Consistency — vital or overrated?

Picture_2 Brand experts, including your friends at MMG, believe that consistency in look, tone, and feel is a critical element of communicating and embedding your brand/company into the minds of the consumers.  Not just in how you treat your logo, but in the bigger picture.  Sales sheets, ads, website, direct mail pieces, etc, etc

But…can consistency be over-done?  How rigid do you think a company should be in terms of design elements, logo usage, color pallete, etc?

And does that fine line shift depending on how recognizable your brand/company already is in the consumer group's mind?

In other words…can Nike or Apple take liberties that a lesser known company can't afford to take or doesn't it matter?

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14 comments on “Consistency — vital or overrated?

  1. Bart says:

    37Signals wrote a good item on consistency:

    I think consistency in design doesn’t matter as much as long as a brand is consistent in it’s brand values (let’s call it the mental image).

  2. I’ve 2 comments-
    1. I think that the consistency is better served by a strong brand message (i.e.- copy voice, key message points, proper imagery) than by template-izing the design process, which is a direction that I’ve seen many in the past try. Just as I wear different outfits for different occasions, each marketing piece needs to be designed for it’s own purpose, and use the brand design elements to make it part of the family.

    2. There are a number of brands out there (especially in the youth segment-snowboards, etc) who have no consistency in their branding at all. That is there “consistency”. Take Burton snowboards. You’ll rarely ever see any boards or gear that have the same logo, and that’s part of their brand message, about being unique and individual.

  3. Mark says:

    Once a brand dominates a segment, it’s not the particular look that important but the consistency of the process. Kristian mentions Burton, which is an excellent example. Burton dominates that niche, just as Volcom now dominates the action-oriented youth niche. They can afford to play around with their brand image, because they consistently push their brand, through endorsements, advertising in targeted venues, etc. The youth market is particularly generationally sensitive. In the 60s, companies like Hobie, Hang Ten, and OP dominated the youth segment. Then Billabong and others ate their lunch. Now it’s Volcom, Burton, Zumiez and others. That contrasts sharply with a broad market offering like Coca-Cola or Disney, both of which mess with their brands slightly, but still hang on to their core images. A lot of the decision depends on the psychographics and demographics of the target market, IMO.

  4. Jennifer Suminski says:

    The first advertising campaign that comes to mind is Absolute Vodka. When venturing to Barnes and Nobles, I generally hit certain areas. As an art lover, the photography section is on my list. A few years ago, I spend at least 30 minutes going through the Absolute Book, in which each of the varying ads of that campaign are displayed. In addition, as a teenager that decorated her room in print art and painted murals, I included many of Absolute’s advertisements explaining part of how I felt. This is a company that took its brand and stretched it to touch as many individuals as possible. The appeal of the bottle and logo was its artistically pleasing and creative presentation.

    Without a doubt, I am sure this company began with that bottle and bold printed name. I am sure many individuals knew it before this campaign. In addition, I am sure that it was a profitable liquor. Nonetheless, I did not know of this brand. Yes, I was 15 or 16, but one day I turned 21. And, five years later they gained another customer due to their ability to keep their box but still throw it around a little.

  5. mblair says:

    I think Apple can get away with a lot more due to their levels of brand awareness. That said, I notice that they didn’t really alter the shape of the Apple itself.

    This is a case of “selective consistency”. The logo changes colors and styles to appeal to the times but the foundation remains the same.

    My gut tells me that it is a lot riskier for a company to maintain the same exact logo for 30 years than to update it in some fashion to keep it both fresh and recognizable.

  6. Kristan,

    So…are you saying that a total lack of consistency is their consistency? I have a hard time wrapping my head around that idea. Is there nothing consistent about their design or message?


  7. Mark,

    So…I will pose the same question to you that I did to Kristan. Surely there is some method to their madness so that you know its them, rather than a competitor.


  8. Jennifer,

    An interesting example. I think of the Absolute ads having pure consistency. As you suggest — they just tossed it around a bit, to keep the creative fresh.

    I’m curious — what “attributes” did their advertising suggest to you that Absolute had? Did actually drinking it further or lessen the message for you?


  9. Mark,

    I agree — being stagnant is as dangerous as being overly carefree with your brand. I think there’s a fine line somewhere in the middle.

    And I suspect that Apple was much more rigid in how they dealt with their logo in the beginning, as they were creating their audience. Now that they’re a mature brand, they have a much wider “gray area” in which to play.


  10. Bart,

    You’re right…that’s a great article. Thanks for sharing it.


  11. When it comes down to branding and usage of a logo, I will agree that consistency is key. Some of the posters above talk about Burton and Volcom not having consistency amongst their designs, but I would argue the contrary. On almost any piece of Volcom apparel, you will find their signature diamond logo. The actual layout or design of the shirt, skateboard, etc. may look different, but they are sure to stamp their brand on piece. Everything that a company produces does not necessarily *need* to have the exact same colors and the same format, but the presence of the brand does.

    For a company like Apple and the way they use their logo, I think they could use almost any color scheme or graphic treatment and the general public would still recognize that piece of fruit as Apple Inc. Throughout the years they’re logo has changed, but they still own that shape in the mind of their audience. That is what is important.

  12. Mike,

    Do you think that’s true for all companies or just ones who have established themselves in the marketplace?

    n other words, would you be more rigid on consistency for a start up than an established brand like Apple or do you think the rule applies universally?


  13. Eric says:

    Very timely post. I am the Director of marketing at Vanderbilt University and we are currently “selling” the importance of brand/logo consistency to our coaching and support staff. Or issue is that the varying sports have their own perceptions of their brand. We have a traditionally poor football team, therefore many of our successful sports tend to distance themselves from football. Also, as for being rigid on typeface and text treatments, I need some tangible benefits this rigidity would provide. And I need to be able to communicate it to coaches!

  14. Eric,

    You are basically branding a community. We’ve done many projects like that with real communities/cities and also like what you are trying to accomplish.

    We always start by helping them understand why this is important enough that everyone has to let go of their “side” and be open to what the discovery process unfolds.

    The value of common typeface and text treatments is, especially in the beginning, to establish consistency. You have some latitude of course….but the tighter you can get everyone to walk the line, the quicker the branding will take hold and begin to grow roots.

    A mature brand can play with fonts etc. more — because the brand roots are so firmly entrenched that the audience will forgive some variety.


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