A lot can change in one year, and much more in 20. Back in the 1990s, or 1997 to be exact, Google didn’t exist, cell phones were too big to fit in a pocket and Netflix had just started a DVD rental subscription service. In terms of marketing, retailers had limited options for connecting with customers.
Now, thousands of marketing channels exist, and brand consistency is more critical than ever before. Yet many companies are still relying on countless spreadsheets and employee intuition to keep their marketing efforts in check. Without a cohesive brand strategy, compelling visuals and a system for content organization, a marketing snafu is bound to happen eventually.
The Basics of Brand Strategy
Many believe that brand strategy and brand identity are interchangeable terms. In actuality, brand identity is just one component of your brand strategy. Like a building needs a foundation or a tree needs roots for stability, the first key to brand consistency is building a strategy from the bottom up, not the other way around.
Here's where to start:
- Mission statement: A company’s mission statement is what drives everything, from R&D to in-store sales. Your mission statement is the heart of the business, and all marketing decisions should flow from it.
- Products: A company is what it produces. Product should be the next level in your strategy. What are the unique selling points? How do your products differ from competitors’?
- Audience: If you try to reach everyone, you'll reach no one. Defining your target audiences is a crucial step in putting together a brand strategy. What does your audience value? What kind of products are essential to their lives?
- Messaging: Associations are important in marketing, and this is where messaging begins. How do you want your products to be perceived? What emotions do you want your customers to feel about your brand? How does your pricing structure affect your message?
- Style guide: This is where logo usage, typeface and color scheme come into play. The style guide, or brand identity, is the guide to make sure the look and feel of your collateral matches across platforms.
Everyone within the marketing and communications departments should be aligned on this brand strategy. This way, although different people manage different platforms, everyone will refer to the same guide when producing content.
The Visual is the Message
The best way to a customer’s heart is through their eyes. Neuroscientists at MIT have found that the brain can process an image in as few as 13 milliseconds; it takes the brain roughly 200 milliseconds to process a group of words.
When it comes to message consistency, the images used in an advertisement or social media post are more important than the accompanying text. In fact, content with images perform 94 percent better than text-only content. However, retail brands should also consider the types of images used. Your photography must reflect your mission statement, products, audiences and central brand message as discussed above.
Social media has amped up the importance of outstanding visuals, though not in the way many think. While the advent of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram has demanded a response from retailers, it has also given users the power of inviting brands into their social circles. Today, your brand is nestled between someone’s sister’s new baby and best friend’s wedding in their Instagram feed. Here, the stakes are high. It only takes one off-brand post for a loyal follower to head to the dreaded “Unfollow” button.
Organization is the Crux of Consistent Content
A strong brand strategy and quality images are only half the battle of brand consistency. Many retail brands stumble at the intersection of content channels. The image that works on Instagram won't fare as well on Snapchat, and the exact wording in a blog is often not fit to run in print advertisements. Yet with different marketing team members managing each channel and multiple levels of approval required, inconsistencies are almost impossible to avoid.
The key to consistent content is organization within a visual content calendar. This enables teams to quickly spot inconsistencies and fill gaps in content needs. When you’re researching options, look for a tool that allows integration of all your content outlets. Cloud-based solutions are also desirable, enabling remote or traveling employees to access from anywhere.
It isn’t 1997 anymore. Thousands of marketing channels doesn’t have to mean thousands of hours of guesswork. When you build a brand strategy, communicate through visuals and make organization a priority, consistency will be the rule instead of the exception.