According to McKinsey & Company, the keys to customer satisfaction can be summed up in three C’s: consistency, consistency, consistency. For customers, individual brand interactions aren’t enough; it takes consistent experiences over time and across platforms to remember a brand and ultimately become a fan.
Consistency is also an ambiguous quality to describe. We all know when a brand feels consistent across every medium, but can we describe why? Could we put into words why Arbys’ witty, smart social media presence is perfectly consistent with its perhaps-less-memorable television commercials, even though the two styles of humor are different? Or why some brands have a voice so strong, you could pick it out in a line-up of random emails? Brand consistency doesn’t boil down to one thing, or even one category of marketing. Many parts influence the whole: voice, content, values expressed, values demonstrated, customer interactions, and more.
Before brands can reach seamless high-level consistency, though, they need to pass through the gateway that is design consistency. A brand’s design is the scaffolding that helps the more esoteric elements of its identity come together, and a consistent user experience begins here. This post will take you through the design elements that can help your brand establish a consistently delightful presence at every turn.
The Benefits of Design Consistency
First and foremost, design consistency across your various marketing channels provides an immediate visual cue to the user that they’re continuing this journey with your brand. If your Instragram followers are intrigued by a post and visit your website, you’ll create confusion or even lose the visitor if your website is different from the one they were expecting to see. Even if your website’s aesthetic is better, unmet expectations are unmet expectations, which feel inherently uncomfortable.
Design consistency across your website alone helps users quickly pick up on patterns and use your site intuitively. Within the blink of an eye, new website users can learn where to look for text, where to scroll for buttons or images, and what different colors, fonts, and font styles communicate. This is generally an unconscious process…unless the user has to relearn the experience every time they change category levels or move to a new page. At that point it becomes a conscious learning process, which is more tedious.
The keys to consistent design fall into four major categories: templates, colors, typography, and images.
Themes and Templates
Depending on the ecommerce platform your store uses, you might be working with an exciting array of template and theme options. There are WordPress builders, for example, that let you choose from hundreds of templates with each new page you create! Tempting though it may be to try every template like a kid in a candy store, choose one family of templates and stick with it. One of the most common issues for novice designers is a tendency to get “bored” with the standard they’ve picked, leading to attempts to add variety that ultimately confuse the user. Remember, your user hasn’t been staring at the same pages day in and day out like you or your designers have. They won’t get bored.
If you do want to use a few different templates throughout your site, make sure the same type of page always gets the same template. For example, maybe you pull from five or six templates for different types of pages on your site: one for the home page, one for category pages, one for product pages, one for blog posts or articles, and one for the Contact Us page. That’s a common and completely acceptable strategy! Just don’t use the category template when you mean to use the product template, becuase your user will get confused.
To settle on your designated theme or template(s), identify the needs of your target audience and ask yourself how your customers will be searching for information. Choose or create a template that accommodates those needs. Questions you can ask include: top navigation, left navigation, or mega menu? Large, expanded search bar, or simple search icon tucked away in the corner of each page? Custom functionality or no? What links will your user expect to see in the header and footer? Will clicking on your logo at the top of every page take the user back to the home page? After you answer these questions, maintain the experience throughout your store.
While templates are less important on social media (aesthetics are another story — we’ll talk about that in a bit), you can and should use them to make your life easier. Every time you feel like you’ve really landed a post or ad, make it a template. Design programs like Over have a lot of different layout packs to make the work easier; just remember the “kid in a candy store” rule and don’t use all of them.
Like a sports team’s jerseys, color is perhaps the fastest and easiest way to orient customers and help them identify your brand. Take full advantage of a beautifully consistent color scheme by thoughtfully selecting yours. What is your primary color? What is your secondary color? What do those colors communicate to the user? Refer to our brand guide if you’d like to learn more about making these decisions.
Colors can also be used to direct attention and focus to particular areas. Once you’ve established an action, maintain that action throughout your site (and across other platforms, if possible! It won’t always be possible, depending on how granular the action is).
If you hop on over to Grow With Studio’s Instagram, you’ll notice that our awesome social media manager also uses a consistent color palette, pulled from our brand colors. Notice how even though she’s allowed herself a bit of leeway with the red — it’s hard to use coral 100% of the time — the other reds she chooses are a strong match for the warm, bright-but-understated tone of our “Studio red.” Ditto for the navy blue. To see how this all comes together, just view the 9-grid in its entirety and you’ll notice that it feels like a single, cohesive brand story.
How will your fonts work together to present a clear hierarchy of information? Consider headings, sub-headings, button text, and body text. Use fonts at different sizes and styles to improve scannability and readability, but don’t use multiple fonts or styles to display the same type of information. For example, on the FAQ page your headings may use a certain font style while the answers use the body font style, helping users scan the page more easily.
Other Visual Elements
Have you ever noticed how a website theme or template can look amazing when it’s populated with stock photos, but when you replace the imagery with your own, something feels…off? If you’re not having consistency issues with your colors and font, then there’s probably a consistency problem with the images you’re choosing.
For that matter, you might think you’re not having color consistency issues because your styling is consistent (font colors, background, etc), but there might be a problem hiding in plain sight! Do your photos or images pull in any of the colors in your palette? If not, there’s your problem. Train yourself to instinctively select photos and images that bring in a pop of your color.
Make sure your images follow a certain aesthetic; if you’ve been featuring a lot of relatable, family-focused photos on your site, it may feel odd if you mix in editorial photos featuring high-fashion models. If all of your images are candid and action-packed, adding more static imagery might feel weird. And if you like using illustrations and other graphics, mixing too many different artistic styles together will probably throw people off. The same rules apply on social media, where you’ll also want to keep your filters consistent.
By the way, if you’re looking for a more concrete description of the above issue than “It feels weird,” you might have trouble finding one! Inconsistency is the most apt way to summarize what your users feel when your images don’t cohere, but they likely won’t be able to name the problem or solution. They’ll just know their browsing experience feels weird.
Once you learn to identify consistency issues across your brand and website design, their solutions will feel like magic. It won’t be long before your customers can quickly spot you and understand exactly who you are, no matter where you are.