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Transforming Lufthansa’s Brand Strategy: From The Online To Interactive Age, A Case Study

Transforming Lufthansa’s Brand Strategy: From The Online To Interactive Age, A Case Study

The first time I became aware of brand inconsistency was four, maybe five years ago. Companies were extending their appearances to apps, social media and other digital channels. And so did the bank I worked for back then. Unfortunately, no style guides were available to cover these channels.

I remember the dilemma while writing specifications: there were some older corporate identity manuals and some static UI style guides. Then, you’d look at newer web projects and none of them reflected the guidelines. So, what was I to do? Strictly obey the guidelines and produce something that looks outdated, or adapt to modern channels and risking a user experience that diverged from existing customer touch points?

Fast forward: Today, living style guides are en vogue and mitigate some of those issues. They have many advantages over printed or PDF guidelines. But do they increase a brand’s consistency? It’s certainly gotten better. However, you’ll still see companies vary in their representation across channels. The whole topic has become a matter of the heart for me, and so I joined a local startup called Frontify. We’ve taken up the cause of easing the lives of people suffering from useless style guides.

Single-page documentation generated by KSS.
Everybody is trying to get into pattern libraries these days. A single-page documentation generated by KSS. An in-depth overview of living style guide tools on yours truly Smashing Magazine. (Large preview)

In the last two years, while we were building Frontify Style Guide (an online editor for techies and non-techies), we’ve talked about the topic with many companies and conducted a small survey (n=85), which revealed that almost all participating companies were not satisfied with their brand consistency. Across companies of all sizes, the variety of channels (especially digital ones) was one of the main reasons why a brand was assessed as being inconsistent.

Small companies with newer brands (such as startups) suffer from not yet having established a culture and the difficulty of conveying their inner values in external communication (due to missing guidelines, such as for voice and tone). While medium-sized firms do have style guides, their biggest challenge is maintaining and versioning them without letting them become impractical. According to the survey, large companies with multiple brands or sub-brands struggle with distributing and ensuring compliance with their style guides.

This case study sheds light on how we worked with Lufthansa to create a living style guide (including for UI component libraries) and to manage its design and web projects. Our involvement in this undertaking was to conceptually advise Lufthansa on how to create a style guide and UI library and how to use both in its design-to-development collaborations.

After a short introduction about Lufthansa and a few words about the evolution of brand implementation, you’ll read about the challenges Lufthansa faced and how it overcame them. Finally, we’ll look at how you can adopt an integrated workflow like Lufthansa’s and list some tools to help you achieve that.

Lufthansa’s Brand Story Link

Lufthansa is known for its iconic brand. As one would say, over the years, its design has not only helped to shape the aviation industry, but also inspired thousands of boys and girls to become pilots (or to revel in the dream).

Lufthansa conveys the human dream of flying in its pictorials.
Lufthansa conveys the human dream of flying in its pictorials. (Image: Lufthansa Group) (View large version)

Lufthansa’s brand history is worth more than a rainy afternoon spent studying it, not just from a design perspective. Books such as Lufthansa + Graphic Design tell us stories about how Otl Aicher and his students developed the visual appearance of Lufthansa, the branding that has persisted from 1962 to the present day and has become known as “Ulmer studie.” You’ll also see extracts from its first brand manual, with the mysterious name “Lufthansa-Werbung Richtlinien und Normen CGN XE 3.”

History of Lufthansa’s iconic brand
History of Lufthansa’s iconic brand. (Image: Red Dot) (View large version)

Despite its rich history, it would be wrong for Lufthansa to simply walk into the promised land of social and interactive user experience without carefully thinking about the way brand guidelines are created and applied. To understand that, let’s take a brief look at the evolution of brand implementation.

Evolution Of Brand Implementation Link

Among all facets of brand management, implementation is most strongly related to brand consistency. Basically it determines whether a brand is perceived consistently by the target group across all channels. The following instruments influence it:

  • Guidelines
    What are the brand’s usage rules?
  • Assets
    What materials are used?
  • Templates
    How are those assets used?
  • Collaboration
    How is this carried out? Who are involved, and what are their jobs?

While a target group or core message might not vary often, communication channels will change: some appear, while others will vanish. As a result, uncertainty about a brand’s usage in new channels will lead to brand inconsistency and volatility in public perception. For one thing, a company will be tempted to adapt to new channels with its existing instruments. However, if there is a major shift in the landscape (such as the introduction of social media or the app economy), then existing methods will translate to those channels rather poorly and brand consistency will suffer.

However, once instruments are adapted to the new channels, consistency will return. This doesn’t mean that your brand’s reputation will automatically improve: A corporate social media policy will make your brand appear more consistent, but if it’s too restrictive or doesn’t allow for personality, then the perception of your brand could suffer.

Evolution of the brand implementation and its impact on the brand consistency
Evolution of the brand implementation and its impact on the brand consistency. (Image: Frontify) (View large version)

The Print and Analog Age Link

Until the late ’80s, a brand’s contact points with people were relatively limited: TV, radio, print magazines, billboards and, of course, on site.

Ever seen Mad Men? Exactly like that.

Brand implementation instruments in the print and analog age
Brand implementation instruments in the print and analog age. (Image: Frontify) (View large version)

The Online and Digital Age Link

When the Internet gradually arrived, every company needed to be online. Sooner or later, the instruments for brand implementation needed to change. Digital asset management tools replaced physical archives: Storing brand assets and slideshow templates offline proved to be terrifyingly useless. Thanks to email, PDF guidelines could be distributed easily, and with VoIP technology and webcams, widespread collaboration was affordable to everyone. Also, it had one more advantage: Brand assets and templates were no longer physically separated.

Brand implementation instruments in the online and digital age
Brand implementation instruments in the online and digital age (Image: Frontify) (View large version)

The Social and Interactive Age Link

That brings us to the current playing field. Everything is mobile, interactive and social. This means that every employee contributes to a brand’s perception, knowingly or not. People who use Facebook and list their employer visibly in their profile could cause harm to the company’s reputation. So, we need to think about instruments that fit all needs — instruments that are simple and fast to use, yet give employees sufficient (but not overwhelming) guidance for today’s ambiguous world.

But what about the future? How do we keep a style guide adaptable to new channels? Projects will often overtake the current version of a style guide, and updating the guide would be dull manual labor. We need to keep a style guide alive, like the limbic system keeps the human body alive: automatic, without additional effort. Is there a way to make brand implementation self-sustaining?

Brand implementation instruments in the social and interactive age
Brand implementation instruments in the social and interactive age. (Image: Frontify) (View large version)

Transformation From Online To Interactive: Challenges and Goals Link

Together with Lufthansa, we went on a journey to find a way to a strategy of self-sustaining brand implementation and to master this (and future) transformation. So, let’s look at the challenges, goals and approach of Lufthansa’s digital brand transformation.

Brand Challenges Link

Trust is the most valuable asset of a brand. The digital world is getting more and more diverse and extensive. Complexity is increasing, and its user and customer experience is getting more and more varied. People who don’t experience a brand consistently will sooner or later lose their trust in that company.

Lufthansa realized that outdated instruments lead to heterogenous customer journeys: because no specific UI guidelines existed, the app development team was interpreting the brand’s style guide differently than the web team. As a result, the apps had a different look and feel than the website.

Style Guide Challenges Link

Lufthansa identified various reasons to substantially update its style guide: Its brand-related guidelines were distributed across different platforms in various formats (like CMS, wikis, PDF, slideshows). People who needed the guidelines (like marketers, internal and external design and development teams) didn’t know where to find them.

And once they found them, they still had to solve the versioning dilemma: Were the guidelines still valid, and was this the latest version? Source code-generated style guides weren’t an option, because non-technical people (like brand managers) required simple maintenance, not to mention their inability to document social media, apps and other interactive elements (such as UI components) in static guidelines such as PDFs and wikis.

But one of the most pressing needs was to integrate the style guide into their creative workflow, without media disruption or manual work.

Collaboration Challenges Link

The ever-increasing number of channels forced Lufthansa to assess these factors on collaboration: In order to master new channels, costly external experts were called into projects. Those experts were proficient in their areas but lacked knowledge of other fields (for example, web versus print). Getting people onto common ground and fostering comprehension was time-consuming.

Once collaboration was running smoothly, work was being duplicated by different agencies, without the preliminary results being considered. Existing best practices and expertise lay idle, and knowledge was acquired anew for every project.

Digital Asset Challenges Link

Lufthansa’s storage and distribution of brand assets is handled by a management system. While this allows users to retrieve all sorts of assets quickly, it still separates the assets from the guidelines; so, assets that were linked in earlier guidelines would not exist today or have been updated and are no longer consistent with the examples in the guidelines.

Due to this missing integration, manual labor and costly editing were needed to keep them aligned. Manual labor is prone to failure and could lead to versioning problems with duplicate or outdated content.

Goals Link

The main goal was to strengthen Lufthansa’s brand — to make it a trusted brand that is recognized in today’s and future channels and that allows Lufthansa to stay competitive. Breaking this down into actionable goals, Lufthansa wanted to maintain a client service that was consistently high quality by unifying the experience.

Consistency would be achieved by implementing a holistic platform that integrates documentation, guidelines and design management and that serves as one source for digital design guidelines, code patterns and UI elements. However, operational advantages should go hand in hand with economies.

By basing its conceptual and technical collaboration on the guidelines, Lufthansa would be able to foster transparency between internal and external providers. By reusing best practices from designs, digital media content and UI patterns, Lufthansa would also be able to decrease a project’s duration. In the end, Lufthansa wanted not only to reduce expenses, but also increase velocity when releasing new digital products.

So what approach did we take to make it all work? Read on: The Lufthansa’s Approach.

Smashing Book #5

Hold on tiger! Thank you for reading the article. Did you know that we also publish printed books and run friendly conferences – crafted for pros like you? For example, Smashing Book 5, packed with smart responsive design patterns and techniques.

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