In a world full of constant stimulus and sensory chaos, you need to be able to communicate who you are quickly, effectively and with lasting resonance. You need to be able to cut through the noise or risk being forgotten. Once you've managed to establish who you are, you can communicate what you're all about. Look at giants such as Coca Cola, Apple and Nike – they’ve kept it simple. They’ve settled on a proven formula that works and then built upon it. Nike’s been telling us to ‘Just Do It’ since 1998, meanwhile Apple has built a formidable reputation for sleek product design.
When you think of fried chicken, what springs to mind? Fast food giant KFC is infamous for closely guarding the secret recipe that makes those golden crispy chicken wings so tasty. Recently, it did something subtle but very effective: its Twitter account followed only six people named Herb, and the five Spice Girls. After years of public speculation over the secret recipe, this genius move was spotted by Twitter user @edgette22 and shared in a tweet that promptly went viral.
The brand used its well-established identity to achieve social media attention that cost nothing. KFC then took it a step further, maximising the attention it had already received by fostering goodwill with consumers and millennial Twitter users; KFC decided to gift the twitter user who had spotted its joke with a painting depicting Colonel Sanders giving him a piggyback ride while he bravely wielded a fried drumstick. In turn, this created an additional layer of positive association for the brand. By capitalising on what it is known for, KFC managed to pull off a simple and cheap – free! – idea extremely effectively.
But what happens when you aren’t consistent? When you aren’t strategic with a simple message that resonates across cultural, socio-economic demographics within your target audiences? Despite the millions of dollars poured into her campaign, and with the political prestige and trappings of a truly great leader, Clinton was brought down by the confusion and public mistrust in her campaign. This was caused by a plethora of confusing messages that ranged from an #imwithher campaign that didn’t quite serve as a mission statement, to an inability to come across as relatable and reliable. Meanwhile, Trump’s ‘Make America Great Again’ campaign was unapologetic; the repetition and assurance of the same message ad nauseam served to convince Americans that the man who was unrelenting in his authenticity would somehow find a way to achieve his goal.
Maintaining a cohesive and easily identifiable sense of self is critical. Inconsistency can lead to confusion, confusion can lead to distrust – and distrust is toxic for a brand. Remember the huge backlash when Pepsi decided it was a good idea to capitalise on the Black Lives Matter movement and use Kendall Jenner as its spokesperson? The linking of a cessation of violence, police brutality and peaceful protest with a Pepsi can offered from the hands of social media supermodel just made no sense. But worse than that, it came across as insensitive and in poor taste. The brand forgot who and what it is, and in attempting to capitalise on one of the key issues of our times, forgot its place. Soft drinks don’t solve problems – they hydrate.
By understanding who you are and what you are bringing to the table you can convince people you have a right to speak. Staying true to brand doesn’t mean there’s a lack of evolution or development – it means that you have found what makes you unique and that you honour this through each and every iteration. Whatever your secret recipe is, you need to remember who you are, where you came from and keep it consistent to be able to get to where you’re going.