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Marketers talk a lot about surprising and delighting their customers, but when you ask the customers themselves, they actually prefer consistency.

In a recent survey, 41 percent of consumers indicated that consistency was the most important factor in determining brand loyalty, compared to authenticity (15 percent), relevancy (6 percent), and transparency (only 2 percent).

Why is consistency so important? As Gartner Analyst Jake Sorofman explains, customers will forget great experiences but they will always remember being treated poorly, or even indifferently, by sales staff. They’ll also remember dealing with one part of an organization that seems to have no resemblance to the mothership.

Delight without consistency is like the fun, but wholly unreliable friend whose inconsistency eventually wears out their charms,” Sorofman writes.

Establishing and maintaining brand consistency in email can be especially challenging, particularly in a distributed marketing model. There are many ways that email communications originating from multiple sources can undermine the hard work of branding, but a solid system of centralized approval can help reduce, or even eliminate, the risk of brand inconsistency.

Why things fall apart

Businesses take different forms, but those most at risk for brand inconsistency are those that are made up of a single, corporate entity supported by a network of dealers or franchisees, or multi-product companies with marketing teams for each line. A corporate marketing department, for instance, might spend hundreds of millions of dollars crafting an overarching brand image, only to find one, rogue marketing team, working for a particular product line, undermining that effort by using out-of-date email templates. Or worse, creating their own with no oversight.

That’s not the only situation in which a brand can face such dangers. Every large company deals with the issue of silos. It’s common for retailers, for instance, to have one group in charge of brick-and-mortar sales and another running ecommerce, with little communication between the two. If an ecommerce channel sends emails promising returns will be honored at physical locations, but a brick-and-mortar store refuses to accept those returns, that inconsistency results in an extremely poor customer experience.

Considering such challenges, it’s understandable that an Accenture survey found that less than 10 percent of brands offer seamless customer experiences.

What marketers can do

The best way to ensure consistency in email is to centralize an approval process that recognizes the importance of maintaining brand standards across all channels. A cloud-based asset management solution will allow far-flung employees to work from the same templates to ensure that all emails have a consistent look and feel, no matter who is sending them.

A tiered permission system can offer flexibility but also accountability and control. Depending on the industry and its level of regulation, businesses can opt for three potential systems of email material and data management — Do It Myself (DIM), Do It With Me (DIWM) and Do It For Me (DIFM).

A DIM system gives franchisees and dealers the most autonomy, while DIFM means a centralized marketing department is calling all the shots.

But the most important aspects of brand consistency aren’t tech-based. To see that proper standards are maintained, marketers need to clearly communicate their brand guidelines and engage key stakeholders to ensure the message is clear. Continuous monitoring of all brand communications — either performed internally or by a third party — can also help push consistency closer to 100 percent.

In many ways, marketers play offense, but enforcing brand consistency is one case where they’re playing defense. If there’s no intelligent framework in place, marketers can find they’re playing Whack-A-Mole across channels. A better approach is to make the rules of the game clear to everyone who touches communications, and put processes in place for review and approval before those communications touch the customer.