What a brand is and why it should be consistent

When we think about brands, we usually think about logos, straplines, colour palettes, positioning statements and imagery. But these things aren’t the brand itself, they’re representations of the brand. The actual brand is defined, more or less, by two things: values and personality.

When you’re creating a brand, the concept stage starts here. First, you define what values sit at its core. Our values are important: they’re what motivate our decisions. In other words, you don’t install comfortable plush chairs in your reception area for no reason at all; you do it because you’re caring towards your customers (for example).

It’s really important that your brand maintains this kind of logical coherence, where behaviours follow on naturally from values. Customers buy into what a brand stands for – Apple customers might see themselves as cool, creative… the kind of people who like to ‘Think Different’. Nike customers might think of themselves as high-performers who ‘Just Do It’.

Once you’ve got values, though, you need to think about how to communicate them effectively, and that’s where personality comes in. You’ve decided what your brand believes, but what’s it like? Is it funny? Authoritative? High-brow? Traditional? Iconoclastic? Something else? These traits should inform your colour palette, tone of voice, the platforms you use to talk to people, etc.

A brand is a useful tool, and it should guide behaviour, not just affect the way your business looks. If you take the values at the heart of your brand, and interpret them through its personality, you get actionable ideas. For example, if creativity and sustainability are key values to your brand, what behaviour does that lead to?

If your brand personality is laid-back and down to earth, it might manifest in rustic furniture made from reclaimed driftwood. If, however, your brand’s personality is modern and tech-savvy, those chairs might be ergonomic and made from recycled plastics.

A major benefit to having a strong, authentic brand, is that it connects you with the right type of customers. People who share your values and like your personality. If you’re trying to capture customers who don’t mesh well with your business, you are always going to struggle to retain them, and build the kind of lasting relationships that help a business to thrive.

Bearing all of the above in mind, it’s quite clear that a business must communicate consistently at the brand level. But it is surprisingly common that the experience a brand delivers online is not an accurate reflection of how it represents itself offline.

Common mistakes and how to fix them

Here is an example of a way in which a business might get its branding wrong online: it claims to be a thought leader in its industry. But it only blogged about that industry once, 18 months ago. It may legitimately have a lot to say – but, online, it doesn’t look like it. Why, if I was looking for a thought leader in that industry, would I choose to work with someone who hasn’t had a thought for over a year? If there are any alternatives just a Google search away, the honest answer is that I wouldn’t.

This is true of pretty much any value a brand might have. Does a brand that values customer service have a website with a convoluted customer journey and an unusable help / FAQ section? Does a brand that prides itself on quality have a website filled with UI bugs? Does a business that claims to have the most comprehensive list of products available only mention three of them online? In all of these cases, there’s a clear disconnect between the actual brand, and the brand it as it appears online. This causes confusion with your customers and can damage your relationship with them. Even if your website is not your primary marketing tool, a potential customer is likely to visit it during their dealings with you – to check out your credibility after an initial meeting, for example. In this case it is important that the website backs up what was said in your meeting, and how you want them to think of your brand.

If you find yourself in this situation, then your online presence is probably not doing half as much for you as it could be – and, in particularly unfortunate cases, may even be working against you.

Getting your online brand consistent with your offline brand is simple and pays dividends. Here’s how you do it:

• First, make sure your brand is right for your business, and you know how to articulate its values.

• Second, commit to make the most of any touchpoint you choose to use: if you have a website, make sure it lives up to your brand values. If you blog or use social media, do so regularly, and well.

• Third, put someone in charge of checking that your online and offline brands are consistent on a regular basis. Does that blog post sound the same as your advice over the phone or in person would? If the answer is ‘yes’ then you’re doing it right.