When people talk about consistency in marketing, they tend to focus mostly on marketing materials. Are the visuals and messages cohesive? Do the look and feel read consistently across all materials, print or otherwise? Clearly, customers need to have a reliable experience of who you are in order recognize your brand, let alone build any kind of trust or loyalty. That said, truly effective marketing strategies go way beyond the surface.
At first blush, it may not seem so obvious why consistency in marketing materials is so critical. After all, if Geico commercials can go from a talking gecko to a caveman to a couple of banjo players and still capture an audience, can consistency really be all that important?
Definitely. Geico's marketing is incredibly consistent where it counts—communicating the brand. Geico's brand promise is “easy and affordable insurance.” The company discovered the red tape of the insurance business was so extensive, the time and energy involved in changing companies made doing so seem like too much of a hassle (even when it meant paying less). Enter the Geico cavemen, who demonstrated just how easy it is to switch insurers. Consistent with this idea, the banjo players have a simple, straightforward message: getting what you want makes you happy. Even the whimsical gecko is an uncomplicated, relatable character. Virtually everything about Geico’s message and materials point back to their brand identity: car insurance that’s easy to get and affordable to buy.
Consistency Includes Brand Integrity
Creating consistency in marketing requires an intimate understanding of the brand elements and their significance to the target audience. Brand elements include much more than the design, name, logo and tagline. With social media making brands so readily accessible to customers, people expect a brand to be interactive and dynamic, and when they interact with a brand, they expect a consistent personality.
People expect a brand to be a living, breathing representation of the company itself. And because customers can now hold brands accountable publicly through social media, they have become far less tolerant of companies who do not “walk their talk.”
A cornerstone of the Livestrong brand was strength; strength of character, strength of body, strength of will. Yet months after founder Lance Armstrong’s confirmation of his substance abuse surfaced, the Livestrong brand remains enfeebled, lacking the essence of strength it once represented. While the company is certainly hurting in the wake of lost sponsorships and customer trust, the full impact of this breach of brand integrity is yet to be seen.
On the opposite side of the branding coin is Disney, which promises (and then strives mightily to deliver) a unique family experience. From the exquisite customer service, to the lines that never stop moving, to the enchanting array of characters, colors and music, Disney makes it clear that their priority is giving customers a taste of that “Disney magic.” In interviews conducted by Forbes.com, Disney managers said the company trains all its employees to use key communication skills, share common park knowledge, and be proactively friendly with guests. Custodians keep the park grounds free of trash despite the enormous daily foot traffic. The employees are—from the management to the shopkeepers to the costumed characters—trained to ensure customer experiences reflect the Disney brand.
Consistency Across Mediums
When employing marketing via multiple channels, consistency becomes an even more powerful tool. From print materials to television commercials, broadcasting the same messages in the same manners makes those messages all the more memorable and effective. This tactic has been employed to near-perfection by Vistaprint for nearly two decades.
The company uses the same colors and fonts in all their marketing efforts, from digital to direct mail, creating a strong brand identity. This is especially essential for companies like Vistaprint that produce marketing materials for businesses across the country. Displaying consistency reassures customers that the materials they order will have the same type of consistency and effectiveness as Vistaprint’s do. In other words, they walk the talk in every medium they employ.
Is Inconsistency Ever Appropriate?
The short answer is yes—when the current brand (as a brand) is failing. If that’s the case, reinventing your brand is your best brand strategy. While not easy, a well-executed brand-reinvention can cause a company to rise from the ashes. Domino’s is the perfect example of such a feat. In 2009, after receiving criticism about the taste of its pizza, Domino’s launched a very public and transparent reinvention of their brand. The campaign came with a new look and menu, but what truly marked the success of the Domino’s reinvention campaign was the company’s authenticity in acknowledging their failures and transparency in their efforts to restore their brand integrity.
It all boils down to whether or not people can trust a brand. People are much more likely to buy if they know are likely to get what they expect. Once your message reaches a customer who wants to buy, it’s their willingness to trust your brand that makes all the difference.
Janis Bookout is a freelance writer and branding facilitator from Austin, Texas, with experience in social media. She has written manuals, curricula, web content, and blogs. Janis has more than ten years of experience in the field of personal and professional development, training others in accountability, team management, leadership and brand implementation. She is also a professional artist and co-founder of a teaching software company, and is a regular contributor to ChamberofCommerce.com.