Every organization has a brand. Some organizations realize the power of brand – that regardless of action or inaction, it will always speak for itself. Other organizations haven’t tapped into the ways in which a brand can accelerate an organization towards its goals, audiences, and mission.
Brand Consistency, Defined
At Mighty Citizen, we think about brand as a mindset – a way of viewing the world and your organization’s place in it. But suffice to say, your brand is so much more than your logo, colors, and tagline.
For the mission-driven organizations we work with, brand consistency means that every interaction you have with your audiences – members, donors, students, etc. – springs from the same, agreed-upon set of messages. Every single piece of communication that you put out into the world – from an email to supporters to an elevator conversation – should have alignment. Everything that is public-facing should say the same things in the same way.
Of course, that may seem like an ideal right now. It’s easier said than done, especially when you consider the challenges that come with maintaining and propelling your brand.
There are three factors that make brand consistency difficult:
1. Complex Organizational Structures
In many cases, organizations (especially large, bureaucratic ones) can become convoluted in structure. There are foundations, education arms, countless boards, and handfuls of other entities sharing a brand that is fractured across siloed departments.
With so many audiences, people, physical buildings, communications, and agendas at play, formulating a single brand identity is difficult enough – let alone trying to get your whole team (and vendors, contractors, etc.) on the same page.
2. Decisions are Decentralized
The various entities that make up an organization may have different marching orders, even if they contribute to the same overall mission. Each group has their own goals and strategies. Rolling all of them up into a single brand identity requires a great deal of research and compromise. And even if an organization can put its brand identity into concrete language, pushing that language back down to the internal groups is a nonstop endeavor.
3. Misunderstanding Your Audiences
One major pitfall for organizations, especially those that have seen rapid growth, is that they lose sight of their audiences. Or worse – they never had a pulse on their audiences to begin with. To develop a constant brand and voice, you have to know who you’re addressing. You can’t please the masses because not everyone is looking for what you’re offering. What you can do is learn as much as you can about the people who are looking for you.
If you don’t know anything about your audiences, conducting audience research is a great place to start. Once you know what makes your audiences tick, you can develop messaging that will resonate with them.
1. Brand Consistency Builds Trust
This is the big kahuna of brand consistency. Without trust, no organization can sustain success over the long term.
Donors trust that their money will further your cause. Members trust that your association will advocate for them and provide value in exchange for their dues. Students trust universities with large sums of money to provide quality education as a launchpad.
Really, any time you’re asking your audiences to engage with you, you’re saying “trust us.”
Brand consistency helps bolster trust, because at every interaction, your audiences sense that you’re thoughtful, authentic, and buttoned-up. Consistency suggests professionalism and organization. It tells your audiences that you’ve spent the time, resources, and intellectual capital required to deliver a compelling message to the world.
Inconsistency, meanwhile, can quickly shatter your credibility. If your brand is fractured, your audiences will grow confused. Confusion, in turn, produces a negative association with your brand. It’s a breeding ground for distrust. That association can cement quickly and be difficult (or impossible) to overcome.
Another example: You mail out a brochure that uses your school’s official seal (instead of your newer logo). But when the student follows up online, they don’t see the seal anywhere, and suddenly – even if only subconsciously – the student senses some incongruence.
If your audience doesn’t trust your brand, they will not engage with it long term – no matter how enticing your incentives.
2. Brand Consistency Makes You Learnable
Brand consistency reduces what we in the UX design world call “cognitive strain.” Cognitive strain is a big no-no, because we know when people are confused and having to think hard about something, their comprehension and affection tends to plummet. The easier you make an experience for someone, the more able you are to hook into their emotions (instead of their rational, logical selves) and emotions drive action.
Brand consistency helps your audiences feel your brand more than think about it. They come to understand who you are, what you offer, and how you can help them.
When cognitive strain disappears, you’re much more likely to influence the behaviors you want (e.g., more donations, memberships, enrollment, etc.).
Brand consistency is important for making your audience understand you. Inconsistent messages increase cognitive strain, which is a needless roadblock.
3. Brand Consistency Makes Work More Efficient
Your organization likely has various touchpoints with your audiences. That means that even those who don’t engage with you will likely encounter your brand many times over before they decide against it.
No matter how many people you’re interacting with every day, efficiency is an important goal. You want to make the process of engaging with your organization as resource-light as possible.
The more consistent your brand and messaging, the more quickly your users will be able to get stuff done. That ends up saving your organization time and money.