Your company’s brand is your most important marketing asset. It is your company’s persona — what your company stands for, how it presents itself and the quality of its offerings. Brand is the essence that emotionally bonds your customers with your company, just as we as individuals bond with each other in our interpersonal relationships. With a well-built and maintained brand, that bond will be much, much stronger than a simple attraction to product features or benefits. Often, companies with well-loved brands remain market leaders even if their products are not the best in their industry, because people stay loyal to brands they know, trust, and love. At the end of the day, what matters most is the total experience your customers have with your company, its communications and its offerings. Your brand constitutes that total experience.
We could devote several blog posts (or entire books) to the subject of building a great brand. In this post, we simply want to touch on one of the most important cornerstones of maintaining a strong brand: consistency.
Consistency = Customer Trust and Loyalty.
The more consistently your company portrays its brand, the more that customers will trust the kind of experience they can expect from interacting with your company’s brand. And the more consistently good that experience is, the more loyal your customers will be to your brand. Make it really good, and your customers will love your brand. That’s the holy grail of branding, as in any trusting relationship.
Touch Points: Where to be consistent.
Brand consistency means ensuring that the customer experience with your brand is identical, wherever, however and whenever the customer interacts with your brand. Here is a list of typical touch points where customers will interact with your brand, some of which you can directly control, and some you can only influence:
- Social media pages (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, Tumblr, Pinterest, etc.): interactions between customers and your social media team, posts by other customers.
- Video Channels (YouTube, etc.).
- Phone calls with your sales team, customer service representatives and receptionist.
In-person experience with your receptionist, sales team, and anyone else in your company.
- Product Attributes:
- Physical product: packaging, industrial design, quality of materials and workmanship, how it feels in your hands, price, where it is sold.
- Software product: packaging, user interface, aesthetics, ease of use, functionality, price, where it is sold.
- Web-based software product: user interface, aesthetics, ease of use, functionality, price.
- Advertising (not only how it looks and reads, but also where you place it).
- Direct mail pieces.
- Your physical locations: retail outlets, corporate buildings.
- Webinars: quality of presentation and usefulness of content.
- Trade shows: booth graphics, staff interaction with customers.
- Distribution points: retail outlets, distributors, manufacturer’s representatives.
- Public relations: interactions with the press, write-ups about your company.
- Word of mouth (a.k.a. Buzz): what customers are saying to each other about your company.
This list is typical, but not exhaustive. Your marketing mix may have fewer or more touch points. Regardless, the experience of interacting with your brand must be identical across all touch points, all of the time.
Brand Elements: What to keep consistent.
Brand elements are the aspects of your brand that your customers can experience with all five senses – to touch, see, hear, taste and even smell. Here is a typical list of brand elements (again, not exhaustive, but a way to get you thinking about all the elements that make up your own company brand):
- Logo: look and feel, colors, font style.
- Fonts: used in all of your visual communications.
- Graphics: style and quality of photography, illustration and video.
- Color palette: the collection of colors used in all of your visual communications.
- Tone of voice: conveyed in the writing style of your communications and the way your team speaks with customers.
- Visual communications: design template, use of logo, fonts, colors, graphics.
- Product design and packaging: design aesthetics, intuitiveness and ease-of-use, quality and dependability (and in the case of food, taste, smell and presentation).
- Interior design: in your retail locations and your corporate buildings.
- Pricing strategy: low-cost leader, pay for quality, or luxury and prestige? And, how open are you to price negotiation?
- Distribution strategy: Walmart or Nordstrom?
- Customer service policies: channels for providing service, speed of service, return and refund policies.
- Key message statements: the definitive description of your brand, company, mission, value proposition and offerings.
- Social responsibility: causes your company supports, ethical/moral practices, lobbying, dealing with PR crises
Why Consistency Matters So Much:
When you ensure that the presentation of your logo, fonts, graphics, colors, tone, design, quality, price, distribution, customer service, experience of using your offerings and how you conduct yourself in the community are 100% the same all the time and in congruence with your customers’ expectations, your customers will become very comfortable with trusting your brand without having to think about it. They’ll become brand loyal, and even evangelists for your brand (just look at the religious fervor with which users of Apple products extol their benefits).
Conversely, if you don’t present these elements consistently, everywhere, all the time, you will be sending the message that you’re not 100% dependable or reliable. Your customers will have a hard time trusting your company because their experience with it is variable. Indeed, it may look like your company doesn’t care about quality, and/or you’re not sure who you are today, because look and feel, message and quality are allowed to vary. Vary enough times, and your customers will start looking elsewhere.
Companies like Apple, Starbucks, McDonald’s and Coke clearly get it. These companies are absolutely fanatic about maintaining consistency of user experience across all touch points. Their brands have enjoyed rock-solid devotion for decades as a result. And these are just a few examples. Think about the brands you have personally remained loyal to over the years — that brand of watch, shoe, retail store, restaurant, car, jeans, electronics — or any other product or service you interact with on a regular basis. Now think about the brands that either lost your trust or never earned it in the first place.
How to stay consistent:
The take-away here is to employ every possible method to ensure the consistency of your brand at every possible touch point, every single time. Here are some steps to do that:
- Publish a corporate style guide and distribute it to everyone in your organization.
- Educate everyone in your sales and marketing organization and distribution network about corporate branding policies and check regularly to make sure these are being observed.
- Provide marketing automation tools that help your team preserve brand consistency.
- Train your team to provide consistently excellent service to customers.
- Make sure product quality and design are always first-rate.
- Continually track all of these things so you can make adjustments wherever necessary.
It is no exaggeration that brand consistency can make or break your company’s success. Treat it with the respect it deserves and you’ll help your company continue to perform like a champion.
Here’s to the marketing champion in all of us. See you in the next post.