I hope the overly alliterative title tipped you off to the fact that I will not, except possibly in jest, be divulging the recipe to any sort of magical marketing elixir (patent pending). And it’s not because I’m keeping all the sure-fire, sales-inducing snake oil to myself. Unlike your spouse vis-à-vis the last box of Thin Mints.
You see, from the rise of psychoanalytics in the 1950s to today’s emphasis on Big Data and its avalanche of uber-granular personal information, marketers have been and remain fascinated by what makes people buy the gadgets, groceries and sundry geegaws lining retail shelves and Amazon Wish Lists. Yet despite the tireless push to crack marketing’s Enigma Machine, it turns out the formula for great, effective advertising contains nothing but variables. And as I recall, most of us marketing majors went to business school to avoid algebra.
Nonetheless, formulas, schemes and promises of sky-high ROI abound. Yet the great failing of all such formulas – aside from the resultant formulaic 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’ve ever met an actual consumer – who is almost always a person – seems pretty far-fetched. Another counter school of thought posits that people really base purchase decisions on pure emotion. Which might explain the CEO’s new Boxster, but less so your recently acquired case of Flonase.
As suggested by veteran ad man 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 are people, so sometimes they act rationally and sometimes they act emotionally. Often within the space of a few seconds. Often regarding the same product. As anyone who has ever interacted with actual consumers, or at least stood in line at the Customer Service counter at Mega-Lo-Mart, the customer is not always right. In fact, they are often quite often nuts. (You would think this would be 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’ idiosyncratic tendencies? The answer, like most things in marketing, is surprising simple yet more difficult to achieve: Be constant. Consistent branding is more than consistently putting your brand out there. It is putting the same brand out there. Not in rote, repetitive ways, of course. 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, or a new car, or HVAC service or even an attorney, you’re 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 has a lot less selling to do to make 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.
This column originally appeared in the summer 2015 edition of Omaha B2B Magazine.