Marketing in 2017 has almost nothing in common with marketing in 1997 or even 2007. Especially for manufacturers. What used to be driven by tradeshows and handshakes is now moving online. Purchasers are getting younger, care less about the “good ol’ boy’s” network and are more data-driven.

Additionally, more and more large manufacturers are electing to bring their marketing efforts in-house and are relying less on outside agencies and advisors. Or, for those skill-sets and tasks they don’t want to hire to, they are targeting multiple smaller agencies that focus on a niche. Need video content for your social media platforms? We have a guy for that. Need “thought leadership” written for your blog? This group charges twenty cents a word.

One of the risks in this is that the brand wanders as more people touch it. Too many cooks in the kitchen. And that brings me to my main point. In-house marketing agencies, unless built right, and with enough independence, can sometimes struggle to translate their own brand into beautifully plated dishes. They can have the right ingredients (brand language) and recipes (brand standards), but when it comes to whipping it all together into something new and fresh and plating it, unless you have a true chef on your team, it sometimes just doesn’t quite look and taste the same.

Manufacturers make things. They see opportunity and products where none existed before and then they go out, figure out how to do it, tools they need and start building things. How much harder can creating our own marketing materials, brand strategies and communications campaigns be? The truth is, it’s a vastly different undertaking. Unless a company is willing to invest in building true in-house agencies like Target or Kohler have, chances are the internal team will struggle.

So what are those key things a company’s marketing kitchen needs to make sure their marketing stays consistent and tastes great time and time again? In ascending order of importance, we argue they are:

1. Brand Language: The “Ingredients”

The basic building blocks of any brand are often likened to the basic ingredients of a dish. Things like colors, typography, imagery, voice and tone, etc. are combined in unique ways to create the dishes (ads, literature, websites, etc.). Usually included in this are a handful of samples that show how these ingredients can be combined, but that is generally where it stops. Helpful, certainly, but by no means a complete picture.

When companies disengage at this point, they find themselves trying to emulate and reverse-engineer how the sample designs were made. It’s like trying to create a dish by examining pictures of it. An astute person with the proper tools may very well be able to copy the design, but the limited samples given in a brand language will begin to grow stale if not kept alive with new ways of mixing the ingredients.

2. Brand Standards: The “Recipes”

For better guidance, we may follow up the brand language with true brand standards or graphic style guides. This deeper investment in the brand development provides “recipes” for creating a whole host of tactics — detailed instructions and templates for a defined set of needs.

Again, with the right tools and talent, clients can produce a great number of marketing tools that are consistent and aligned. However, no standards manual can accommodate every possible scenario a brand will encounter. When wading into uncharted territory, their success will depend on how well they’ve internalized the “spirit” of the brand.

3. The Chef

For a brand to truly thrive over time, it must be able to adapt to changing needs while staying true to its DNA. This requires a deep understanding of the soul of the brand and the nuances that can be pushed and explored within it. But also, a chef will make sure what they’re creating adheres to positioning, is relevant to the right audiences and is sticking to key messaging. It is the difference between a skilled cook and a seasoned chef.

You must first understand the rules, in order to know how and when to break them.

A chef will veer from a recipe depending on the situation — the quality or availability of ingredients, tools at hand, type of heat, etc. Often, you have to “break the recipe” to get the results you want. By-the-book may be palatable, but intuition and risk can make it gourmet.

For manufacturers looking to build their in-house capabilities, be sure to have a chef on hand. Whether it’s in-house or a trusted partner who can work with your in-house team to guide the brand, having someone who knows when to break the rules can be one of those unspoken, instinctual, and largely unteachable abilities critical to a fine-tuned kitchen. The end result is often more effective, more “on brand,” than if the rules were followed precisely. The most successful brands are living and evolving things and can easily grow out of control if not guided well.