A good brand is like a dear friend. You feel comfortable around it. It looks quite like you, and sounds like you in a way, too. It laughs at the same kind of humour. You use similar words and metaphores, simply because you often spend time together. You prefer the same music, books, movies, sports teams, political parties, religion, and you generally visit the same places.
If your friend walks in one day looking and sounding very different, humming unusual tunes, suggesting to attend lame parties, go see stupid movies, games, or religious leaders, you’d be suspicious, to say the least. You’d probably ask ‘What’s wrong with you? We usually don’t like stuff like that at all’.
The opening sentence of Kafka’s Verwandlung comes to mind. It’s just too terrific to leave unquoted here, simply because it is a line of pure beauty (the use of the German prefix ‘un-‘ is very much lost in the English translation):
‘Als Gregor Samsa eines Morgens aus unruhigen Träumen erwachte, fand er sich in seinem Bett zu einem ungeheueren Ungeziefer verwandelt.’
[ENG: ‘As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.’]
Wouldn’t you die to know more about the contents of those ‘unruhigen Träumen’? Anyway, going back to brands and friends: if your friend one day woke up next to you looking like an enormous cockroach, you’d probably ask ‘What’s wrong with you? You usually don’t look like this at all!’ – even though in this example it’s pretty obvious what’s wrong.
That’s why of all the things you can say about brands, this one is imperative: they have to be consistent. If not, it’s psychotic, schizofrenic, or – at best – somewhat confused. Most people don’t want to be friends with friends like that.
In communications, this implies tight planning and integration across both communication tactics (online and offline, in paid, owned, and social media, direct and through-channel), and geographical boundaries (markets, languages) – to make sure no brand characteristics are lost in translation, and preempt your English friend sounds different in french.
P.s. on friendship:
When he died, Kafka requested that his dearest friend, Max Brod, destroy any of his unpublished works, writing: “Dearest Max, my last request: Everything I leave behind me to be burned unread.” Brod ignored this request and instead published Der Prozess [The Trial], Amerika [America] and Das Schloss [The Castle].