Brand New Resolutions MMXVI


Hello!

Thank you all those who kept your faith in A Brand View Story…I am conscious that this blog lost its steam post April this year! Guess this is what happens if you back RaGa as a brand. Well…the real reason was that I got busy with the launch of my debut novel Eighteen The End Of Innocence. Incidentally though I started the morning with a troll on RaGa..so I am gonna give him a break and come back to Brand New Resolutions for 2016. We are gonna stick to my by now familiar format so here goes…

BrandNewResolutions2016
START

No1Sustainable Packaging. Made a train journey recently and trust me the sight along the railway tracks was not a pleasant one. Tonnes of branded litter just lying around. From PET bottles to bags of wafers there they were strewn across boldly displaying their brands. If plastic is bad for the environment and use of paper leads to cutting of trees isn’t it about time we had more environmentally sustainable options? I would pay a rupee more if I had to. Hoping we all would.

STOPNo2

Overcharging! This one is a plea more as a consumer. A lot many restaurants organized and stand alone alike take their customers for a ride when they present the bill. This overcharging is mainly done under the garb of taxation. Larger populace is ignorant or unaware with regard to the taxes that are applicable when they are dining out and succumb to this con. It is not appropriate to take names or paint the industry with a broad brush but it is  reality that a sizable number indulge in this malpractice. It would bode well for chains if they ensured their billing practices are in accordance with the law. Fortunately for them India is not a land where class action suits are filed else quite a few brands could potentially be caught on the wrong side of law.

No3MORE OF

Wearables!  We have seen a flurry of watches in 2015 on Android and iOS platforms and they certainly have piqued curiosity in many of us. Would like to see this go beyond watches during 2016 and within the watches space itself; more utility apps would be nice to see.

No4Non-cricket leagues! It was heartening to see brands support sport other than cricket. The Football league, Kabbadi league, Tennis league all survived another season. The fact that TV ratings saw an increase for Kabbadi and also for the  Football league (except on days when there was cricket featuring India) augurs well for both the future of the sport and the potential that exists for brands.

No5LESS OF

Meaningless Brand Associations with Bollywood movies. Believe that brands tend to risk their credibility when they associate with motion pictures. These associations more often than not are led by stars rather than any synergies between the content/story-line of the film itself. Brands would do better than to just chase good money behind their brand ambassadors bad professional choices.

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Brand Supernovas


Brand SupernovasHow many times have brands or companies simply be-dazzled you with their products, communication, pace of innovation, service delivery etc and then suddenly dropped off the planet?

Not often, but I bet most of us would come up with an example or two.

Got thinking on similar lines and tried racking my brains to come up with a list my own. Funny thing with lists though is that you want the number of items on it to reach a nice round figure. What I figured was; whatever number that you can get to without stretching the core thought is probably the right number to have on the list. I am sure you nodded your head to that one.

Before I started writing this post I looked up the term “Supernova” in the dictionary

su·per·no·va (so͞o′pər-nō′və)

A rare celestial phenomenon involving the explosion of a star and resulting in an extremely bright, short-lived object that emits vast amounts of energy. Depending on the type of supernova, the explosion may completely destroy the star, or the stellar core may survive to become a neutron star.

I have for the purpose of this post highlighted what I believe are the operative parts.

Before I go on to cite examples let me establish the basic premise which is, a successful brand is the coming together of a great product or service and communication that resonates with the consumer leading to a distinctive identity, a marked preference and a position of leadership. Now, that’s an elevator pitch definition of brand success that covers most if not all bases.

Now brands fade for a variety of reasons and hundreds go into oblivion every day. Mostly because they didn’t deliver on the promise that they made. Reasons could be they stopped being relevant or they got complacent or they were poorly managed etc. The very opposite at one time or the other must have got them to the top. It is however important to make a distinction between brand supernovas and brand fads.

Brand supernovas are the ones that seemed to have got it right. Well atleast for a while.

Now for the examples. Here are brands that shot up high and lit up the horizon while they were at it. Almost all these brands had a great product/service idea that went down extremely well with consumers, customers and investors. Not all of them spent big bucks on advertising and communication but they sure captured more than a fair share of imagination – to the extent that nobody imagined them going bust.

Napster_LogoNapster: A pioneer in more ways than one. Based on a brilliant insight and a sound technology Napster shot to fame towards the end of the last millennium. It is said that Napster at its peak had over 80Mn registered users, a number to die for even in today’s socially hyper-connected world. Legal troubles signaled the beginning of the end. While the brand attempted a comeback, the magic didn’t simply happen. What Napster did was permanently alter how record labels perceived and carried out their business.

 IridiumEverywhereLogoIridium: You had seen this kind of stuff only in James Bond movies before and these folks made it happen for real. Well almost! This service and technology was not only introduced ahead of its time but also prematurely. The “Everywhere” promise the brand made could not be delivered effectively for the lack of satellite arrangements. An out of the world investment (pun intended) in putting all those satellites meant an extremely highly priced service to the end users but more than that the fact that it didn’t work as promised took the wind out of Iridiums sails. They had to close shop but not before they had captured the world’s attention and imagination.

Kingfisher_AirlinesKingfisher Airlines: An example from closer home. Their acquisition of Air Deccan established them as one of the leaders of the airlines industry in India. Their promise of a “good time” had people queuing up. The Branson’esque flamboyance of the owner helped the airline get more than its fair share of attention. They took a leaf out of PanAm by leading an explicit but unstated promise of stewardesses who were good enough to walk the ramp as models. The airline eventually was grounded as it ran up debts way beyond its ability to pay. The Kingfisher wasn’t flying anymore! It can be argued that the entire fiasco did not have a positive impact on the original brand of beer by the same name and on the holding company.

Coming back, the three brands did have a great product/service that gave them a distinct identity and a position of leadership. However, mismanagement in some form or the other led to the brands fading away but not before they had lit up the sky!

Timing Out : When Brands Need to Say Goodbye


Timing OutWe have often talked about the emotional bond that brands create with consumers and how it is their raison d’etre. The flip side and perhaps also the down side is the emotional bond that brands form with their creators and managers. Several brand managers and businesses have been guilty of stretching brands beyond, well beyond their limit.

So how does one really know that it’s time? Unfortunately there are no easy answers.  However, we do have some lead indicators that emerge from collective wisdom and common sense. Brands are tricky, we all know that. There is no single definition of brand success.

I for one come from the school of thinking that professes and propagates that brands exist for the sole reason of making businesses uniquely identifiable and profitable. Therefore, true brand measures ought to have blended business metrics.
Coming back. What should we as marketers look out for?

brand healthThe best metrics are invariably those that are rooted in market context. After all reality is a key requirement for a reality check!
Brands typically monitor and map their performance on the following dimensions (or similar)

• Recall (Memorability)
• Perceived Quality (Premium)
• Revenue Share (Significance)
• Profit Share (Viability)
• Voice Share (Visibility)
• Relevance (Utility)
• Engagement (Sociability)

The seed of this post came from a recent news item that announced the winding down of HMT watches. A brand that was anchored in a nations pride and one that definitely made a mark with atleast two generations of independent India.

If one were to put the above parameters together to construct a health radar, HMT watches one would have seen the brand perform poorly on all of these parameters not today but over atleast a 10 year period.

HMT Watches Financials

The call to wind down should perhaps been taken long ago instead of allowing the brand to bleed to death. One may argue that it’s the either the fate or fortune of Public Sector companies in India that the get such extended runs. Fortune because the being a Public Sector Undertaking means a long leash and fate because the long leash often means inaction.

HMT watches is not the only example of brands dying slow painful deaths and for sure the phenomenon is not limited to the public sector alone.

Ambassador another memorable brand owned by Hindustan Motors remained active albeit propped up by its “taxi” and “state vehicle” tag. Long after it had faded the brand managers wanted to give it a might heave with a souped-up version christened Amberoid till reality bit them!

Ambassador

There are bound to be ups and downs in every brands life. The revival, rejuvenation plans should kick into place while most of the markers on the Health radar are still in the pink. It is for the businesses to decide basis their “strategy”. The answers can only emerge from the ability to impact the multiple dimensions enlisted above.
As they say,  “An honourable exit is saying goodbye while there are more people asking why rather than why not!”

3 1/2 Signs of Lazy Marketing


Lazy MarketingNo less than a dozen brands are vying for the consumer’s attention every waking minute of the day. Some pleading, some enticing and yet others imploring him to give them space and preference.

In such a situation, brands and even more importantly those managing these brands need to work extremely hard for their communication to register. Despite being aware of the acute attention deficit some marketers go ahead and release sub-par communication, products and sub-optimal support.

Now one may argue that effective marketing need not necessarily be intelligent but it sure needs to be hard working. It cannot be denied that marketing must eventually end up moving the needle as far as a brand’s awareness, recall, preference, premium, profits, share etc. are concerned.

Often though marketing managers fall into the trap of creating a go to market plan simply because there must exist one.  Succumbing to the pressures of fighting the competition, maintaining the share of voice, launching with full aplomb, keeping the channel partners satisfied do tick box but this approach is what breeds “Lazy Marketing”.

So here are 3 ½ signs of Lazy Marketing to watch out for. They might not exactly be as fundamental as the 4P’s but they are a good set of lead indicators if you are in the planning phase.

No1Bigger, better, faster, more

If a product is just about being bigger, better, faster, more as compared what competition has to offer then you know that there is little differentiation involved. So if you hear better mileage, smoother ride or larger, brighter display you know!

No2Pricing Paralysis

Most marketers seem to have forgotten about using pricing as lever. If ever they do it’s a defensive move which more often than not says “Hey I am not really sure if my product is better than the other guy, but I am lower priced”. When they do price higher they go on a justification trip. Pricing should signal value and if it doesn’t someone is being lazy.

No3Feeding the Fad

Let’s face it there are only so many ways of doing things and innovation is a stranger who comes into town very rarely. But the worst thing all of us as marketers can do is feeding the fad.  Can’t come up with a good activation “Let’s do a flash mob”. Want to get some consumer interaction going “Let’s get people to post selfies!” Ideas do not need to be novel nor do they need to be in vogue, they need to relevant.

 And now for the ½ sign

No3half Leave it to the celeb

Marketers must work hard if they want to get this piece right. Yes the decisions get made based on the wisdom at their disposal but never ever should a product or brand allow itself to be carried by a celeb.  History is replete with examples that shout out “If the product isn’t great or the story is weak the celeb cannot do it for you.”

Avatars: How Mascots Help Brands Engage Better


avatarsWe have all as marketers discussed, debated, worked on creating, shaping, modifying the brands that we have managed.  Often the central point of conversation would have been about the brand character, its personality.  We would either have brand bibles that gave a pen picture of the brand or at times written one de novo.

What these pen pictures do is that they make the brand tangible for us. As marketers we have given several dimensions such as names, personalities, characteristics some have also given their brands a face!

Mascots for brands have been around for as long as we have known brands.  Brands with mascots achieve a lot with very little.  It takes most brands time and effort in the form of consistent communication to establish the character traits and a personality for themselves. Of course along with a Hail Mary for it to be understood by the consumers the way it is intended.

Today more than ever before, in an era of increasing choices and decreasing attention spans mascots can play a very significant role in carving consumer mind-space for brands.  The digital natives of today understand and also identify with the concept of “avatars”.  The digital natives understand that though not the actual person, the avatars are perhaps the nearest likelihood or the self-projection.

From a brands perspective it allows consumers to interact with a “face” or a “person” instead of some nameless, faceless representative. It adds that little bit of familiarity which is key for brand comfort.

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Mascots help the brand engage better with its consumers

  • They can be de facto brand spokespersons. Mascots can have real time presence in sociosphere, sharing, commenting, reacting and interacting with consumers all across.
  • Mascots are more flexible than other brand assets and identifiers such as logos, colors and fonts. They can speak different languages, dress for the occasion helping brands localize and customize messages. Take on multiple avatars!
  • The mascot can be a brands promoter at the point of sale. Driving recall, reinforcing the brands core values and even delivering a sales pitch.
  • Brand ambassadors may switch or cease to be relevant but mascots will always belong to the brand.
  • The sheen of the brand may diminish over time but mascots are ageless. Sometimes even out surviving the brand.

Mascots needn’t necessarily be cartoons, caricatures or animated characters alone.  They can be and are human too.  Many brands have successfully created characters and used them in communication across multiple touch points.

Here are a few brands and their mascots that according to me have served or are serving their brands superlatively across TV commercials, radio spots, print ads, hoardings and web films.

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Look forward to your thoughts.

E.Q. -Brands that tugged at your heart


Emotional Quotient

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

 Maya Angelou

This quote has been and continues to be a guiding factor for me as a marketing professional. It can be universally applied to not just to interpersonal situations but to communication as well.  If the intent of all brand communication is to create positive impressions that at some point result in a purchase decision in favour of our brands and products then, how it makes one feel on reception is of paramount importance.

Brand HeatIf one were to look at brand messaging and how consumers would “warm up” to the brand there are 4 distinct levels.  Communication that talks about the product and its features alone would get the coldest response. The prospects improve to lukewarm once you move from the I to the you and I space where there is talk of benefits.  The slightly warmer zones are where brands cater to the status and social needs.  The hottest zone is where the brand creates a connect with the consumer at an emotional level.

There are dozens of research papers that define and describe the range of human emotions putting them into positive and negative buckets. Marketers have for long argued whether to go the factual, cut and dry rational way when they communicate or to appeal to & arouse the consumer’s emotions to get them across the line.

Brand InsistenceDerrick Daye at the Blake Project in his article 5 Drivers of Brand Insistence says that the ultimate goal of brand equity building is to move the consumer from brand awareness to brand insistence.   He opines that there are five elements that drive a consumer to insist upon a particular brand to meet his or her needs – brand awareness, accessibility, value, relevant differentiation, and emotional connection.

That being said a brand cannot just churn out arbitrary sentimental stuff that has no connect with what they do or offer.

One question that needs to be answered is whether the communication conforms to or breaks the pattern.   In a category where emotions are the norm another communication would not break clutter.  Also, does the communication provide adequate proof points to the consumer? Remember it’s not enough to get the consumer all mushy, eventually all communication needs to translate into strengthening the brand.

Here’s a compendium of TVCs that caught my eye.  They straddle a host of emotions and categories.  Interesting to note how many of these brands are leaders in their categories. Some of them go beyond emotion and deliver a strong brand message whilst others definitely touch your heart yet fail to do much else.

To leave your thoughts use the voting buttons J

Once Upon A Time: Brands That Told A Tale


OnceUponATimeBrands typically launch a number of products during the course of their lives.  Needless to say a large number of them are supported with campaigns.  The products of course could be variants, new products or another category under the same mother brand.

Now when brands are creating communication for any campaign they go to great lengths to ensure all the varied pieces straddled across time and media come together to create one beautiful picture and deliver the brand message to the target consumer.

SignalDecayAt this juncture I shall introduce a concept from physics called decay.  Explained in layman terms, it refers to the behaviour of a signal for convenience say sound. A signal that is generated does not have a sudden death once the broadcast ceases, it remains alive gradually losing intensity over time (refer figure).

What does that have to do with our discussion? Well if we were to juxtapose the logic to communication that brands send out.  We could argue that long after the campaign has stopped there is still bound to be a residue of that communication. Perhaps the reason why brands remain in the collective memory if not the collective consciousness. It is this residue that feeds brands long after they are gone. Going a step forward it is this that makes it a challenge when brands want to reposition themselves.

Now unless a brand wants to replace a new message with an existing one communication residues are something that can be used to a brands advantage. They can well serve as a springboard for your next and then your next communication. The caveat is congruence.

There aren’t many, but there are enough examples of brands that have leveraged “ad memory” and built on it.  The subconscious mind stores a plethora of messages only to draw them when triggered. Here’s an attempt to present a few.

The important aspect to note is that the brands took the story forward with each of these communications that were spread over time.  Some over a short time some over an extended period.  However, they all used a common thread to move their stories forward. Some depicted the progress of the protagonist made in life or love, others retained a core ingredient like an audio element, while some attired their central character in a certain way to show changing times. Regardless, they all took their messages deeper into the minds of their respective consumers.

At the end of the day all branding exercises are a battle for a space in the consumers mind, so why waste the space you already made!

To Be Or Not To Be: Should Brands Reinforce or Shatter Stereotypes?


ToBeorNotToBeThe germ of this article lies in the recent flutter that an interview by the CEO of a cola major has caused in the sociosphere [1] [2].  This post however, is not to express an opinion either for or against the views put forth but to raise a related relevant question.  The question is with regard to stereotypes and the role brands and brand communication should be playing. If at all brands and brand communication have any culpability/responsibility with regard to reinforcing or breaking stereotypes.

As marketers sending out communication for and on behalf of our brands we rely heavily on our (collective/organizational/gut/experience) understanding of the consumer.  The endeavor always is to gain and convert that killer insight into brilliant communication that hits home.  It is for the keen eye to distinguish and separate the wheat from the chaff.

Brand communication over the years has tended to rely heavily on the stereotypes that society offers.  These may be discrete pieces of communication from different brands but to consumers/audiences expose to this communication it is a single mass from which certain subliminal messages emanate albeit without being planned.

To explain my point and to connect back to the germ of this article I shall take the example of the stereotypes about women that get or got reinforced. Now it is important to note that each brand is doing its own bit and approaching it based on what its insight is about its category and consumer. However, they collectively end up reinforcing a certain image.

Take the commercials that were being aired on India television during the late eighties, even well into the nineties.  The stereotype that was being reinforced was that of the Indian woman as the dutiful housewife. It was her responsibility to keep the utensils, clothes sparkling clean. She needed to ensure ends were met, kids were fed, even cook food good enough to keep the husband’s boss happy.  As if all that were not enough she needed to look good and smell good for her husband when he came back home.

Sign of times well not really, considering it would be round about this time that the Indira Nooyis, the Chanda Kochhars, the Naina Lal Kidwais and the Kiran Mazumdars were climbing rungs of the corporate ladder.

The India of the late eighties and nineties did not exist in a bubble.  It was simply taking a leaf out of or getting “inspired by” communication of that was being aired elsewhere in Europe and America. It was taken to a satirical level in the book (and later on the movie adaptations) The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin.

There have been examples of brands attempting to break stereotypes as well. An example that comes readily is a campaign by a personal hygiene brand when they chose to dump the veiled, almost apologetic “Woh zaroori din” (translated: “those important days”) approach and said it like it is.

It’s not as if women alone have been subjected to such stereotypes. Men have been brought up with their own set of expectations to live up to.  Advertising is replete with exaggerated versions of males as performers, winners, saviours of the world etc. etc.  Gender stereotypes apart, brand communication has at times relied on race, colour and ethnic stereotypes as well.  These were perhaps found acceptable in the times they were aired.

Ad creators and brand managers across the world will continue to deal with their existential dilemma of reinforcing or breaking stereotypes that form in our society.

So who really is to blame if one feels obligated to conform to these stereotypes?  If it is indeed the society then the answer at some level is I, Me and Myself.

To close a few lines penned by the Bard of Avon from Hamlet.

“To be, or not to be? That is the question—

Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer

The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,

Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,

And, by opposing, end them?”

Deep Impact: Out of Home…Out of the Shadows!


OOHOOBOOWOut of home media for years has been meted out step motherly treatment by planners and brands alike. Often receiving spill-over/ left-over campaign budgets and more than often facing the axe when there is a crunch.  The fact that there are no universally accepted measures and questionable audits haven’t helped cause either.  Planning and measurement challenges apart, till not so long ago OOH was blamed to be a passive, immobile medium.  Unlike communication via traditional media that travels to or “reach” the audience, the audience has to reach the medium and therefore the communication itself.

Not a very flattering analogy, but an analogy nonetheless OOH media is the Cockroach of the media biome, it was there long before anybody came and shall remain long after everyone is gone.  Staying with the concept, OOH in the past few years has evolved like no other.  Having wholeheartedly embraced technology OOH today has managed to overcome a few of its handicaps and even managed to convert some of its weaknesses into strengths.

From wall painting to billboards to segment/matrix displays to screens to pods to holograms is a whole lot of evolution to boast of in one generation!  OOH today is visual, audible, tangible, flexible, customizable, you name it.   While measures are still an issue a significant dimension that OOH has added to itself has been IMPACT.

More and more brands led by their PR departments are venturing out and using OOH as an impact tool.  The talk value of such exercises not only multiplies the “reach” by viralling on social media but also features on traditional media because of its news worthiness contributing significantly to the earned media kitty.  Delivering the much required RoI the bean-counters and the “measurability” for whosoever needs to claim or declare success, in other words everyone is happy.

 

Whether its entire airplanes painted (or stickered) with your brand or virtual cheetahs atop cars or building projections brands are seeking “Innovation” and “Impact” with every single campaign. OOH today is not a unidirectional communication anymore.  It has become an experience delivery mechanism.  The tangibility of the medium and the natural ability to be “larger than life” obviously come in handy.  Brands today do not just want a good communication, no not even a great communication they want awesome.  OOH has emerged as the answer to how do I physically engage an audience, make them gasp and say wow! Not only that make them record, capture and share!

OOH including transit, street furniture, ambient delivers the edge brands need.  No longer are they shackled by footfalls and traffic density. In a pioneering move, the Rapid Metro in Gurgaon has offered entire stations as an asset with the brand integrated into the station name!

Out of home, out of box and out of the world is new mantra in an innovation hungry world. About time the brand guys take note and ownership of this medium and pull it out of the shadows and the burden of expectations based on traditional media.

 Leaving you with a personal favourite, do pardon the bias 😉