Brand governance

Scared branding assets definition and overview

So, what are sacred assets?

Put simply, sacred assets are elements identified with a specific brand no matter how common the element. Sacred assets provide a mental shortcut for people to identify and recognize the brand.

Sacred assets, in relation to brands, are the fundamental key differences that separate one brand from another. These are the elements — visual, verbal, behavioral, experiential — that fundamentally define a brand, allowing for clearer identification.

Evolution in branding — Coca Cola & Google
The distinctive characteristics have no direct correlation with the function of a product or it’s selling point, instead, the distinctiveness is determined by the characteristics separating one element from another.

The two major distinctions when identifying a brand’s sacred assets are: identity and uniqueness. Identity measures the identifiable traits linked specifically to a brand. Uniqueness measures the number of brands specifically linked to a certain element; be it a letter, style, colour etc…

Sacred assets are most commonly visual.

Sacred assets can be seen everywhere, from Apples’s brand mark to the Nike’s ‘swoosh.’

Nike logo — ‘swoosh’

There are five key assets that shape a brand:

  • Mission
  • Focuses
  • Audience
  • Personality
  • Values

Combined, these assets (when established properly) culminate into a recognisable brand identity.

“All the other parts of your brand style guide are tangible elements that communicate those key components to the world through design.”

Brand Assets are not the reason why people will buy your brand, but they drive ROI on marketing in two ways:

Advertising Effectiveness: over half of the people who recognize an ad will attribute it to the wrong brand (this is an average, but the point is, most ads will have miss-attribution). To compound this, many of the people that get it wrong attribute the ad to the competition.

This is a massive waste of two precious resources; a) media spend and, b) creative cut through. Having strong Brand Assets helps to address this issue by allowing viewers to easily connect the ad with the brand without plastering your brand name and logo throughout (let’s face it, that just doesn’t make for an engaging ad).

Sales Conversion: buying situations can be far removed from exposure to your advertising, both in terms of time, but also mindset (being in the supermarket is very different to sitting on the couch).

People are also likely to be in “system 1” decision making mode when shopping. System 1 decision making (a termed coined by Daniel Kahneman in Thinking, Fast and Slow) refers to people’s ability to make fast decisions in an autopilot like manner.

Brand Assets provide a link across touch-points, facilitate recognition, shortcut decision making and increase the chances of conversion in buying situations. The easiest way to illustrate this is to think about the time it takes to make decisions when shopping overseas, when we lose all our decision making shortcuts.

Beyond the two factors mentioned above, Brand Assets can also imply meaning (e.g. symbolism beyond what is explicitly communicated by the brand). This requires a more in-depth discussion, something we’ll have to pick up another day.

ROI from branding

According to a study conducted by bandt, over half of the individuals who recognize an ad, will in turn, attribute it to the wrong brand.
To compound this, many of the people that get it wrong attribute the ad to the competition.
“ Think of your brand identity as your company’s personality. It’s how the world recognizes you and begins to trust you. If you see someone change how they look and act all the time, you won’t feel like you know who they are, and you certainly wouldn’t trust them.”

By identifying this as a key statistic in marketing decisions, it would seem foolish to neglect the impact sacred assets can have on the success of a marketing campaign.

Brand Assets provide a link across touch-points, facilitate recognition, shortcut decision making and increase the chances of conversion in buying situations.

The easiest way to illustrate this is to determine the time it would take to make decisions when shopping overseas, when almost all branding shortcuts have disappeared.Managing the assets

Because there are so many moving parts within a brand, the branding process needs to be fully grasped to ensure each aspect is operating efficiently, this can go from employees, who represent the brand on the front lines of consumer interaction. To the sales reps and marketers, who must be able to speak for the brand, make quick decisions, and “react appropriately to customer requests.”

Director of FedEx, April Britt, stated: “People within the organization are our advocates. It is fundamental that we help everyone understand what is sacred to our brand — who we are and what we stand for.”
“Employee engagement doesn’t have to be oversimplified and boring. When done properly, it can be a masterful way to help staff internalize the why behind a brand and encourage on-brand behavior.”
Google doodle example

For brands to be agile and responsive, there must also be room for interpretation. Google’s logotype is a clear example; every year, google will select countless ‘doodles’ to appear on the homepage. This serves as a representation of an agile sacred brand asset.

By manipulating the fundamental core aspects of the logo, while still maintain the same familiarity, Google is able to nurture an agile branding approach. Allowing for further sacred assets to be developed.

The five rays at the top of IBM’s Smarter Planet logo are sacred and remain constant. But the central icon underneath — the interpretive element — can take on almost any form, from raindrops and flowers to snowflakes and apples, as long as it’s contextually relevant.

Through inconsistency and unpredictability, customers will begin to feel alienated and confused. This can be combated by sporting a universal style guide for the brand, this is incredibly important as it helps businesses to communicate in a consistent way across all teams and channels.Style guides/Brand guidelines

A style guide is simply there in order to outline the requirements and expectations relating to a brand’s elements.

Every style guide worth anything must include:

  1. A brand ethos/motto (optional)
  2. A logo guide 
  3. A color guide 
  4. A typeface guide 
  5. Graphics & photography guide 
  6. Best practices guide
By utilization of current or future sacred assets, organizations have the ability increase marketing ROI.
Nasa logo guidelines

The evidence is impossible to ignore — just look around you. It’s very likely that you’re surrounded by several recognizable brand assets right now, be it your breakfast cereal or the coffee you poured for yourself.

One of the most important factors involved in allowing sacred assets to be developed is the ability to maintain consistency. This required the consistency as seen in many effective marketing campaigns. By continuing to use recognisable branding elements, there is a higher likelihood that the brand will be more recognisable and memorable to the potential customer. This is especially crucial when it comes time to choose what to purchase.

How can sacred assets help me or my brand?

By utilization of sacred brand assets, organizations can improve their markets core understanding of what the brand actually is. This can be seen throughout an organization, all the way from the c-suite to the customers. The benefits of this should be self-explanatory, as increased understanding of a brand can, in almost all positive instances, lead to increased profit and revenue. Whether this is from direct exposure and purchases from customers, or word of mouth.

Translating branding adjustments into sales can be difficult. Especially as variations in the brand’s logo, colour scheme, advertising etc… do not directly represent sales. However, by use of focus groups and customer reviews, branding experts can make informed decisions and directly impact the choices of customers.

Warby Parker, a retailer specializing in eyeglasses, solicits weekly feedback from staff. Employees report on their accomplishments, rate how happy they are, and submit their innovation proposals, big or small. This enables management to respond quickly to ideas and concerns. Even better, it keeps everyone in sync with the brand and focused on its future.

Shifting the brand conversation from what, (sacred assets to use/what the guidelines say) to why, (why we use sacred assets/why the brand holds its core beliefs) enables deeper understanding of how the brand functions. Armed with this knowledge, individuals can be better equipped to make decisions without detailed guidance.


  • Brand — A product, service, or concept that is publicly distinguished from other products, services, or concepts.
  • Brand Architecture — The relative structure of an organization’s brand. The way in which the brands within a company’s portfolio are related to, and differentiated from, one another — i.e, a brand “family tree.”
  • Sacred Brand Asset — The fundamental key differences and elements that separate brands from one another. E.g. the ‘McDonald's Golden Arches’
  • Brand Attributes — Characteristics that identify the visual, verbal and behavioral traits of the brand.
  • Brand Equity — The accumulated financial and strategic value of the brand (positive and negative).
  • Brand Activation — The art of driving consumer action through brand interaction and experiences.
  • Brand Identity — The outward expression of a brand — i.e., look-and-feel.
  • Brand Positioning Statement — A clear, concise, focused statement that articulates a product or service’s unique value to customers in relation to the competition.
  • Branding — The deliberate attempt to shape and influence people’s perceptions of a brand.
  • Challenger Brand —A prospective company, organization or product that is not the category leader.
  • Value Proposition — An analysis and quantified statement of the benefits that consumers can expect.
  • Logo — The identification of a business in its simplest form via the use of a symbol, typography or other small design.
  • Logotype — The stylized lettering often employed in a logo — i.e., font.
  • Monogram — A type of logo using the letter(s) from a name to create a visual shorthand/abbreviation.
  • Marketing — The action or business of promoting and selling products or services, including market research and advertising.
  • UX — User experience, similar to brand activation.

Rylan Ziesing

Founder and Director, Rhino Design.