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It’s time to turn to Fundamental Marketing Truth #6: “Complementary is More Important than Consistent.”

Consistency is often considered to be one of the most important factors that help brands create strong interest from customers. Examples like McDonald’s are often given, as in, “You can get the same hamburger at McDonald’s restaurants throughout the entire world. They have a really strong brand.”

But is consistency really enough to create a strong brand?

Consider the impressions that customers have of you or your competitors. If customers really love your company (or your competitors), chances are they have multi-faceted, detailed beliefs about you. Like a great character in a story, they perceive your brand personality as multi-dimensional, complex and interesting. If a friend asked one of these customers about you, they could talk non-stop for 15 minutes, describing many things about you.

Could you create rich, complex beliefs like these in your customers’ minds just by being consistent? Or is something else at work?

To understand this, let’s think about how people perceive the world around them. We are constantly integrating hundreds or thousands of different inputs into a composite picture of our environment. Our brains are compulsive synthesizers, blending everything we sense into a composite story. We have evolved to “make sense” of our environment. We couldn’t survive if we didn’t.

Similarly, this synthesizing process is at work when customers create their beliefs about your company, your brand or your products. As I wrote about in Fundamental Marketing Truth #5, integrated marketing is not something marketers do, it is something customers do. Customers are continually integrating many different kinds of inputs from your company into a comprehensive self-authored story about you.

But if you want customers to use this habit of synthesis to create strong, compelling brand impressions about your company, the interactions they have with your company need to be more than consistent. These interactions need to complement each other.

When multiple interactions customers have with your company blend, in complement, to create a strong sense of Brand Harmony, your customers will perceive an interesting, memorable story, and be more likely to act on their beliefs. On the contrary, focus solely on delivering consistency, and your message will not only be uninteresting to your customers, it will likely be lost among the thousands of other messages your customers are exposed to every day.

If you want customers to love you, consistency is not enough. As Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “Consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” Your customers don’t have little minds, so you need to create interactions that complement each other, creating Brand Harmony.

Here are some examples of Brand Harmony, where complementary is more important than consistency:

  • All the rides at Disneyworld are not consistent (Space Mountain isn’t the same as It’s a Small World), but they complement each other in a way that creates an overall, unified Disneyworld experience.
  • The ease and accessibility of the Apple Genius Bar complements the ease and accessibility of Apple’s user interfaces, without being identical or consistent.
  • That family-owned Italian restaurant on the corner that you love… the owner, the wait staff, the menu items and the overall atmosphere complement each other to create a warm, homey atmosphere.

Practical application: Want customers to love you? Yes? Ok, then think of your overall customer experience in a way that is much more Hollywood than Madison Avenue. What I mean by this: You want to orchestrate your overall customer experience in a way that tells an interesting story, weaving in lots of elements and story components similar to how a filmmaker weaves many pieces together to create a compelling movie. Avoid the advertising-based mindset that claims the secret to persuading customers is exposing them to repeated, simple, consistent messages. It isn’t.

You need to look at marketing as a whole-company affair, in which all of the different areas in your company play complementary, mutually-reinforcing roles, creating a rich set of inputs that your customers can blend together to create great stories about you in their minds. It’s not the individual messages your company communicates that count, it’s how all of your company’s messages blend to tell one rich, complementary, compelling, persuasive story.







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