Why there are more tricks than treats when you lack brand consistency.
Halloween season is good for a few things: spicy pumpkin ales, binge eating candy until your teeth rattle and the endless loop of D-list horror movies (Bride of Chucky, anyone?). Better yet, it’s an occasion to take on a new but temporary form. Throw on a wig or cowboy hat and go nuts. For one night, we can transform ourselves into something like, say, a promiscuous endodonist or a human-sized banana. You know, an experience that’s not within our normal day-to-day existence (hopefully). It’s understood that Halloween is largely performative and best in moderation (once a year is plenty).
The Halloween season, however, is not so awesome as a model for brands. Chances are that when you dress up for Halloween you don’t go as yourself, which is good for the company Halloween party. And why is that? Because you don’t want to be yourself. You want to be a goblin warrior. Your brand, conversely, on Halloween and every other day of the year should always be itself. It’s the promise you make to your audience, and consistency and honesty are crucial. Variety may be the spice of life, but authenticity may as well be the lifeblood of a brand.
Here’s what we can learn from Halloween about brand development and brand consistency.
Costumes are for people, not brands.
As a child, I dressed up as a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle for many Halloweens. What little boy could refrain from going door-to-door dressed as his favorite pizza-devouring, skateboarding turtle with serious karate skills? But if I dressed that way on a Tuesday in March? Not quite as endearing. And the same is true for brands that go wading into unfamiliar territory and become unrecognizable or just weird if only for a moment. It can seem fairly innocuous, but people are nothing if not unpredictable and we can never be certain of how they will respond to random brand switch-a-roos. This is especially true if they feel like you pulled the old bait-and-switch on them.
Fortunately, I kept the costumes to Halloween, my social development progressed along the usual benchmarks and I avoided being the weird kid dressed like a mutated turtle (thanks, Mom!). Likewise, your brand can develop along its expected trajectory if you stay true to yourself and don’t take a detour through WTF Town. There’s a reason why brand development and rebranding includes identifying color palettes, fonts, design elements and flairs, and logo criteria. And there’s a reason companies create rigid guidelines for proper usage of the brand materials. When it comes to brands, customers want to know what they are going to get. This makes a brand dependable and recognizable, creating a sense of security for customers even if they don’t outwardly say, this brand gives me a sense of security.
Don’t be the brand that passes out wormy apples.
When you were young and went trick-or-treating, you’d always skip that one house — you know that house, the one that passed out partially opened candy or homemade “treats.” You avoided that house because you didn’t trust it, even if its occupants were well-adjusted, friendly neighbors the other 364 days of the year. The same is true for any brand. Once you become that brand, you’ve lost your customers’ trust and it’s hard to earn it back. What’s more, consumers have very long memories and an unexpected bad (inconsistent) experience can stick with them for a while.
So whether it’s someone’s first interaction with your brand or a client who has worked with you for a long time, it’s hard to recover broken trust (i.e. giving them a rotten apple when they expected a Snickers). People will avoid brands even if they weren’t personally wronged or simply “skip your house” if their friends tell them to do it. Just be consistent, authentic and deliver on your promises to avoid getting “skipped.”
If you pass out the king-size candy bars, own it.
Just like there’s that one house you avoid, there’s that other house you must go to — the one that spares no expense and passes out the coveted king-sized candy bars. This lesson is two-fold: 1. Manage expectations; 2. Be consistent (again). You know your brand, your clients and the industry, right? You know where your niche is, right? See where this is going? You can’t hand out a few king-sized candy bars and then — boom — drop down to Hershey Kisses without warning. Obviously, don’t set the bar low, but don’t set it unsustainably high either. You will either start out as a disappointment or end up a disappointment — two ways to get your house egged… err, your brand tarnished. Remember: just do what you can do and do it really freaking well. Take Gap, for example. 1. When you buy a pair of Gap jeans, you know exactly what to expect and 2. a Gap commercial can be identified from about 500 feet. They’re that consistent.
It’s not reinvention — it’s just confusion.
This post isn’t intended to discourage some Halloween hijinks, but it is meant to guard against needlessly compromising your brand. Halloween is great for spooky potlucks that you can put on your social feed along with other (tasteful) Halloween-themed posts. The holiday, however, should not inspire random brand bastardizations — for the holiday or, like, ever. Remember the backlash (although slightly excessive) Coke got for putting white bears on their holiday cans? And that was a seemingly innocent gesture. And the Starbucks cups last holiday season?
If a few customers stop drinking Coke or Starbucks, those two companies will presumably be okay. But most brands don’t have that luxury and negative customer feedback or (over)reaction can be detrimental. This can all be avoided by staying true to what makes your brand authentic and by always delivering on your promise. It’s better for business when you stick to treats and lay off the tricks when it comes to branding.
Need help developing your own authentic brand? Want help rebranding the right way? We can help!
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