A wise lady recently said: “the difference between a brand and branding is the difference between a noun and a verb.” And as a wise-lady-in-training myself I’m inclined to agree with her. When you are branding yourself you are actively taking part in an exercise of defining what your brand is. The thing about this particular noun (brand), though, is that it doesn’t magically appear after the verb (branding) has done its thing and then sit on a shelf forever. A brand can evolve and change over time to better reflect your company.
That being said, in order for a brand to be effective, both as a tool to define yourself internally and to show the world who you are, it must be consistent. How else is everyone going to know that it’s you talking to them? Well, yes, your logo is going to be on that flyer or digital ad or at the end of that commercial, but haven’t you ever been watching a Nike or an Old Spice ad and before the end you just knew what it was? Nike is going to show you dramatic shots of athletes who are working hard in urban areas on what always seems like a rainy morning and Old Spice is going to show you a nonsensical humorous commercial with a man wearing something that would not be appropriate for Sunday dinner.
That’s brand consistency.
Knowing Where You Stand
So now you might be thinking “Okay, that’s all well and good Theresa, but I don’t sell shoes or deodorant for men—heck, I don’t even run commercials on TV! How do I know if I have brand consistency?”…to which I say: great question!
If you’re going through the branding process, this is a great time to examine your brand consistency by way of a communications audit. An agency can help you with this by pulling examples of materials you’ve put out into the world like digital ads, social media posts, screenshots of videos, content marketing materials, etc. These materials will then be assembled into a collage of sorts to give you an idea of the image you are putting out into the world.
As you can see, even without the specifics it’s pretty obvious which company is more consistent and which one has some work to do. We can tell by the colors, layout, and use of photography that the first example has much more consistency than the second.
If we were going through the complete branding process, we would look at the first, more consistent example, and then ask “Now that we know we’re communicating consistently, is what we’re saying reflective of who we are as a company?” This helps us figure out what within the brand needs to be adjusted or further refined. With the second example, where there is clear brand inconsistency, the question becomes “What within this is working well or best reflects who we are?” This helps us determine which directions to pursue in defining the brand.
Brand Consistency: Below the Surface
I’ve already mentioned a few things you can look at to determine your brand consistency, but there’s lots of elements you can use to get a little deeper. Below is a more complete checklist of things you should examine within your marketing materials to evaluate your brand’s consistency:
You should have a primary and secondary color palette that are consistent. Your brand guidelines should determine how (if ever) the secondary color palette leads.
Consistent use of the same fonts, and the same styling for headlines, subheads, and body copy.
Using images with similar subjects (do you use lifestyle photography to promote your product, or studio product shots?); lighting and color tone should be the same.
What are acceptable uses of your logo? Some companies will have a full-color, black, white, and one-color logo. Do you have all of these or just a few? What is the relationship between your logo and other elements on the page?
Are you speaking to subjects that are relevant to your audience? Invest in resources that would be helpful to those you want to work with.
Do you communicate in the same way across channels? For example, do your social media posts sound different from your blog posts? You want to adjust your voice to be appropriate to the channel that you’re on (maybe your press releases shouldn’t sound like your tweets), but it should all originate from the same place. Think of it like a person: you probably don’t talk the same way in a work meeting as you do when you’re grilling out with friends, but both are coming from the same personality.
If you’re doing something different all the time, you’re not giving people the chance to really know you. Are your personality and values evident to the market? When you invest in your brand (a consistent brand), you’re showing the world who you are and what really makes you unique. If you want people to understand the message of you, that message needs to be clear and consistent.
That’s not to say that you can never, ever, ever go outside of what’s defined in your brand standards.
There are times when it’s appropriate and even warranted. Think of instances like a holiday campaign or a special anniversary announcement—if you’re celebrating 150 years of providing a great product or need to let consumers know they can get an awesome rebate for a limited time, that is a great opportunity to think outside the box by doing something different or having a little fun.
However, people need to know who you are first. The more your brand is developed, the more impactful it’s going to be when you deviate from it.
Consistency Builds Trust in Your Brand
Brand consistency allows people to get to know who you are and what you stand for, and helps you avoid mixed messages. By showing the world a consistent face, you build up the equity within your brand, which in turn builds trust. In a world where brand authenticity is highly valued, having a consistent, clear, brand that is reflective of who you are goes a long way towards market success.