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People are always preaching that when it comes to branding: “consistency is key!” But why? What’s the big deal about brand consistency?
First and foremost, brand consistency is about trust, and establishing it works like this:
👉 In order for people to trust you, they have to feel like they know you
👉 In order for them to feel like they know you, they must be aware of you, recognize you, and remember you
👉 In order for people to recognize and remember you, you must show up in a way that’s consistent
In order to understand why it works that way, we need to step back and take a look at how the human brain remembers things.
First, a pop quiz:
Have you ever lost your car keys and had to retrace your steps to find them?
Or walked into a room to get something and instantly forgot why?
Ever visited a Blockbuster Video and had someone walk up to you and say, “hello!” with such familiarity that it frightens you because you have no clue who they are?
*record scratch* Blockbuster Video? Wait… am I old? 🤭
We’re not losing our marbles. This happens because we tend to forget things when we’re removed from the original context. It’s called context-dependent memory.
But this is not a psychology lesson, I’m going to explain why context-dependent memory is so critical for building brand recognition and trust.
How buyers really make decisions
A big mistake people make is thinking that marketing is a process of getting in front of as many people as possible where a percentage of them are sure to say, “yes, this is brilliant, where do I sign up?!”
While it’s understandable to expect that people will see how great you are and want to buy whatever you’re selling instantly, you know it just doesn’t work like that.
You know that’s not how buying decisions are made because that’s not how you make decisions.
When people don’t know you yet, they’re not sure whether they can trust you — it doesn’t matter how brilliant your first impression is. They’re going to go out and consider a few more options, or maybe wait a little longer until the time is right… for whatever reason, they’re just not ready.
It’s not a “meh, not for me”... it’s a “huh, maybe!”
It takes time and repetition for customers to go from becoming aware of you to remembering, trusting, and considering you.
Awareness is a process. It might take them seeing you in their field of vision 15 times before they’re really super-awesomely aware.
So, you’re gonna need a way to get in front of those people a second, third or fifteenth time so you can prove to them you’re credible, trustworthy, and the best option from all the others they’re considering.
This is marketing. This is communications.
Where branding fits in is to provide the glue of consistency in your message (both your words and visuals) and that has the power to speed this whole trust- and awareness-building process up.
Brand consistency is the glue that helps people put you back into context
Let’s do an example:
Think about the people you “know” online… your influencers, your authorities.
Maybe you love their blog content and never miss it, or maybe you became aware of them on Twitter and decided to join their Facebook community and then a few months later they offered a free webinar and you signed up…
Whether you’re aware of it or not, you were in their marketing funnel all along. They were nurturing your trust and allowing you to get to know them slowly.
Months may have passed between that initial first impression and you signing up for their course, or hiring them for a consultation.
What happened during that time? Was their message all over the place? Did they change their avatar, colors, fonts, and visuals 500 times?
If you’re clear who they are, know what to expect, and you trust and like them, they’ve “branded” an impression through consistency.
You see them post something on Facebook and you know it’s theirs and you pay attention to it? That’s branding.
Brand consistency helps put you back in context so people are more likely to remember you. It’s not a magic trick or some silly rule brand strategists invented, it’s how the human brain remembers things.
Let’s look at a typical customer journey to see context-dependent memory in action
Say somebody sees an attractive graphic you’ve created for Pinterest: it’s blue and has flowers on it and the fonts are feminine and classy. They click on it and land on your website.
There, the visuals on your website are exactly as they’d expect — it’s blue, there’s a floral theme, and the fonts are the same — feminine and classy. Perfect!
They want to hear more from you, so they follow you on Twitter so they can get more of your content and get to know you a little better.
A few days later they see something posted in their Twitter stream and it’s red with a typewriter. They have no idea who it’s from and they’re busy, so they scroll on by.
But what if it were blue, with flowers, and feminine and classy fonts? Huh? Huh? Ya get me? *elbow nudge*
Visual cues are powerful for brand recognition
I know everybody’s always saying that visuals don’t hold a candle to powerful copy, but if you want to get noticed and be remembered, you actually need both.
Words and visuals are the two pillars of branding and one without the other means “the other” will have to work a billion times harder. Why you wanna work so hard?
When it comes to context-dependent memory, copy doesn’t hold a candle to brand visuals. *score one for design, at last!*
Having inconsistent visuals makes the process of nurturing trust and becoming remembered a nightmare. You’ll be introducing yourself to them for the first time every single time.
If your brand visuals start to feel a little repetitive and boring for you, that means you’re doing it right
Believe me I know how tempting it is to burn your brand to the ground every time you discover a new font or visual style you fall in love with, “Gosh, I wish I had branded my business like this! Maybe I should start over, it’ll be more me!”
There are legitimate reasons for rebranding, but proceed with caution
Don’t do it because you have brand envy, or because you get bored looking at your own stuff — you’ll lose all the “memory equity” you’ve built up when you do it.
Those “hey, maybe!” customers are out there and they may not be at the stage of awareness where they’re able to remember you by name recognition alone.
Now if you’re one of those people who does your own visual branding because you enjoy the hell out of it (ain’t nothin’ wrong with that!), DO NOT keep changing up your graphics because you get pleasure out of trying on new visual styles and colors and fonts…
I repeat: don’t do that. You’re hurting your business. Design is not art, it’s not “you expressing who you are through font choices.”
I say this all the time and I’ll keep saying it until the whole world hears me loud and clear: design is a business tool, not art. It’s either helping you make money or it’s not.
Tapping into the power of design means using those visual devices to burn an impression into people’s minds and to help them remember who you are. You just can’t do that if you keep experimenting with pretty fonts and colors and graphics styles all the time.
“I’m being consistent with my brand but what I’m doing isn’t really working, should I change it up?”
Maybe. I see a lot of poor visual branding out there and I know it’s not doing people any favors. If it’s not hitting the mark, a new brand visual style might be needed.
But! People tend to make rash decisions when things don’t work overnight.
>> Have you stayed consistent with your visuals for a long time?
>> Are you showing up day after day and month after month but nobody’s paying attention?
>> Are you unable to raise your prices because you’re not in-demand enough yet?
>> Are you taking your visual brand seriously?
If not, you might benefit from a brand refresh. You probably intuitively know whether your visual brand is in alignment with the quality of what you’re offering.
I’ve rebranded my own business and tweaked along the way because I’ve gotten clearer about my customer, my strengths, the services I want to focus on, and what I want people to know most about me. What I was doing before wasn’t in alignment with any of those things. Whenever I made changes, though, I did so knowing that I was going to lose traction.
Sometimes pushing the reset button on your brand is necessary, but the sooner you can settle into consistency, the sooner you’ll begin to see results.
You’ll attract the right people to you, begin growing an audience, and start (the sometimes long process of) nurturing the “hey, maybe!” peeps.
Your brand voice needs to be consistent too
Branding is not just about using your logo on everything and sticking to the same fonts and colors. Your message must be consistent too. The idea is that you want people to recognize you not only from your visuals but the words you use and the way you use them.
Consider the personality of your brand and how you want people to perceive you, the tone of voice that will communicate those qualities, and the key differentiators that will set you apart from your competition.
All of these things should shine through in your marketing messages and people should be able to recognize your brand just by reading your copy.
What is the brand story your dream customers need to hear from you? What makes the experience of working with you different than your competition? If you’re not clear on these things, and if you’re not showing up in a consistent way, your audience won’t have a reason to pay attention.
Make brand consistency easier by creating branding guidelines
I’m a huge believer in branding guidelines. As a designer, I work with them a lot — most especially when I’m designing something for a larger organization. If they’re working with lots of employees and contract designers, they want to make sure that their logo, fonts, imagery, and messaging are consistent no matter who is producing it.
If you’re not working with a designer, you can create your own brand guidelines and I’ll tell ya — it makes your life a lot easier if you’re creating all of your content and graphics on your own. And as your business grows, who knows? Maybe you’ll need to outsource some of your design tasks, and you’ll want the people you hire to maintain your consistency.
A brand guideline should include such things as:
- How your logo should be used (and how it should not)
- Your color palette
- Your brand fonts and how they should be used (headlines, body copy, callouts, etc.)
- Patterns, textures, icons, photography graphic styles
- Brand voice/messaging — the phrases you use, the tone, and personality of your message
- Rules (templates) for creating social media sharing graphics (If you’re not a designer, I highly recommend Canva and the Biz-in-a-Box templates + Canva training)
You don’t have to get fancy about this. If you want to create a beautiful brand board there are templates out there that can help you do that, but honestly, all you need is to put this information in a Google doc so you can refer to it when you’re making social media graphics, advertisements, and documents your customers will see.
Do you need to be more consistent in your branding efforts? Have you ever considered using branding guidelines?
Taughnee Stone is an award-winning designer, brand strategist, and location-independent business owner for over 15 years. Originally from Anchorage, Alaska, she now lives in Croatia with her husband, energetic Samoyed, and three bossy cats.