The idea that brand consistency leads to positive customer experience and long-term loyalty is nothing new. Pick any of our era’s most iconic names – Apple, Coke, McDonalds – and the commercial power of constancy is clear. Busy lives rely on easy, trusted choices.
Yet to what extent does the consistency principle consciously figure in consumers’ decision making processes, if at all? Outside the marketing department does consistency truly deserve its holy grail like status?
In order to answer this question, research and review specialist, Software Advice, let us use their research data. They asked 200 consumers directly to establish, first-hand, what really shapes the individual brand experience. Their goal was simple: to identify what customers really value when it comes to maintaining positive relationships with brands.
Consistency matters most to customers
The results of the Software Advice survey were striking. 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%). But why is consistency so critical to the consumer/brand relationship, and what makes it such a powerful business asset?
Consistency is personal
Given the comparatively low numbers for authenticity, relevancy and transparency, the research suggests that consumers care far less about aspects that shape their perception of a brand, than they do about that which determines their experience of it. So while we see many brands promote qualities such as authenticity and transparency in value statements and customer guarantees, for the consumer these matter little in comparison to brand consistency. In other words, it seems consumers make a distinction between their understanding of a brand and the way it makes them feel. We may condemn the shameful tax avoidance of Starbucks, Amazon, Google and the rest, but are we as disappointed by their shady finances as we are by a substandard cup of coffee, or overdue delivery?
What this implies is that the effect of brand consistency - or inconsistency - is fundamentally a personal experience; it may not always be possible to pinpoint the exact cause of our satisfaction or dissatisfaction but we know it when we feel it. In much the same way as we choose our friends and partners, when we buy into a brand, we buy into what it stands for, how it behaves and what it means to us. We understand these things because whether we consciously recognise it or not, we’ve seen or heard the brand’s communications and made a judgement to become part of that. Consistent brands assure us our next experience will make us feel as good as last time, a source of satisfaction we can rely on and look forward to. The relationship carries expectations and when these fall short we feel let down; we look elsewhere.
Consistency is powerful
That consistency is shown to affect consumers at an intuitive or emotional level suggests its power of influence in the global, socially empowered marketplace, isn’t over-estimated. Yet while this certainly raises the stakes for businesses when things go wrong, it also means when things go right brand consistency can be leveraged to extremes.
When Software Advice asked respondents how changes such as tone in advertising or promotional emails, logo and packaging, even company ownership, would make them feel, 63% stated they wouldn’t react negatively at all. So consistency can withstand change - and fairly hefty change at that.
For any business this is good news. Naturally in the course of growth and brand management, an organisation’s needs and circumstances change. That brand consistency creates room, and something of a safety net, in which businesses and customers can carry on as normal, means major developments don’t have to mean risk for brands.
When the ready-to-eat food and beverage retailer, Pret a Manger sold a 33% stake in the company to McDonalds a number of years ago, everyone believed this formally independent business would change for the worse. In reality Pret continued to be driven by its commitment to fresh food handmade with great ingredients, and empowered staff able to reward customers. Some years later when Pret was sold again, amid the same concerns, its customer experience remained as faithful as always to the company’s original ideals. In the same way, loyal drinkers of Innocent smoothies still enjoy the same fruit-crushing quirkiness they’ve come to expect from the £500 market stall start-up, despite investment from Coca Cola in 2009 and again in 2013.
Consistency is our common quest
More and more businesses are looking to brand management software to centralise brand materials and guidelines for employees – in order to drive consistency and turn staff into brand ambassadors. When I asked Andrew Friedenthal of Software Advice about his thoughts on the survey he said, "The best way to remain consistent is for all teams within the company to stay in constant conversation with one another. Brand management software creates the infrastructure through which a company's marketing can be better managed, so that all branding decisions stay consistent and intentional."
When we talk about consistency at Brandworkz we’re talking about providing companies with the digital tools they need to deliver on their promise whatever the encounter – online, in-store, on the phone, via app or face to face. Ultimately it’s about giving marketers and the wider teams within a business the confidence, materials and know-how to create positive experiences for customers.
But technology aside, the research carried out by Software Advice confirms consumers value brand consistency for its personal and emotional assurances, making it less a 21st century marketing objective, and more a simple part of being human. When we consider that alongside the impact of brand consistency on billions of purchasing decisions every day, its potential power and influence mean it’s a quest that we as marketers and brand owners should all be undertaking.
Anna Cotton is head of marketing at Brandworkz