Branded Nation: Are We Unwittingly Walking Into A Brand-trap?


BrandedNation

In the aftermath of the 2014 elections, the Congress kept mentioning that it got blown away by BJP’s marketing blitzkrieg. It should not have come as a surprise to the Congress party though, since the direction of BJP’s strategic thinking was more or less set during A.B. Vajpayee’s tenure as the PM.

The failure of the India shining campaign made the Congress complacent and the BJP resilient. During the ten years they were away from power the BJP practiced and perfected the craft. Finally mounting the attack with its most potent weapon! The sustained digital presence that started with veteran leader L.K. Advani, the share of mind/conversation and something all marketers swear by – on-ground connect; all proved to be gold.

No doubt it has worked for BJP the political party and catapulted it into government. The think-tank reckons it might just work for the government as well.

A government publicizing its schemes and initiatives is nothing new. The Modi government in under an year has kicked off and launched several such schemes and initiatives with much fanfare.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

A marked change from earlier has been the ‘Go to Market’. Each one of the initiatives has been supported with a well thought communication plan and activations. Whether it is the Swatch Bharat Abhiyan, the Make in India or the Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojna every element that could have been branded has been. There has also been a flurry of war cries, rallying cries and punch lines such “Minimum Government and Maximum Governance”, “No Red Tape, Only Red Carpet” etc.

The government needs to tread carefully in order not to fall into its own ‘Brand-trap’.

India as a nation has traditionally been a reluctant marketer and this new aggressive approach has been and should be accorded a cautious welcome both from within and from outside the country. After all, if one of the world’s largest markets has to get its rightful share of the investment pie the helmsmen need to do whatever it takes to catch the world’s eye. Having said that, as with any other product or service the product experience has to back the claim.

All marketing has an element of hyperbole in it. It is for the marketers to ensure that the product lives up to the promises that are made. Regardless of who and where ‘dissonance’ is a concept that all marketers need to be wary of. Few would disagree that in the current context brands, though created by marketers are ‘co-managed’ by the consumers. Therefore, while it is good to see the slick marketing plans for initiatives, it is also important to ensure that the surrounding ‘buzz’ and the ‘conversations’ about need to be managed better and need to have a positive ‘slant’.

As someone once said “A hen lays an egg and cackles, the catfish lays a million without making a sound. We all know whose eggs we eat!”

Advertisements

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?”

The Art of Electioneering


Art of Electioneering

“Where absolute superiority is not attainable, you must produce a relative one at the decisive point by making skillful use of what you have.”

Karl von Clausewitz, On War 1832

As I write this post I am aware that hundreds like me are analyzing what the world’s largest democracy has witnessed and trying to put in perspective.  As the election juggernaut rolled through the country under intense media attention the various angles to the 2014 elections in India have been explored, analysed and have been discussed threadbare.

One of the things that has bubbled up to the top and been referred to often with an accusatory tone is how India’s PM designate was a well marketed product.  There is little doubt that what has just concluded is a milestone election in India’s history. One that introduced several elements into the Art of Electioneering.  For sure there will be cases made out this election that students of business, social and political science will delve into across universities. I have in a previous post talked about how the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) captured the imagination of millions in Delhi. What the creators of the Modi campaign have achieved is far bigger and far reaching in its impact.

“The general who wins the battle makes many calculations in his temple before the battle is fought. The general who loses makes but few calculations beforehand.”

SunTzu, The Art of War

In hindsight what has been executed and arguably to perfection have been text book strategies.  Be it SunTzu, Porter or Aaker or Prahalad what the strategy cell of Bhartiya Janata Party has done is research, organize, propagate and execute or as I call it the ROPE trick.  For the purpose of this discussion I shall attempt a retro-fit of my observations of the campaign to popular models in marketing strategy.

Customer MotivationsAlong the lines of the adage “Customer First” we’ll take a look at how the BJP campaign tested on understand the drivers for this election and the needs of the voters i.e. Customer Motivation.

The marketing brains behind the BJP campaign ticked these boxes well and proper. They clearly identified the mood of an electorate that was young and aspirational.  From an Indian perspective, we have as marketers devoted hours cracking the code and allocated millions of rupees trying to win the youth over. The BJP campaign identified the Youth as mainstream.  As per the 2011 census 65% of India’s population is below 35 with a median age of 29 putting an eligible workforce (15-64) at a whopping 430 million, higher than the entire population of the USA!

poppyra

The strategists at the BJP HQ caught on to this early in the day and having identified their target segment distilled their motivations.  So what were the motivators they identified? Speaking of the high level motivators (since each has contributing factors and dimensions), a strong yearning for growth and opportunities, a need re-assert pride, a secure environment and a decisive leadership were what were chosen as the pegs of the campaign.

The campaign planners were also smart enough to place their communication not just on traditional media but where the Youth were on the internet constantly communicating with each other using a variety of social networking tools from BBM to Instagram to Pintrest to Google Hangouts! This enabled BJP to speak to them at an individual level as well as a collective, influential mass. More importantly, this was not just at the time of the campaign.  The social leg of the BJP campaign started a couple of years ago with senior leaders writing blogs, active on twitter etc.  The buzz around BJP was atleast 3X their nearest competitor in the sociosphere the AAP.

Several articles have been and will get written regarding the extensive use of digital media by the BJP in election 2014.  The use of technological wizardry with the 3D rallies or the beat and booth level mass outreach mobile screens carrying their leaders message the campaign exploited every possible touch-point.

So was it just a media and technology blitzkrieg based on consumer (read voter) understanding or was it more?

Here’s where I would introduce another text book model to which in perspectives will answer what the BJP went about doing. This is about understanding your competition better than anyone else. The BJP used this understanding at every step of the way and in all their communication verbal, written or visual to attack them.  Again in hindsight, the way the numbers panned out they seemed to have done it well.

 Competitor Actions

The strategy cell of the BJP along with their campaign creators seemed to have blended their understanding of the voter and the ruling Congress to create the perfect potion that cast a spell over the electorate.  The silence of the Prime Minister, the reactive nature of the Congress campaign, the disconnect of their leadership all became weapons in the BJP campaign arsenal.

The respective campaign taglines represented the middle of the road, motherhood tenor of the congress versus the more exhortative call for action from the BJP. Much again has been written and talked about this having been a “Presidential style” election.  The author disagrees. Granted that this was an election of personalities like never before, but to say that this was the first is incorrect atleast as far as the past four or five elections are concerned. The BJP always has portrayed a leader whether it was the former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee with the slogan “Ab ki baari Atal Behari” during the 1998-99 elections or L.K. Advani with “Majboot Neta Nirnayak Sarkar”.  Even in the past whether declared or not the contenders for the top post were always clear.

Endnote: The victory of the Bhartiya Janta Party in these elections was a result of a very well thought out strategy and smartly integrated ground realities.  It was a journey that began well in time. Yes the leader himself had a role to play, but the magic was him resonating with the youth of this country. Voicing their aspirations and promising a better future. Clichéd and overused as it maybe it goes without saying that with great power comes great responsibility.  The burden of the mandate will now be on the BJP it is for them to perform to their promise. The nation hopes for deliverance.

Another Brick in the Wall: The Branding of Education


AnotherBrickThere have been brands and then there have been BRANDS. There are those about which books are written, around which theories are propounded and then there are those that people just desire. The brands that are meant for few. Their very distance is what increases their appeal. The harder to own the more desirable they are.

These brands span industries and product/service categories. From diamond to a perfume, clothing to cars categories have a brand that is to die for. What all of them bring with them is a pride of association.

The business of education is no different. There are universities, colleges and schools that are brands.  We must have, as students, parents, employees, entrepreneurs, friends we have always looked up to, been in awe of, given better treatment to people because of their alma mater.

If you step back, these are brands that have been built on performance. Over time as more and more alumnus of these institutions succeed the higher they climb. The other parameter also has been how easy or difficult it has been to become a part of these brands. More than any other thing the respect for these institutions emerges from the knowledge that only the capable are deemed deserving. This perhaps is the fundamental premise on which the promise of delivery rests.

A recent conversation with friends over dinner brought to the fore how the parameters of assessment have changed. The reference of course was to schools in and around the capital city. If you are a parent trying to get your child admitted into school or have undergone the process (read trauma) in recent years you will have your strong views about it too.

The opposing arguments in the debate rested on performance on one side and promise on the other. Now perceptions can be founded on either. This is where branding comes in I suppose.

There have and will always be top ten lists and rankings based pretty much anything ranging hearsay to actual surveys. We may choose to use or trash them but sure as the sun shines we seldom ignore them.  Unfortunately, in the Google age they are the chosen method of settling an argument.

Several “world” schools and “international” schools have come up in and around Delhi in the past 10 years or so. There are quite a few that get counted amongst the finest and the best. Brands in their own right. Brands that are desired. Brands that signal the formation of a new order.

The founding pillars of these brands (institutions) are not past performance. Truth be spoken they have hardly been around long enough to establish a track record or to claim their share in the greatness of the alumni. Yet they are desired. What then is the formula for their success?

A professor once told me this and it stuck. Brands can be made desirable or aspirational by pressing any or all these levers that drive brand perception.

Product: Brands that become aspirational not on their steam but the virtue of the product itself. Example brands producing diamond jewelry.

Process: Brands that create products or services with the help of a unique ingredient or exclusive process. The “Nobody does it the way we do” promise. Example The Rolls Royce, A Breitling watch, Häagen-Dazs ice-cream.

Performance: Brands that deliver in the superlative space putting them at the top of the heap because not many can match the performance. The first, the fastest, the widest, the best…in short superlative. Example super luxury automobiles

Premium: Well it’s not just the price that we are talking of here it is anything extra even the wait.  Typically it is an associated P and a brand that has any of the P’s mentioned above as its rai·son d’être would automatically attract a premium.  However, there have been examples of brands that have relied on a premium alone to drive the perception of superior quality. The service industry has a few examples in restaurants and spas that rely on pricing themselves high to drive the perception of exclusivity.

Question is as the new world schools lay their brickwork which one of the 4P’s is driving their desirability? For now though, it doesn’t seem to be performance.

As Einstein said Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school.

Indian Pigheaded League: When Brands become Stubborn


IPigLAs I write this post, the IPL 7 auctions are underway. The PR machinery of the franchise is working overtime to get people enthused and excited. From conversations around which player in which franchise to new kids on the block the twitter universe is abuzz.

There is no denying the fact that IPL perhaps has been one of the most popular leagues anywhere in the world. Cricketers of all cricket playing nations with or without test status would give an arm and leg to feature in the league and earn themselves a contract. A lot has been written about how the younger lot of cricketers yearn a chance to play the IPL over donning the national cap!

Someone once said that any publicity is good publicity. Brand IPL seems to live, breathe and propagate this credo. Seldom has a brand been so synonymous with controversies. One might opine that controversy is a design element of the product that IPL is.

What is surprising is that even aspersions on the quality of the core product viz T20 cricket have not come in the way. From match fixing to betting, physical assaults to sexual assaults the IPL seasons have witnessed a range of controversies.

Good or bad, right or wrong.  Let’s face it IPL is a commercial enterprise.   A vehicle for other brands to be seen and heard. The designed for Television IPL has seen a declining trend over the past 6 seasons as far its TV ratings are concerned, they are none the less significant.  The season six had almost Rs.800Crs riding on it as advertising revenues. That seems to be brand IPL’s reason for chugging along as well. It is for all practical purposes the Super Bowl equivalent of India. Brands plan for their IPL related spends and campaigns much in advance.  Those who are not associated or cannot afford the IPL keep their plans ready for reaching consumers outside of the IPL juggernaut during the 45 day spectacle.

A recent report put IPLs brand value in excess of $3Bn with a combined brand valuation of the franchises at over $400Mn. With the depleting central pool and the allied sponsorship/merchandising revenues, the question mark over the franchisees making money however continues. The brand valuations of the individual franchises seems to be the redeeming factor for the investors at the moment.

IPL 6 despite the fixing controversy still beamed into a whopping 129Mn households in India. Might perhaps is right. The might of brand IPL seems to be in its popularity or the numbers. Maybe Indians are so used to the typical masala pot-boiler entertainment format that they have made an allowance for all the negatives in the IPL format.

The question that is begging to be asked is whether brands can truly benefit from an association with a “property” that is so mired in the long run? Is there such a thing as a negative rub-off? After all, media planners and agencies do sell the positive rub-off from an association with integrated properties. Does the end really justify the means?

I guess the Indian consumer is an innocent forgiving lot. More often than not, they judge you for who you are and not who you are seen or associated with. That’s our culture perhaps, our mythology treats a Karna and Vibhishana with respect despite their association with evil.

We are accepting of the multiple shades of grey.

Meanwhile, IPL the brand and the brands that ride on it march on stubbornly into Season 7.

The Sixth Sense: Appealing to Consumers with Mobile Advertising


The Sixth SenseMarketers of today have to contend with a media consumption pattern that is very different say from even 5 years ago.  Where the proverbial push comes to shove, India was always expected to leap-frog technology generations.

For example not conforming to the traditional diffusion of innovation cycles India aborted its pager journey and quickly jumped onto the mobile phone bandwagon.

And what a ride it has been! Almost 19 years since the first mobile call in India was made possible, India has a mobile subscriber base just shy of 900Mn and almost 176Mn subscribers accessing internet through their mobile devices and 15Mn broadband subscribers. If the service providers play their cards right and the powers that control don’t get greedy the data revolution beckons!

Just for perspective, even the current number of mobile subscribers in India is 3 times the population of the United States, there are only six countries in the world that have a population in excess of 176Mn (the reported number accessing internet through a mobile device) and finally there are 175 countries that have a population less than the broadband subscriber base in India. Having posted phenomenal growth rates as a category the recent explosion has been in the smartphone space. In the last two years alone, smartphone shipments have grown by over 225%, an estimated 12Mn smartphones shipping every quarter in India during the past 2 quarters.

Point is, numbers in an Indian context have been and are always going to be there for taking. It’s a whole different question if we start peeling the onion layers and start getting down to the real stuff which is engagement levels.

The focus on ROMI or the Return on Marketing Investment has never been higher.  With marketing budgets in absolute terms pointing south for most brands a multiple X return is the constant lookout of most marketing planners. Couple that with amount of measurability digital media affords, the growth in internet consumption using mobile devices and we can start to understand demand-supply dynamics.

Digital marketing brought in new paradigms and marketers such as us started living with the so called new rules of communicating with our customers. Mobile marketing has been a close follower of its cousin and is invariably clubbed with and is a sub-set of the “Digital strategy” of brands.

The concern that I would like to put forward is that we somehow seem to be applying same or similar framework to mobile as that of traditional internet marketing.  And why should we be not?  One could argue since numerous reports tell us consumers are doing the same things on mobile internet as the traditional desktop/notebook internet.

So why mobile advertising should be treated differently?

Communication sent out by brands has to appeal to the consumers senses for it to register. The mobile today is an extension of the consumers self almost an appendage. It is the consumer’s sixth sense! It connects the person to whatever is relevant at a given point in time, more importantly in space! Augmented Reality or AR as most of us have started to refer to it has been around for a while. Sadly though, marketers are yet to figure out its best use.

Keeping the above in mind, while building their mobile advertising plans brands should perhaps go back to the very basics of planning communication figuring out the Who, When and What.

Who to speak to. The quintessential Target Audience definition now with pin point precision

When to speak to them. Approach with an understanding of what they would be or have been doing. Which marketer has not built/studied a day in the life of the target consumer?

The additional dimension that mobiles have brought about is where. Brands therefore need to weave in the where into the context of the communication. Fortunately technology affords us this luxury.

With mobile advertising Time & Space are to my mind, an imperative.

Example, an 18 year old urban female mobile phone user who is a frequent YouTube or an Internet Radio user would be subjected to a certain kind of advertising because there are a certain set of brands that want to target her. Now, say if a cosmetic brand had to say different things to at different points during the course of the day they technically could and some brands are. It is common place to super-serve a certain segment and the wasted communication on rest of the audience is considered acceptable collateral damage.

Where is an extension of the logic and potentially an opportunity to give different messages. The same cosmetic brand could communicate differently depending upon whether this 18 year old girl was commuting, in her college canteen or sitting in a café in a mall?  Time and space!

In the digital space brands are striving for engagement more than anything. So while we may still be buying and selling in CPM, CPC and CPV terms and busy calculating our ROMI basis the conversion rates. What is going to really bring in results is the quality of engagement that brands have with their TG.

Engagement is a function of opportunity & dispensation and the “where” has a significant impact on dispensation.

Brands, creative agencies, digital agencies, media agencies….anyone listening!

ALIENS: The Destruction of Brand Delhi (and India)


AliensThe past decade has witnessed a surge in the social networking space from a digital perspective. The by-product of this from a marketing perspective has been the renewed interest of brands in building communities. There have been brands that have been at it even before the dawn of the digital era. All of us as marketers have read and discussed about how brands stand on communities and not campaigns.

This post though, attempts to look at the flip side. How communities through their actions build (or in some cases destroy) brands. In a hyper-connected world every and any incident has the potential to trigger a mass reaction. Malcom Gladwell, in his book The Tipping Point has given several examples of how seemingly disparate events can be cinders that light up and cause a wildfire!

Delhi, the capital city of India has been at the centre media attention for a while now. As a city and as a brand Delhi has always been a city that evokes reactions that are on the extremes. At this very moment however, the Net Promoter Score (NPS) of Delhi would perhaps be very low.

Just under 7% of the GDP of India comes from tourism. The 12th Five Year Plan (FY2012-17) puts its bets on Tourism as a sector that can deliver above the national average growth of between 10-12% whilst creating 5.5 to 6.7Mn jobs from the impetus that it can give to allied sectors. Traditionally, the so called focus on tourism has meant multi-million rupee campaigns by State Tourism departments and crass commercialization has ensued around the “destinations”.  The bare necessities such as infrastructure and hugely warranted “social conditioning” have at best been given lip-service.

Delhi has been touted as the Soul & Spirit and the Gateway to India. A city where the ancient and the modern blend seamlessly.

In the spotlight as far as this post is concerned are 3 recent incidents that I believe are pushing closer to the point of imminent disaster. These are incidents that depict how Delhi (Aam Aadmi and the Aam Aadmi Party) treats Tourists, Foreign Nationals and does not spare its own nationals from the other parts of the country! All of these certainly have had an impact on Brand Delhi and on Brand India. Let alone “Atithi Devo Bhav” we treat our guest worse than how Aliens get treated in cinema.  Ranging from ridicule to suspicion, objectification to torture.

  1. The Vigilante Incident (Read More)
  2. The Tourist (Read More)
  3. The Different Looking Guy (Read More)

If we have to serve our own interests as a community this is as good a wake-up call as any before we hit the tipping point.  The onus therefore, is on us as a community and a society to build Brand Delhi or Brand India.

Jai Ho! Re-cycling Brand India


Recycling Brand IndiaThere’s something about nation and pride. You just need to light the spark and the forest fire will follow. There have been dozens of campaigns across the globe that have relied on stirring patriotism as an emotion. With no numbers to back me up at all I would venture out and say that Hollywood as an entity panders to it the most. I am pretty sure that I am not the only one who has wondered why a certain country is the choicest destination regardless of whether it’s an alien attack or a natural calamity. Just to set the context this is not a review of the Bollywood release either.

Coming back, this post is more to talk about two specific campaigns. 2014 is the year of general elections in India. Media, paid and earned has been flush for little over a year with a government sponsored campaign. Bold, considering the fact that a similar campaign in 2004 allegedly alienated the larger populace from a government that according to the poll pundits was all set to comeback.

The campaigns in question “Bharat Uday” or the India Shining campaign as it was called and the current “Bharat Nirman”. There were several films that were made for both campaigns I am showcasing two that will help make my point.

Have lessons been learnt from the past? Well the answer is yes if you think about whether communication pegs have been changed. The earlier 2004 campaign was considered “urban/middle class” in its approach, the current one attempts to be more inclusive (the politically correct word for populist).

Any brand communication should have its bearing right as far as its relevance to the consumer and the competitive context are concerned. An ill-timed or ill-directed communication can do more damage than good that could possibly come out of a campaign.

Either way, millions of dollars get spent in conceiving, producing and airing these campaigns. Many would argue that it is money that could well be spent for several deserving causes. This brings me to the question that I want to ask as a marketer.

“Does show-casing the effect by default communicate the cause?”

This is where I believe the communication has not really shifted or changed.  Both the campaigns tried to stake claim to the progress India was making as a nation. Both have tried to piggy ride Brand India.

Political brands need to be marketed akin to services and not as products. To put it at a very basic level, I could probably get away selling toothpaste showcasing shiny teeth but could I really sell a burger saying it shall rid you of hunger?

In a country where the have-nots outnumber the haves, wanting to use Brand India as a surrogate is always going to be a knife that cuts both ways.

It perhaps is not prudent to weave tales that showcase your neighbour’s prosperity. In this country it’s not my relative, it’s not my friend it’s about me.  If I have not “experienced” it then it is not true. The mood and sentiment is best communicated by a song from a recent release.

So as much as you want to be seen as the “do-gooder” with every communication that you put out, there is perhaps a larger set that attributes their lack of progress to you.

Problem is in a democracy, majority continues to count!

Happy Republic Day!!