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Why is consistency hard?

consistency and context marketing

Old Town Cozumel

For marketers, consistency has been a simple rule to follow for communicating across channels and optimizing customer experience.

However, it’s not always easy to achieve consistency. Let me illustrate with a story.

One of my favorite vacation spots is Mexico. Years ago I discovered Cozumel, and became infatuated by its charm. It offers all the things I enjoy in a getaway: tropical weather, beautiful beaches, authentic food and interesting tourist attractions like Mayan ruins.

Wandering around the port district is an escape into old town Mexico, where roving Mariachi bands and bazaar merchants are framed by colorful, historic architecture. It is an atmosphere that takes you into a different world.

One year I planned a return trip, but all the hotels were booked solid. The alternative was to go to Cancun instead. It was nice, but not the same experience I had in Cozumel. In particular, the shops did not have the same native charm. In fact, they weren’t shops at all. They were strip malls with all the slick stores and merchandise you’d find in any city in the U.S.

The contrast was striking. It set my marketing brain to reeling. Logically it makes sense for retail chains to create a consistent shopping experience for customers wherever in the world they may be. But the context didn’t fit my expectations. This consistency seemed, well, inconsistent. Does consistency matter as much as we have assumed?

The case for marketing consistency

Consistency is a key ingredient for social influence, brand loyalty, customer satisfaction and integrated marketing communications success. Consistent actions and messages deliver many positive benefits.

Consistency builds trust and integrity. In Return on Influence, Mark Schaefer’s book on influence marketing, he notes “a high degree of consistency is normally associated with intellectual strength, logic, rationality and honesty.”

Consistency establishes authority. This year Altimeter Group published a report on digital influence identifying topical relevance as a pillar of influence. When an individual or brand invests in a topic of interest, they earn authority and expertise from a community of focus.

Consistency builds confidence. Successful relationships thrive on predictable actions and messages. When others know what to expect of you, they are comfortable in knowing you will deliver on promises.

Consistency strengthens your message. “People cannot focus on two conversations at once,” says Harry Beckwith in Selling the Invisible. A focused message repeated over time has power to influence and persuade.

Consistency sells. “Would you like fries with that?” There is a reason fast food cashiers are trained to ask you that. Joseph Sugarman, author of Triggers, says once a purchase commitment is made, a buyer tends to act consistently with the decision and is more agreeable to buy more.

consistency and context marketing cancun shopping mall

Cancun shopping mall

Challenges to consistent messaging

The “always-on” nature of new media puts demands on business communications that make it difficult to maintain marketing consistency. In an environment of rapid change, it can even render consistency moot. Consider:

Information overload. With the sheer volume of information on the Web, social media messages can evaporate soon after they are published. One recent study found the median lifespan of a tweet to be 18 minutes. You have to question the real impact of consistent messaging in that environment.

Real-time communications. Being able to respond to events as they unfold on social media is a powerful marketing opportunity. In the heat of real-time marketing it is also an opportunity to veer off-message and off-brand.

The attention economy. Because of information overload, we are increasingly challenged to find ways to make ideas stick. In Made to Stick, Chip and Dan Heath note one characteristic of a sticky idea is that it is unexpected. One way to get someone’s attention is to break a pattern. They explain, “Humans adapt incredibly quickly to consistent patterns. Consistent sensory stimulation makes us tune out.”

Putting it in context

Are we witnessing the end of consistency as a marketing maxim?  I don’t think so. It’s more of an evolution pushing content marketing toward a higher degree of context. It’s a call to a deeper understanding of customer and prospect personas to reach them where and how they are consuming our message. And of course, this has a shiny new name: context marketing. One of the better explanations I’ve seen describes it as using known qualities of prospects to present content in a frame of reference that is natural or noteworthy.

I’d like to hear your thoughts. Has marketing consistency become irrelevant?

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