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2019.01.03

CEO Today: The Three Cs of Global Brand Consistency

Consistency should be a priority for any global brand. Consistent brands build closer relationships with customers, they are more predictable, and therefore more trustworthy. There are three golden rules to help brands achieve consistency, captured by three Cs: Clarity, Consistency and Commitment.

First, it’s crucial to define a clear global brand voice that resonates with people across physical and cultural borders. Second, in every interaction a brand has with its audiences, the same message should be delivered in the same tone of voice, to evoke the same feelings. And third, brands must follow through on their plans for consistency, with teams empowered to enforce the brand guidelines.

So, there it is: global brand consistency in three easy steps.

Except, of course, they’re far from easy. CMOs and CBOs face multi-layered challenges in their efforts to achieve consistency. Global brands have huge numbers of local stakeholders all over the world, all with their own agendas, all unwittingly labouring under their own misconceptions, all facing their own specific challenges.

Companies also offer different products in different markets. The lineup for Toyota or Ford varies widely from country to country. And perceptions differ by market. Budweiser or Carlsberg are seen as conventional beers with broad appeal in the West, but in China they are seen as premium products.

The relentless growth of social media has added complexity too – with so many channels now available, each with its own quirks and unique audience characteristics, it’s harder than ever to remain consistent.

Finally, there’s the resourcing challenges. Few would argue against consistency, but who has the necessary resources? The biggest brands might have funding to build in-house agencies, while newer brands are often launched from nimble digital-native teams. But for most established global businesses sitting between these two extremes, it’s not so easy.

 

Brand consistency essentials

The challenge might be complex but the solutions – or at least the principles behind them – are straightforward. Corporate brands looking to achieve brand consistency need three things in place.

First, they need a clear, actionable brand strategy that applies across all regions and all parts of the company. Championed by those at the very top of the company, the strategy must set out a brand’s foundational principles, its values and its positioning. It must be informed, it must be clear, and it must be honest.

Second, they need comprehensive brand guidelines covering messaging, tone of voice, design, video, and sound. To cut through the complexity of a global organisation, communication must be simplified, with anything that means nothing discarded, to help them travel more effectively across borders and channels and resonate anywhere in the world.

Finally, they need to inspire and empower the teams whose job it is to make sure people stick to those guidelines. The key word here is ‘inspire’ – this role should be more about engagement than enforcement, educating colleagues about the benefits of consistency, not punishing them for transgressions.

 

Revolution or evolution

Faced with the challenge of building global brand consistency, companies typically choose either a revolutionary or an evolutionary approach.

Sometimes, as in the case of Dunkin’ Donuts, the revolutionary approach even changes the brand name. The donut and coffee chain will soon simply be known as Dunkin’ (“We’re on first-name terms with America”, explained Chief Marketing Officer Tony Weisman). When you’re rebranding the eighth-largest fast food chain in the world, and you have so much detail to communicate in more than 11,000 outlets worldwide, this is not straightforward, but Dunkin’ did it very well. Everything about the brand – from the corporate logo to the design of in-store door handles – now looks fun, energetic and inviting.

Other brands take the evolutionary path, making incremental changes that add up over time to a cohesive, contemporary whole. Brands that have successfully adopted this approach include Apple, FedEx, RedBull, Lego, IKEA and Disney. Each individual change might not require the focus and resources of a Dunkin’-style reboot, but to remain consistent, each change must be governed by the same set of rules and that requires focus and discipline.

 

The eyes have it

One of the most important elements of global brand consistency is visual storytelling. We are fast moving towards a world where consumers do more viewing than reading, and that’s something global brands can’t afford to ignore.

It’s no longer enough for a brand to be discoverable only through a website or physical stores: social media’s influence continues to grow, and brands must take it seriously. That means producing engaging and consistent video content – and lots of it.

By 2021, Cisco predicts that video will make up 82% of all consumer internet activity. Companies using video see 41% more web traffic from search than non-video users. And social video generates 1,200% more shares than text and images combined.

The rules of consistency apply just as strongly here, perhaps even more so. Producing video material that’s original but still consistent within a wider brand system – in the way that Nike and Apple both do so well – isn’t easy but it’s crucial. People are increasingly using social media to find products to buy, or work, or entertainment rather than just seeking out amusing content or sharing photos and videos.

That all adds up to a compelling case for global brands to take video seriously – and that means having fresh content to post several times a day across multiple channels, informed by distinct guidelines and toolkits for video and animation.

The need for consistency and the requirement for ever-growing quantities of compelling content present a real challenge to global brands. And it’s one they must rise to soon because before long it will be business-critical.

Getting it right will help global brands deliver an experience that is relevant, effective and, above all, consistent. With 90% of organizations agreeing that consistency is important but just 10% believing they’re currently doing a good job of presenting their brand consistently, the benefits of addressing the issue are plain to see.

By Alex Moulton, Chief Creative Officer at Trollbäck+Company.