Consensus is every brands worst enemy

Why consensus is any strong brands worst enemy

Virtue lies in the middle way, it sounds so fluent in Shakespeare’s language. More than a millennium ago, the Greek philosopher Socrates already expressed the view that man should look for the middle way in order to avoid the extremes at both ends of the spectrum. And any right-minded person will surely agree with him, even more than 2,400 years after his death. After all, in a polarised world, there is a need for consensus, nuance, seeking the greatest common denominator and reasoned treading of common ground. Watering the wine helps untangle the knot of visions, which stands true in a personal relationship, in politics and in business.

Speaking from my own field of branding, however, I am not so convinced that this golden mean is always such a golden solution to creating strong brands. Indeed, the longer I work as a consultant for small and large brands in a wide variety of industries, the more I am convinced that consensus in branding achieves just the opposite of what is actually intended by that famous middle road. It may of course be due to my bad character – I have a tendency to fall into black-and-white thinking at times – but unfortunately the reality in many organisations proves me right more often than I would like.

In general, strong brands are brands that make real choices, have the courage to take a stand and have a clear vision that not only resonates with the relevant target group but also provides differentiation from competitors. Those strong brands usually belong to organisations whose management has a clear plan in mind and sometimes also has a lack of concern for conventions and well-trodden paths.The more a concept like brand purpose is adopted in brand strategy and the associated marketing and customer experience, the more this reasoning proves to be correct.

Strong brands are brands that make real choices, have the courage to take a stand and have a clear vision

As a consultant, my colleagues and I are unfortunately still too often confronted with brands that do not dare to make these important choices. In strategic processes, there is endless beating around the bush and sometimes people try in every possible way to quantify the (difficult to calculate) result of a strategic choice. The fact that a company’s management does not just blindly trust its own gut feeling (or that of an external consultant) to make a strategic choice is a good thing. However, the eternal search for consensus, the safe middle ground, ensures that brands not only risk losing their entire identity but, in addition, can no longer play a valuable role in the lives of stakeholders. As Martin Lindstrom put it years ago, “In the past, we wanted everyone to like our brand; in the future, we must choose to be loved by some and hated by others – as long as we are not ignored by anyone.”

Unfortunately, this is precisely the trap that many brands keep falling into. In their frantic attempts to keep everyone on board at all costs, to not offend anyone and to serve all internal agendas, a brand (re)positioning exercise too often ends up in a grey mush of hollow phrases, blunted promises and generic terms. Especially when a branding exercise starts from an organisation-centric inside-out thinking pattern, the various workshops, draft statements and feedback rounds sometimes reduce the final result to a consensus cobbled together like a Frankenstein’s monster from which no one can discern any real meaning. After all, all sharp corners have been chipped off, all values that could make a real difference iterated away, all internal fears appeased. But the resulting brand story has become a meaningless text far removed from what a brand can use to add authentic value.

Forget about consensus, forget about keeping everyone happy, forget about serving everyone’s agenda. Dare to take a stand with your brand – even if it means risking losing a few souls along the way. In doing so, take inspiration from the many strong brands that made conscious choices and, as a result, have started to add clear value for their target audience.