A client and I were discussing brand harmony a few days ago, and he held up Apple as a great example. He said that he loves how "consistent" all touchpoints with Apple are, from the products to the stores to the advertising, etc.
He's right that Apple is an example of great brand harmony. But I told him that I think he's selling them short when he focuses on "consistency." What makes the Apple brand powerful is not how consistent the different touchpoints are, but how well they complement each other.
Think of some of the great examples of harmony in art. Consistency would be if King Lear's three daughters acted the same. Boring! What's interesting is the juxtaposition of Cordelia against Regan and Goneril. Are the songs on Miles Davis' Kind of Blue consistent with each other? Who cares! Do they complement each other? Yes, in a really interesting way.
When I walked into the Soho Apple Store in NY the other day—with my iPod Mini in my pocket—and saw a class being taught in a big open theater—and thought about the cool iPod Shuffle ads I'd seen all day—my Apple brand impression wasn't strengthened by the consistency of these experiences, because they weren't consistent. They all said different things. What strengthened my feeling for the Apple brand was the way all of these experiences blended together in my mind, complementing each other and telling me a powerful, compelling story.
"Consistent" is for assembly lines. "Complement" is for great brands.
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