There’s a big difference between brand consistency and brand uniformity

Don’t let your brand guidelines become a barrier to creativity.

Great brands are consistent.

Consistency is important in marketing. When the message is consistent, when the look, the feel and the vibe of communications is consistent, it gives customers confidence in the consistency of the product.

Consistency helps recognition. Consistency gives reassurance.

Customers like certainty.

Inconsistency brings uncertainty. Uncertainty = confusion.

Confused customers don’t spend money.

People love McDonalds because the brand experience is consistent. They don’t have to think. They see the golden arches and they know what to expect. And their expectations are met. And every time they bite into a Big Mac… they’re lovin’ it.

But consistency is often confused with uniformity. Brand guardians all over the world regularly make the mistake of insisting that every communication looks and sounds the same. It’s all about brand rules rather than guidance.

The problem is that draconian rules make for really dull and stale communications. When a brand is described in a set of rules or conditions, rather than through an expression of what ideas we want to communicate through the brand, then communications become constrained, creativity strangled.

Great brands are great because they stay true to their brand story, to their strategic foundation, to their brand positioning – not to the shackles of their brand identity guidelines.

Look at Nike. The core brand thought of ‘Just do it’ has been around for 30 or more years – but no two ad campaigns look the same.

Since 1988, Nike have executed campaigns in a gazillion different ways, staying relevant, adapting to the market.

Their campaign executions haven’t followed a strict visual formula.

Just look at the logo. It’s never in the same place twice.

And yet, the brand has been enormously successful over that period, stomping all over the competition.

Remember that brand guidelines can become a barrier to creativity.

Be careful they don’t stunt ideas. They are a ‘guide’ – not a set of draconian rules to prevent evolution.

Instead of ‘consistency’ we should perhaps be looking to achieve ‘coherence’. That’s what Nike has done.

‘Just do it’ is an attitude, and as such the brand has permission to act in accordance with the attitude. ‘Just do it’ doesn’t work if the brand guardians don’t let the creatives ‘just do it’.

Perhaps the approach can’t work for every brand. Some brands are understandably more conservative. But the key here, is to really understand what your brand stands for.

If you are delivering the brand story consistently – if the experience your customers get is reliably ‘on brand’, you shouldn’t fear ‘pushing’ the guidelines. If you’re staying true to the core brand idea, you won’t go far wrong.

Just do it.

Vorsprung Durch Technik.

I’m lovin’ it.

Does exactly what it says on the tin.

Should’ve gone to Specsavers.

The consistency doesn’t come from never wavering in the size and placement of the logo. It doesn’t come from rules around what style of imagery is acceptable. Brand coherence doesn’t come from sticking to the same layouts and use of typography.

Yes, guidelines are important, even essential. But guidelines are not what determines a strong brand.

The secret to brand longevity lies in the underlying brand promise. If you want a coherent brand – that’s where you need to be consistent.

Coherence. Not uniformity.