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From gatekeeper to guide – a tale of changing perceptions


From gatekeeper to guide – a tale of changing perceptions


Traditionally the role of the brand manager was to protect the brand (with the fervour of an old-timey knight) from ‘cowboys’. The rogue employee described like thieves in the night that rip and distort logos; incorrectly apply colours; steal imagery from Google images – all to produce off-brand and unpolished Facebook posts, frequently riddled with spelling errors and whose reach shall remain forever untracked. 

While this scenario has played out in every organisation to some extent – brand managers have a lot to learn from empathising with the company cowboy. 

What can we learn from the cowboy?

The motivation of the cowboy can be anything from impatience with a lean and overworked brand team, high-pressure KPI’s or sales goals, shortage of lead generating material or simply a culture of closed-door policy when it comes to new ideas from anyone outside the brand or marketing teams. 

While for many of us, just thinking about the untamed activity of the cowboy is enough to make our blood boil, cowboys can also help us make the shift from Brand Managers as Gatekeepers to Brand Managers as guides. 

How do I know if I’m a gatekeeper or a guide?

This ‘guide’ role is ever-evolving, but its essence can be represented by some key themes. As with any transition, it’s rare that any brand has perfectly mastered the guide persona. It’s likely there may be many ways that brand managers may be exhibiting Gatekeeper and Guide tendencies. 

Gatekeeper tends to: 

  • Have a rough awareness of each department’s role and spend a lot of time back and forth with versions of comms or collateral trying to nail the detail.
  • Own a locked, versioned set of brand rules containing a palette and blurb to represent key areas of the business.
  • Communicate brand values and aesthetics to the business and provide collateral to support. 
  • Consider industry standard brand marketing activity and apply this to their current plan.
  • Ensure all customer-facing collateral is clearly branded and that there are as many brand touch points as possible to create strong TOMA.
  • Always be pushing to do more work for brand exposure, and be the central source of truth for QA.

Whereas a guide may:

  • Stay on the pulse of internal team SME’s, looking for opportunities to collaborate regularly to ensure the brand grows with the organisation.
  • Empower every employee/stakeholder with tools to help them easily communicate whatever they need to through the lens of the brand.
  • Do the work to ensure all stakeholders see themselves represented in the brand identity.
  • Refine strategy to ensure interactions with the brand make sense and lead to the intended outcome.
  • Ensure the brand experience for prospects has a clear and consistent through-line so that their progression through journeys/channels feels familiar.
  • Investigate smarter, more efficient methods of simultaneously protecting the integrity of the brand and the brand team from burnout.

Each Brand Manager will have a set or roles and responsibilities that is far more exhaustive than this list, but at their essence speaks a truth that a Brand Manager’s job is to change the incorrect assumption that it is only the responsibility and prerogative of the Brand and Marketing teams to promote the culture, identity, tone and direction of the organisation. 

Simply put, the brand belongs to all stakeholders, because without them, there is no brand. 

Once you’ve identified the areas for improvement, how do you even begin the change management process required to take the organisation along on this Guide-led journey and what kind of challenges can I expect?

Where do I start?

When stakeholders are empowered, they will naturally help lighten the load by becoming authentic influencers wherever they go. They’ll share knowledge and ideas that the brand and marketing team can leverage and build on. 

A wild example of this in action is Red Hat’s Open Brand Project from 2017-18. Red Hat knew its brand was outdated – the logo itself hadn’t been reassessed since 2000 at that point – but they also knew how invested internal stakeholders and users were in their mark and associated brand identity (there were literally 12 employees with ‘shadowman’ tattoos at the time) 

Playing in the open-source environment made the decision for the brand team, alongside global superpower agency Pentagon, easy. They would open up their gates to an enormous digital community with specialties in technology, marketing, design and branding and received more than 1,200 responses. These pulse-check conversations upfront made adoption easier and allowed the team at Red Hat to base their refresh on data, rather than subjectivity. 

While we don’t all have the luxury of a robust digital network to help with continuous brand innovation, we do have a network of invested and passionate internal stakeholders with a variety of skillsets –  and that’s a good thing!

The easiest team to begin with is the one most commonly associated with the ‘cowboy’ persona – customer or prospect-facing. Highly motivated, on the front lines and adept at thinking on their feet, the front line team will always have ideas on spruiking the brand. The additional benefit to starting this process with one or two cross functional, high pressure (and typically the worst team at keeping secrets) team members is that it has the potential to create some serious hype throughout the rest of the business – excellent news for adoption down the line. 

Bek Agius is the senior brand and marketing manager at Alpha Digital.


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