Brand consistency – a heretic’s perspective

Royale with cheese

Anyone who has read any of the traditional marketing textbooks or searched on-line will know that maintaining brand consistency is seen as one of the key requirements for brand success.

There is some evidence as The Drum reported in 2016 that “when respondents were asked what influenced their loyalty to brands, 41% identified consistency as a more important factor than authenticity (15%), relevancy (6%) and transparency (2%).”

The argument runs that with our busy lives we like to rely on easy, trusted choices so brand consistency is seen as key to ensuring positive customer experiences, building trust and gaining long-term loyalty. The Drum article even labelled it as “The Holy Grail of positive brand experience”.

It is at this point that I want to declare myself a heretic.

As someone who doesn’t particularly like rules, I must admit I tend to look for the exception to any rule suggested to me, and when I look at brand consistency I can find many more than the nominal ‘one’.

Let’s start with perhaps the most obvious part of the brand – its name. You would think that this would be the most immoveable object when it came to brand consistency, but then have you been to a Burger King in Australia. No but I have been to a Hungry Jack’s. Do you buy ‘Big labels at small prices’ oat TK Maxx? Well you do if like me you live in the UK but in States you’ll be visiting T.J. Maxx. Do you prefer Becel or Flora or can’t you tell the difference?

Moving on to products, my favourite example is perhaps best illuminated by watching the scene in Pulp Fiction where John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson discuss “the little differences” between the US and Europe:

Vincent: But you know what the funniest thing about Europe is?
Jules: What?
Vincent: It's the little differences. I mean, they got the same shit over there that we got here, but it's's just, there it's a little different.
Jules: Example?
Vincent: All right. Well, you can walk into a movie theater in Amsterdam and buy a beer. And I don't mean just like in no paper cup; I'm talking about a glass of beer. And in Paris, you can buy a beer at McDonald's. And you know what they call a Quarter Pounder with Cheese in Paris?
Jules: They don't call it a Quarter Pounder with Cheese?
Vincent: Nah, man, they got the metric system. They wouldn't know what the f**k a Quarter Pounder is.
Jules: What do they call it?
Vincent: They call it a "Royale with Cheese."
Jules: "Royale with Cheese."?
Vincent: That's right.

And finally to take the point about McDonalds and consistency one step further; if you go to a McDonalds in India there won’t be any beef – so there won’t be any Big Macs, any beef burgers, any Quarter Pounders with Cheese or even any Royale with Cheeses.

In short, brand consistency is often an important principle but can be applied too rigidly, sometimes there is a need for regional and cultural flexibility. The core of any brand is crucial but in today’s modern world it is often multi-faceted, so my recommendation would be, with a nod to Porras and Collins, to preserve your core whilst stimulating change and fostering flexibility.

This piece was by Giles Lury. Follow him here @GilesLury