valid. Often, clients will point out that many of peers, located worldwide, have slow Internet access and would prefer to have everything – brand guidelines and brand assets – available for off-line viewing. Here, we need to balance the needs of a few users with the need to drive efficiency in brand communications. Distributing dozens, if not hundreds of PDFs—and the associated brand assets—will be a version-control nightmare as your brand evolves. Making sure everyone has the latest guidelines and assets can quickly eat up all the time you were planning to spend on brand education. Also, you will inevitably hear an excuse from someone that they were unaware there was an update. Centralized brand asset management is the best way to avoid this issue. While some users may be inconvenienced, you will know that everyone is on the same page.
PDFs already exist
I have, personally, never seen any value in redoing something that is already done, and that is already done well. It doesn’t make sense to just repurpose existing content to another medium unless there are clear and measurable benefits in doing so. Here is where a brand asset management system is most key. I have talked a little about what PDFs do well but here is what they don’t do well: PDFs can’t provide links to related assets and discussions. (Technically, PDFs can provide links, but they can’t be updated dynamically as the brand evolves.) PDFs can’t provide a portal or meeting place for all things relating to your brand. Also, as I earlier hinted, PDFs can’t easily provide updated information. People think of information in PDFs as they think about print: something that is largely unchanging. With Web sites, the perception is that change is expected. Lastly, but maybe most importantly, a PDF provides information TO the communication professional, but a Web site affords the opportunity to solicit information FROM the communication professional. We often talk about building brand communities, what better place than a brand-dedicated site to start the conversation?
To sum up, PDFs are a good way to help disseminate your brand guidelines to your employees. But to ensure that you are giving everyone the same information, providing easy access to additional assets and inspiring people to be brand ambassadors, a centralized brand asset management system is the answer.