Put on your ‘consumer hat’ and think of the brands you trust and have remained loyal to for years. These could be products or services you interact with regularly—your go-to brands in electronics, restaurants, clothing, soft drinks…whatever. What do these brands have in common? Chances are, these companies have earned your trust because they have consistently promised and delivered an experience you know you can depend on.
Now put on your marketing professional hat. One thing you probably know is that most consumers don’t analyze all the little things that come together to form the essence of a brand, yet these are the very things that create the good feelings and expectations about the brands they buy. From the advertising they see to the customer service they receive, customers’ relationships with brands are multi-faceted. The more consistently you can deliver your brand across the myriad ways your customers come in contact with it, the more they will trust the kind of experience they’ll have with your company… and the more successful you’ll be.
I’m surprised by how many companies don’t give much credence to brand consistency. Over the past 18 years or so, I’ve worked with countless marketing managers who’ve felt bored with their company’s branding, not necessarily because it was outdated or ineffective, but because they’ve lived with it every day and wanted nothing more than to shake things up. They’ve felt the urge to introduce new avenues of creativity, sensing that ‘new and different’ here or there would grab their customers’ attention.
The truth is, frequent change and inconsistency across your marketing mix has the opposite effect. It sends the message that you’re not completely dependable, that your brand experience is variable. It implies that you’re not sure who you are as a company because you’re allowing your message and your look to vary. Without realizing it, your customers start looking elsewhere.
As marketing professionals, we need to remember that we’re immersed in our brands every day, whereas those brands are a tiny fraction of what our customers see every day. We only need to look to Apple or Coca-Cola or Starbucks to see how successful companies feel about consistency: it is something they are fanatical about. They’ve employed consistent branding strategies over decades, and consumers have rewarded them with decades of loyalty.
So how do you build brand consistency?
It should begin with your basic brand elements. These range from your product design, pricing, and distribution outlets to visual components such as your logo, fonts, color palette, graphics, and messaging style.
Use a professional graphic designer to create your logo, and ask her to create usage guidelines so that all of your staff members and vendors will know the rules for reproducing it. Decide on a limited number of fonts that are easy to read and use in a variety of applications. Fine-tune a limited color palette and be sure your designer and printer consistently apply these colors as they’re designated—as primary, secondary, and seasonal colors, for example. If your primary color is red, ensure that the correct red is used in all your materials, and don’t order pens for your tradeshow booth that are, say, blue. Color is a powerful recognition factor in branding.
Brand consistency should extend throughout all of the touch points where customers interact with your brand, such as your web site, ads, emails, direct mail pieces, packaging, trade shows displays, and stationery, as well as social media and interactions with your sales team and staff. Any way in which your customers see, hear, taste, or touch your brand should reflect the same quality, image, and attitude—every time.
Most companies consider their web site an extremely important marketing or sales tool, yet many allow their brand’s online experience to fall short of the real-life one. Be especially careful that your customers’ online interactions with your company are consistent with your brand. Since people are naturally drawn to things that are familiar, be sure that your ads and marketing materials are instantly recognizable as your company. Even a letter on stationery that reflects a familiar brand is given more time and attention than one that is confusingly unfamiliar.
Just as with human relationships, those who are steadfast and trustworthy gain the most loyalty. When your brand is really good, you’ll win customers. When it’s consistent, you’ll keep them. Just keep an eye on the little things that make up your brand’s essence, and don’t get easily bored with the great work you’ve created.