Branding has become a major passion of mine. I look at companies in different ways now. When Apple launched their new watch (and other things), I saw more than fancy products. I saw branding realized – the messaging, the visual philosophy, the format of the presentation and how different media all combined to reinforce the same story and brand identity. Apple is spectacular at this.

I always stress that an exceptional brand is a consistent brand. If you look at Apple or Mercedes Benz or Tag Heuer or Uber – you’ll notice there’s never really a surprise. The products may ‘wow’ but the approach to messaging and presentations is typically consistent with how they represent the brand on daily basis.

Recently I started looking at the ways in which Brands provide resources and guidelines to their partners, press and stakeholders in an online way. During my time at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, we launched a Media Center for press and bloggers to access press releases, logos, audio and video footage. At ExactTarget we launched a publicly accessible branding site. And now at Return Path, we just launched a new brand site featuring our style guide, logos, color palette and much, much more.

Return Path

During this process, I looked to other brands for inspiration and their transparency online. I found some wonderful examples and surprises.

FreddieI’d like to start with MailChimp, a brand I have admired for years. Whether it’s following the work of CEO Ben Chestnut, their brilliant annual reports, playing cards, or their fun, engaging brand and Freddie – MailChimp has shown us that a brand can be exceptional, professional, and creative with a touch mischief.

Their brand site speaks to this and the brand is very clearly placed on the company’s sleeve. It’s a great example of transparency and a brand operating as a living organism.

Lloyd’s was a very unexpected discovery. When you think of brand innovation and transparency, it’s unlikely that an insurance company would be at the top of the list. Lloyd’s brand site is very well organized, with a clear message and instant access to branding needs. The branding guidelines are beautifully designed and the tone is welcoming, polite and friendly. I felt an instant connection to this brand and that’s without even interacting with a human being from Lloyd’s. Very nicely done.

Lloyd's Branding

GoogleNext up is Google. Which is no surprise. Their approach to brand and design is immense. UX, Web, Google Glass and much, much more is represented on their brand site. The first sentence on their site opens with a quote – “Focus on the user and all else will follow.” It’s powerful that they use a mantra to direct their intentions towards brand. It reminds me that at the nucleus of any compelling product, company, or brand – is a story.

Red Bull is probably the most exciting brand on the planet. They jump from space, do extreme sports stuff, give us wings, run a Formula One team, and fully integrate all of their campaigns across devices (including  print).

Red Bull and F1

I’m not certain I found their brand site, but I did stumble on their media house site, which illustrates their impressive approach to the brand vision through film, photography, mobile and music. Red Bull is a reminder to all of us that there really are no rules.

My beloved Red Devils – Manchester United, proved to be a little disappointing. I had hoped to discover a rich brand site that would communicate and express one of the world’s leading football clubs. Instead, I discovered an inconsistent site experience and a focus on brand protection. Brand fraud and counterfeiting are serious attacks to consider, but I would be interested to understand their overall brand philosophy on this. Incidentally, Red Bull has a similar page on their site too.

But it made me think that Manchester United are missing out on an opportunity to represent their brand in a different way. After all, a company like Google is under a lot of scrutiny around fraud protection, copyright infringement and so on. They’ve still figured out how to present an approachable brand resource.  It’s also possible that I haven’t found the MUFC brand site or that it’s only accessible to approved media (would love to be corrected on this).

Manchester United

Skype is a really interesting identity, especially since they are part of Microsoft. From the outside looking in, it appears Skype has retained a good dose of autonomy and their own identity. Kudos to Microsoft for recognizing the Skype brand equity. This doesn’t always happen after an acquisition. The Skype brand is light, approachable and helpful. This is perfectly captured in their brand guidelines.  As a user of Skype, it gives me a lot of satisfaction to experience the brand in this manner. Thanks Skype!

Skype brand

Walmart also makes this list. They have a wonderfully design brand site. It’s incredibly simple to use, very clean and organized in a smart and digestible manner. Everything is at your fingertips – no more, no less. In terms of a brand shopping experience, it’s spot on. A lot of these sites require significant investment up front, but the impact it has on brand integrity, perception and accessibility is well worth it.

Walmart Brand Site

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but a good start. I’ll be continuing this research and adding to this Pinterest board: Brand Resource Websites. Thank you so much for reading. I’d love to hear from you.