When we say something is well branded, we’re sometimes hard-pressed to explain what, exactly, that means. I define it as a strong, instantly recognizable brand identity that is consistently applied across every aspect of the business, from advertising to social media to customer service to the product itself. Virgin, for instance, has a brand identity that’s based on a sense of irreverent fun and the company imbues that personality into everything from flights to jewelry to mobile phone plans to retail environments.
But imagine if you took a flight on Virgin Atlantic and it wasn’t fun. Imagine instead a flight just like every other airline with a crew making no effort to bring that dash of irreverence and play to the experience. Chances are you wouldn’t look at the brand’s advertising the same again, and even though you might not recognize your mediocre experience as being ‘off-brand’, you’d likely tell your friends about it — and think twice before booking again.
Customers notice such inconsistencies. In a recent Software Advice survey of 200 consumers, 41 percent of respondents viewed brand consistency as the most important factor in brand loyalty, significantly more important than authenticity, relevance, or transparency. In other words, we’re more upset with Apple if our new iPhone doesn’t live up to expectations than if we read about the company’s anti-competitive behavior.
With the pervasiveness of the digital world, brand consistency is much harder to achieve than in the past. There are dozens of customer touch points today, including Twitter, Facebook, brick-and-mortar retail, ecommerce, TV commercials, print ads, and telephone support, to name just a few.
An important and often overlooked touch point is email.
Why brand inconsistencies happen
At a time when marketers are hyper-aware of how customer experiences shape brand perception, it’s a bit shocking that inconsistencies still exist. We read copy in an email or on social media that doesn’t reflect the voice of the brand, products that portray simplicity in advertising are complicated to set up, or a brand’s indifferent approach to customer service doesn’t match the ‘we hear you’ messaging on its website.
One big reason this continues is that often there is no single point of ownership for the overall brand experience. Companies that do offer a cohesive brand experience often have a horizontal marketing unit acting as gatekeeper for every customer touch point. But it’s still far more common to see marketing elements, such as website, social media, print/TV advertising, and email, all operating in silos. And even when such a brand gatekeeper exists, transactional email frequently remains forgotten.
A 2017 survey of 400 marketing executives found that only 13 percent have truly integrated their digital and non-digital marketing channels. Those that have integrated were more than twice as likely to report highly effective marketing campaigns than those that haven’t.
While that’s great for the 13 percent who have integrated their marketing channels, I can’t help thinking about the opportunities — the massive opportunities — the remaining 87 percent are missing out on.
Where things often fall apart: transactional email
A customer doesn’t distinguish between a brand’s in-store signage, its website, its TV commercials, its marketing emails, or its transactional emails. For the end user, everything originates from the same source — the brand. The customer doesn’t care if separate teams are responsible for each, they just expect each component to authentically and accurately reflect the entire brand experience.
Far too often that’s not the case. Fonts, logos, and brand voice frequently vary between channels. This is particularly true for the oft-neglected transactional email. It’s not that uncommon to find, say, an order change notification written in 2008, with 2008’s branding, still active today, ten years later.
But there are many brands who are getting it right. Dropbox, Uber, and Firebox, to name just a small sample, do a great job of maintaining brand consistency across channels, including email.
Dropbox’s transactional emails, for instance, are simple, to the point, and always headed with the company’s distinct blue logo. Similarly, Airbnb’s transactional emails look like an extension of their website experience; aesthetically, there is little difference between the two.
But email brand consistency isn’t just about how the communication looks. It’s also about the tone of the copy and the attitude toward the customer. For example, Uber will send a receipt for a recent ride but instead of saying the ride took place on May 22, 2018, the subject line will say, “Your Tuesday morning ride with Uber,” providing a stronger frame of reference for the individual customer. And UK retailer Firebox sends a shipping confirmation email that continues the cheeky tone found throughout its website, including classic lines like, “Those countless hours spent crying into the pillow are over; your order has left our warehouse.”
Sadly, though, such brands are outliers. Even marketers who invest in high quality promotional emails rarely give transactional email a second thought. But for some customers, email is their primary — and preferred — method of experiencing your brand. If such a customer perceives your transactional emails as afterthoughts, how long before they also start perceiving your brand as exactly that?