“There are those who would misteach us that to stick in a rut is consistency – and a virtue; and that to climb out of that rut is inconsistency – and a vice”
Mark Twain, Consistency speech, 1887
In this article I argue the value of consistency. I’m definitely not advocating that you ‘stick in a rut’, rather that you ensure that the messages delivered to your audiences are consistent with the products or services you provide – or intend to provide – your clients.
The kind of ‘consistency’ Mark Twain refers to is of being unwilling or unable to evolve or adapt. That’s certainly not something I would ever advocate. On the contrary, I agree with marketing guru Seth Godin’s view as stated in one of his blog posts: ‘Inconsistency = Opportunity’:
“The nuances that define individual choices and allow us to rationalize our personal inconsistencies also define opportunities for product and service differentiation. Understanding the customer goals that drive these nuanced variations in customer posture can lead to the identification of new market segments.”
Furthermore, to be agile and adaptable allows you to “embrace and respond constructively to your clients’ inconsistencies”.
No, I’m interested in the ‘consistency’ as defined (and this is one of several) in the dictionary as:
agreement or logical coherence among things or parts
The consistency that particularly interests me is about the messages we put out into the world and what we deliver to our clients or customers. Some might call this congruence, others alignment. Consistency, though, is equally important in the quality of products and services you deliver over time. It shows reliability. Clients know they can count on you to provide the same level of quality time and time again. That quality has to be consistently high to maintain the integrity of your brand.
Marks & Spencer (M&S) were a great example of this kind of brand. Well-known for their consistency of quality in the ’80s, it set them apart from their competition. You could walk into a branch of M&S in Manchester and get exactly the same quality of food products as you would in Brighton. They were the market leader for decades.
Following defined processes can be valuable and helps audiences, clients and customers. This doesn’t mean that evolution and flexibilty aren’t also valuable. Rather, that you employ rigour not only with the messages you express to the world but also in the development and delivery of your products and services, to a consistent high quality. Proving in turn your reliability.
One of the most striking examples of the consistency of message and product backfiring in the extreme is that of retailer Gerald Ratner’s speech to the IOD in 1991. When asked how he could sell a cut-glass sherry decanter and glasses set along with a silver-plated tray so cheaply, at £4.95, he retorted “because it’s total crap”. In that brief message, he committed commercial suicide.
Although supposed to have been meant in jest, and shared at a private function, journalists had been invited – and were sent the speech in advance. The following day his words were splashed across the front page of The Daily Mirror and Ratners’ customers rapidly voted with their feet. Equally rapidly, the company wiped £500 million of its value and Ratner was forced to resign as CEO the following year. The story is so well-known that subsequent business gaffes in the same vein are labelled ‘Doing a Ratner’!
Your audience, whether influencers or your clients and customers, are paying attention to your messaging and will expect this to be consistent with your offering. This is more important than ever, given the ubiquity of web sites and the social media channels used to promote your online and offline presence.
Any social media ‘expert’ worth their salt will argue that consistency is the single most important factor in using tools such as LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram effectively for your business. It’s ineffectual to post in an ad hoc fashion if you want to increase your following and win business and new clients. They want to see consistency over a period of time. That doesn’t mean saying the same thing over and over again, but being clear in your messages – and your aesthetic on platforms such as Instagram – and delivering on the promises of these with high-quality products and services.
Rather than implying being stuck in a rut, consistency can convey a reliability that is reassuring and refreshing in times of uncertainty.