The #1 Problem Most Brands Have

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It’s not about profit. It’s not about customer service. It’s not about inventory. It’s about consistency.

Ask the best restaurants in the world and, hands down, they’ll all say that their success is primarily based on how consistent they are in delivering great meals for every person in the dining room, every day, consistently… forever. The brands that master consistency win. Especially when that consistency happens on top of a product or service that people love (and will talk about).

This is the problem with travelling in 2010. It lacks consistency.

If the rules were the rules. If the rules were clear. If the rules were known. If the rules were consistent across all aspects of air travel, people would be much more sympathetic and understanding. But, the rules are not, so people are not sympathetic. All in-bound flights to the United States now have a new/stricter security process in place because one guy (who was a known entity to security) managed to get on a plane bound for Detroit with explosives. Because of that breach, most of us need endure longer lines, more confusion and we’re no longer allowed any carry-on baggage. Sort of… Well, not really… But yes, you can.

Huh? Wha?

Here’s the official security lingo: No carry-on baggage for all flights into the U.S. (including "briefcases"), but you are allowed, "laptop computers and accessories in regular carrying cases." On top of that, men, women and children are allowed, "small purses or pouches (10 in x 12 in x 5½ in)."

So, to break this down:

  • You are not allowed to being a briefcase onboard, unless it has a laptop computer in it, and there is no size restriction to this bag.
  • If you don’t have a laptop computer in a regular carrying case, you’re only allowed a satchel that is 10 x 12 in size.

And here’s how this plays out in real-life:

In checking in for my flight this morning to the United States, I switched away from my backpack laptop carrying case to a standard laptop briefcase and printed out the PDF document that I linked to above from the transport security website. My customer service representative said that I have to check the bag, at which point I whipped out my print-out and showed him that – according to transport security – my bag is permissible. The person checking in on my right has his laptop in a Targus laptop backpack and must remove the laptop and check the backpack, this even after he says to the rep that he had called and asked if a laptop bag was permissible and told that it was (even my print-out couldn’t help him because the backpack looked nothing like the laptop carrying case depicted in their PDF document).

Consistency in training and education failed for both the people working for the airline and the customer. Nobody wins.

We could stop right there and say that the security officials have some kind of beef with laptop cases that double as backpacks, but they still have that whole, "no briefcases, but yes to laptop carrying cases." Because they don’t specify if there is a size restriction or what type of bag, or anything else, this basic lack of consistency creates more chaos than the result they are hoping to achieve. To make matters worse, the person who was forced to check his Targus laptop carrying case was sitting right next to a person who boarded the same flight with a Victorionix backpack laptop case. When the conversation around the backpack ensued, other passengers chimed in on their different and varying experiences.

So, what’s a brand to do?

  • If you need to have rules, make them clear.
  • Make sure your whole team (from the CEO down to the janitor) understands how these rules play out.
  • If the rules change, the whole food chain needs to know how and why.
  • The rules have to make sense, and if they don’t make sense, they need to explained in detail.

Remember, even if your brand has some strange issues, rules, regulations or laws attached to it, as long as you are consistent in how it plays out in the marketplace, people may not love it, but at least they’ll understand it.

*and the travel tip is to get there early, be patient and have print-up of this document from CATSA: CATSA – Further guidance on carry-on items (US flights).


  1. Mitch:
    I have to endure this in the next few weeks, and I’m not looking forward to it – especially amidst the inconsistent application of the “rules” that I’d suspected would exist, and which you’ve just confirmed. The laptop backpack as a laptop carrying case is a particularly nebulous and interesting one that I’ll be following closely.

  2. You know, it reminds of almost every experience I’ve had with gov’t bureaucracy, but at the end of the day, the gov’t has a MONOPOLY on certain things, so consistency/branding/customer service just doesn’t factor in… another case in point of how monopolies are bad for business.
    But what are you going to do? Go into competition with the gov’t?
    Not only would that be unwise, but in most cases, it’s impossible because there are international cartels who’ve lobbied for international laws that preclude new market entrants.
    This is why I laugh when political candidates (e.g. Belinda Stronach) cite their “business acumen” as an asset. While there is politics everywhere, Government is its own industry, and not only are the barriers to entry extremely high, but any experience you pick up anywhere else is rarely applicable in the culture/marketplace of government.

  3. It has to be good for the laptop case industry. Every couple of years they’ll change the regulations and we’ll all be forced to buy a new bag. Isn’t that a stimulus for the economy. I am headed to Canada next week and I’ve decided not to bring the laptop and just the smartphone.
    It will also require people like myself who never check bags to know check bags. This will probably benefit the airlines with new fees. Which in turn seems to help the customer according to this article – .

  4. I agree that rules are important. Especially in business. Your dead on that rules create consistency and make processes run much smoother. However rules are meant to be broken. If no rules were ever broken there would never be any innovation. The world would simply be people mindlessly following rules because that is what they are supposed to do. Someone always needs to stand up and say “hey, this would work better if we broke the rules and did it a little (or a lot) differently”.
    Don’t be so mad at the airline companies they are just trying to keep us safe because sadly, there are people that want to board planes and blow them up. While many of the new flying rules seem, and are, a little absurd they are there for a reason.(however well they are communicated to the people implementing them)

  5. If only it was a simple brand issue. The reality is that the brand of any Air Carrier will be impact by the security agency, the airport ramp service, airport procedures and improvised security measure for which the Air Carrier has no power and control.
    Air Carriers don’t make the rules. If they could, everything would be easier. The size of regulation in the aviation industry isn’t match by any other industry.
    If you want consistency, the best way to travel is on a charter flight. On a small private plane (turboprop or jet), the service is customized according to the customers needs. No waiting line, no stupid rule about the size of your bag, no lost item. You are normally flying with your team members or customers so security isn’t even an issue.
    Always remember that regardless of the amount of money spend for security, it was a passenger that resolve the last incident.

  6. “Ask the best restaurants in the world and, hands down, they’ll all say that their success is primarily based on how consistent they are in delivering great meals for every person in the dining room, every day, consistently… forever.”
    I couldn’t agree more. I don’t run a restaurant but I love eating out and consistency is what I look for.
    Thanks for this great marketing lesson.

  7. A great lesson on consistency. This lesson not only applies with laptop bags but also with other aspects of life, may it be in the home, enforcing discipline, handling a team, managing a blog and marketing it. You have said it, consistency is crucial!

  8. I couldn’t agree more, here in Toronto we have porter airlines which runs a fleet of small planes and those that I have worked with in the past can only say good things about the airline and how convenient and effortless it was in dealing with them, not to mention flights were right on time!
    I wonder if size might be an issue in this case? Did they hire the right people?
    Often I find when I’m dealing with CSR’s in large corporations they either know their stuff or they don’t or they play stupid ! No matter how many times I complain to the manager it seems that problems still persist and everyone seems to be mindless of policies. Case in point: Bell Canada, just try returning a product to them, loop after loop after loop…On the other hand I find rogers to be more consistent on this front even though the wait times have become frequently annoying.
    I do think that if consistency is to be maintained in an organization it’s the job of the employee to find out everything there is to know about policies and proceedures in place.

  9. I agree, the airlines should be given a bit of slack since it seems that rules are being re-written each time an incidence occurs. If they don’t do this, how would you feel about boarding a plane? Will you still travel? Would you feel safe?

  10. I would only add that when it comes to a service being offered I make my decisions based on the customer service I recieve since many products offer the same level of product features and experiences between each other.

  11. Good describe of posts that you write about how the brand should be. I agree with what you wrote in your post. I saw lately brand just to see everything in terms of profit and consistency as you describe in your post is very difficult to find.

  12. The restaurant comparison definitely hit me because I go back to my favourite restaurants due to their high quality of food EACH time I come back. Imagine ordering a hakka chowmein one day where it was so good that you couldn’t help but to get seconds and thirds (guilty!). But suddenly, the next visit to the same chinese restaurant, you get crap that tastes like a 6 year old put together.
    It’s surprising how many businesses jump onto social media, for example, post like crazy for 3 days and are scratching their heads on why their sales haven’t quadrupled yet. As Gary V says, “It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon.”
    It’s very easy to get excited and jump onto the sexiest tactic this week but not execute consistently the next week and week after. There must be a consistency.

  13. Actually, they aren’t even allowing laptop cases if the case has anything in it other than the laptop and related accessories.

  14. Have to say I’m a big fan of hakka chow mein and drive about 2 hours to a joint where I use to live many years ago if I had to today! In that case consistency would matter to me.

  15. Consistency is clearly going to be a big problem. I flew American Airlines from London to Boston last week and the additional security was a physical pat-down of all passengers and a (cursory) physical inspection of all bags being carried onto the aircraft (open, move a few things around). This was done at the gate, which at Heathrow T3 is an isolated area for each gate.
    There were no additional restrictions on carried bags (with computers or not), and none of the on-board restrictions that were floated in the few days after the incident.

  16. Since brands are about creating a shortcut in the mind of a consumer to associate a product or service with a phrase or market, consistency would be key to becoming synonymous to that offering.
    Big brands often suffer from a rotation of CMO’s coming in and throwing out a previous strategy, looking to make their mark with new direction. Which is why the CEO needs to be involved and the ultimate brand champion.
    If there ever was a golden rule or rules to branding, being consistent tops the list.

  17. It is true that the rules need to be followed by the staff to the “T”. However, I believe that the personnel who are @ work need to be objective enough to assess the situation and take a decision. Rules apply when there is a real breach of security and not a perception of breach. Consistency is required but not at the cost of ignorance. For example in one of the Online Marketing calls that was made to a mid-40s person he was sold a credit card but when he said that he was just out of the cemetery after attending his wife’s funeral. He was empathised with but then when the Marketing person kept the phone down the man was shocked to hear the routine “Have a Great Day!!”. How silly training can become?? This can be avoided only if every customer is assessed objectively. So, always following rules without applying mind can be detrimental to the outcome.

  18. Mitch, Consistency has never been the hallmark of government or pseudo government agencies. The realization out of the Detroit incident is that in the absence of common sense ‘profile building’, people will continue to do whatever they feel personally addresses the issue. The premise of the what the government is doing is reactive, versus being proactive. It is exactly the problem in a large bureaucracy, where decisions come to slowly. Rather than looking at a country that effectively manages for the issues at hand an adopting their policies, we get a series of kneejerk reactions, that tend to be both wrong and poorly implemented. Sooner or later Government2.0 will happen, and it will be glorious. Until then, check your backpack, and now your wheeled laptop bag.
    Steven Davidson – Pursuit Placement Group

  19. Hilarious. Laptop bag companies are being fueled by airport security. I also think that the penny loafer industry has benefited greatly from airport dealings. I personally enjoy the air cannon machine and random rub downs.

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