The best brand designs are successful because they become positive and familiar in the minds of customers. When even a good brand becomes unfamiliar to a customer, the deal is off, and the brand will lose its magic. Many people believe that as long as a top brand is visually consistent it can be included under the umbrella of the original brand. While visual identity is seminal to brand consistency it is not its wellspring. The secret to keeping a brand consistent relies on a single golden rule: assure that the promises and message of your brand are detectable in everything your company does. That is easier said than done.
In this Drive Branding article we will examine several different elements of brand consistency and showcase companies that both flourished due to their ability to expand their brand design consistently, or failed due to inconsistency.
More than a Matter of Personal Taste: Brand Message Inconsistency in Senses
Inconsistency: This often includes a problem with the brand message or the visual consistency. For example, the restaurant chain that fails to have its businesses color-coded or equipped with a shared, recognizable logo. It can also include products that fail to be consistent with the tastes, scents and sounds they may be positively associated with. The dnL brand of soda is a good example of this.
7-up was known as a “non-coke” by its customers: it had a citrus instead of sugary flavour, it was low in calories as opposed to Coke’s high count and, most importantly, it was a non-caffeinated soft-drink which was important to its customers. When 7-up attempted to brand its new product line of caffeinated, lemon-lime drinks it decided to brand its product as the literal opposite of 7-up: dnL. This brand message confused 7-up consumers who recognized the elements of their favorite drink but did not get a variation of it. It also failed to catch the eyes of customers who did not appreciate 7-up and who would be more interested in the caffeinated, sweet soft drinks that dnL attempted to compete with. The brand message and promise was inconsistent and the product failed.
The Possible Fix: 7-up Plus, another detour from the original soft drink, succeeded. A fruit flavored variation, its branding kept most of the familiar elements of the 7-up brand but the change of color from a translucent green to vibrant pinks and purples, kept the brand message clear while remaining consistent.
Missing the Point: Brand Design and Message Inconsistency
The Inconsistency: Attitude inconsistency occurs when a brand is unable to keep its familiar attitude conversant in all areas of its business. An easy example would be a company that offers a friendly, hospitable in-store service but a horrible phone-service. Another example that occurs often is a brand that attempts to appeal to a more youthful crowd and in doing so loses its core-customer base of older consumers.
A recent example of a brand veering off the path of consistency is J.C. Penney’s notorious poor brand management under Ron Johnson, the famous founder of the Apple Store. Johnson may have been an enterprising businessman with the vision and drive to create a long-lasting and familiar brand, but when dealing with J.C Penney, a brand over a hundred years old, he completely ignored brand consistency. He re-imagined the J.C. Penney stores and replaced specific services it had offered (coupons, sales) with alternatives (mini-shops) immediately. His major mistake was his refusal to test these changes out on existing customers. He appeared to have no interest in retaining any of the brand familiarity that J.C. Penney had acquired and even claimed that the pre-existing customer base had to be “educated” to break their old habits and expectations.
Even when a company requires a new brand strategy such as J.C. Penney there is always the danger of throwing out the baby with the bathwater. The first “big changes” advertisement is a perfect example of a very inconsistent message and attitude.
The advertisement depicts frustrated customers screaming about missing the coupons and sales opportunities followed by the message “Enough. Is. Enough.” Many long-time customers were confused by this ad. Firstly, it did not jive with decades of prior advertising that portrayed the sales and coupons in a positive light. The message of a brand should always be consistent with the core values of the brand as well as directly communicate with the existing customers. The J.C. Penney ad denounced its earlier values while speaking about correcting an issue that the customer base did not actually find problematic.
The Possible Fix: A fix may be a little too much, and perhaps a little too late. J.C. Penney’s new advertisement attempts to fix its inconsistencies that had lost it a large customer base by addressing the customers directly. They apologized and promised a return to older brand values. This time the advertisement addresses a real problem and has a tone that is in line with its core-customer base. Only time will tell if they can win back their older clientele and expand with a proper, consistent rebranding process.
Dressed for no Success: Visual Identity and Style Inconsistency
The Inconsistency: Problems with your visual identity such as style inconsistency often occur when a company becomes interested in appealing to a new demographic and overreaching their mark. Common examples occur when companies attempt to embrace a new fad or gain followers from a younger generation. Radioshack attempting to rebrand itself as “The Shack” comes to mind. Appealing to new demographics is fine, but without a carefully considered strategy can lead to disaster.
BP Oil's green brand redesign comes to mind. A disaster, both literally and figuratively, which could have been avoided. Attempting to rebrand their company to communicate their dedication to environmental accountability they veered far from their core values and products (affordable energy and oil) and concentrated largely on their love for all things green. This resulted in their green, leafy logo. Originally successful in convincing the public that BP was a green brand it quickly lost its value as public opinions changed after the oil spill. The logo and former advertisements appeared ridiculous as they were displayed alongside news reports about the spill. They have inherited massive losses and have fallen from second to fourth place among their big oil competitors.
A less blatantly inconsistent branding effort that did not overstate their dedication would have avoided the mockery that followed, which included having contests hosted by Greenpeace for their logo redesign. BP continues to struggle with finding a branding strategy that remains consistent with their promises.
The Possible Fix: Having sold much of their alternative energy sources to other companies BP is less green than it was years ago. Rumours abound that BP is working on complete and total rebranding efforts that focus on brilliant minds coming together to deal with global energy problems. With future oil spills nearly inevitable, and the hope of BP becoming an alternative energy company very unlikely, the branding effort will have to stay consistent with reality.
Consistent with the Past, Consistent with the Future
Brand consistency is much more than the important element of similarity in product packaging. It is understanding what promises are being made, what promises are being kept, and, most importantly, what promises are being remembered. A good branding campaign is able to link these promises and ideas in several ways: whether it’s visual as with designers, linguistically as with copywriters, sonically as in radio spots or socially as with proper PR.
At Drive Branding we make sure that your brand promises are consistently and effectively communicated. We take pride in understanding what your brand is offering. We make sure that your latest projects are branded in a manner that will be consistent with your company's past and beneficial to your company's future.