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.


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!

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!!

As Good As It Gets: Branding for Life!

POLIO ERASEWell this post is a departure from the previous ones. This one is a tribute. Read in the newspapers yesterday that no new case of Polio has been reported in India since January 2011. 3 years since a case has been reported! What it means is that Polio myelitis has been eradicated from India! Considering the fact that over half of the world’s polio cases came from India as recently 2009 this is nothing short of a miracle! Considering the challenges involved in a country like India that has rudimentary infrastructure, corrupt officials with little or no scruples a teeming population to contend with (1.2bn and counting) this is a great display of positive intent, collaborative effort and systematic execution. Alongside all this the National Polio Eradication Programme is a good example of marketing.  Awareness creation, information dissemination, use of ambassadors, innovative distribution mechanisms, activations, media utilization the boxes get ticked on the entire list. Let’s talk some numbers to fathom this. India is a country where

  • A baby is born every two seconds
  • 14% of the population is under the age of 6 (~175Mn children needed to be immunized on a regular basis)
  • 70% of the population resides in rural areas

Primary Health Centers, Anganvadis, Baalvadis, Door-door, School-school, in trains you name it and distribution of the drops has been turned into a reality. “Polio Ravivar” (Polio Sunday) with the “Do Boon Zindagi Ke” (Two Drops of Life) campaign perhaps is the most widely recalled, recognized and effective campaigns anywhere in the world.

There was no dearth of innovations either

So here’s saying a big thank you as a citizen and as a father.

Living on the edge

We would all agree that it’s a tough job getting our message across to our target consumers. Add to that a puritan (engineers) definition of communication which is considered complete only when it is interpreted by recipient in the same manner as intended by the transmitter (Prof B at my engineering college must be heaving a sign of relief)  and we are talking a steep slope that needs to be climbed.

As mentioned in one of my previous posts, the purpose of this blog is not to propound new theories, it is to present a perspective. So pardon references to Marketing 101.

Moving on, consumers today exposed perhaps over-exposed to messages of all sort. Thus to laden the expectation of decoding/deciphering our communication is expecting a bit too much. Moreover, pumping in marketing dollars hoping that he would is bizarre!

Most communication, even advertising operates on simple parameters we learnt in high school physics. Amplitude, wave-length and frequency.  In advertising terms how loud, how long and how often. Well yes we pay the agencies and other experts to do that bit.

The most important bit and hopefully as marketers we hold it close like dear life is the what.

Establishing any communication is, has been and perhaps always will remain an uphill journey. One must realize though that the other side of the cliff is a steep fall. The best time spent therefore, would be at the top living on the edge.

Living on the edge

What we communicate goes through the organic phases milestones on the climb that I have chosen to call Ignorance, Recall, Attention and finally the top Recommendation.

The other side however, is the steep fall which starts with the flip side of recommendation i.e. Frustration and very soon thereafter Annoyance.

It is important to note here that what are being discussed are the stages of the communication not the brand per se.

Bringing back the concepts of how loud, how long and how often a marketer would need to be careful with the communication once it has been established. Push it to loud, long or often chances are you will find yourself free-falling straight to annoyance.

To make my point how a communication is living dangerously on the edge and to bring alive the discussion I am leaving you with recent communication from a popular brand.

  • The start

  • The build

  • The extension

  • The (un-necessary) stretch




Is Sonic Branding A Dying Art??

Remember the days of listening to All India Radio? The times when watching TV meant waiting for Chitrahaar during the weekdays and the mega-entertainment bonanza on Sundays topped of with a Movie in the evening? An era when Print (Newspapers & Magazines) ruled roost and amongst the lesser mortals there was radio, billboards, bus queue shelters and in-cinema; television was a fledgling.  Radio jingles were the order of the day and as television took off some of the earlier TV spots took a similar approach.

As available media choices increased with the C&S boom and further with the advent of digital media the role of radio advertising diminished and the “sound of the brand” became a matter of detail.

Often, creative thinking as far as brands and advertising are concerned, is skewed towards the visual manifestation typography, colour pallete, tonality,images etc etc. Days and months are spent on getting it right over lengthy on-brand off-brand debates.

Simple question: If brands are like people and each one carves its unique identity. Isn’t our voice as much a part of our identity as are our physicality, handwriting etcetera?

There are no pre-defined mandatories as far as creating or building a brand are concerned. Organisations spend millions of dollars in creating, propagating and sustaining the “Brand Identity”. There are few brands however, that have invested time and effort in creating their audio signatures and fewer still who have maintained them zealously.Image

With the world becoming a smaller place and brands having to create mind-space across cultures and geographies one would reckon an Audio identity is a must. Forget music, how many brands get pronounced they way they want their brand names ought to be?

Music is widely agreed to be a universal language with commonly practiced protocols.

Sound has the power of conveying emotion in a manner the is most widely understood. Sound leaves a deeper and longer lasting impression on the human mind.

Unlike visuals sound need not necessarily be in the foreground or in the primary attention space for it to have an effect.

The author does not deny that music is widely and wisely being used in campaigns, the fear or concern however is that it is being limited to campaigns.

Brands that create a broader footprint with their identities shall prevail and sustain in the mind-space longer and stronger.

The beauty of an aural mnemonic is that once established it is embedded in the visual, we don’t need to hear the sound every time. Most of us sub-consciously hear “Ting ting ti din” every time we see the Britania logo or for that matter when we see the Intel logo we hear it too!

Listed below in no particular order are the best examples of Sonic branding from an India perspective according to me. Not necessarily all were created in India. The reason I mention them is that for all these brands their signature tunes/songs/sounds have remained integral to their communication over the years and have evolved with the brand. Check them out!

1) Britania:
2) Nescafe:
3) Airtel:
4) Tata DoCoMo:
5) ICICI Bank:
6) Kingfisher:

Other honourable mentions will be for Doordarshan and All India Radio, today the FM radio brands carry the flag with their stationality.

The above is just a top of mind, if you are reading this and can come up with more such examples of brands that have consistently used sonic branding do post a comment.

AAP ka Brand: Tips for Sweeping Popularity

As I write this first post I am aware that reams of newsprint and hours of footage have already been dedicated to the meteoric rise of the Aam Aadmi Party. With all due respect to  the haloed first mover advantage, I shall regarImagedless, endeavour to present a marketers take on how the story has unfolded.

So without much ado here are some tips (no postulation here,just pulling a bookmark out of some dusty marketing books)  for gaining sweeping popularity from a brand perspective.

Like Vidya Balan in The Dirty Picture said “Filmein sirf teen cheezon ki wajah se chalti hain. Entertainment, Entertainment, Entertainment” and just like countless marketers before me have said, successful brands are built on insights. Big deal!         
Yes! It is a big deal! Rare are the examples in Indian political history wherein we have had political brands being built and launched. Hitherto, political brands (parties and personalities alike) have been a resultant of situations not necessarily designed or controlled in any measure. Brands by chance.

AAP is a brand that has been carefully built. Brand AAP has effectively utilised all available platforms media or otherwise. The new age Congress and the BJP are no less savvy with PR doctors at disposal round the clock to feed the hungry new electorate. Why then did they fail to capture the imagination of people? The difference was Insight.    

“People believe that they have the power, albeit dormant, within themselves to change the course of history”. From Gandhi to Mandela, successful movements have tapped into and worked with this insight.         

OK! but what is to say that it was a careful construction unlike others? A quick point on that before we move on.    This marketer is of the view that the ways and methods that AAP deployed on the ground (read activation plan) run true with and indicate the insight
being put to work. Starting with the largely volunteer based cadre, to the need based cadre expansion during the 2 days leading upto the elections.         

The continuous conversations with the middle class was again a clever tactic; while their opponents kept discounting it as a middle heavy strategy it proved to be one of the reasons for their electoral success.         

“The Great Indian Middle Class” much abused in many a marketing presentations as the drivers of the consumption economy, fit perfectly into the AAP scheme of things.
Here’s where the insight resonated best. With the understanding, access, proximity and numbers to spread the message up and down the social ladder they became the prime movers. The middle class were the perfect influencers. They spread the word amongst the peer-group through endless conversations in their social gatherings and the  armchair critics suddenly turned into evangelists.  The lower income group who through ages of degradation in electoral politics were always lured, were suddenly having a conversation with their “sahab” and “memsaabs” on mehangai and were seeing a glimmer of hope and a feeling somewhere that they too had a say. The big-wigs ofcourse were getting guilt tripped since “Who has the time to vote?” and “Nothings going to change..” were not cool anymore.

Moral of the story stay true to the core, there’s nothing better than bulls-eye. So much for the Core TG, Consumption TG, Business TG theorists.

There are 2 characteristics that the best Generals in history have displayed.         
1) They invariably have a clear vision of what success will look like and have  articulated it and         
2) Regardless of the situation, they always project success to be within reach and a matter of when and not if.    

Belief and success are companions. AAP throughout its campaign painted success as imminent. The others did so to, but did not bring the same strength of conviction. Some faltered in word, others in deed. What AAP did better was describe success better? True their manifesto was as populist in its construct, the benefit however that AAP portrayed for all to see was a virtuous one; the passing of the much debated and controversial Lokpal bill in a public session of the assembly. A benefit that re-emphasized the insight “I can make a change”.     

Regardless of what transpires politically, brand AAP has had a good launch and should they continue building on their insights about the “Aam Aadmi”,they will move the brand into the much desired “loyalty” space with the common man saying Amen!