By: John Hall, Forbes Contributor
If you’re like many leaders, the early stages of your business required a lot of decision-making, from fundamental decisions like your core services or products all the way to decisions about design. Whether you put a ton of time into each and every choice or quickly call the shots to move on to the next one, it’s safe to say that your business evolves — and as it does, the look and feel of your brand can change, too.
If you could get your hands on it, you probably wouldn’t even recognize Influence & Co.‘s first logo. Graphics, colors, fonts, logos, and messaging change over time, and that’s normal. But after a while, the customers who stay with your business year after year expect a certain look and feel. With 90 percent of buying decisions made subconsciously, that consistency is key to quickly and emotionally connecting with customers as your business grows.
Brands like Coca-Cola and Nike have managed to maintain consistency over decades in business. Even with subtle changes in design over the years, there is a basic look that remains consistent.
But your brand is more than a logo. It’s everything that represents your company, from your personal branding and the content you create to your mission, the employees that humanize your brand, and everything in between. As you grow your company, maintaining your brand’s consistency can be a challenge. Here are five tips that can help:
1. Understand your mission.
From the start, your brand image should be tied to your core values, which often relate specifically to what you want your venture to do for your audience and become over time. Even if you already have a logo and have designed your company website, you can make small tweaks to ensure your branding sends the right messages to your audience members about what you do and what they can expect if they engage with you further.
You might even be able to drastically change your logo once, but if it happens much more than that, you’ll risk appearing flaky. Put your mission statement and core values on paper, and conduct an audit to make sure your visual materials align with them.
2. Build a foundation.
Templates and guidelines that you can personalize as you need to can make things easier for you and your employees by giving everyone a consistent jumping-off point as you create content for your brand.
You can use (and personalize) simple templates for everything from your emails to your company’s blog posts to business cards. A business card template can be used for hundreds or thousands of employees as they join your organization. Best of all, you’ll ensure your branding remains consistentover the years for any print or electronic publications you generate.
3. Set up a solid approval process.
In the early days, your approval process was probably pretty simple: You signed off on everything. Every branding choice your company made, from letterheads to business cards to content on your website, was given the go-ahead by you and your co-founder.
But as your team grows, this becomes more complicated and, honestly, kind of wasteful. You don’t need to spend time calling every shot when someone else on your team can take the lead — as long as he has the right information to make those decisions.
It’s important to set up an approval process that protects your image without creating a ton of additional work for your employees and contractors. Establish a small committee, and use collaboration tools to avoid delays that come from relying on group emails to get things done. Your marketing director is likely one of your best resources in this area because she oversees many of the impressions your brand has on customers. If you have a creative director, that person can also be an important asset.
4. Don’t forget products and services.
Over time, it can be easy for the products or services a business delivers to begin to deteriorate. Upper management may cut corners to reduce budgets, or a business may switch manufacturers or outsource services to an unreliable third-party provider. It’s sad to say, but it can happen, and if it does, your brand can suffer as much as (if not more than) it would if someone used the wrong font or made a big change to your logo. Set up quality assurance procedures, and regularly conduct audits to make sure you’re upholding your own high standards.
5. Keep your branding authentic.
Your branding extends beyond what your customers see; it’s also about everyone on your team. If your internal communications have the same messaging and overall tone as your external communications, you’ll maintain consistency all around.
Not only will your team be better equipped to deliver what your messaging promised, but they’ll also feel more connected to your brand. In addition to your content and the look and feel of your interactions with employees, ensure your work culture mirrors your company’s image, whether that means you’re buttoned-up and professional, casual and breezy, or something in between.
Doing this requires your branding to be authentic; people can see through BS, and your employees will probably see through it faster than anyone if your messages to your external audiences are different than those to your internal ones.
Consistency is critical to any marketing effort. Whether your business has created its overall look or you’re still working on it, take time to ensure you understand your mission and convey it clearly in your messaging. Over time, your own team will come to fully understand your business’s image and consistency will come naturally to them.
(Note: All articles are copied verbatim… typos, grammar errors and all. In other words, we didn’t make the mistakes! )