You’ve probably heard multiple times that one of the most important things about branding is consistency. Consistency is key – it aids recognizability and makes your brand more powerful. But why does consistency matter so much, and how can it be implemented? And is it really so detrimental when this doesn’t happen?
Branding has been about recognizability from day one. The very origins of branding relate to when farmers used to ‘brand’ their cattle to mark them out as their own, as opposed to belonging to someone else. But these days, recognizability has expanded to go much further than visuals. Brand recognizability comes from consistent design, communication and behavior – and all of these factors are equally important. They also work together to support each other, which is why it’s vital that your brand is built on a firm brand mission that can encompass all three.
Branding is only successful when every element of the design, communication and behavior is based in the core values and mission of the brand. Let’s go back to the basics and explore a little more of what this looks like, and how organizations can use these elements to their advantage and strengthen their brand.
Consistent design: more than just making sure your brand is in the correct colors
Brand design is the visual appearance of a brand – it includes logos, colors, fonts and imagery. But it’s also more than that: design includes product packaging, offices and store layouts, and web interfaces. Design is not just a selection of colors that work well together and a logo which is aesthetically pleasing – the design must be rooted in the brand values, and what it stands for. This brings the associations of the brand more clearly to the mind of customers, because they are receiving the brand message via different mediums.
Google provides an outstanding example of brand design which is rooted in the brand values. Although Google has evolved into a multi-product business, their initial product was the well-known search engine. The vision behind this product was ‘to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful’. As their brand developed, Google have ensured this core brand value is at the heart of every design decision made; from choosing a font which combines the childlike simplicity of schoolbook letters with the mathematical purity of geometric forms, to the simple bold primary color scheme used to suggest playfulness and encourage interaction.
Google’s brand design is strong because it is centered around the consistent implementation of a brand which truly reflects their values and vision. The consistent brand application is shown through their product developments always maintaining a strong relation to the core brand value, for example Google maps and Chrome bearing the same color scheme and font style. Design is stronger and more memorable when it is so closely tied to the brand values – but design isn’t the only important factor when it comes to brand consistency.
Consistent communication: conveying your brand values at all times
Communication is similarly vital for consistently implementing a strong brand. It’s an aspect that requires a little more governance, as communication happens across many different touchpoints and through many different mediums. For example, communication occurs in everything from promotional material to sales pitches and in-shop experience. If different tones are used in these areas, it can be confusing as the audience does not know who they are in communication with – if a corporate bank started communicating with you in a tone of voice appropriate for a brand selling groceries, it would unnerve the customer. You would not know how you are expected to behave, and you also would not know how the person you are interacting with would behave. As humans thrive on stability, the misleading signals from communication will hinder brand stability and brand communication.
To take the example of Google again, they ensure their brand values are clear through consistent communication. Although they are not a brand which can provide an in-shop experience, communication from within Google itself consistently communicates brand values. Even the name of ‘Google’ is a deliberate misspelling of ‘googol’ – a Latin term for 10 to the 100th power, emphasizing the large volume of results which they can provide for users, in alignment with their brand values of providing access to the world’s information in an accessible way.
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This is consistently communicated through Google’s other actions too. Their adaptation and refreshes to ensure their logo and interface are appropriate for multiple screens and multiple devices not only reflects the changing technological world, but also reflects their brand value of making information universally accessible and useful – across all devices and ways of accessing it.
Google also consistently promote their value of providing information to everyone through their use of Google Doodles – different logos to mark specific days or events, from Columbia’s Carnaval de Barranquilla to an almost real-time lunar eclipse. Google are aware they have a wealth of users celebrating a variety of things, and promoting their brand of being available for all means joining the celebration of these matters. Through this communication, Google also promote their value of being for everyone as they bring to public attention global issues and providing solidarity with people all over the world, for example through placing their Doodle for the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014 against a rainbow background to make a statement against Russia’s homophobic laws which were causing worldwide protests. Google also, through sharing information about these events and matters, show consistency with their brand value of making information available – users don’t even have to enter a search term to be informed about the person, history or celebration. This consistent communication of the brand values also extends into brand behavior.
Consistent behavior: the power of acting in accordance with brand values
Behavior is the third main way in which brand values are promoted, and it’s far reaching. It stretches from communication behavior, which we have already discussed, to development of new products and service, and where the brand is growing - and more importantly, why. Behavior is action, and action has a purpose, which must be to emphasize, enhance or move towards the enacting of brand values.
As Google has developed, it has advanced to more products and services. One of the services to come out of this is Google’s internal think tank, Brand Studio. Their aim is to ‘use creativity, media and technology to create experiences that connect Google products to the people who use them’ – showing a strong adherence to Google’s brand vision and values. The think tank takes the words behind Google’s brand and brings them to life through programs, partnerships and campaigns, with a strong focus on user insights, and the ‘why’ of what’s happening. They work by the value that ‘If you’re not making a tangible impact on the lives of your users, your products are useless’.
Some of the elements which show their behavior is consistent with brand values are their focus on crisis response spaces and sustainability – which may not seem brand consistent, but how can usability be a possibility when crises are impacting lives? Without a basic level of support and standard of living, access to information will not be possible, meaning that caring about where people are impacted by crises is important, and having a tangible impact in these times and scenarios is vital. Similarly, sustainability is the only way to ensure continued accessibility, and a viewpoint which cannot be contradicted in the face of the facts and evidence. Therefore, this behavior consistently shows Google are acting based on the values of their brand, and considering the wider impact of this across every aspect of Google and how it works.
What happens when brand consistency isn’t implemented?
The example of Google is a strong illustration of how brand consistency works in a brand’s favour – but what’s the worst that can happen when brand consistency isn’t implemented?
It’s time to look at the example of Skype. Skype is a video conferencing service, which has struggled to apply its brand consistently over the years. Through several rebrands, the logo was changed and not applied consistently, for example, by having the three different logos all appearing at the same time but for different mediums and in different locations. There was little information about why the logo was updated or which should be used, and this was a direct contradiction of the brand values which were to ‘keep people in the world talking and revolutionize the ease with which people can communicate through the internet.’ A brand with an inconsistent image cannot live up to this value, as it contradicts it by making communication confusing.
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Although it may seem as though this branding inconsistency did not hinder Skype’s success as it was still a widely-used tool, today Skype’s use has been rapidly overtaken by Zoom, another video-conferencing platform.
Although this is partially to do with better features offered by Zoom, it’s also because Skype was not sufficiently consistent in its branding. Had Skype shown consistent branding, they would have been stronger as a competitor – they were known in the minds of people, but that brand image wasn’t associated with consistency or stability, meaning when a competitor came along, there was no brand loyalty.
When brands lack consistency, it has a financial impact too. There is a 23% brand revenue associated with presenting your brand consistently, and in a competitive world, that’s not worth missing out on. Conflicting brand usage leads to a 56% damage to credibility, making it nearly 30% harder to compete in the market. Skype is an example of what happens when things go wrong with brand consistency, and it’s not a risk worth taking with your brand.
Although we’ve discussed the main touchpoints of branding, they’re far more widespread than this blog suggests. Brand consistency matters internally too – with every move that your organization makes, and every single communication form. Find out more about how to implement brand consistency internally.