The 5 Benefits of Designing a Consistent Brand

October 20, 2010 by Matthew Schwartz

People generally don't like cockroaches. They make us nervous, we don't know what to expect from them, we stand semi-frozen waiting to see what direction they'll dart off in next. In a word, they're inconsistent.

What do cockroaches have to do with design and branding?

To me, inconsistent brands are like cockroaches. Why? Because when brands present themselves inconsistently, we don't know what to expect from them. And when we don't know what to expect, our trust is eroded. Consistent brands typically succeed because they meet (and the great ones exceed) our expectations. I've written about the fundamentals of developing a strong brand. They live in the intermix of creative thinking and business strategy. Design, whether it be visual, user experience, or even organizational design, is the primary process through which we bring brands to life. It's where problems are solved, and strategy is executed in the real world.

Design consistency helps ensure that once we have it right, our execution remains aligned with the business strategy for the long-term. Unlike the cagey cockroach, design consistency transforms your brand into a great experience—one that repeatedly meets needs and expectations, and which continuously delights your audience.

And since your brand isn't what you say you are, it's what they say you are, delight them you must.

So how to create consistency? First, it takes focus and commitment. The single biggest reason businesses fail to become exceptional brands is a lack of commitment to respect the brand that starts at the top and works its way down. Second, it takes a design system and tools like Brand Handbooks and Brand Standards that make staying "on-brand" easy with rules of the road that help your people and partners understand what your brand looks and sounds like, and what the brand experience should feel like.

If we agree that design consistency is critical to sustaining brand success, what are 5 top benefits it can bring to your organization?

Benefit #1: Increase Adoption & Strengthen Loyalty

Strong brands attract the right kinds of people to help the brand succeed. Consistent brand experiences that express why you matter in ways that resonate with meaning are a magnet for anyone attracted to the ideas they stand for: talented employees looking to be a part of something for more than just money, passionate customers who spread the word, committed investors who feel a brand's promise and potential in their gut, and loyal supporters who are willing to donate their time to help advance the cause.

When your brand is designed to continuously delight your audience and remind them why they were attracted to you in the first place, it remains relevant for the long run. While inconsistency can torpedo your audience's built-in expectations of you, consistency strengthens the gravitational pull of brand loyalty, continuously reinforcing the magnetic characteristics of your brand.

Benefit #2: Create a Barrier to Entry

The pinnacle of brand excellence is what's known as "the charismatic brand," a brand for which there is no substitute. Design consistency is essential to the charismatic brand because charisma must be immersive, with no detail left unattended. While Apple may be the most overused example of a charismatic band, it's also one of the best. Every single part of the experience, from product design & packaging to advertising, marketing, and even the online & in-store experience reinforce what Apple means to us. This sort of attention to designing great brand experiences makes it incredibly difficult for competitors to step in and steal your mojo—even if they may offer a better service or product at a lower price.

Benefit #3: Increase Sales & Margins

By always delivering on expectations down to the smallest details, strong brands design experiences that are worth paying more for (and/or buying more of), whatever the price point. WalMart encourages customers to buy in volume by being fanatical about designing experiences that reinforce value at every level. Starbucks lures us into paying $4 for a large coffee because the experience is so well designed. Susan G. Komen for the Cure has raised awareness of and engagement with the issues of breast cancer because they've committed themselves to designing a strong brand so much that they practically own the color pink (Update: Komen's recent disaster with Planned Parenthood, which we wrote about, reinforces how disasterous straying from the core brand ideas your brand stands for can be). For non-profits, we'd define increased margins or sales translate to increased donations and lower operating costs (through more volunteers).

Benefit #4 Optimize Marketing Efforts

Speed kills. And having a strong brand concept with design systems and tools to support it speeds the execution of high-quality, on-brand communications. It creates consistency that increases brand recall and retention and makes the sum greater than the parts. Not only is marketing more effective, but budgets are also more efficient. With tools like brand guidelines and templates to "operationalize" your brand, marketing efforts become more nimble and responsive—without sacrificing quality.

This combination of quality and speed extends beyond just marketing communications and visual design. It translates equally to the user experience online. Deciding what kinds of features to add to your website or application (and more important, which ones to nix) becomes a lot more clear when you from a consistent point of view that's rooted in where your value really comes from. Features that add value rise to the top, extraneous ones fall by the wayside.

Benefit #5 Facilitate Extending into New Opportunities

Design consistency is about creating trust. As a result, when you've earned the trust of your audience by consistently meeting their expectations, they are more likely to be open to new products, services or initiatives you'd like to offer. I'm still not sure if the Porche Cayenne was a great idea, but because of the strength of their brand, a company known exclusively for designing nimble, high-performance sports cars was able to sell millions of lumbering SUVs.

Line extensions always come with the potential threat of taking a business off course and thereby undermining the core brand (Harley-Davidson Cake Decorating Kit anyone?). But with a focus on designing experiences that consistently reflect what's most meaningful about your brand, businesses are much more likely to avoid wasting time, money, and brand value on fruitless marketing ideas.

There are many more worthy benefits we could add to this list, but hopefully I've given you a good foundation in how paying attention to the details of designing a consistent brand experience has a positive impact for your organization.

About Matthew Schwartz

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