When you think “Coca Cola,” you think red—not blue, or pink or maroon—but red. In fact, you think a red and white color palette and cursive font. Apple is, well, an apple—an apple with a bite in it. FedEx is red, purple, and white, always expressed as one word, and always with the “F” and the “E” in CAPS.
But Coke isn’t only red on its soda cans. It’s red on social media. It’s red on its website. It’s red everywhere it appears. It’s red because red is Coke’s brand.
What is brand consistency
Marketers spend endless hours arguing about what precisely constitutes “brand.” For some, it’s a style guide with its prescriptions for color, typography, and tone of voice. For others, it’s more elusive—a fundamental promise made to consumers about what a business stands for, its value proposition, and its mission.
Both are right—and wrong because effective branding is about both elements of style and declarations of value. And to be compelling, effective branding is also about consistency.
Brand consistency isn’t about a group of advertisers in a conference room rattling off their list of “thou shalt not.” It’s about your business being instantaneously recognizable in a consumer landscape inundated with marketing messages. Brand consistency is about promoting the value of your products and services through messaging and style elements, and, in the process, building trust and loyalty.
As Medium aptly defines it:
“Brand consistency refers to how “on-brand” all of your company’s marketing content is, with respect to your brand identity and brand guidelines. The most brand consistent companies are the ones who make sure that every piece of content they create strictly adheres to their brand identity and brand guidelines. And in today’s frenzy of content creation, there is a lot of marketing material to keep on-brand.”
Managing all the marketing material
Some people like direct mail—others toss it in the trash. Some like social media, while others don’t. Some search on desktop computers, while others are glued to their smartphones. And some like all of the above.
Here’s the point—the face your business presents to prospective customers on all those channels needs to reflect every element of your brand, every time they see it. Increasingly, marketers understand that they can’t have one strategy for this channel and another for that—they recognize the value of an integrated strategy that pushes the same messages in the same ways on every channel, whether digital or traditional. They’ve even given this approach a name: omnichannel marketing.
The challenge of omnichannel marketing
For many businesses, marketing is bifurcated—one marketing team devoted to traditional, the other to digital marketing. That creates a problem when your goal is omnichannel. To reap the benefits of an omnichannel marketing approach, these teams need to collaborate, designing a unified strategy the purpose of which is consistent messaging across both digital and traditional channels.
Fortunately, there are best practice strategies to meet that challenge, including the following 4:
1. Conduct a “marketing audit”
You can’t solve a problem if you don’t know that there is a problem. The first step towards a unified branding approach is to bring together your digital and traditional marketing teams for a sit-down. Each team should bring the totality of their marketing materials and your branding style guide (if you have one). Remind both teams of the benefits of brand consistency. For example, explain how it conveys professionalism, authenticity, and builds customer trust and loyalty.
Have each team examine the other’s materials, looking for any style elements that are inconsistent with your guidelines. Make a running list of all such inconsistencies and keep it for future reference. Finally, make decisions about what needs to be fixed, and who’s responsible for making those fixes.
2. Create (or revisit) your branding guide
If you don’t have a clear and persuasive repository of what your brand allows—and what it doesn’t—you need to create one. If you have one, you need to give it a second look.
Your branding guide should include several key elements—at minimum the following 8:
- The mission of your business
- Your value proposition
- Tone of voice
- Color palettes
- Typography and fonts
- Graphic styles
- Signage specs
- Media formatting
3. Disseminate your branding guide
The larger and more complex your business, the harder you’ll need to work to ensure that everyone who needs to not only has a copy of your branding guide but also thoroughly understands it and its importance. Almost every chief marketing officer has had the experience of a brochure or web page seeming to appear out of nowhere and breaking every rule of your style guide.
To obviate this problem, you need to distribute your branding guide to all stakeholders. That includes all members of both your digital and traditional marketing teams, as well as your sales reps, product designers, web designers and developers, vendors, partners, and freelancers.
4. Commit to ongoing brand consistency
Here’s another boondoggle for marketers: you work hard to ensure brand consistency across all channels only to find your business gradually drifting away from key components of your style guide. Without an ongoing commitment to consistency, this is almost inevitable.
To avoid this eventuality, commit to a plan for the future. That should include scheduling regular (at least annual) meetings to update your plan, review key design elements, and repeat the audit process.
The challenge of maintaining consistent brand elements across all marketing channels isn’t a small one or an easy one for that matter. But it’s a challenge your business needs to face, squarely and seriously—and the stakes couldn’t be higher.
Said differently, there’s a reason the top brands in the world are the top brands in the world. They understand the importance of being the same business to every consumer, regardless of where those consumers see them and how they access their messaging. To take your business to the next level, you need to do no less.