If there are two words that you need to know in branding, it’s singularity and consistency. These two branding concepts are the building blocks of establishing a strong, dominant brand. Singularity means that you keep your brand narrowly focused and constructed around one central idea or theme. Consistency means that you keep this focus unchanged.
Brands are ideas. They’re not a physical product, or a logo on a building. In order to get your idea inside the mind of a consumer, you must break through all the noise and clutter of competing brands in the market. Because the mind of a consumer has a finite amount of space it is willing to commit to brands, complex, ever-changing brands have a hard time winning the war for the mind.
In order to grab a spot in the mind of a consumer, a brand should be simple. Allen Adamson, managing director of Landon Associates and author of BrandSimple, calls this the “elevator idea.” If you can’t explain your brand’s idea in the time it takes to ride an elevator, it’s too complex. “People are busy, they’re inundated by message, and there are too many brands for them to choose from,” says Adamson. “Make it easy for them to get the idea.”
Keeping the brand narrowly focused ensures simplicity. And, simplicity means you can begin to “own” a term in the mind of consumers. It’s this term that consumers use to define your brand. When you think of some of the most powerful brands in the world, a “thought” or “idea” immediately comes to mind. Google elicits the idea of the simplest search engine, which they created by building a search engine page free of the clutter on pages like Yahoo and Lycos, their rivals at the time. Apple brings about the idea of “sleek technology” because of a product line with a very modern, streamlined look (they even replaced their rainbow logo with a simple, monochrome Apple to reinforce this look). And, Marlboro is the ultimate “cowboy” cigarette.
These brands are successful because they stick to the basics, and don’t undermine their core brand by making it more complicated. Consumers don’t like complicated. The more complex or complicated your brand is, the less likely they’ll commit your product to the limited amount of storage space they have available in their mind.
They also stay consistent with their image. Apple knows that if they started producing computers that were bulky or boxy, they would lose their image of innovative design. And, if Marlboro released a line of cigarettes for women, it would destroy its rugged, masculine perception.
Xerox saw firsthand the dangerous repercussions when they deviated from simple and consistent. In the 1970s, Xerox was relishing in the success of their copier. They began exploring the idea of expanding their services to include computers. However, the idea never took off with consumers and cost Xerox millions of dollars. To consumers, Xerox was copiers. Xerox was not computers. As a result of changing the brand and making it more complicated, Xerox allowed other competitors to gain ground against them.
A narrow, unchanging focus is more important to a brand’s strength than the mass appeal of a product. Without a narrow focus, your brand lacks relevance and a core idea. Without consistency, your brand will never have a firm root in the mind of a consumer.