Why today’s brands should be guided by coherency
by Allan Johnson
Coherency is about the logical connection of parts.
What is a brand?
What is your company’s brand? Can you define it, describe it? If you’re in the marketing department there’s a good chance you may recite elements from a brand book, or a positioning statement, or a mission and/or vision statement. But, if we asked 10 of your co-workers the same question, how consistent would their answers be? Now, imagine if we asked your customers to describe your company’s brand? Now, your prospects?
Even the world’s strongest, most admired brands aren’t easily (or consistently) defined. If I asked 100 people to describe the Apple brand, we’d likely hear answers that mention clean design, “think different,” creativity, maybe iconoclasm. There would be 100 different interpretations—none of them wrong, all of them valid. And that’s the rub. We marketers rightfully and wisely spend time and energy building strategies to guide our brands’ influence and favorability. But those brands exist only in the minds of our audiences. In short, brand is what they say you are. It is defined by others in an ever-shifting landscape. How I perceive the Apple brand is ineluctably different from how you see it, and how I think about that brand today may be very different than how I thought about it six months ago. Builders of the strongest brands understand this. They trust their audience and invite them to form their own opinions, and they recognize that there are many variables out of their control that can affect those opinions. The variables tend to be even more complex for B2B brands—in which value propositions are typically directed at the organizational-level, not to the individual decision-makers, and products and services are more abstract.
Building strong B2B brands
At April Six, we believe that building a strong B2B brand means telling a coherent story that reflects core principles that are true. We do that by highlighting attributes and creating assets that are distinctive and compelling. Let’s say your brand strategy is focused on expanding the organization’s customer base by maximizing the mental availability of the buyer groups in your TAM. The strategies that allow individual buyers to best receive and remember these stories as impressionable moments imprinted as memory structures, will be the most successful. Simply put, the more memorable the better. To create these distinctive and compelling moments, we strive not for consistency in our brand storytelling, but for coherency.
Admittedly, coherency and consistency are closely related. But consistency can be a trap: repeating the exact same thing over and over can lead to a rigid system that can feel flat and uninspired. If the world were static, consistency would reign—but overcommitting to consistency leaves your brand vulnerable to the vicissitudes of the real world. Yes, there are some hard and fast rules when it comes to logo treatments and other more technical elements, but what really matters is that everything feels “right” every time. We aim to harmonize the messaging, design, and emotional tone with the brand’s ideology and ethos. We work to let it all breathe and feel alive. We want to create white space in which to take some risk and we want to inspire brands to grow and evolve as circumstances change, without sacrificing the earned equity authentically built or acquired over time.
Introducing the Coherency Gauge
To accomplish the outcomes above, we developed the April Six Coherency Gauge to assess and align our clients’ brand and campaign efforts across a range of specific tone, look, and feel attributes. We leverage the Coherency Gauge to guide the development and assessment of messaging and creative approaches to ensure that each set of attributes functions collectively as a coherent whole.
Tone informs how the brand sounds to its audience. It primarily guides our copy and content writers as they develop and cultivate the brand voice. For example, is it provocative and unexpected, as may befit a disruptive newcomer? Look primarily guides how our designers and art directors develop a visual approach that sets the brand apart from its competitors. It describes the specific graphic elements that go into creating the brand assets that are deployed (from the font choices to the color palate to the photography style). And Feeling serves to ensure that we’re evoking an emotional impression with our branding efforts, such as empowerment, safety, or fearlessness.
Ultimately, brand coherency is about the logical connection of parts, and the gauge illustratively forces us to consider the specific intersections where these foundational elements come together to create something greater than its parts. In doing so, it opens up the brand to individual interpretation, which is critical in getting more people to remember your brand effectively. A coherent brand strategy creates the overarching environment in which all those individual perceptions co-exist without confusion or contradiction.
The Coherency Gauge creates the marketing sandbox in which our teams can develop compelling and distinctive assets and campaigns that we know will align with the brand strategy without suffocating creativity or agility. Guided by coherency, we build brands that can thrive through these increasingly disruptive and unpredictable times.
Strategy Director, NA