The Key to Brand Consistency: Are You Barking When You Should Quack?

23 Apr 2012|Bryony Ranford

Spontaneity is exciting, but when it comes to building relationships, it’s consistency that counts.  And no more so than with brands.  Maintaining consistency without sacrificing excitment is one of the toughest challenges for brand owners.  And it’s where many brands falter.

Consistency builds recognition, familiarity and ultimately trust.  And as with personal relationships, when brands behave erratically, we question what we thought we knew. And in the worst case we re-evaluate our choices.

As an old saying goes, “if your brand looks like a duck, and swims like a dog – people will mistrust it.”

More effective marketing
Simply put, consistency makes marketing efforts more effective.  The more people recognize your brand, the more likely they are to pay attention and engage with it.

But let’s be clear, consistency doesn’t mean mindless repetition. Because that would lead to redundancy and boredom. Consistency means effectively managing the multi-sensory experience of your brand, across all it’s touchpoints, so that all the elements come together to build a coherent brand story.

This challenge is exacerbated in today’s breakneck-paced, interactive marketing environment.

The days of the one-size fits all messaging, broadcast twice a year through two key media channels are dead and gone.  Even the least sophisticated markets battle with fragmentation and noise.   And we operate in an age where mobile and social media technologies enable consumers to share their views and respond instantly to brand activity (good or bad).  Consumers want to be part of the conversation and are increasingly shaping brand stories, whether brand owners like it or not.

This means that brand owners must deliver a clearer brief to the agencies they work with to deliver consistent on-brand activations.

New dynamic, new opportunity
The good news?  As any marketer knows, the opportunity for deeper, more meaningful connections with people, and what they care about, has never been greater. Just look how Nike+ (the new run-tracking software with GPS) has transformed the brand into fitness guru, motivator, record keeper and running community co-ordinator.

Another great example is P&G’s Secret deodorant which is forging closer connection with teen girls in the US via an interactive anti-bully campaign (Mean Stinks) that provides support, participation and empowerment around an issue that really matters.

The down side? The risk of sending out mixed messages (barking when you should quack) has never been greater.  We can all readily recall situations where a brand service experience didn’t live up to the advertising promise. Or a case where the brand on-line felt completely different from the bricks and mortar experience.  Highly successful brands are not immune to coming unstuck with mixed messages.

For example, Wal-mart the well-established unpretentious brand of the common man and provider of “everyday low prices” found itself under fire for behaving like a profit-hungry bully in relation to its employee and supplier strategies.

The complexities of managing your brand story across multiple touchpoints have never been greater. Incensed consumers have the power to make their dissatisfaction very public, very quickly. Case in point, dissatisfied Dell customer Jeff Jarvis created a ‘Dell Sucks’ blog and created an anti-fan club.  Similarly, United Airlines ignored complaints from an upset passenger who had watched his guitar being badly handled by baggage handlers. He posted a video on YouTube and received over 5 millions of hits.

The new communication dynamic is more interactive, more fluid and more continuous.  And marketers need tools that will articulate their brand in a way that gives them enough granularity to brief any agency (from PR to point of sales), but enough flexibility built in to allow the brand to stretch and grow into the future. Yet many marketers are still working with brand tools  developed more than 30yrs ago.  Frameworks that simply aren’t equipped to help marketers in today’s environment.

Learning from success
Some brands have mastered the art of consistency and are able to walk and talk in ways that make them instantly recognizable.

Brands like Apple, All-state, The Economist, Mini and Lexus reinforce our expectations where ever we encounter them (in store, in everyday life , in advertising, on-line,  where they hang out, the company they keep, what they support etc).

So, what is their secret?  These brands have clarity about what they do and who they are. They have a clear sense of purpose that enables them to respond and interact in a consistent way. This clarity enables them to effectively manage their brand story.

Character is king
So, what is getting in the way for other brands? Well, most traditional brand positioning models focus on WHAT a brand does (its strategy). Precious few provide enough focus on WHO the brand is (its character) and HOW it will deliver its point of difference in a unique and distinctive way.

Understanding brand character drives consistency by providing clarity around two key questions. Firstly, when you know your brand’s core character it’s easier to clarify how the brand should express itself across multiple channels.  And it’s easier to develop guidelines on how the brand will talk. What tone will it take?  What language would it use? How it would dress?

Understanding how your brand is going to interact – and being able to clearly articulate this – is essential for driving consistency across multiple agency partners and increasingly interactive touchpoints.

Secondly, character clarifies a brand’s purpose. What drives the brand forward and shapes how the brand responds to changing situations. When faced with change what will the brand’s first priority be?  To reassure and restore order?  To boldly explore new opportunities?  To relish the opportunity to upset the status quo?  Understanding what drives a brand makes millions of marketing decisions easier to make.

Character is the difference between Virgin and British Airways.  But in most categories, that level of diffentiation is missing.  And brands are losing their way as a result.

Written by Bryony Ranford, Regional Development Director, Asia Pacific.

To find out more about how character clarity can drive more consistent brand activations across the marketing mix watch the video below or email, and ask about BrandSum, our character-driven positioning framework.

Part 2:  Mining Culture for Creative Inspiration

Part 3:  Making the Brief Work

Part 4:  How We Do It.

Thumbnail image sourced from Thinkstock

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