Article published in Summer 2015 B2B.
I hope the overly alliterative title tipped you off that I will not, except possibly in jest, divulge the recipe to any sort of magical marketing elixir (patent pending). And it is not because I’m keeping all the sure-fire, sales-inducing snake oil. Unlike your spouse vis-à-vis the last box of Thin Mints.
From the rise of psychoanalytics in the 1950s to today’s emphasis on big data and its avalanche of Über-granular personal information, marketers have been, and remain, fascinated by what makes people buy the gadgets, groceries, and gewgaws lining retail shelves and Amazon Wish Lists. Yet despite the tireless push to crack marketing’s enigma machine, it turns out the formula for effective advertising contains nothing but variables. As I recall, most marketing majors went to business school to avoid algebra.
Formulas, schemes, and promises of sky-high ROIs abound; yet the great failing of all such formulas—aside from the resultant stylized marketing plans and creative work—is that they assume consumers behave in rational ways. Ways that can be measured, predicted, influenced, and repeated. Which, if you have ever met an actual consumer, seems pretty far-fetched. Another counter-school of thought posits that people base purchase decisions on pure emotion; which might well explain the CEOs new Boxster, but less so your recently acquired case of Flonase.
As suggested by Bob Hoffman (co-founder of Hoffman Lewis and author of The Ad Contrarian blog) in Quantum Advertising, the answer lies somewhere in the middle. People sometimes act rationally and sometimes act emotionally. Often within the space of a few seconds. Often regarding the same product. Anyone who has ever interacted with actual consumers, or at least stood in line at the customer service counter at Mega-Lo-Mart, knows the customer is not always right. In fact, they are quite often nuts. (You would think this is fairly common knowledge in the halls of most ad agencies, but the desire to sell something concrete—and companies’ preferences for purchasing the same—often creates a cognitive dissonance that is difficult to dissuade.)
So what, exactly, is a brand to do to combat consumers’ idiosyncrasies? The answer, like most things in marketing, is surprisingly simple, yet more difficult to achieve: be consistent. Consistent branding is more than routinely putting your brand out there. It is routinely putting the same brand out there. Not in rote, repetitive ways. Your message still has to be inventive, relevant, entertaining, etc. But it must also be consistent across the board with regards to tone, personality, promises, etc.
Because when you embrace constancy, you are positioned for those moments when consumers really do need (rational) or want (emotional) you. Your product and message may not be relevant to a person every time they see it. But that moment a person needs a dry cleaner, new car, HVAC service, or even an attorney, you are already in their evoked set of options. Not a nebulous entity that does something possibly related to their need, but a known brand that now must market themselves less to close the actual sale.
Constancy is not easy, especially in this day of failing faster and rapid iteration. But those things should enhance consistent branding, not supplant it. Keep your foundation, your core, the soul of your brand unchanging, and tweak your tactics as you go. Always fresh, but always focused. It’s not exactly a formula, but it is a pretty decent recipe.