The Difference Between Brand Consistency and Brand Coherence

Designing a brand’s identity is one of my favorite things. I’ve grown to love it.

Every brand has a vibe, a form, an experience that is just waiting to come out and be shared with the world. The problem is most marketers aren’t sure where to start when it comes to brand marketing. It combines a number of skills, some of which are less familiar to a traditional digital marketer – things like – storytelling, visual theory, event management, offline experience, and consumer psychology.

One of the biggest mistakes I see marketers make is obsession over “brand consistency.” I bet, you hear this all the time in meetings  - “but there needs to be a consistent brand experience.” It’s an effective way to shut down a number of conversations. Some of those conversations, by the way, are likely to be the most innovative, disruptive ones on the table.

The irony of it is those are the ideas that are at the heart of brand marketing. Those are the ones that keep a brand evolving and growing with it’s consumers.

Instead of aiming for brand consistency, todays’ marketers should be aiming for brand coherence. They might sound similar, but the difference is critical. Brand consistency is when the elements of a brand go unchanged over time. Brand coherence is when all the elements of a brand feel familiar and are effective. Coherence is when all the pieces come together and are intuitive to those experiencing them.

Brand coherence and brand consistency

Brands that center their conversations around “consistency” are committing to a stagnant strategy. I’ve seen this approach used as a weapon to stunt big conversations, big gambles, big ideas.

“We can’t launch that new campaign it’s not consistent with our brand.”
“We can’t explore that design as our social account cover, it’s not consistent with our brand.”
“We can’t test that new mailer voice, it’s not consistent with our brand.”

Oy. The goal is not consistency. It’s coherence.

Try that campaign, try that visual, try that new voice. Just don’t lose your essence in the middle of it all. Testing new executions of your brand, or stretching the brand guidelines to their max is what makes brand marketing effective. Sometimes the only thing you can do is turn your brand identity upside down.

My advice to marketers trying to understand where to take their brand in 2014, don’t let fear steer your brand marketing. Don’t get too caught up in “consistency,” but instead know your pillars and play with the rest. If you know what your brand stands for, and you market from that place, it is highly likely that “big idea” will already be coherent with your brand. And who knows…that big idea might just be…well…big.

  • Audrey Chabak

    Great post and an excellent message to share with higher-ups who may not get this way of thinking.

  • Journey2theTour

    I love this! We were just discussing this a few weeks ago. I am glad to hear my team’s thoughts confirmed by another marketer.

  • Wesley Barras

    Great post Joanna, I could not agree more. I was watching a show on Youtube about the Coke. It was fascinating. I got to see how all the cans, bottles and glass were made, in addition to the production on the soda product itself.

    The part that really stood out was when they were talking about the “coke cans.” There are workings at the bottling plants that go through great measures to ensure that the “redness” is the same on every can. All they do all day is make sure that each can coming out is “the perfect can,” in size, shape and especially color. You would think this would be easy but it is not. Maintaining consistency on millions of products rolling out, every single day, is more difficult than one would think.

    Anyway, before I go on a ramble here is my point: Coke has built up such a following over the past 130+ years that all they have to do is focus on brand consistency. They own so much of the market share that all they have to do, for the foreseeable future, is maintain it.

    Other smaller brands do not have that luxury. There are some many different ways to cross promote your brand on various mediums that you would insane not to take full advantage of each one. This is especially so if you consider the advertising budget most small business have. “Brand consistency” is are for large established corporations. “Brand coherence” is for everyone else AND if done right will help you have a leg up on bigger companies because you will have a larger net and be more versatile than them.