During the pandemic, I have ordered from a local restaurant each week. While I try to spread the love around, a certain restaurant has received more of my business than the others – I’ll call it Restaurant X. They make delicious meals but not in a style/genre that I normally seek out. So why are they getting so much of my restaurant budget these days?
The reason can be summed up in one mundane word: consistency.
While other restaurants in my neighbourhood have continued to tinker with their formulas as they adjust to the constantly fluctuating “zones” and “phases” of the pandemic, Restaurant X has kept the same menu and same operating hours. The only changes have been in how I can enjoy their food: eating inside, outdoors on the patio, or take-away only.
Put another way, I don’t have to think twice about showing up to order there. I am personally experiencing the power of consistency.
In times of upheaval, many brands waver. Many waver even in the best of times, pulled from their paths by opportunity as easily as they are deterred by uncertainty. Every sector has storms to weather, from competitive pressure to changing regulatory environments, shifting funding sources, workforce challenges, pandemics, etcetera.
But Restaurant X is like a rock in a storm that has ravaged neighbourhoods like mine, and I see two great lessons to be learned here.
Focus on what you control
Long after the initial upheaval of the pandemic and lockdowns, several restaurants and small businesses in my ‘hood continue to be difficult to patronize because their formulas shift with the constantly changing restrictions and rules. They are like unmoored ships buffeted in ever-changing winds. While I am completely sympathetic, why do other businesses seem more stable?
Restaurant X is consistent because they focus on what they control rather than reacting to every change in pandemic zones and government-instituted measures. Namely, they control their vision, menu, hours (we don’t have curfews in this province), website, and customer service. I have the same experience there I have always come to appreciate, despite the periodic anomalies like a differing number of people allowed inside at one time, or whether I can eat inside or only take away.
A more “corporate” example of this lesson is a current client undergoing a complete rebranding. In the same breath they told me how much their new Essential Story brings focus and clarity, they also asked, “How do we modify our story for different audiences like partners, funders, or investors who all like to see their own language reflected in our pitches to them?”
My answer was: You do not modify your Essential Story/core messages/branding to try to ‘fit’ with others. What you do is tell your Essential Story and demonstrate how it supports the audience’s goals and interests. This client has a fully formed, completely unique offering with demonstrated results and a repeatable methodology. By focusing consistently on that – all of which is in their control – they present an exciting programming platform that others can hitch their wagons to.
Rather than allowing your brand to be taken in one direction or another by forces or entities you do not control, exciting opportunities arise by taking full ownership of what you do control.
Balance flexibility and consistency
We never live in a perfect world, and the pandemic has put extreme stress on existing weaknesses in every system we have, both micro and macro. Restaurant X and its peers have survived through more than a year of extreme stress by being resilient, consistent and flexible. They open their doors when they can and shift to take-away or make-at-home when they can’t – but the experience remains on-brand.
Especially in the world of tech start-ups, I find this balance widely misunderstood. “We’re agile” is often used to explain constant changes in focus, direction, and technology.
But agile really is the ability to move with speed and ease – a quality every elite athlete knows is possible only when they have a solid foundation to depend on and return to when things get tough.
It takes courage. Yes, courage to stick to your guns, to hold to a brand’s core even while uncontrollable forces are battering at it. But unless the brand and its story weren’t right to begin with, that is the path to survive and thrive.
Maya Angelou said it best: “Courage is the most important of all the virtues because without courage, you can’t practice any other virtue consistently.”
Rather than seeing the need to be flexible as anathema to consistency, a brand’s ability to be flexible depends on its consistency. Specifically, flexibility in returning to core principles, purpose, and values – what I call the Essential Story.