The Comfort of Consistency

There is something irresistible about consistency. Think about it. The experience you expect is the experience you get every time.It’s not unlike when my nephew was little. He watched the movie American Tail over and over and over again. Never got tired of it. It was almost like the chewed-up stuffed panda bear (AKA “Pandie”) he used to drag around behind him.

I was reminded of this today when the client I was meeting suggested a different coffee shop than my usual Starbucks. My coffee was OK, but it wasn’t what I expected. It wasn’t my Starbucks double short decaf no-foam latte. I hadn’t realized that I was quite that much a creature of habit.

In the coffee-shop segment, an astonishing number of people cite “consistency” as the main driver when they choose Starbucks. Other brands evoke other attributes, but the giant trump card Starbucks holds is its consistency.

  • * Customers prize the predictability of it.
  • * Even more fascinating is that sometimes it doesn’t even have to be better. (A friend of mine expressed the other day that he and his wife always go to the same little Italian restaurant every Saturday night. It isn’t the best, but they can always get in.)
  • * Sometimes it’s more important that an experience is predictable than perfect.
  • * For me, that’s a lesson in branding: A brand that’s consistent is a promise that’s always kept.

On the flip side, I was talking to my brother-in-law the other day about an Italian chain he visited in Arizona (which shall remain nameless). He was a regular of that brand in another state and mentioned that he had to correct the new location on its preparation of his favorite item. This new location hadn’t prepared it as he had grown accustomed to, and it just wasn’t as good.

I’ve been in menu meetings (perhaps you have been, too) where execs would say something like, “Those fresh cut french fries are really much better than frozen french fries when they’re right,” or, “Our calamari is great when it’s right,” or “When we tested it, people loved it when it was right.”

  • * Now, granted, this isn’t rocket science. Fried calamari isn’t mission critical.
  • * But when it comes to branding, keeping the promise is mission critical.
  • * Getting it right means keeping the brand promise every time.

Sometimes consistency requires a tradeoff. Harvard University’s Dr. Frances Frei claims that to be excellent at one thing, companies need to decide they are willing to be weak at something else. As I think about brands that are known for their consistency, it’s clear these brands have been willing to make tradeoffs in their relentless pursuit of consistency:

  • * Houston’s comes to mind as one of these relentlessly consistent brands. They accomplish that extreme level of consistency by their tradeoffs-breadth of menu and large parties are sacrificed in favor of flawless execution. I visited Bandera the other day, another of their brands, and was surprised to discover that Bandera does not offer french fries. Their hamburger is served with a great peanut slaw. Deciding to not offer french fries is a surprising tradeoff, one that leads to not surprising levels of consistency elsewhere on the menu.
  • * In a different way, Waffle House maintains a level of relentless consistency as well. I have never been in a Waffle House without being warmly greeted. For years, I thought it just might have been the locations that I had been to-my mother and brother both loved to go there because of the friendliness. The truth of the matter is, Waffle House has been able to institutionalize that friendliness, perhaps trading off a polished physical plant in favor of engaged service and hot food hot. A “Friendly Greeting” and “Never Hold an Order” are part of their Magnificent Seven-the seven big things they focus their associates on.

In these difficult times, the comfort of consistency can go a long way to maintain the brand trust that leads to powerful levels of loyalty.

Until next time, I’d love to hear your thoughts.