Balancing Consistency and Creativity: Choreographing Brand Success

You can’t build a distinctive system on designs that seem to intentionally avoid creative expression; you have to cultivate a richer ecosystem for your brand, one that balances raw creativity with strategic consistency.

Illustration by Henri Campeã

You can’t build a distinctive system on designs that seem to intentionally avoid creative expression; you have to cultivate a richer ecosystem for your brand, one that balances raw creativity with strategic consistency.

A client once told me that the ultimate goal of any agency should be to balance solid strategic foundations and systems thinking with raw creativity and expression. Often agencies skew one way or the other - they are strategic but lack creative flair, or have oodles of raw creative talent but lack the strategic thinking that transforms artistry into impact. 

The wisdom stuck: when I opened the doors for Sister Mary, I knew my vision was to cultivate a house attitude that balances both, thriving at the intersection of strategy and art. Afterall, a solution can start with an image that ultimately inspires a strategy. Or a piece of writing can paint a picture in your mind. The back and forth nature of working across the left brain and right brain is where the magic happens. Art can be powerful, and ideas can be beautiful.

Creatively, it’s crucial for me to maintain this approach: it keeps my skills sharp, my creative curiosity ticking, and my hunger to help clients succeed and shine in the long run alive. It engenders a respect for the legacies I’m working with – whether longstanding or just beginning – and a drive to help every brand I partner with unlock their uniquely beautiful and powerful presence in the world.

I’ve seen too many agencies lose their way as they grow – falling into the trap of following transient trends to provide instant, but hollow and unsustainable satisfaction for clients, or boxing themselves into certain ways of thinking and designing, which often keeps their clients from making the kind of splash they hope for. Both of these paths dull curiosity and discourage the kind of out-of-the-box, intuitive, client-first thinking that most great creative is born from. 

I could say the same for brands themselves: if you lean too heavily into responding to trends, you lose sight of the creative spark – the powerful idea – that made your presence unique. But if you try too hard to engineer a rigorous, consistent system of expression, you miss out on opportunities to connect with your audience, and to evolve your offer.

To succeed, agencies and brands alike have to follow the advice my client offered me: we have to balance solid strategic foundations and systems thinking with raw creative expression. 

Cultivate expansive attitude over strict style

One of my personal favorite brands at the moment is the tinned fish company, Fishwife. I love the product, but my devotion to the brand is almost entirely down to the daring, creative way Fishwife shows up in the world. 

The Fishwife brand is unmistakable, but not for the usual reasons: they aren’t thriving because they slap their logo on everything; they’re capturing customers' imaginations through a rich brand world that invites people to want to align themselves with the brand’s attitude. It’s more than a well-crafted brand world, it’s a compelling aesthetic that customers want to buy into, a witty tongue-in-cheek name that transforms being a tinned fish fan into an aspirational lifestyle, and a vivid and wide-ranging curation of imagery that speaks to how the brand sees itself, and the kind of creative risks its willing to take in order to be itself most fully. 

That distinctive yet flexible ecosystem of illustrative art is likely the brand's most effective and ownable asset, not its suite of standard IP: logo, wordmark, hero font. All of Fishwife’s classic assets are extensions of its bold attitude, allowing the brand to find harmony between raw creativity and consistent branding. 

Take up a creative challenge

Challenger brands – big, small, new and old – are particularly adept at launching exciting, enticing creative. They’re intent on disrupting the status quo, on breaking consistent buying patterns, and heralding in a new era in which they become the leaders of their category. They want to challenge their competitors’ consistent success, so their approach to consistency has to be different; creative risks give them an edge.

The toilet paper upstart, Who Gives a Crap, is a great example. Competitors like Andrex and Charmin successfully rely on animal mascots and very little brand personality, until Who Gives a Crap broke through, taking creative risks to turn a functional necessity into a delightful, interest-piquing experience and turning their toilet paper into an unexpectedly covetous item. These days, if you’re visiting a friend and notice toilet paper wrapped in artful packaging stowed in their bathroom, you’ll not only recognize it as Who Gives a Crap even without any obvious branding, but you’ll appreciate it as a visual treat - something you never thought to expect from toilet paper before. 

On a global scale, Burger King upped the ante on creativity to great success in 2021, after years of sitting in the shadows of McDonalds’ often award-winning creative. 

The rebrand was a huge success largely because of the expressive illustrations by Cachette Jack, and the way those designs were then brought to life in motion. And this rebrand didn’t just look amazing: it means something. The visual cues expressed a timeless, but wholly unique charm that clearly screams: Burger King. This creative is designed to actively express something meaningful. It looks good, and it feels right. In other words, The beauty of Burger King’s brand idea has been perfectly captured through the power of the art. 

Embracing creativity helped Who Gives A Crap challenge their way to the top. It helped Burger King claim a renewed cultural relevance, and showed just how powerful prioritizing raw creativity can be at scale. 

But, note that the creative risks these brands took was deftly underscored by a strategic vision that ensured the bold art and strong personalities were consistently in service to the brand’s overall impact.

Leave room for evolution

Some brands, especially when starting out, overcorrect their competitors’ lack of creativity with deliciously bold and unique visual and verbal identities that succeed in standing out from the pack. 

Take cannabis brand, Beboe. The brand launched with an attention-grabbing, highly creative design. The raw creativity was there, and buyers loved it. But, Beboe lacked a vision for how to flex that creative as they scaled. The brand failed to identify which assets which would remain into their future, and which ones they could flex. The result was a bland, ineffective strategy to copy this recognisable illustration across all products, without the same spark of creativity that underrode its first appearance. In launching with such a creative design, they had set themselves up as an expressive brand, but then failed to continue to deliver new news in a meaningful way. 

On the flipside, Butter, another new cannabis brand, shies so far away from embracing expressiveness that, while their branding looks clever on the surface, it’s almost immediately forgettable. Beboe may have missed the mark and failed to find ways to refresh their image as they extended their brand, but Butter never entered the race in the first place. Sure, the Butter branding makes consistency a piece of cake (or at least a stick of butter), but what’s the point in consistently signaling forgettable branding with little room for evolution?

You can’t build a distinctive system on designs that seem to intentionally avoid creative expression; you have to cultivate a richer ecosystem for your brand, one that balances raw creativity with strategic consistency. 

Tip the scales in your favor

When you find the unique golden ratio of creativity and consistency that compliments your brand, there’s no telling where you can go or how you can grow. But you don’t have to go on the journey to perfect balance alone: you can find a creative partner to help you tip the scales in your favor.

Sister Mary might just be the balancing weight you need: get in touch if you need help identifying and accentuating the most compelling assets of your present branding, or feel ready to reimagine your brand with raw creativity and consistency leading the charge in harmony.