Who’s there? It’s me, in my first summer after graduating university. I’m in the US, tapping nervously on the door of yet another home in a Missouri suburb, armed with a bag full of school books for sale to anyone interested in bolstering their child’s education. It was here that I first learned the value of consistency.
I didn’t necessarily have the best doorstep patter and I certainly wasn’t the most confident. But, consistent? You bet I was. Knocking on my first door before 8am and my last after 8pm, six days a week, rain or shine, without fail for a full three months. Others, way more confident and with a superior chat-game, quickly lost momentum after succumbing to the overwhelming temptation to take the odd day off here and there. Once off that door-thumping train, getting back on was pretty much impossible. But me, I was disciplined. My consistency fostered habit, and success, at least relative success, followed. The fruits of that summer funded the first mark-making* Apple Mac.
Fast forward nearly thirty years and the value of consistency in business is clearer to me than ever. As an agency owner, I know first-hand how consistency of strategic thinking, creative output, client experience, and of simply delivering on promises time after time, builds a reputation for dependability. That in turn leads to trust, and ultimately extraordinary loyalty. In an industry where the average agency/client relationship lasts around two to three years, the fact that we have many relationships spanning well in excess of that (some even upwards of twenty years), is something I’m super proud of.
But what interests me most, and I hope will be of value to you, is what I have learned about the relationship between consistency and brand identity.
Probably not the first ‘c’ that springs to mind
If asked what makes a brand identity effective, you’d be forgiven for immediately jumping to ‘creativity’. Yet the highest performing organisations we’ve worked with over the years have more than that in common. They’re not just creative in the way they present themselves to the world, they’re painstakingly consistent too.
They understand the dual objectives of brand identity. One, to reflect the essence of the brand (be meaningful), and two, to stand out from the crowd (be distinctive). And they know both demand not only first-class creativity, but also the far less lauded, consistency.
Consistency reinforces meaning
Communicating meaning is at the heart of creating brand value. Brand building is a long term exercise in imbuing a product or service with particular mental associations. It’s a strategic process that recognises the opportunity to increase commercial value through emotional connection. Whether we care to admit it or not, as consumers, our purchase decisions are rarely rational to any significant degree. The buying choices we make reflect how we see ourselves and how we want to be seen by others. They play a role in defining us. Cognisant of that, the strongest brands work hard to ensure that what they stand for is clearly communicated and expressed at every opportunity.
Any variations, contradictions, mixed messages all dilute meaning, affecting a consumer’s understanding of the brand. On the other hand, messaging that stays focused, single-minded and congruous, naturally reinforces meaning and ensures a consumer’s perception of a brand is as close as possible to the one that brand desires.
Consistency drives distinctiveness
Consistency not only reinforces what a brand stands for, it plays a crucial role in ensuring a brand stands out. Distinctiveness is essential for brand success, particularly in markets where tangible differences between competing organisations are at best marginal. Perceived difference has been shown to be as commercially valuable as real difference, so just appearing different is something worth pursuing.
A distinctive brand is one that is readily identifiable, with or without the brand’s name on display. For example, McDonalds springs quickly to mind at the mere sight of a red billboard with an arc of yellow. Or, comparethemarket, when presented with a smartly dressed meerkat. Or, Netflix, from the unique sound of the streaming service loading up.
Distinctiveness is only achieved by having a palette of creative brand assets that are sufficiently famous and readily attributed to you. And getting to that point requires doubling down on the consistent, as well as creative, use of those assets. The more they are used and with the least variation, the more potential they have to become distinctive and make your brand recognisable in any context with just the most fleeting exposure.
B2B is no different
As with all aspects of marketing the principles apply whether in a B2B or B2C context. That said, it’s worth flagging that in our experience B2C organisations are typically more committed to consistency in brand identity than their B2B counterparts.
It’s likely not even a conscious thing, but rather a natural consequence of B2C brands generally having a better understanding of the fundamentals of brand building. A focus on driving long-term growth and profit through the strategic and deliberate creation of deeper emotional connections with customers, is just more commonplace in B2C.
By contrast, B2B organisations have a tendency to lean towards more rationally-led marketing activity in pursuit of immediate financial objectives. The upshot of that shorter-term view is an approach naturally less concerned with continuity of message, voice, look and feel from one communication to the next. What it does mean though, is that those business-facing brands that do place weight on consistency of identity, can expect to leave competitors in their wake.
How to be more consistent
So, appreciating consistency being a bigger challenge in B2B, let’s get practical and look how any brand can up its game.
1. Clarity first
Obvious perhaps, but fundamental. To reinforce meaning through consistent communications, you first need to be crystal clear on your brand position and story. If you’ve not rigorously defined your brand, to the point that you can answer the who, what, who for, how and why questions with ease, that’s task one. Then, armed with that clarity, you’re in a position to objectively assess how well you’re telling your story.
2. Identify and evaluate your distinctive assets (or brand codes)
What component elements – verbal, visual, sonic, and other – constitute your brand identity? How well do they reflect your brand and what it stands for? Answer those questions first, then consider your competitor landscape? Does your design language and voice set you apart, or do you look and sound much like those competing for your customers attention and loyalty? If you covered your brand name on a piece of marketing collateral, would your customers still know it’s you, or confuse you for another brand?
If you’re not sure, put your assets to the test. A simple, carefully constructed survey, will soon tell you just how distinctive, or otherwise, your brand identity is. The end goal here is to have at your disposal a limited suite of assets synonymous with your brand, that if used consistently (and creatively) over time will enable you to build genuine distinctiveness in your market and reap the commercial rewards that come from that.
3. Embrace brand guidelines
Clear, comprehensive guidelines are critical to consistency, but pointless if ignored. And don’t be concerned about guidelines limiting creativity. That should never be the case. In the spirit of tight briefs being the best briefs, clear parameters can often result in the highest quality creativity. The most prolific brands marry creativity with consistency to remarkable effect and strong guidelines play an important role.
4. Track and measure
Stay on top of your brand codes. Circling back to point two, and the importance of identifying and sweating your most distinctive brand assets, you need to be sure they’re working for you. In practice, that means regular review and assessment of the elements of your creative palette, and potential change and evolution in response to customers’ perceptions and new entrants to your market.
Time to give consistency the credit it deserves?
So there we have it. Sure, there are certainly sexier, more exciting words, in the world of branding. But if you want your brand to truly thrive, it’s this unsung hero that deserves some real attention.