One of the key marketing goals of any organisation is that all marketing materials are consistent. Quite often there are defined guidelines for this.

Yet there are many instances where an organisation’s website is adrift from the offline materials – sometimes a little, sometimes by a mile. If corporate guidelines are being policed, how does this happen?

Limitations of the Web

One of the key ways in which websites can’t quite match print is that of typography. The rich choices of typefaces available for brochures simply isn’t available for websites – which are limited to using fonts the designer is confident will be on the visitor’s machine (so in real terms Arial, Times and Helvetica are the core website choices). This is set to change, as Web fonts can now be downloaded with the rest of the website itself when the page is loaded – however, this solution doesn’t quitework perfectly yet, especially for older versions of Internet Explorer.

It’s also very difficult to reproduce many of the elements of design finesse which are common in print: drop capital letters, flowing text around a circularimage and using text at angles, for example.

Inexperienced website designers

Website design is an industry with a relative low cost of entry – all you need is a computer and a text editor and you’re away. Consequently, many website designers have never benefited from formal design training. Concepts which are second nature to print-based graphic designers can be unknown to some website developers. I’m all for people earning a living, but is it really wise to trust your worldwide brand to a designer who isn’t formally trained?

Off-the-shelf designs

There are lots of companies offering instant websites, using a set of templates. You pay £50, download the templates and then fill in the blanks. This can be a great idea for someone in a rush, or with a really tight budget – but it’s a sure way of getting a website that isn’t unique. It can’t properly meet the needs of your business, or support its brand values, because it’s been designed in a vacuum – with any old customer in mind.

A growing divide

Interestingly, one of the ways that online and offline brands can diverge is when printed communications have too little control. I’ve seen perfectly matched online and offline brands drift apart in not much more than a year. It happens a little at a time – one new element is introduced in a leaflet, someone likes it and then it becomes part of the brand ‘via the back door’. Once you add in half a dozen or so elements, the brand can have totally changed – if you change the typeface, style or theme of images, core colours, then you effectively create a new brand. A year or so down the line, someone says ‘why doesn’t our website match?’ and yet the website has remained consistent and true to the defined brand. This issue becomes worse when multiple designers are used for different print projects, each keen to stamp their own creativity on what they do. A stakeholder who isn’t aware of the corporate guidelines approves it, it moves into circulation and its new design elements take hold.

What’s to be done?

This is a difficult area to police, but keeping a tight rein on the brand is important. Having defined branding guidelines is vital – but adhering to those is more important. There should be ‘wriggle room’ in a brand, so that new things can be tried, or different concepts exploited in a specific context, but the goal should always be that the recipient of printed marketing and the visitor to a website always experience the same visual branding. And, if one needs to change, then the other should change too.