The saying goes, "a brand is a promise." On a personal level, I've always felt that statement was incomplete. A promise is the lowest common denominator of a brand - it's what people expect. Think of your favorite brand, whether search engine or sneaker or coffee shop or free software, and you'll know what I mean - a brand is an expectation. If you experience anything less, you're disappointed. A promise seems like table stakes.
But a brand must go beyond a promise. To me, a brand is a cause - a guiding light. For fulfilling expectations, certainly, as well as dealing with the ill-defined and unexpected. It's what tells your employees how to act when circumstances (and customers) go awry, or well beyond a training course. My first real experience with that was a personal one.
Starting on a new Corporate Identity and Branding project today. I'll be writing the entire guide, as well as doing the design stuffs. It's not something that's new to me, I've done a couple of guides over the years, and to be honest, I find it all to be rather relaxing fun.
I can whack out a full guide, (layout, copy, content, design) in about 2 weeks (not counting amendments). But it's not the form of the guide that's the most important. It's the content.
I've read a crapton of CI and branding guides over the years, and the only one I've ever read that's stood out for me, that's made me say, THAT is what I want my brand guide to be... is (was) Sun Microsystem's Branding and CI guide. Not only was it amazingly and inspiringly written, it was written TO inspire. I wish I still had copies. None of the other guides I've ever read cared a whit if the reader was inspired by the contents of the guide or not.
Sun Microsystems' guide made evangelists of designers. Or of at least one designer. Naturally, it's not a magic brainwashing pill. If your branding guide is written to inspire, but your company does anything but - it will fail, and fail miserably. But Sun was one of the clients - the only client, really - that I fell in love with after working with their consistently competent staff and also consistently referring to their brand guide for projects large and small.
Also important is the client's willingness to trust you. Especially when it comes to writing - more so than design - the client's trust is... everything, when it comes to creating good content. The best copy, both content-rich and otherwise, that I've written in my professional life, I've written for Sun. Because as a client, they trusted us to go ahead and just WRITE. They trusted us to know how to talk to their target audience.
And, last but not least, they had a strong, charismatic, articulate and literate CEO. A CEO whose eloquent writing and evangelism made it simple to know where to go with the brand; made it possible to KNOW when the tone of the copy was just right; made complex techy stuff comprehensible, thereby in turn making it possible to write it comprehensibly to non-tech folk.
Yes. I was a Sun fangurl. A brand is a cause. Marketing folk, see that rant above... and remember - that's how you want people to talk about your brand.