Sometimes it’s valuable to go back and question some of our most basic assumptions about marketing. There are numerous definitions of a brand, probably the most useful one loosely described as “the collection of perceptions and beliefs a customer has about a company’s products and services”. The standard practice to create a brand is the notion that a brand must be consistent at all times.

At the risk of sounding like a high school debating captain, I will start with the dictionary definition of the word consistent:

1. acting or done in the same way over time, especially so as to be fair or accurate. "the parents are being consistent and firm in their reactions"
2. (of an argument or set of ideas) not containing any logical contradictions. "a consistent explanation"

I should point out that this definition comes from Google (if I quoted the Oxford English Dictionary I would be showing my age!).

The duality of the definition is revealing.

If you are Type 1 consistent (in other words you always act the same way) it’s almost impossible to claim that you are relevant to a wide audience with differing needs. The classic brand guideline (our colour is always X, the logo always goes in spot Y, and all messages must ladder up to Z) is the output of this notion of consistency. This explains why so few of them are followed to the letter. It begs the question then, why are they even created?

Type 2 consistent however is a lot more flexible. It lowers the bar of “same action” to a set of actions that can be different, so long as they do not contradict one another.

This is not an academic argument, because the practice of Type 1 vs Type 2 consistency can have a dramatic impact on how you manage your brand. Monitoring for a contradiction is far more subjective than monitoring for the absolute sameness of one action to another, so too often we opt for the latter.  In the process we sacrifice relevance to the customer we are trying to reach.

Maybe a better word than “consistent” is “recognisable”. If you are “recognisable and relevant” surely that’s the ultimate win - delivering both real and lasting impact? 

So go on, live a little. Be a Type 2. Or you could choose to abandon the word all together!

Things to think about:

  • Are you using your brand as a springboard or a straight-jacket?
  • When you look for consistency in your marketing, are you looking for sameness or lack of contradiction?
  • Have you looked at your brand from the points of view of your different customer segments?
  • Have you defined a set of behaviours that logically fit together rather than try and do the same thing over and over?