How often have you heard the mantra consistency is the key to successful branding? It's been taught as a fundamental branding principle throughout my career. Yet growing up in retail, this was not my experience. Retail brands were formed primarily by the customer experience of the shopping trip, and the shopping trip was a living, breathing, multi-dimensional entity that touched all the senses. You couldn't make it rigidly consistent, even if you tried.
So I was by struck by a recent study which showed that the brands people actively seek out online are multi-dimensional rather than single-minded. For example, Taco Bell is beautiful on Instagram, hilarious on Twitter, and inspiring in its online Live Mas campaign.
This makes intuitive sense. Brands don't just compete for attention online with other brands but with friends and family. You don't expect friends to say the same thing in the same way every time you come into contact with them, so why would you want brands to?
However, this doesn't mean that a brand no longer needs to form a coherent whole. Your friends are still recognizable every time you talk to them. But instead of obsessing over the consistency of message, image and tone, the key question for marketers should be whether each piece of content is coherent with the meaning of the brand.
This goes way beyond brand content online. Today every brand is defined by the overall customer experience, and the sharing of that experience. Such is the number and variety of touch points that make up the customer experience, they can't be controlled and polished like a piece of brand communication.
Rather, as I found with retail brands, three major elements need to be aligned:
- Be clear about what the brand stands for, and why customers should care. If it's not clear, then you can't expect customers or employees to be.
- Flow this through everything the brand produces or owns. The products, the store environment, the online properties, and all the brand communication should feel a part of the same story.
- Engage the employees in living and breathing the brand, so that their behaviors are in line with what the brand stands for.
Of course, this is much harder than creating a rigidly consistent image through marketing. It's an undertaking for the whole company, from the CEO down.
But whenever and wherever customers experience the brand, it will still feel part of a coherent whole.
And by being multi-dimensional, it will also feel more human...