Brand Building and The Power of Inconsistency

September 16, 2013
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I recently attended the Hub Symposium where the SVP and Global Chief Marketing Officer of Harley Davidson, Mark-Hans Richer, spoke about brand consistency versus customer individuality within the scope of shopper marketing and in the media landscape as a whole.

Since the dawn of advertising, brands have striven to be consistent. Even as more and more channels have opened up from which to shout messages, brands have stuck to their guns and held their traditional, digital, PR, promotions and myriad other agencies accountable to maintaining the brand voice and graphic standards. They spend millions of dollars in customer research identifying their unique selling proposition; brand personality and the rest of the brand speak.

Enter the era of social media and the power of the people who have found their voices.  Suddenly brands have found themselves thrusting into a world of inconsistency, but is that a bad thing? Not according to Mark, who harnesses the power of inconsistency on behalf of Harley Davidson. In fact, Mark says, “Inconsistency is the foundation of innovation.”

He went on to point out several brands who are brilliant in their inconsistency, Geico and Starbucks. I’ve often scratched my head at Geico. The gecko was a clever visual pneumonic for their name and partnered with “a 15 minute call can save you up to 15% on your car insurance,” led them to the top of their industry. But then they added campaigns with visuals of money with googly eyes, and the campaign sporting a commercial with “Happier than a vampire at a blood bank.” The campaigns are all so different. What were they thinking?

According to Mark it’s all about the consistency of meaning, not the execution.

Exactly! Particularly now that social media has entered the equation. Consumers are now daily writing their own advertising messages on behalf of brands they love through Pinterest boards, Twitter, blog posts and more. Their content has become the ad. This is terrifying to many brand managers who dread the thought of losing control over their brand’s messages.

Harley on the other hand embraces it. Their mantra: we fulfill dreams of personal freedom. They have over 1,500 sub brands and are at the top of their competitors across every demographic including women. They are building relevance target by target by selective inconsistencies in order to address their needs and perceptions. Harley looks to create epic experiences with its audiences by celebrating its consumers and featuring them in their advertisements.

Take a closer look at their dealerships and you see each has its own Harley Davidson logo. They encourage individuality at the dealership and “treat every customer as a custom.” Who doesn’t think that idea in itself is epic? I can only imagine their customer satisfaction scores.

papal postcard copyThey don’t just sell motorcycles, dreams and epic experiences…last year they sold 10million t-shirts (they only shipped 245,000 new motorcycles to dealers). And Mark had the pleasure of meeting the Pope and delivering to him a Harley motorcycle jacket from which they created a papal postcard.




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