Brand Dissonance by Rich

Here’s an important, but rarely used marketing term: “Brand Dissonance.”  There are only 2000 references in Google.

It is the all-too-common practice of doing things that conflict with each other. Result: conflicting pictures of a brand.

If you are a Global Cyber-Security firm, advertising in primary colors would be an example of Brand Dissonance. Primary colors communicates “kids.”

There are lots of ways to get brand dissonance. But let me explain why this is an important concept.


Let’s put it another way: What’s the opposite of brand dissonance? It would have to be BRAND CONSISTENCY, am I right?

Let’s return to what branding is basically about. And that is communicating to your prospective customers a concept of who you are. What are you about?

Companies with a strong brand, you can ask “What is ____ about?” and get largely consistent answers.

People won’t have to think at length about it, either.

“What’s Apple about?”  Cool, innovative products, a cut above the competition.  Boom! Instant answer.

“What’s Mercedes about?” Luxury cars that will impress your neighbors (I know, my snark is showing).

“What’s Motel 6 about?”  Clean comfortable rooms at the lowest price of any national brand. (They’ve been using that same line for decades. Now that is brand consistency!)

“What’s Lenovo about?”  Beats me. Yet this Chinese company is the world’s largest producer of PCs, and has been for many years. Talk about an under-the-radar brand!

All the reasons why it is valuable to HAVE a brand are the same reasons to have a consistent brand. Otherwise what have you got? Some kind of tasteless gooey mess. You want filet mignon. Or at least a nice pulled pork sandwich.


I started this article with one way to get brand dissonance: visuals that don’t match your brand. An inappropriate color scheme for example.

Did you know that colors have emotional connotations? If you think about it, some of that is obvious. Certain shades of purple are closely associated with “sexy.”

Many blue and gray tones communicate conservative, reliable. The kind of color scheme you want for a bank. Our marketing library has three books entirely devoted to this subject.  (By the way, this varies by culture. WHITE is the color associated with death in China.)

How about photos? They can be professional or amateur. But even with professional shots, if you’re in the business of Amazon River adventure tours, probably you don’t want your photo to show you in a business suit.

A lot of this can be summed up in one word, “appropriate.”  Just being aware of it and thinking about it can be all you need to get it right.


Of course you can also get brand dissonance by the choice of words and subjects.

A law firm website loaded up with slang, misspellings and bad grammar, is not going to create the right kind of impression.

Equally, if you, an attorney, are promoting your expertise in business law, but all the articles, case studies and testimonials are about getting people off drug charges or speeding tickets – well, need I say more?

There’s also something called “tone and voice.” Do you SOUND appropriate? If the company is a donut hole manufacturer, you don’t want to sound like a banker. Or if you’re a banker, you don’t want to sound like Soupy Sales (A sarcastic TV comedian of the 50’s and 60’s. Look him up.)


A “touch point” is any place that your business contacts the world. Websites and emails, sure, but also your office if you have one, truck signage, voicemail messages, business cards – every one of these is a chance to make a branding statement or another kind of branding error.

Inappropriate touch point.  I know, that sounds like a bad joke.

If you are a Youth Ministry, looking for troubled youths to aid, are you going to advertise in the newsletter of the Senior Citizen’s Association?  Outside of the fact you aren’t going to get many takers, it is just inappropriate and will confuse people.

A law firm may brand itself as “the attorney you can afford.” If their office is in the most expensive downtown high rise – that is inconsistent.


One more key point.

I started out saying this, but in case it isn’t completely clear, brand dissonance isn’t just about being APPROPRIATE.

The opposite of brand dissonance is brand CONSISTENCY.

Appropriate matters, because inappropriate branding is inconsistent with, or dissonant with, reality. Wrong message entirely.

You could have two entirely appropriate sets of visual brand elements – color schemes, fonts and so on. Each works just great. But if you use both of them – in different materials, or different parts of a website for example – you have brand dissonance.

The most dramatic possible example of this would be to have two complete different logos. Can you imagine the brand chaos? People will actually think you are two different companies. You’ll be competing with yourself!

Major companies have brand books defining every aspect of their brand. A client of mine manufactured Disney branded products. Their brand book, just for one Disney film, filled 5 DVDs. EVERY aspect of their brand was defined in the most minute detail.

You hardly need to get that extreme, of course. But you can’t have brand consistency if you haven’t defined what your brand is.

ANY company, no matter how small, should at least have a short document giving logo, color scheme, fonts, slogans and other brand elements. Do not think you are too small. It is worth 1000 times the cost in time or money to get that done. And then make sure you or any marketing vendors know and follow it.

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