In an industry that is constantly changing, growing, and being disrupted, it is increasingly important to keep up with how consumers are behaving. One of the best ways to continue learning is by communing with others in the marketing world. And, of course, reading blog posts such as this.

Earlier this month I had the privilege of being involved in a panel discussion on brand consistency, hosted by the Colorado AMA. In tandem with four charming men of the branding/marketing/design/retail world, and our moderator, Professor Lora Louise Broady. We worked through some of the juxtaposition happening in a space where behavior is changing and consumers are gaining control over their experiences.

What is a brand?

A professor once told me that your brand is not defined by what you think it should be, but by what your customer thinks it is. This takes the control away from the business and puts it in the hand of the experience. So how do you impact experience? Define positioning early to establish what the brand stands for and how it shows up. This doesn’t mean choosing one message and only using that, and it doesn’t mean that rebranding will hurt your business. It means having a solid, defined reasoning behind your decisions.

Starbucks, an example brought up by Bruno Benedini of WANT Branding, has positioned itself as “the third place.” A person spends their time at home, work, and Starbucks, their third place. While this is not necessarily a slogan, it backs up all elements of the Starbucks experience – from the number of locations and promotions offered to the music playing and the store layout. By defining your brand’s positioning, and staying true to it in all venues, you can adjust how and what you message while maintaining a cohesive identity across touchpoints.

Is it important to have brand consistency?

Short answer: Yes.

On the opposite side, is it important to change with the times? Also, yes.

In order to build loyalty and advocacy for your brand, AKA ‘the dream,’ you need to have a consistent presence in the minds of your consumers. So, how do you stay steady in this ever changing world and also adjust to changing technologies, desires, and behaviors? Fred Hart, the Creative Director of Interact on Shelf, said something during this discussion that I have since plastered in my mind, and on my bulletin board. “Disrupt the category, not the consumer.” Do something different, something wild, something new. Utilize a technology that none of your competitors are using, or try a design feature that is unheard of in your industry. But, make sure your customer is not thrown off or isolated in the process. Use the data at hand to see how you are doing – keep an eye on each element and test to see what works! We can help with that part if you need; data is our forte.

The point is, you want your customer to know you and to engage with you. The base of branding, especially when it comes to design, is about being recognizable. The brand name is important but this also applies to the brand’s color (Tiffany blue), symbol (Nike Swoosh), or even sound (Intel tones). Once you have recognition, continue to build on your brand. Utilize your ambassadors, who already love what you are doing, to grow a community of people who are about to love what you are doing. People trust people, so get the right people involved. Influencer marketing can also play a key role in building trust for your brand. Whenever possible, join the conversation! Respond to reviews, good or bad, to make sure your customers know you are there for them.

How to maintain consistency between brick and mortar and the digital space?

Mark Snipe, owner of Sully & Co, a Denver menswear boutique, and I, as the only digital advocate on the panel, had an engaging discussion on the differences between brick and mortar and eCommerce in the realm of retail experience. His shop is focused around a personalized experience: developing trusting relationships with customers, and building community. Translating that personal, one to one experience into the digital world is tricky. How can you customize and personalize in a way that is scalable?

Honestly, it is not easy. One way to ease the difference between these two conduits is, again, by looking at the data at hand. You can learn more about your customers through their online behavior, and meet them where they are at. This gives you an opportunity to dynamically customize messaging while staying true to the identity of the company and relevant to that specific user at that specific moment in time. If you are active in online conversations involving your brand, you can bring that personal connection to a digital space.

One of the benefits of a changing world is the tools that are constantly being developed to do just this – social listening tools, reviews management tools, and so on, to help brands be involved in more consumer touchpoints and have an opportunity to engage. You don’t have to be the best at everything as long as you have partners and tools to cover all of your bases.

So what?

Recognition leads to consideration leads to purchase leads to repeat purchase leads to loyalty leads to advocacy. So whether you are trying to build a community, start a movement, or increase the bottom line, consistency is your friend. Know what you stand for, be true to your positioning, and work in tandem with your customers to grow the brand. After all, they are what makes your brand what it is.