The Difference Between Good Branding and Great Branding

Brands are all around us. Most people can identify iconic brands and point out many of the traits that make them unique, but few can clearly define what branding is or explain why it is important to have a branding strategy. In the second part of this four-part series, IRCG Associate Consultant Dan Horan outlines a simple, team-oriented approach to brand consistency that helps build loyal, more profitable customers. (Did you miss Part 1? Access it here.)

Consistency is the key to making a brand feel more dependable. Giving consumers a dependable experience across all your communication channels works along the same lines as always putting out a dependable product. The more consistent you are, the more dependable all aspects of your business will appear.

Brand consistency helps you seem trustworthy and helps you build loyal customers. In a recent survey by Fierce Retail, participants cited brand consistency as one of the reasons they remain loyal to their favorite brands. Loyal customers are the ultimate goal of any company – they cost less to serve, will more readily accept price increases and are more willing to forgive errors.

As IRCG Managing Partner Mike Marks is fond of saying, “When I was young, I thought it was all about the money, now that I’m old, I found out that I was right: It is all about the money.” Consistency makes money. A consistent brand increases the overall value of your company by reinforcing your image in the marketplace and attracting more loyal customers. A 2013 McKinsey & Company study found that “B2B companies with strong and consistent branding are 20 percent more successful than those that are weak or inconsistent.”

The best way to protect your brand? Be consistent. Consistency gives you more control over how customers perceive you, helping you to present your desired image. You will never control your brand 100%, but by being consistent, you set guide rails for how you will be perceived.

Part of being consistent is creating, maintaining and making available your “brand standards.” As Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski often says: “We don’t have rules, we have standards. Rules are meant to be obeyed or broken; standards are accepted and become a part of you.” This “standards, not rules” approach implies a more positive, less punitive approach to brand management that is team-oriented, not top-down.

Simple is best. Consistent branding is already hard enough, so don’t make it more difficult with unnecessary details and rules – decide what is most important and skip the rest. There is no reason to have dozens of variations of all of your images, designs and logos; just establish the base standard and stick with it. I once had a Fortune 100 client that didn’t take this advice and – after 46 revisions – ended up with a nearly 100-page “book.” By the time the book was done, they had to start working on the next one. To this day, no one reads it and it was not helpful to anyone.

When it comes to consistent branding, it’s important to remember to practice like you play. Your brand and best practices need to be ingrained. It does not matter if what you are doing is internal and will never see the light of day – the more you express your brand in a consistent manner the easier it will be executed when it matters. In fact, if it starts to feel a little repetitive for you, that means you’re doing it right.

Building a consistent brand is a process, not a finish line. Start by:

  1. Evaluating your internal branding. Do an informal survey of employees from different departments. Ask two questions: What does our company stand for? What does our company mean to you? If your employees don’t see your brand as consistent, how will consumers ever do so? The responses don’t have to be identical (in fact, it’s probably better if they aren’t – that means they have internalized your brand), but there should be commonalities in the words used or images invoked.
  2. Making brand guidelines widely available. I once consulted with a company that presented new brand standards to their team during a big meeting. When an employee asked how they could access the new assets, they were told to ask their manager, who would pass them along. This is a start, but not good enough. Everyone in the company must have easy access to the latest version of logos, colors and other brand assets. And your brand’s core values shouldn’t be passed down solely through a list of talking points – they should be embodied daily by the actions of company leaders, both internally and externally.
  3. Reviewing marketing materials, policies and processes. Does the same logo, color scheme and font set appear on all customer and internal materials (email, mailers, social media, letterhead, business cards, vehicles, buildings, notices, etc.)? Do all customers encounter the same processes when they interact with you, and are they subject to the same policies? If a customer calls two different sales reps, will they get the same (or a very similar) quote? Identify discrepancies and explore ways to correct them.

Building a successful brand strategy takes more than an outdated list of brand guidelines. It takes attention and hard work and the support of all your employees. But done well, it will make everyone’s job easier and ultimately, your company more profitable.

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