Brand Consistency in a Fragmenting World
30 November 2010 Steve Puttock
With consumers under pressure to spend less, brand loyalty is of the highest importance. Steve Puttock explains how strong brand consistency could stem the loss of consumers and cut costs too.
The importance of a brand, providing a short hand for the values, proposition and personality of an organisation, is immense. Consumers can become emotionally involved with brands, which leads not only to loyalty but brand advocacy through word-of-mouth. A strong brand creates a point of differentiation in the marketplace which, during turbulent financial times, is more important than ever - giving people compelling reasons to justify a premium-priced branded product over a cheaper me-too product.
One of the key factors in developing a powerful brand is consistency - managing the brand to provide consumers with a universal experience across every touch point (what Schawk calls brand point management). Indeed, in Interbrand's Annual Survey on Brands and Branding, consistency was found to be one of the top ten most important aspects in successful branding - if not the most important.
However, maintaining brand consistency is becoming a more complex and difficult mission. Media fragmentation has led brands to become increasingly multi channel, with the majority of advertisers reaching their target audience through integrated communications including TV, direct mail, social media, email, mobile and packaging to name a few. While this provides brands with great opportunities to engage with customers, it also opens up the potential for greater inconsistency in communications.
For starters, brands are likely to work with a variety of different agencies with differing remits (advertising, packaging, relationship marketing, eCRM etc) and are likely to be working with different client contacts internally. In addition, global brands will use different agencies in different countries to transcreate campaigns for their local markets.
Yet getting it wrong can be hugely damaging. If branding isn't consistent, consumers can become confused about what you stand for and you are likely to lose their attention along with their purchase, as they shift to a competitive brand that offers greater clarity.
Take something as straightforward as colour, which studies show is one of the most important visual cues for consumers.
Most people tend to see colour before they see shapes and type.
Consistent colour serves to reinforce brand authenticity and consumers' trust in a brand. Just ask Coca-Cola. Its 'ownership' of its specific red has created great value for the brand. Consumers feel reassured when they pick up a red can and know exactly what to expect when they open it.
Yet recreating exactly the same colour on the packaging on a poster and on the internet can be fraught with difficulty as they reproduce differently on different media and materials. We know of one global brand which had over 50 different coloured versions of their logo on the internet.
For global brands, having a brand guideline document which outlines the rules that must be adhered to for any brand communication or customer interaction is a given. This not only needs to outline colour references, rules regarding how and where a logo should be used, fonts etc, but can also include tone of voice, fascias (for retail) etc. However, to ensure brand consistency that both maintains brand values and works on the medium or in the country where it is being used, you need to put a number of other steps in place:
1. Appoint a brand guardian whose remit is to work with all interested parties to ensure that the brand is consistent on all marketing assets. The accepted model is to centralise media production and brand deployment with the brand point management or production agency acting as brand guardian, allowing your creative agencies to focus on planning and creative.
Choosing the right brand guardian is an important task. Map out all your processes to fully understand your needs. Then evaluate potential partners and identify which one has the right global footprint and scale to mirror your own, while also ensuring that they have the appropriate skills to work across all relevant media channels.
2. Outline the 'allowable flexibility' for your brand. Consistency is imperative, but your communications need to work for the market and media they're being used in! The brand guardian has to liaise with your local markets to help localise the message whilst ensuring that brand values are met.
As the downturn continues, more brands are seeking channel marketing opportunities, creating joint marketing prospects with retailers across their networks. Brand owners need to ensure that this activity also feeds into the brand consistency process, at both retail HQ and branch level.
3. Use brand management technology software to control the consistency of brand across all media channels. The first step is to provide a central digital repository for all brand assets. These can then be repurposed for the appropriate channel whilst still adhering to brand guidelines, reducing duplication of actions and also costs.
Ad building software is also beneficial for serving up campaign templates that can be accessed by local market representatives for adaptation for their own market - but with restrictions built in to the system to ensure that the brand guidelines are conformed to. This allows marketing to reduce local budgets whilst providing transparency over activity and a great return on investment (ROI).
4. Place representatives from your brand guardian within your offices / agencies. They can see what's happening at ground level, facilitate co-operation between all parties inputting into the communications process and quality check all outputs on an ongoing basis.
This person should live and breathe the brand while having a superior knowledge of the potential pitfalls when recreating brand communications in order to imbue consistency throughout the process - from brief to the final asset creation. At Schawk we have worked with British Airways for 20 years now, and part of our successful long term relationship definitely stems from having a Schawk representative in-house.
Research shows that significant numbers of consumers have swapped popular brands for cheaper private label or tier two brands as purse strings tighten. At the same time marketing budgets have been falling, so ROI is of paramount importance. Organisations therefore need to take maximum value out of their brand and consistency is at the heart of this. However, the value in creating an ethos of brand consistency has additional benefits too.
Traditionally creative agencies mark-up production costs on their activity, even if they are carrying out the production themselves - so clients often pay 30% more than they need to. Moving to a centralised brand guardian and production process that has to be fed into by all agencies you inevitably generate greater transparency in fees and, as a result, make significant savings that can be reinvested back into the creative process, so increasing ROI. Cue consistent smiles on CEO's faces!