The Incredible Value of Consistency
There is a lot of value in consistency, fluency, regularity. What’s especially tricky, though, is you also need to keep a brand vibrant.
Adam Alter is an Associate Professor of Marketing at New York University’s Stern School of Business, with an affiliated appointment in the New York University Psychology Department.
Adam is the author of the New York Times bestseller, Drunk Tank Pink: And Other Unexpected Forces That Shape How We Think, Feel, and Behave, which examines how features of the world shape our thoughts and feelings beyond our control. He has also written for the New York Times, New Yorker, Atlantic, WIRED, Slate, Huffington Post, and Popular Science, among other publications. Adam has shared his ideas at the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity, and with dozens of companies, including Google, Microsoft, Anheuser Busch, Prudential, and Fidelity, and with several design and ad agencies around the world. He is working on his second book, which asks why so many people today are addicted to so many behaviors, from incessant smart phone and internet usage to video game playing and online shopping.
Adam’s academic research focuses on judgment and decision-making and social psychology, with a particular interest in the sometimes surprising effects of subtle cues in the environment on human cognition and behavior. His research has been published widely in academic journals, and featured in dozens of TV, radio and print outlets around the world.
He received his Bachelor of Science (Honors Class 1, University Medal) in Psychology from the University of New South Wales and his M.A. and Ph.D. in Psychology from Princeton University, where he held the Charlotte Elizabeth Procter Honorific Dissertation Fellowship and a Fellowship in the Woodrow Wilson Society of Scholars.
In business one of the classic findings is that you derive a lot of value from consistency. So a brand that is consistent across time attracts value because people are used to seeing certain images over and over and over again. And this is true about money. Money acquires value through its familiarity or its fluency. So in one of our experiments we asked people how much they thought they could buy with money. And we gave them either a picture of a dollar bill, a standard dollar bill, and then said to them, “How many thumbtacks could you buy? How many paperclips could you buy? How many Skittles? How many M&Ms?” Things like that.
Half of them saw that condition, that piece of currency. The other half saw a Photoshop version of that currency – so a slightly unfamiliar version. They didn’t recognize that it was different. When you asked them they had no idea. But we did a couple of things. For example, we changed the direction of George Washington’s head. So instead of facing the way that it normally does we flipped it in Photoshop so it was facing the other way. We moved around a number of other elements within the bill. And what we found was that people thought they could buy less with it. Even though they didn’t know that it was not the same bill, that somehow there was sort of a bizarre feeling there. There’s something bizarre about this bill that makes it feel slightly less valuable. And you find that when they make their judgments about how much they think they can buy.
So that suggests in a marketing context or in a business context that there is a lot of value in consistency, fluency, regularity. I think what’s especially tricky, though, is you also need to keep a brand vibrant. So you’ve got this constant tussle between familiarity, fluency, regularity, a chronic brand image that doesn’t change across time. But also you need to keep the brand fresh. And so this is a constant tussle for marketers and it’s tricky to try and work out how you can capture those elements that don’t change across time while keeping the brand fresh.
In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think's studio.
Image courtesy of Shutterstock
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