When you hear the names like Apple, Google, Microsoft, Coca Cola and Amazon, what comes to mind? Love or hate them — that’s not the important thing. What is noteworthy is that you probably know at least something about each of those brands, and the odds are good that you’ve probably even had direct personal experience with them. That’s no accident. Those companies have poured immense marketing dollars and time into building their brands. They’ve firmly established themselves as household names, and they strive to deliver a consistent customer experience again and again.
Each September, Interbrand releases its “Best Global Brands” annual rankings. While we wait to find out whether those five aforementioned brands, which topped last year’s list, can maintain their spots in 2018, let’s take a closer look at the importance of brand consistency to businesses large and small, whether they sell to other businesses or direct to consumers.
What is Brand Consistency?
A brand is consistent when communications of all types from that brand have the same look, feel and messaging. It is what lets you both recognize a brand and differentiate it from others. It’s about managing customer perception and engagement from their first contact until their last contact.
Here’s how we define it:
Brand consistency is the communication of a core set of emotional and rational attributes across all channels in a similar way over time. It means using the same colors, fonts, logos and design approach while delivering consistent messages, with a consistent tone of voice, that stay true to your organization’s vision and values.
To make your brand consistent, pay attention to these fundamentals:
Message — What are the most essential principles, and stories, for your brand to communicate? It’s important for a brand to be authentic so that both its words and actions ultimately match its professed values.
Design — How do you want to visually identify your brand to your customer? Choice of logos, colors, fonts and key images are among the design elements.
Tone — What voice is appropriate and true to your brand’s identity? Maybe you’re a high-energy, upstart that uses humor and an irreverent attitude in your communications. Or maybe you’re a serious-minded brand striving to translate complex information into thoughtful, readable narratives. Pick an appropriate tone and stick to it.
Delivery — How and when do you communicate your message through your chosen delivery channels? Know how to best reach your customers considering their demographics and habits.
Why is Brand Consistency Important?
Being consistent in your branding enables you to get more mileage out of your marketing efforts. You’ll engender trust and loyalty among customers, resulting in a brand that feels dependable and trustworthy. That leads to repeat, satisfied customers who help your brand grow by becoming evangelists who work to convert others in their network.
Let’s look at five reasons why brand consistency is vital.
Establish Market Position
Consistent branding helps you define your position within a market niche and take ownership of it. Over time, it helps your brand get stronger, become more entrenched and resistant to competition. That makes it more difficult for other brands to encroach on your market share.
This consumer-focused brand led the way in in the emerging category of at-home genetic testing. Unlike rivals such as ancestry.com, 23andMe doesn’t just focus on the genealogy aspect of genetic testing — it highlights the greater health benefits of knowing more about your DNA. They chose an appealing, memorable name and packaged it with a logo based on a highly recognizable symbol (the X-shaped chromosome) — both tell you something about what the company does. They’ve adopted a strong, consistent visual approach to their branding, from logo to website to sell sheets and packaging, and they’ve worked hard to tell the stories of customers who have used 23andMe’s genetic testing to learn something about themselves and to change their lives. By virtue of getting out in front of the competition, 23andMe has established its brand as the pioneering, go-to provider of genetic testing, making themselves the default option for their industry.
Connect With Your Customers
For many customers, making a purchase is an emotional decision as much as it is practical. They want to feel like they’re important and that they matter. When you have a consistent brand relationship with your customers, when you ensure that they have an extraordinary experience from start to finish every time, you can make them feel good about making a purchase.
Example: Custom Ink
This brand, despite being an Internet-based business, has mastered the art of connecting with their customers. As one of the earliest print-on-demand shops, they let customers upload their own graphics, place those graphics on T-shirts, and then order them as keepsakes. They focus completely on delivering a splendid, smile-inducing experience that extends from a simple, easy design and ordering process to guaranteed on-time delivery of fun, yet professional, packaging. More importantly, the final product, whether it’s an order of one or 10,000 custom shirts, lives up to its quality promise. Recently, the brand has expanded into brick-and-mortar retail stores, making its happy, customer-focused experience something even more real and tangible.
Grow More Easily
Many brands start small thanks to one successful product or service. If you’re consistent and strong with your branding, it’s much easier to offer other products and services as the business grows. Consistent brands have more loyal customers who are willing to stay true to a company as it scales up by evolving and expanding its offerings. Customers trust that they will get the same quality, attention to detail and craftsmanship to which they’ve become accustomed.
Let’s face it, riding a stationary exercise bike can be extremely dull. But Peloton doesn’t sell your mom’s old exercise bike. What the consumer brand has done is take a sometimes tedious solo chore and turn it into an upscale experience by networking together people with similar interests and goals. They offer premium exercise bikes and have backed it up with a brilliant logo, clever name and well designed website. No longer is riding a bike indoors for exercise a solo endeavor; instead, riders connect with instructors and other people around the world for a shared experience that’s more engaging. Recently, Peloton has been able to leverage its strong, consistent brand and scale up — it’s now offering premium treadmills for a similar networked running experience.
Sail More Smoothly Through Change
Employees at all levels come and go. New products and services get introduced. Internal processes evolve and change. Brand consistency can help you weather all of these changes. First, if your brand is clearly defined and communicated well, you can indoctrinate new employees more quickly. And existing employees are more likely to embrace change and accept evolving strategies because they are already comfortable with and trust the brand built around them.
Every time you change your branding, it costs money. You have to design new identity materials, signage and collateral. And you have to update your website. Then there are costs associated with educating customers about the changes. It’s not to say you shouldn’t ever tackle a rebranding, but you should carefully assess the equity of your existing brand and decide if the time, energy and expense of achieving consistency with a new brand makes sense.
Tips For Achieving Brand Consistency: What To Do
Now that we have an understanding of what brand consistency is, let’s look at practical ways to make it happen.
- Have management define a clear shared purpose for the brand and communicate it to all staff. If you’re going to successfully communicate a consistent message outwardly, everyone on the inside needs to be on the same page. If you need help developing that messaging, check out our worksheet.
- Define and develop key brand resources like usage and style guides that make it clear when and how to use your logo, preferred fonts and colors. Then share them among staff and key partners to ensure the visual elements of your brand aren’t misused. Here’s our helpful guide for doing so.
- Develop social media sharing guidelines for your staff so that they can be your best ambassadors.
- Appoint a single person or department to handle production of branded promotional materials and brand apparel. Staff clothing, trade show booths, brochures, and other goodies should have a consistent look and feel.
- Strategically develop your content to match your brand’s messaging. Don’t just buy prepared content online and share it randomly. Develop your own content or carefully source relevant third-party content for sharing.
- Select and use channels to communicate your content that are appropriate for your audience. Make sure you’re sending the message in ways that your customers will see or hear whether that’s online or in print.
- Deliver your content on a regular basis. Be consistent about how often you communicate via ads, social media, newsletters, and other channels. Find a balance in your communication frequency so that you stay in touch with customers but don’t reach out so often as to annoy them.
- Monitor all points of contact for consistency. What’s your customer’s experience like when they reach out to you by phone, email, chat, social media or in person? What’s it like for them to visit your website? Do they always get a prompt, helpful and predictable response? If not, work to strengthen your weakest channels to better meet expectations, remembering that it often takes multiple points of contact before a consumer will make a first-time purchase from a brand.
- Ask your employees, sales associates or representatives what they are hearing and seeing from customers. Don’t stifle negative input so that your customer-facing employees will feel comfortable telling you when there is a real problem that needs addressing. Listen to and acknowledge what feedback you do get.
- Communicate with your customers directly about their experiences. You can collect such input through third-party review services like Google or TrustPilot. Pay attention to what they say. If you hear over and over again from customers that your support team didn’t answer the phone or return emails quickly enough, you have a problem. When you do get negative feedback, reach out to those customers to find out more details about their experience, and communicate with them that you’re seeking their input so that you can be a better, more consistent brand.
- Cultivate positive associations that strengthen your brand. Pick other trusted partners or brand ambassadors within your industry and collaborate on projects, marketing, event sponsorships, and more. You’ll send the message that you are well connected within your community and leverage each other’s good reputations, especially if everyone involved coordinates their messaging.
Brand consistency isn’t rocket science, but it does take persistent effort. Set aside some time to hone your brand’s message, develop resources to support it and then create and execute a plan for delivering that message. With some intentional planning and thoughtful communication, you can build your brand for both short- and long-term success.