Consistency may seem like the antithesis to creativity, but it's a crucial element to branding.
In the midst of the COVID-19 isolation, building a strong online brand is more important than ever, as online interactions are likely to be the only way your business interacts with customers.
Building brand recognition is one of the building blocks to establishing yourself in the minds of consumers, so consistency is important. The goal is for people to see your logo and immediately remember who you are and what you do (think of Nike's swoosh).
Since most of us don't have million-dollar budgets or celebrities helping promote our brand, it's especially important to use marketing assets consistently.
Your logo should appear prominently and be the same everywhere.
While you might have a different profile picture on LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram, your brand accounts should always use your logo.
The logo itself should also be the same everywhere. Yes, your Facebook page may only have an icon while your LinkedIn page shows an icon plus text, but the general appearance should be the same. Don't use a blue logo one place and black logo somewhere else.
This might feel boring – that it's the same old thing everywhere, but that's the point. A consumer can't learn to recognize your brand if it's different every time they see it.
Taking things a step further, you should be consistent in your use of colors and fonts to create a cohesive experience across all channels.
Imagine this: You open an email that is designed with blocky text and red highlights. Something in the email catches your attention, so you click through to the website and now see nothing but pink script. The difference between the two designs is jarring – so much so that you wonder if you're even in the right place.
While it may seem inconsequential, the inconsistency starts to erode a user's trust. If the difference across your brand image is very jarring, it comes across as clumsy and amateurish, which will make many people doubt the overall credibility of your company.
Build a strong brand through consistency
Sound like a bunch of hogwash? If you don't believe me, here's what The Boss Bruce Springsteen said, "Sustaining an audience is hard. It demands a consistency of thought, of purpose, and of action over a long period of time. Sure he was talking about music, but that's his brand.
Think of it in this way: Springsteen built a following around rock-and-roll with music that focused on blue-collar Americans. His albums were steadily gaining traction on the charts, and then he released "Born in the U.S.A.," an album that would become one of the bestselling albums of all time.
Imagine what would have happened if instead of "Dancing in the Dark," that album was filled with techno, or even polka. Sounds unbelievable right? That's not what Springsteen is all about, and we know that because he has been consistently giving us roll-and-rock for decades.
Yes, the idea of The Boss doing polka is an extreme example, but it's meant to illustrate that making a dramatic shift in your brand has the potential to alienate your audience, as they may begin questioning if they know what your business does.
If that happens, your efforts at branding have failed.
4 steps to strengthen your brand
Keep in mind that being consistent does not mean being boring. Creativity can, and should, be a part of your marketing campaigns. The key is to tie everything together to create a cohesive look and feel across every channel. No matter how a consumer comes into contact with you, they should have a similar experience.
Here are four steps to strengthen your brand:
1. Create a style guide.
This does not need to be a complicated process. The mains things you need to include are:
Logo: The primary version of your logo that will be used.
Colors: List the acceptable colors for your brand. This is often the color(s) in your logo and an accent color. Go beyond simply saying "blue" and identify the exact shade you are using. Ideally, you should have a record of the HEX code, the RGB and CMYK codes to make sure you have the same shade in different formats.
- Fonts: Many companies have a font for headlines and a font for body text. Some companies use specialty fonts on their printed materials that aren't recognized on websites. It's OK for that to happen, but your website font should have a similar look. Make sure to call out all of these fonts in your site guide and note where each one is used.
2. Review all your marketing assets and check for consistency.
This list should include:
- The website
- Social media accounts
- Email marketing templates
- Printed materials (including business cards)
Check everything against your style guide, looking for things like:
- Do my business cards use a serif font, while my website has one that is sans serif?
- Do I have a red banner on Facebook and a yellow one on Twitter?
- Do the colors on different materials match what's in my style guide?
3. Review the images you're using.
Now, it's time to take a step beyond a basic color check and look closer at the images in your marketing assets. Check your web pages, your blogs, email marketing and any brochures you may have. Does everything go together to form a cohesive impression, or is it a random mish-mash of stock photos?
I don't mean to say that all your images must be exactly the same, but they should work together. In a perfect world, they'd help you build an overall image that people can connect to, rather than being bland stock images.
To be clear: Many brands need to use stock photos, and that's perfectly OK. I'm just asking you to be intentional about it. As an example, one of my clients consistently uses sports-related imagery from a single artist on iStock. Though the images range from hockey to soccer to golf, they have a distinct style that ties together everything to create a cohesive look.
4. Start being intentional about your social media graphics.
It's not only important to be consistent about your logo usage, but it’s also important to get it out there often. Take the time to format your graphics to include your logo and apply your branding.
RelayThat is a tool designed to make this process easier for you. (Full disclosure: I have not used it, so I can't speak to how effective it is, but I'm intrigued by the idea).
Brand consistency may not be the most exciting of marketing topics, but it is a crucial component to getting consumers to know, like and trust your brand. Want more ways to establish brand credibility? Take a look at the trust factors your website should include.