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Keeping it Consistent: Online and Offline Branding

If someone blindfolded you and walked you into a Target store and then took off the blindfold, you’d only need a minute to know where you were. The same would be true if you were dropped into a Lexus dealer or the Apple Store.

Every one of these companies has a strong brand, very different from the others mentioned. The red-and-white circles and choppy headlines key you into the Target brand. The swoopy L logo on the front of the cars and luxury feel of the showroom would let you know you’re looking at Lexus. And the bright, clean environment and minimalistic, easy-to-navigate store layout makes it clear you’re at Apple.

Now imagine doing the same thing on a website, but having the web address hidden. Again, you would still know that you were on the website for Target, Lexus, or Apple.

Why is that the case? Each of these companies has consistently carried their brand from offline marketing to their online presence, or in the case of Apple, gone from online to offline.

Now imagine for a moment that you went to a Lexus dealer and had the expected experience, but when you went online to do more research, instead of a luxury feel and images of well-dressed people and comfortable interiors, the website featured muddy kids getting out of SUVs and utilitarian copy. You’d wonder if you were on the right site and might even start to rethink your intended purchase.

Branding is Important

This probably seems like an obvious statement. Large companies spend hundreds of thousands of dollars every year on marketing. As Gartner found in their 2016-2017 CMO Spend Survey, mid-sized to larger organisations spend about 12% of their revenue on marketing. A sizeable percentage of that budget goes to brand, including development and standardisations efforts.

An organisation’s brand is more than just colors and a logo. Branding includes image types, voice and personality, word choices, positioning, and even the experience clients have with your brand.

What’s important is what brand does for a company. It helps people immediately identify your products, services, and even your organisation. It sets expectations. It establishes a relationship with customers. And it does that no matter where the brand is encountered.

Online and Offline Marketing

Unless yours is a very small and inexperienced company, you’ve probably spent a lot of time setting up your brand for your offline marketing. At least some of that is related to how much is spent to execute traditional marketing efforts. Printing, postage, signage, TV or radio ads, sponsorships, and presence at conferences and industry events – these are all tactics that cost real dollars.

But online marketing is different. It costs nothing to set up a Twitter account or a Facebook page. Blogs are relatively easy to add to your website and publish on. Companies, like the former local grocer Freshfully in Birmingham, Alabama, are using digital marketing alone to grow their business. Although closed now, Freshfully used online channels only in their first year of business, resulting in no money spent on marketing but earning $500,000 in revenue.

The easy access and low cost of digital marketing makes it alluring, but there is something more important about leveraging digital for your messaging. Almost without exception, a large percentage of your customers can be found online. They may not all be found in the same place – if you’re marketing to soccer moms you’ll likely have more luck on Facebook than on Mastodon – but they are online somewhere.

If you develop an online presence, your customers will eventually find you. But when they do, will they know it’s you?

No Such Thing as Digital Marketing

When you think of your offline strategies, you don’t think of them as individual marketing areas. You might have a team dedicated to producing print marketing and one dedicated to events, but they are all part of the marketing team and each of these is a channel that your marketing flows into.

It’s no different with online strategies. Social media, content marketing, websites, podcasts – these are just channels for your marketing. As such, however, they need to get the same respect and brand consistency that any other tactic would have to go through.

Without brand consistency your customers – and potential customers – could feel disoriented and that the brand’s promise has been broken. Remember, brands establish relationships with customers.

Achieve Consistency Across Channels

Once you understand that consistency is important, don’t become overwhelmed by the idea of trying to stay consistent. If you have a traditional marketing brand already established you’d just need to adopt that to your online channels.

Start simply. One company, one logo. You should have a logo and lockups that are established for use by those authorised to promote your brand. Sizes of the logo, colors, positioning – these should all be established no matter where the logo is being used.

If you don’t already have a style guide for your brand, create one and share it with both online and offline marketers. You don’t need a brand guide as elaborate as Mozilla’s, but it should include approved fonts, primary and secondary colors, brand voice, and brand positioning statements. Be sure that everyone promoting your brand is adhering to these guidelines, from Tweets and web pages to radio spots and billboards.

Ensure there is a shared direction between online and offline campaigns. Things like content calendars for blogs, ebooks, and videos should be in line with offline efforts, and vice versa.

Those are the easier elements in aligning consistency. Things can get a little trickier if your digital and offline customers look a little different.

For instance, if you have older customers that prefer the traditional interaction of having a salesperson meet with them and bring them one-sheets, but also younger clients that research solutions for themselves online, you might have slight variations in your materials.

Begin by understanding which of your clients use offline marketing resources and which turn to online. Just as your message to a group of software engineers at an industry event might be slightly different than what is presented to a company’s CIO, these target audiences will want different things based on the channels they use.

Once you understand which clients use which channels, create messaging specific to those targets while still maintaining the brand’s voice, look, and feel. If your offline messaging is very professional, your YouTube videos shouldn’t look like a day at an amusement park, even if that attracts a younger demographic.

Consistency in messaging across offline and digital is easier once you realize that online marketing is just another channel you can use to share your message and build brand awareness. Keeping consistency between these will maintain the trust built between you and your clients and solidify new relationships with potential customers.


Bonnie Moss
Bonnie Moss

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