Personal branding & consistency – the great debate part 1

As an ex-brand marketer there are certain tenets of branding that just can’t be played with. I’m a Leo and I’m stubborn. I can’t help it. One of these is consistency. All great brands are built on consistency. Without consistency, people don’t know what they can rely on you for or what to expect from you.

People need to know which box to put you in (in their heads) and if you confuse them, they can’t put you in a box and you’re a floater. Floaters drift off never to be remembered again. It’s a sad story.

So, you can imagine the sort of week I had when not one but TWO instances dared to suggest to me that consistency is not only something NOT to strive for, but that in the context of personal branding, impossible to achieve while being authentic.

WTF?! I know. If you need to take a moment and grab some fresh air, I understand. I’ll still be here.

courtesy @snowbadger

The first chink in my week came when Simon Manchipp @manchipp (he on the left) let me have a sneak preview of his design agency’s new website. Simon’s desgin agency SomeOne are a highly respected agency and are sought after by big brands for big branding projects. One of their current projects includes the Eurostar rebrand. Yeah. This guy knows his stuff.

So, to get a sneak peek of their new website is not something I’m going to pass by. I’m a tad nosey too.

The page headed Manifesto got my attention so that’s where I started. And that’s where I found this

It stopped me dead because somewhere I felt that they were saying that consistency = bad. I stared at the words, lost in thought. But they’re not. They’re focusing on the extreme definition of consistency which helps them to reinforce what they’re about; creating memorable brands.

Memorable is hard with consistency. That’s not the role of consistency. What makes you memorable is the magic and the sparks. Think Seth Godin’s Purple Cow. It’s the little surprises in life that make it delicious and interesting. And if you can harness magic moments into what you do, you’re more likely to be memorable.

One of their blog articles, One big idea isn’t the big idea, refines this further

Consistency is utterly misplaced as a central thought in branding. Coherence is what is important. Join it up everywhere, but don’t make it dull, repetitive and predictable (the very definition of consistent). Surprise, delight, entertain, inform and inspire.”

I realise this all sounds a bit corporate, but the same things can be said of personal brands. If you can surprise, delight, entertain, inform and inspire others, do you think that people will want to spend time with you? Do you think that people will want you on their team? Of course they will! By doing those things, in a coherant manner that makes sense to what you’re about, you’ll create an emotional connection with others that is sure to engage them. Once engaged on an emotional level, you’re on your way to build trust. And this is most defintely the best direction to be heading in.

So, while I’m going to stubbornly cling onto consistency as an an important aspect of branding (personal and business), I’m happy to relax my view and let coherence join the party too. But the soul of the party will most definitely be the magic & sparks!

If you want to read about the other incident that ruffled my feathers, I’m still writing it.. coming very soon!

So, what are your views on consistency in relation to branding? And how relevant is it to personal branding? Would love to know your thoughts! Leave your comment in the comment section below.

Read the follow up post: The Great Debate part 2



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18 Responses to “Personal branding & consistency – the great debate part 1”

  1. I DON’T WANT TO BE A FLOATER! *visions of school toilets, and you know where I’m going with that!*

    This is such an interesting point: consistency Vs coherance.

    Absolutely coherance is the big thing to work at, however I think it’s not that we shouldn’t strive for consistency, but that we should work at not being too inconsistent.

    All of us have probably experienced a colleague/boss/friend/family member who ‘blows hot and cold’ in their dealings with other people, and it’s enough to send you a nervous breakdown.

    I worked for one person who really was Jeykll & Hyde and not knowing which side of them was going to appear next made my job completely miserable – I actually would have been happier if they’d just been unpleasant ALL the time as I would have at least known what I was getting each day.

    So, what I’m saying is that lack of consistency is not a ‘good’ thing in and of itself, just as consistency isn’t an innately ‘good’ thing.

    People might not love you for being consistent, but they may depend on you for it.


  2. I remember there was a lady I knew through one of my networking groups who kept changing her job. First she was doing self tanning, then face reading, then she was a life coach, and then she sold multi level marketing health products.

    Because she kept changing this I could never associate her with anything except IN-consistancy – ie being flakey and not being able to stick to things.

    The easier it is for people to put you in a box, the more likely they are to refer business to you. So I don’t think people referred much business to her.

    I have never felt that consistency equals dull, repetitive and predictable – some might – but I prefer to think of it as reliable, dependable, and trustworthy (all good things in my book) People like to know that they can come to you for specific things. And that is a mixture of the products you sell and the service you give – the personality of your brand.

    If you read the E Myth Revisited that’s a concept highlighted there – people prefer to work with brands where there is a repetition and familiarity.

    It’s good to innovate, to introduce new products, to move with the times, but there has to be a link.

    Ahem: With my company we have always had the tagline “Improve your presence online” – ie make people proud of what they have representing their businesses on the internet.

    For 8 years this has been the tagline and that used to mean websites (just websites? Boring!) – but now includes websites, blogs, email marketing, LinkedIn, Twitter, Social Media, Flickr, Eventbrite, YouTube and more.

    But our overall message is the same – so I feel we have been consistent (I am quite pleased about this, you can probably tell! YAY the internet!)

    BTW I am a Leo too! Very thought provoking post Alexia, thanks for writing!

  3. @Keren Lerner: Thanks for your lovely comments Keren. Leos rock!

    It sounds like you have nailed it and managed to achieve a coherant yet consistent approach to your business. I wonder – do you have any magic sprinkled in too? What are the things that you find help to make you memorable?

  4. Well, we have our newsletters which we work very hard on – the last one had unicorns in it – and we have our cupcakes and they are quite unique. We try and keep a sense of humour going with our work and in our marketing. Some people don’t get it but most of the time it goes down well! What about you? What magic do you use? Hmm – I think we need a new blog post, Alexia – “Magic Makes Me Memorable”!

  5. @Keren Lerner: What a great question! I’m not sure what my magic is – but based on what my clients tell me, I know it’s there.

    Now *that* blog post sounds right up my street. And it’s an alliteration! I <3 alliterations!

  6. SomeOne is wrong. Consistent doesn’t mean boring. I don’t want to use a tired example but look at Apple. Their products are consistently amazing and every brand touchpoint looks and feels exactly the way you expect. Steve Jobs wears the same jeans and turtleneck to every keynote, and uses the same big screen and same presentation style and nobody would dare call his presentations boring. Consistency matters. Of course, if you have a boring or unoriginal product then consistency is not going to help you, but that’s another story.

  7. @Mario Sanchez Carrion: Hi Mario, Thank you for your comment. It seems we’re on the same page here.. Interestingly when I looked up the definition of consistent, the word boring keeps cropping up.

    I had an old job that required me to get several buses as part of my commute. Because I had to leave so early I used to buy some breakfast at the bakery by the stop I would get off at. I got into a bit of a routine and ended up buying the same thing each time (it was delicious!). But, one day the lady behind the counter said “usual is it?”. I never went there again because in my head I had become boring and predictable which didn’t fit in with my view of myself at the time. I shot myself in the foot of course because now I got to work hungry. And she must have wondered what she had said wrong. For her, she had paid attention to what her customers were buying and was giving me a personal service. Doh! I look back and think I should have just ordered something else! So, I guess it goes to show you that the boring element of consistency is all too easy to sneak in.

  8. Brilliant article and great comments especially with the example of Apple @Mario.

    I’m the first to flinch and wriggle if anyone suggests that I have to be predictable, boring, sensible …. blah blah blah. But that’s completely different to being consistent. I think the notion of *Consistency* and it’s partner *Coherence* isn’t there to prescribe HOW a person might behave in a certain situation, it’s more about what they’re KNOWN for surely.

    I’m known for problem solving and taking on new challenges … some people find that exciting, others may find that unfocused and unstructured. I’m not known for crossing ‘i’s dotting ‘t’s, being careful or particularly tidy.

    But I am fairly consistent in my behaviour. If there’s a crisis and things need fixing urgently, I’m your gal. If you’ve got a dissertation to edit, or software to install then I’m not the person to ask…. I will also consistently lose and break things….hence being quite good at fixing things too! That to me is consistency, whether good, bad, boring or exciting … that’s your personal brand surely.

    So I’m all for consistency … it’s the heart of whether you can trust someone for being who they come across as. Otherwise it’s a front, and inauthentic.

    Loved the post Alexia!

  9. @Missybrar: Thank you Missy! I think you’ve hit a very good nail on its head. You might be consistently boring, or consistently interesting and exciting – what you’re consistent at is surely what your brand is about.

  10. I agree with Keren, consistency to me means reliable, dependable, and trustworthy. When you have brand consistency consumers know who you are, what you stand for and what they are getting. When this is consistent, they will trust you and buy from you.

    I am as perplexed as you Alexia by the comment in your article that “consistency is not only something NOT to strive for, but that in the context of personal branding, impossible to achieve while being authentic.” I feel to be connected to your authentic self is something defnitely worthwhile striving for.

    These are the principals that underlie my business and my personal brand.

    Seeing we are on the Leo thing, that’s my star sign too! 😉

  11. @Karen Haller: Thanks for your comment Karen. It seems as though consistency is indeed something to aim for to build trust.

    If the authencity comment perplexes you, be sure to drop by and read the next installment as I go into more detail on in then.

    PS. Leos rock!

  12. Hi Alexia,

    What I meant was that I’m perplexed as to why someone would think you can not be consistent and authentic. To me they go hand in hand.

  13. @Karen Haller: Oh sorry Karen! I completely agree!

  14. David Carson once said, ‘never mistake legibility for communication.’

    The same can be said about the consistency and coherence. Personal Branding is something of a misnomer, I find. You’re not branding -you- you’re branding what you do. To this end your personal branding should not say ‘hey, look at me! It should say, ‘Hey! Look at THIS!’.

    Lack of coherency and consistency can be legitimate if it communicates what you need it to communicate.

  15. @James Random: Hi James! Thank for dropping by! Nice quote!
    I’m not sure I agree with your comment on personal branding. Our brand is the totality of everything about us and this includes what we do, but is not limited by it; It is WHO we are too, as well as many other things. When we are actively managing our personal brand, one of the things that we “say” (through our actions, presentations (real and digital) & communications) is “this is who I am and what I’m about”. This is where consistency is important, because if you don’t maintain a consistent message (through your actions, communications & presentations), then others will be confused as to what you’re about and who you are.

    I absolutely agree with your final comment though, although I don’t think it would be conducive to a strong personal brand.

  16. Well, I come at it from the perspective of a freelance designer as a single person rather than a company. Naturally being a single designer on his own is a very different proposition than being a company. When you have multiple people working for a company, then it is the company that is branded rather than the person (i think of ‘personal’ branding as being more fore the lone gunman rather than a company, otherwise it’s just Branding).

    As designers, whether we like it or not, a little bit of our personality goes into every design we make. As a Cog in the larger Machine, one is required to moderate this as much as they can for the sake of consistency and professionalism. But for me – as one of those lone gunmen – I personally like to pour more of my personality into what I do. When people hire me they hire my personality to, because it is that which influences all of my design decisions – whether I like it or not. So far I’ve had no complaints, so it all seems to be going well enough.

    My personal branding is not at all very consistent visually, it changes depending on how quickly I get bored of looking at a certain logo or get a better idea or inspired to take a u-turn and do something else. The message, however, is always the same ‘I’m a geezer who designs stuff’.

    It’s re-inventing the wheel. You can have a classic steel wheel-hub with firestone tires or an alloy hub with pirelli tires or any combination of those but whatever the case it’s still a wheel.

  17. @James Random: Everyone has a personal brand, it’s whether they choose to manage it or not. It sounds like you’re doing a fine job though if the work is flowing in! But… thinking of wheels, if you just define yourself as wheel, you won’t stand out against all the other wheels, You might be a wheel for big vehicles, for bumpy surfaces, for speedy travel or for shiny looks. Either way, the clearer you are at defining what type of whel you are, the more likely it is that you will be spotted/chosen/stand out.

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