I Read 100s of Brand Consistency Articles. None Helped. So I Wrote One That Does.
Posted by Cory Schmidt
Imagine for a moment that you’re attending a webinar hosted by your favorite design software company.
You’re expecting to see slides filled with beautiful designs, interesting fonts and creative layouts, since these are the company’s trademarks. Instead, the presentation lacks any of their unique creative elements with only a couple of dull slides without the brand colors or schemes.
This would leave you confused, wondering if the company has lost its edge and worried about the future of the product.
This story illustrates the problem with a lack of brand consistency. Clearly, a successful brand wouldn’t make such a ridiculous mistake. Let’s make sure you don’t either.
This guide will go through everything you need to know about brand consistency. More importantly, you’ll learn how to go above and beyond the bare minimum.
Roughly 99.9 percent of brands will make at least one type of brand consistency error at some point. In fact, you probably even recall a time where a successful brand you enjoy threw you off with a uniformity failure.
Instead of being intimidated by this near-inevitability, use it as a chance to prepare. Recognize that at some point, your brand consistency efforts might falter. If you minimize the amount of times it happens, it’s not as big of a deal. Remain consistent 99 percent of the time, and you’ll create a lot of room for success.
I’ve come up with a list that I’ll call the ‘Top 5 reasons to maintain brand consistency’.
Note that I titled the list the ‘Top’ – rather than the ‘only’ – reasons to maintain brand consistency. There are plenty more, and some different reasons might even be on your personal top five. For now though, these are the ones I want to put some focus on in this section. Let’s break each one down.
1. Builds and Retains Customer Excitement
“A great brand is a story that’s never completely told.” – Scott Bedbury.
I’ve heard experts push the idea that brand consistency is supposed to be dull. In fact, they claim that the more mundane, the likelier it is your brand is consistent.
Now, this applies some of the time when considering things such as logos and color schemes. It’s not that your logo or layouts are dull in and of themselves, rather, it’s that in order to be consistent they need to stay the same through each project, which is quite tedious.
However, the end result of this tiring task and attention to detail is brand consistency, and that is the opposite of dull. This is because the only way to truly deliver an exciting brand experience to customers is to build and maintain excitement over time using consistency.
2. Boosts Credibility
The most consistent brand is typically the most credible brand. This one needs some extra attention as brands extend their outreach further than only a few mediums now. Companies advertise on TV, in print formats, on the radio, in online videos and on social media.
The current trends indicate ad revenue is blossoming on digital platforms, so don’t expect this advertising pattern to change anytime soon.
Here’s an example that shows how brand consistency can uphold credibility. Imagine a company that sells outdoor goods such as hiking gear decides to start a Twitter and YouTube account.
At some point during their few years on Twitter, they are asked a question about how to set up a tent in regards to a certain terrain. Unfortunately, they give a completely wrong and terrible answer.
Even if all the YouTube videos and Tweets they made up until now have been consistent with their outdoors brand, this single lack of consistency crushed a lot of their credibility.
3. Enhances, Meets Customer Expectations
Each time I order something on Amazon, I fully expect the experience to be easy and straightforward (I can’t say I expect the same when I go to get my driver’s license renewed from the DMV!).
We all have certain expectations that are formed by a company’s consistency (or lack thereof). If the next time I order from Amazon, I’m prompted with extra pop ups, unnecessary questions and confusing qualifiers, my expectations in the future will change.
Brand consistency prevents this type of change from taking place.
4. Eases the Marketing Process
Imagine this scenario: One of the marketing teams for the soft drink company, Pepsi, is having a meeting. They’re thinking about how they’ll go about marketing their upcoming new product, P-8, an energy drink.
A few marketers suggest an extreme label for the can, indicating a fierce experience. Others suggest a label with ‘fast’ items on it, such as a race car or cheetah. Another marketer believes putting an athlete on the label would be best, since the energy drink would be a performance enhancer.
Here’s a much better suggestion, fueled by the power of brand consistency: put the Pepsi logo on the label. It’s that simple. Your brand consistency through the years has created brand value that needs no introduction, as it were.
5. Creates Customer Loyalty
It’s easy to be consistently loyal to brands who practice consistency. Quick quiz for you. Pretend you’re planning on buying a new truck. You head to a website and see that they have three different types. Below are the logos:
Based on these logos alone, would you take a truck from 1, 2 or 3?
I know your answer before posing the question. Obviously you’ll go with 1 or 2 (Chevy and Ford), even if you don’t favor those brands of automobiles personally. The reason being is that they’re consistent. They provide at least a semblance of quality with each transaction, and this is over a long history.
Logo 3, no matter what they offer, no matter how cheap their truck is, just isn’t going to win your trust. This is a demonstration of customer loyalty as a result of brand consistency. Even if company 3 had a truck that was better in every way than 1 or 2, no one is going to stray from their built-in loyalty. Keep that in mind.
Now that you have a good idea of the rewards you’ll get from maintaining brand consistency, it’s time to learn how to actually accomplish an effective brand consistency.
Brand Consistency Strategies
These will legitimately boost your efficiency and give you a lot of sway with your target audience, especially if carried out optimally. Let’s begin!
1. ‘Show, Don’t Tell’ Applies to Brand Consistency. Follow It!
Let’s try an experiment to illustrate the idea of ‘show, don’t tell’ in terms of brand consistency. The following is a group of drawings that have absolutely no products or logos in them:
Based on these drawings alone, can you guess which brand they represent? I’m guessing that over 90 percent of you can. Immediately, in fact.
Is it because you’ve seen the exact commercial they took place in and remember it? Maybe, but probably not.
Rather, it’s more likely that you know that it is an advertisement for Red Bull because of the drawing style.
So how does ‘show, don’t tell’ apply here? Well, imagine seeing an advertisement similar to the above and knowing immediately what brand is being represented. This campaign didn’t need to jam their product and logo into your face to successfully promote their brand. It was just natural.
Does this mean a recognizable visual style is necessary to ‘show, don’t tell’ in your own campaign? Of course not. The key takeaway from the success of the Red Bull campaigns isn’t that their visual style is unique (though this is part of it). Instead, it’s that Red Bull uses this unique style consistently.
‘Show, don’t tell’ gives companies a chance to reap the benefits of brand consistency while making a unique campaign that shows why their product or service is best.
If your company’s laptops have been the sturdiest for twenty years, run an advertisement demonstrating it. Submerge your latest model underwater and show it still kicking. At the end of the day, it will be a lot more effective than simply pointing out in a text ad that your computers are sturdy.
And, when you show instead of tell, you’re able to maintain brand consistency without overwhelming your target audience with promotion.
2. Be Flexible When You Can. Hold Steady When You Need To. Never Be Flimsy.
Now, this may seem to go against the basic concept of consistency, but hear me out. You need to be flexible when the situation calls for it. In fact, even if a bit of flexibility could detract from the brand identity you’ve built, it’s important for your brand regardless.
Here’s a situation where being flexible could come in handy. Imagine a retail company builds their brand by ensuring customers they will have the shortest lines of any grocery markets around. They accomplish this by restricting customers from exceeding three carts full of groceries.
Customers grow to love this concept and the company grows to be one of the most popular stores in the world.
Then, one day, a woman with seven young children is shopping at this store. She’s clearly a bit stressed out and is trying her best to control all of her kids while getting the food they need for the week. She ends up using three carts and does fill them up.
This is a time when being flexible won’t hurt your brand. Allowing her to go through as an exception won’t ruin everything you’ve built up until now. It will also give your brand a hint of compassion in the eyes of your customers.
In comparison, it’s equally important to be firm when you need to. Using the above example, being firm is what initially grew the brand. Whenever somebody got into a line with three full carts, they were told to step out and put some items back in order to complete their purchase.
Holding steady like this builds brand consistency and shows customers that your brand stays true to its ideals.
Finally, make sure to not be flimsy. In the context of our fictional grocery brand, being flimsy would entail occasionally allowing random customers to break the line rules, with no good reason to be flexible for them. This flimsiness won’t earn any praise from customers, and eventually it will become clear that your brand isn’t consistent.
3. Just Because You Set It Up, Doesn’t Mean They Will Knock It Down. Prepare for This Reality.
Here are a couple different situations where this principle is an important thing to understand:
a) Two young, motivated women once set out to start their own company on the idea that they could handle customer service for larger corporations. What set them apart was they were well-versed in dealing with potentially angry customers and knew how to rectify numerous different situations.
They called their company, “As nice as it gets”. After a few months of promotion, they landed a couple jobs. Their performance was excellent, and eventually they were offered full control over a large company’s customer service.
This meant that the owners would have to bring on some employees to help out with the now extra work. The trick would be finding people who were able to maintain the ‘As nice as it gets’ brand.
They had an idea. After finishing their hires, they would set everything up for each employee so that they would understand exactly how to behave on the phone or over email with customers.
They printed out sheets that gave advice on how to deal with certain problems and customers. After distributing the sheets and giving some detailed training, the women knew their employees were given all they needed in order to maintain brand consistency.
Everything was going smoothly the first day, with employees following the branding guide, adhering to the brand values of ‘As good as it gets’. Then, Jim, a rebellious young new hire, decided he didn’t want to be too nice to the customers on the phone anymore. He strayed from the script and began mistreating customers, showing indifference and overall rudeness.
b) You’ve just finished a brand style guide that demonstrates the fonts, layouts, schemes, colors and logos that makeup your brand. Every employee has access to it, and you feel that this, as well as the meetings you’ve held concerning brand values and ideals, should be enough to ensure brand consistency.
Certainly, this gives all team members a chance to create projects and campaigns that fulfill your brand guidelines. However, you’re finding that a lot of newly published articles are lacking the right branding materials. The team members are trying their best to follow the brand style guide with each piece they create, but for whatever reason they’re not succeeding every time.
This could be cured with a simple process that implements some type of ‘before-release’ brand check. It’s fine to give team members the space and freedom to create without constant oversight, but make sure there is at least a brand safety net before each piece is released.
Sometimes the best way to ensure brand consistency in this situation is to make every team member consider how their creation ties in with the brand.
Situations ‘a’ and ‘b’ above are both common realities companies face when trying to stay brand consistent.
It’s way too easy for branding experts to tell you, “Make sure you have a clear brand style guide for all team members.” By now, everyone understands that concept.
However, what really matters is how employees handle these tasks. It’s important that you set the branding guidelines up, but don’t forget – ‘they’ won’t always knock them down!
There are plenty of branding articles, blog posts, videos and experts that suggest basic ways to maintain brand consistency. While it is important to get the basics down, this type of advice won’t pull your brand out of mediocrity.
Instead, extend your creativity and ideas past the normal. Think of ways to hammer down your brand consistency that others haven’t discovered yet. Chances are, you’ll find yourself on the right side of success. Good luck!