Inconsistency is what people want

18 Dec 2014|Paul Cowper

Most brand owners believe fervently in delivering consistency, either of the product or experience they offer. It’s what they’ve had drummed into them as good practitioners of a successful brand. And yet increasingly there seems to be a change of heart as brands are engaging people on the basis of their inconsistencies, whether real or perceived.

For a long time it’s been convenient for brands to operate on the assumption that quality is naturally equated with consistency and that’s entirely understandable. If you have a factory or business model that works, you seek to grow by simply scaling it up. You deliver consistency because it works for the structure of the business, and it’s something you can operationally manage. That’s fine for as long as consistency is what people want, and there are plenty of instances in which that works. How many times have you found yourself being reassured by the golden arches of McDonald’s, a known quantity the world over or the big blue box of Ikea, knowing precisely what to expect – meatballs and flatpacks?

But in the last few years inconsistency hasn’t necessarily been regarded as unacceptable. When it reveals authenticity it’s becoming a celebrated characteristic. Brands in their numbers have traded up a little more on their genuineness, passion and character than the consistency. If we take beer, the “craft” sector has emerged strongly through various brands, Brew Dog being a particularly vocal one. These craft beer brands aren’t promising ruthless consistency, but instead offer a different level of love for the product, by creating minor variations during the production process that make the brew more “real” (even if that variation is at times manufactured or even illusory).

On the high street, restaurant chains Leon and Bill’s are expanding fast on the promise of doing things the ‘proper’ way. Bill’s started from a man who grew up planting, picking and pruning fruit and vegetables, turning that passion into a café-come-grocery offering a unique experience rather than churning out the typical chain restaurant offer. Leon is all about natural fast food; changing menus with the rhythm of nature their focus is not on mass producing the same food consistently.

There’s a wave of brands today working this “trust us, we’re normal guys just like you” vein, but this really isn’t new. Think of Ben & Jerry’s, Green and Blacks, Body Shop, Innocent, Pret a Manger, all about doing things ‘properly’ and all eventually acquired or invested in by bigger multinationals because they couldn’t capture or re-create what these entrepreneurial brands had.

So what’s this all about, why might we want something inconsistent? Well we don’t really. But we have started to view total homogeneity with some suspicion. It’s begun to imply something corporate, large scale, uncaring and vitally uncared for – the lack of human touch. The clinical control required to guarantee total consistency could be said to suggest the mechanical hand of commerce.

Let’s not get carried away though. This is a big trend in sectors like food, drink and fashion, but there are many sectors in which inconsistency would be disastrous. Automotive for example, no one wants an idiosyncratic car! But what they do still want is the feeling that the brand they’re buying into has character, and is the result of passion, not avarice.

So it’s worthwhile asking yourself what you’re proactively doing to demonstrate your care for your product or experience and to let a little of yourself or your business show through. It’s what people want, and it’s increasingly what they expect. Give it a try. You’ll be surprised just how much is about what you do and not just how you talk.

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