Consistent branding: Don’t mess with it

Sticking with a strong story pays off for the likes of Nike, even in a multi-channel market.

Nike Football
Nike Football

‘Just Do It’ is one of the simplest, most recognisable slogans of all time – a line Nike has used for the past 15 years. Compare this with Reebok and you’ll find that it has changed its slogan 14 times since 1987, according to Sir John Hegarty, co-founder of agency BBH.

Nike’s consistency seems to have paid off as, according to a US report by the Center for Applied Research, it was able to boost its share of the sports shoe market from 18 per cent to 43 per cent – from $877m (£579m) in worldwide sales to $9.2bn (£6bn) – in the 10 years between 1988 and 1998.

The report also claims that Nike spent $300m (£198m) on overseas advertising alone, mostly focused on the Just Do It campaign.

A report out last week says that while it can be difficult to maintain a consistent tone, the opportunities for forming close relationships with consumers outweighs any problems. “Adapting tone of voice across multiple channels should not intimidate today’s marketer,” the study by the London School of Marketing says.

Strong branding is the core of any decent marketing strategy: it enables differentiation against the competition and allows people to recognise products and services easily. But how does consistency in branding and the way the products are marketed affect the business?

“It’s incredibly important because consistency in itself is also a brand promise you are always delivering on,” says Björn Von Matérn, vice-president of corporate communications at The Absolut Company. “It’s also part of the identity, so it has to be clear what the brand is all about.”

As the example of Nike shows, consistency can help a brand take market share from rivals, or at least ensure it stays in the game. And as for the vodka market: arguably, the only differentiation in marketing a product that is colourless and odourless is the branding.

Von Matérn believes that “as [the vodka market is] getting more competitive, it’s important that you stick to your story and be consistent in your messages”.

Absolut Vodka Unique
Absolut Vodka Unique

Absolut pushes marketing messages about the product being made in Sweden and connecting to the drink’s quality and the brand’s creativity. To fit with this, the Absolut Unique campaign involved millions of bottles being created so that each carried a one-of-a-kind design. It required a complete change of its production process.

Von Matérn explains: “It worked on many levels – connecting with consumers, it was ground-breaking in our way of working and it was expected to be disruptive, so it was a summary of what Absolut is all about.”

Another alcohol example is Jack Daniel’s. Where Absolut has built its brand on creativity and quality, the whiskey brand has remained consistent to the story behind the drink.

Jack Daniel’s senior vice-president and managing director John Hayes says: “It’s a true story about a real place in Lynchburg, Tennessee. Essentially, what we do is just tell the story about the product, how it’s made, the process that makes it a unique whiskey, the people and the place – and a lot of it is about our brand stories over the years.

“It’s been consistent since the mid-1950s with our first marketing campaign. It is essentially the same thing you see in London Underground campaigns that have been running for a long time.”

The consistency in brand messaging also enables consumers to form a solid opinion of a brand in terms of reputation.

Hayes adds: “People find the story unique and the consistent manner in which we tell it underscores the authenticity and credibility of the brand. We have proved that the consistent message and story we have is motivating to consumers around the world. It’s a big part of our success.”

The beauty sector is also fiercely competitive. In the case of Gillette it has been the consistent reputation of performance that has added to its success. The brand claims it was the first razor brand to establish ‘real beauty credentials’ and before its Venus brand entered the market, women shaved with men’s razors.

Jared Regan, Gillette Venus brand manager, P&G UK and Ireland, claims: “Venus has become a part of women’s lives. Built on the trust women place in Venus earned over time, the strength of our brand, our innovation and our consistency in communication keeps us ahead of the pack.”

For Gillette it also means looking at the Venus brand from a consumer standpoint and the company says its brand equity has been consistent from the day it launched 11 years ago. The brand has remained true to its ‘silky smooth skin gives women confidence’ positioning, using Jennifer Lopez and Olympic athletes to advertise the razors.

Regan adds: “Our messaging is always clear. From the signature music to the shots of the smooth, beautiful legs in our print to our brand partnerships with Olay and in-store activation – we always communicate the product benefit.

“This category and this brand is all about performance and what that means to the women we serve. Our marketing approach is simple: listen, understand and then deliver. It’s a model that stands the test of time.”

One of the problems that can arise with consistency is the evolution of the channels available to marketers and the emergence of new technology. It then becomes a question of remaining consistent across channels.

Von Matérn at Absolut believes digital marketing and social media now mean any messages are about engagement.

“Brands should create campaigns and new ranges of products that people start to view, give comments on and send to friends, but the messages need to align with the other forms of a brand’s advertising such as print and TV advertising,” he says.

This sentiment is echoed by Regan, who says: “It’s crucial for big brands communicating across a myriad of vehicles to have a clear message that resonates with the audience and helps the brand stand out over time.”

For Regan, it is in-store activation that ensures communications for Venus align.It is also key to refresh the brand channels used while remaining consistent.

Hayes at Jack Daniel’s says: “You have to evolve with the times. We’ve had a consumer relationship direct marketing programme since way back in the ’50s which started out with old-fashioned mail and progressed to email. Now we have 5 million fans on Facebook who we communicate with. It’s just a matter of evolving with the technology.”

Hayes adds that it is one thing to stay consistent, but you have to be flexible.

He says: “You have to evolve with the times, with consumers and with cultures. How we communicate in China would be different to how we communicate in the UK, but we’re still telling a similar story.”

Von Matérn says that being a brand owner is all about consistency. “It’s trying to be true to your values and positioning – that’s how you build a brand,” he concludes.

Consistent brands

Nike’s ‘Just Do It’ slogan was coined in 1988 by its agency Wieden+Kennedyand is still a key part of the brand’s advertising campaigns.

Procter & Gamble-owned Fairy Liquid has been on sale in the UK for more than 45 years and continues to be known for its ‘mildness to hands that do dishes’ and its long-lasting formula. The latter sparked a 2006 campaign coining the term ‘Fairyconomy’.

Draught Guinness

Guinness is known for its iconic advertising and has won numerous awards, and, although regulations now mean the brand cannot use its original tagline, ‘Guinness is good for you’, many still recall it. The brand focuses its marketing on the unique ritual of serving the product, with the tagline ‘Good things come to those who wait’.

For a slogan that reportedly did not do well in focus groups, Ronseal’s tagline ‘It does exactly what it says on the tin’ has been used by the brand – and spoofed by many others – since 1994. It was recently used by Prime Minister David Cameron to describe the coalition government.