At first glance, brand consistency may not seem like the most inspirational concept for marketers to invest time to understand and resources to achieve, but organisations underestimate it at their peril. A consistent, cohesive brand is an exceptionally powerful tool — both for consumers and for brands.
Happily, it’s also very cost-effective: the cost of brand consistency in marketing is simply the cost of doing things right.
And when you look at the organisational resources involved, it’s actually faster and more economical to be consistent than to take an ad hoc approach to branding, as well as being more effective.
Why is brand consistency important to consumers?
Consistency, according to a McKinsey study, is the cornerstone of customer satisfaction.
“Positive customer-experience emotions—encompassed in a feeling of trust—are the biggest drivers of satisfaction and loyalty in most industries,” McKinsey argues. “Consistency is particularly important to forge a relationship of trust with customers.”
Brands build trust with customers and prospects based on past experiences. That consistency generates brand recognition and helps build trust.
When customers recognise that a brand consistently delivers against its brand promise, that creates a reservoir of goodwill in the mind of customers, which can be reinforced over time to build a strong, trusted, resilient brand.
In the mind of the customer, brand recognition and brand trust minimise risk: the risk of buying a sub-par product, having a poor brand experience or wasting their money.
“Brands are beacons of trust,” says McKinsey, again. “The more choices consumers have, the more important these beacons become. Our research shows that brand relevance is especially high in categories that offer almost unlimited choice… Risk reduction is the most important brand function by far, well ahead of image benefit and information efficiency.”
Why should organisations care about brand consistency?
The reason consistent branding should be important to organisations, according to Forbes, is economic: “The main benefit of branding tools, and reason to employ them, is to boost profits.”
Strong brands consistently outperform the market, with a portfolio of the world’s 40 strongest brands yielding almost twice the total return to shareholders over a 20-year period as a benchmark portfolio.
It’s no exaggeration to say your brand is the most important part of your organisation. When the impact of a brand on a firm’s cash flow, profits and value are measured, brands contribute on average 19.5% — and in many cases well over 50% — of enterprise value, not to mention the immeasurable intangible value that every marketer understands.
So how does it work?
On average, we need to see a brand between 5 and 7 times before we remember it. The use of branding devices such as a signature colour can increase brand recognition by 80%.
Our brains are hard-wired to look for familiar and regular experiences and patterns, and we find them reassuring. This is why simply recognising a brand is a big factor in whether we will choose to buy it.
Three in five people openly acknowledge they prefer to buy new products from brands familiar to them. Familiarity creates expectations of quality and trust — and 81% of consumers need to be able to trust a brand to buy it.
Among existing customers, brand consistency is a repeat contributor to the bottom line, with 55% of consumers willing to pay more for a guaranteed good experience.
A consistent brand that properly represents both your brand promise and the brand experience can have a wealth of benefits including:
- Distinguishing your brand from the competition
- Building positive emotional associations with your brand
- Increasing brand awareness and recognition
- Boosting brand trust and saliency
- Increasing propensity to buy, conversion and retention
- Boosting revenues through higher sales and increased profit margins
- Boosting your share price and return to investors.
The ongoing challenge
If a consistent brand is so valuable, surely everyone will do their part to help maintain and protect that regularity of experience, right?
While most of us would answer ‘yes’ in theory, in the real world, a cohesive brand can be quite difficult for marketers and their organisations to achieve.
The challenges are real, and they include:
- The constant proliferation of channels in which brands need to be represented
- Desktop publishing and design apps that enable individuals to create their own interpretation of on-brand materials
- Distributed, decentralised and dispersed workforces with localised brand needs
- Under-resourced central brand, marketing and design teams
- A lack of awareness among employees as to a brand’s core values and promise
- Difficulty properly communicating brand identity and guidelines
- Lack of awareness about how to use technology to help achieve brand consistency
Inconsistent brands not only lead to an inconsistent experience, missed opportunities and lost revenue, they can create confusion and even generate negative brand perceptions: If your brand experience is all over the place, who’s to say your product isn’t equally unreliable?
How can you build brand consistency?
To look at how we build brand consistency, we need to take a step back and understand what makes a strong brand.
Brands are greater than the sum of their visual identity: a product is what a company sells, but the brand is what the consumer buys.
A brand is both the promise made to the customer and the sum of the customer’s experiences of the brand across every channel and in every context.
Brand consistency is achieved by creating a cohesive brand identity backed by:
- a strong brand vision, promise and defined brand values
- a unified visual brand identity
- a clear brand voice
- a uniform brand experience
Brands need to be consistent not only across all channels, but in how they are represented by the employees and partners who communicate the brand.
The role of strong brand management
Brand consistency doesn’t just happen. It’s an outcome of good brand management — which is the process that enables an organisation to extend the brand and its cohesive elements consistently across all channels to deliver the brand promise.
This includes consistently delivering the core visual assets that make up a brand including:
- Brand name
- Official colour palette
- Supporting visual elements such as photography and illustration
It also includes conveying the brand personality through the brand voice, tone and practices, as well as the value proposition — those product attributes that deliver the brand promise and are articulated or referenced in marketing materials.
Strong brand management enables organisations to offer the right message to the right prospects and customers at the right time to motivate them to take action.
It helps brands to expand into new markets, increase revenues and grow profits.
When brands are managed in a customer-centric fashion — so that all the tangible, intangible and experiential elements have the customer’s interests at their heart — that aligns brand promise with brand action to create a consistent brand experience.
4 Steps to Ensuring Brand Consistency
Brand consistency can be achieved with a clear brand management framework that begins with, but must go well beyond, establishing a clear brand identity.
Keep in mind that while 9 in 10 organisations have defined their brand guidelines to some degree, only about a quarter have formal guidelines that are consistently enforced.
That means in most organisations, materials are regularly created that don’t conform to their own stated brand guidelines.
Achieving brand consistency requires the following 4 essential elements:
Establish a clear brand identity
Communicate the brand identity
Protect the brand experience in all channels
Prioritise experience delivery along the journey
These should encompass the brand vision, purpose, promise, values, voice and personality as well as the visual brand elements and any identifying practices that create your brand experience.
It’s not enough to create the brand identity. Your brand needs to be communicated early and often within your organisation.
The rules and guidelines that will enable you to deliver a consistent brand need to be accessible to everyone in your organisation.
Technology can make it much easier to deliver and control the brand experience by enshrining your brand guidelines within all the repeatable visual elements that make up your brand.
Responsive brand templates for marketing collateral, digital libraries of approved assets and brand automation systems that enable employees to self-create on-brand assets without risk are all great ways technology can be enlisted to protect the brand experience.
The brand is more than the visual identity. How your employees and partners represent your brand, as well as the product experience, is just as important.
A few brand consistency examples
When you follow the process to achieving brand consistency, brand management changes from being like battling a many-headed monster that’s constantly sprouting limbs that must be pruned or re-shaped, to being like watering a tree that grows straight and tall and then harvesting its fruit.
Here’s how a few brands have done it:
With 85 offices in 35 countries, technology brand Red Hat realised its brand experience was being diluted even as the cost of producing on-brand materials across all its markets was rising.
The marketing team provided the company with access to hundreds of responsive templates that enabled employees to self-create their own on-brand marketing collateral, literally saving millions while increasing brand consistency and minimising risk.
Mortgage broker Aussie underwent a rebrand and needed to seamlessly roll out the new brand while enabling more than 950 brokers to market their services consistently and compliantly.
After establishing the new brand identity, Aussie created a self-service centre that enables their brokers to access and create personalised and localised marketing collateral that is not only consistent with the new brand guidelines, but compliant with financial services regulations.
One of the oldest universities in the world, Durham University was struggling to keep up with the demands from 26 academic teams and 17 colleges across three international territories for on-brand marketing materials.
It enshrined its comprehensive brand guidelines in a brand automation system that provides stakeholders with on-brand materials and their own strategic messaging, saved the marketing team more than 4600 hours and freeing it to focus on strategic marketing work.
Delivering brand consistency with brand automation
Brand automation is the process of using technology to automate manual yet predictable on-brand marketing tasks associated with the production process.
It takes existing brand and marketing assets and automates the placement and use of these within a template framework. This means users without design software or skills can produce on-brand collateral without risk.
It’s not limited to only applying the right colours or logos; it can also produce assets based on data sources and datasets without manual set up or intervention.
This functionality enables users to produce an enormous volume of work quickly, making it easier for marketing teams to manage and influence brand perception through the creation of the right collateral, personalised, and served through the right channels.
Outfit’s brand automation system helps brands execute with the confidence that comes from standardisation, saving hours of time across your organisation and within your marketing team.
Everyday we help brands launch brand-consistent campaigns and reach more people with personalised content.