How to avoid Brand Botox and create authenticity

Consistency in brand expression is critical, but what if our drive for consistency damages a brand or, at least, limits its potential?
Based on our experience with CMOs across many industry categories, it is clear that a preponderance of brand stewards are hyper focused on managing the consistency of brand expression―albeit across a rapidly growing and evolving range of analog, digital, and experiential brand touchpoints. This quest for consistency is supported by dashboards, advanced analytics, online brand resource centers, and more data than ever before.

Brands that are finely tuned to be overly consistent across every interaction, run the risk of coming across as stiff, uninteresting, and/or lacking authenticity. Brands such as Sears (stiff), Dell (uninteresting) or Subway (inauthentic) fall into this category. In response, there is an emerging trend towards deliberate imperfection. Simply conduct a Google images search on “Google logos” or “MTV logos” to see some striking examples. What you discover is an exceptionally broad spectrum of graphic iterations which have been deliberately executed to add texture, depth, humanity, and a sense that these brands are actively engaged in the world around them. To the “logo cops” of the past, this resembles the lower desk drawer with the piles of deviations resulting from the uninformed, misguided mavericks…all of whom must be reined in.

As we peek through the lens of today and how it colors the creation of enduring brands, it is clear people are consuming brands in a multitude of ways that are personalized to their needs. In addition, we expect our interactions and experiences with the brands that matter to us to be more dynamic and organic. In this new world, brands need to be more energized, have more texture, and be more adaptive. The notion of strict consistency should be replaced with cohesiveness, which allows for purposeful variation, and creates exciting opportunities for today’s brand stewards. However, this comes with obvious challenges.

How many times have you heard a brand described as if it were a person? Personality, voice, character, and promise are all words that we use to crystallize a brand platform, which includes a brand vision, mission, values, and tone of voice. These words, images, and experiences are all orchestrated to create another human characteristic―an emotional connection. But think about it, how boring and synthetic would a person seem if they maintained the same persona during times of happiness, sadness, exhilaration, or surprise…In fact how would you even know they were experiencing emotions at all? Our quirks and unique characteristics make us interesting, and well…human. And, as branders, we need to have the insight and courage to inject meaningful imperfections into our brands to avoid “Brand Botox.”

For example, in an attempt to have their pizzas appear more authentic, Pizza Hut is practicing deliberate imperfection. Employees are being encouraged to take more freedom when preparing their hand-tossed pies in order to give a more of a handcrafted, one-of-a-kind look. There is also a growing trend by companies to avoid having their food look “processed” or like it’s stamped out on an assembly line. For instance, Kraft Foods has worked hard to present its Carving Board line in a way that makes it look like the product is sliced―showcasing uneven slabs of thick turkey, ham, and beef―rather than the perfectly manufactured ovals that are the norm for processed lunchmeat. Similarly, within service companies, people are trained on the technical and fundamentals aspects of the offering, but encouraged to engage with customers and allow their personalities to come through. This creates variation, but the experience is more authentic and can deepen the connections people develop with brands, which translates into loyalty―a pure measure of brand strength. A very good example of this can be found at Chipotle. You can walk into any one of their stores and order a quesadilla, nachos, or even quesatiro―none of which can actually be found on their menu. Their employees are more than happy to make almost anything out of the ingredients they have on hand, which has contributed to a diehard brand following.

The key is to practice purposeful and informed imperfection. This requires deeper insights gleaned from those you serve to create a more organic and dynamic brandsphere. Such insight can provide a roadmap that bakes-in variation while ensuring our connections remain cohesive, relevant, and motivating. As a brand takes hold in the minds of target audiences, connections are created, which ladder to even newer connections and even newer possibilities. Cohesiveness allows these planned variations to tell different parts or chapters of our brand story, which is profoundly richer than the stilted predictability of militaristic consistency.

This article is part of a series on #OldBanking. It symbolizes the paradigm shift in the banking industry from the traditional transactional model of retail delivery to a customer-centric model focused on creating experiences and fostering relationships. Join the conversation by using #OldBanking on Twitter.

Rick Jacobs is a Principal at Monigle and is a big proponent of challenging commonly held beliefs.

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Rick Jacobs
March 31, 2014 By Rick Jacobs