Why Does Brand Consistency Matter?

Consistency is the Key to Brand Recognition

Last week I was listening to a new podcast called Driven while driving. Amongst simple and practical advice for women business owners, they touched on the importance of brand consistency on all platforms. Not surprisingly, my ears perked up! Too often we think of rebranding as a means to success when in fact, more often, what is needed is a consistent application of the brand you’ve got. At any point, a customer or future customer should be able to pick your marketing or social post from a crowd—from the aesthetics to the voice—your brand should be recognizable, and, more than likely, you’ve got room for improvement.

The hosts of the podcast quoted, “Consistency will improve your brand.” Consistency is a design principle that dramatically affects usability and learning in all systems, including branding and identity. It helps us transfer knowledge to new contexts, focus attention, and learn more quickly.

Four types of consistency:

  • Aesthetic
  • Functional
  • Internal
  • External

Aesthetic consistency is the type most obvious in branding. A brand whose style and appearance is the same (color, photography, graphics) no matter where it appears (Instagram, ads, website), and it sets emotional expectations and becomes a shortcut for recognition and decision-making. For example, Dove ads are easily recognized because the company consistently features women of different shapes, sizes, and skin tones, in nude or white undergarments on all white backdrops. We associate Dove with inspiring women to have the confidence to be comfortable with themselves and showing “Real Beauty,” according to their tagline.

Any parent can tell you how their toddlers can “recognize” brands long before they can actually read. At the age of one, my now toddler was able to recognize the distinctive shape and colors of the Krispy Kreme sign from the road. She cheered as we got closer to them and cried as we passed by without stopping. 

Successful brands also include functional consistency—referring to consistency of action and meaning. Humans require order, and functional consistency provides us with this order. Have you ever had a difficult time finding your way in a New York subway station? In some of the largest train hubs in downtown it would be easy to wind up on the wrong train going uptown instead of downtown. In complex built environments, investing in a wayfinding program is vital because, simply put, when people are lost, money is lost. Functional consistency allows us to leverage existing knowledge about how the design functions. The symbols on my iPhone use the same controls for playing music that my boombox used in the 80s. Such consistency makes the new devices easier to use and learn.

Internal consistency refers to consistency with other elements in the system—your logo is the same online and in print, like signs within a park are consistent with one another. Such internal harmony suggests that the system has been intentionally designed and builds trust with viewers.

External consistency means having the same aesthetic design or performance across multiple systems. External consistency extends the benefits of internal consistency across multiple independent systems. This is difficult to achieve, but fast food companies do this very well. Even technology companies like Microsoft and Apple recognize that it works. You can go to these businesses anywhere in the world and expect to receive the same service, that they will be using the same equipment, and in the same amount of time you will receive the same product.

In branding and design, if standards exist, observe them. If standards don’t exist, create them. Consider aesthetic and functional consistency in all aspects of design. From the book, Universal Principles of Design: “Use aesthetic consistency to establish unique identities that can be easily recognized. Use functional consistency to simplify usability and ease of learning. Ensure that systems are always internally consistent and externally consistent to the greatest degree possible.”