Sunday, December 27, 2009

Brand skeleton

Brand values and positioning are the most important foundation for the brand. They form the basic exoskeleton without which the brand will not be able to 'stand' the test of time...
I feel the brand can be fleshed out by giving it visual, audio, tactile, olfactory and taste dimensions.. (not necessarily all but I'm sure there are innovative means to capture all...)
for e.g. every new car that you buy has a new car smell... did you know that that smell is 'manufactured' specially because customers love the smell? Even the sound of the door shutting can be manufactured and it has been for some brand (can't recollect which one - but Martin Lindstrom's book - Brand Sense will tell you which one)
If airtel can have a hugely associative musical brand sense when as an industry it has nothing to do with music per se...I'm sure brands can manufacture offerings for all senses.

When umbrella branding won't work for a brand

Recently MTS billboards have sprung up aplenty all over Bombay.. I'm sure they're ubiquitous all over the country or at least in the ... ahem.. metros and Tier I cities...
But the more I see them all over the place the more I feel that the brand launch is pretty poor. MTS India is, I think, worth over 600 Crore ruppees. It is a 74-26 JV between Russia's Sistema group and the Indian Shyam Telelink Group. It apparently has over 2.5 lakh subscribers in India under the brand name Rainbow.
Moving on from the boring stats... what I fail to understand is that if they have a brand name 'Rainbow' why they haven't bothered promoting it in their extensive OOH campaigns.
Secondly even if they do not want to promote Rainbow (which I think is a mistake because Rainbow already has a 2.5 Lakh plus customer base) they definitely need to have a telecom brand and move away from leveraging on their coporate brand (MTS) and communication elements (egg shaped logo).
The logo which is an egg is suppossed to symbolise 'simplicity' and 'genius' which don't seem to be brand values in sync with the industry they are operating in i.e. Indian telecom!
Furthermore, none of their communication builds on the 'simplicty' and 'genuis' values (keyword being 'and').
Even tho' they are a CDMA provider, afterall they will have to compete with GSM operators like Vodafone and Airtel who have very effective, emotional and loyalty inducing communication... I really don't understand MTS's brand strategy. They have a good, although temporary offering (although I have my doubts about the efficiency of the promo strategy as well) which is 10,00,000 minutes free for life and the ad copy for that is.. 'Now I control time' which is okay but the image is just so cliche!!! (Some people may see the 'simplicity' here but I ask where is the 'genius' necessary to make it effective).
Which brings me back to the today's turf with stalwarts Messers Airtel and Vodafone (Shah Rukh Khan and the ZooZoos) it will be difficult for MTS to make a mark and increase its brand equity in India, even tho' Millward Brown and Brandz count MTS among the Top 100 brands. And at the end of it all, it is the brand that matters today.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Brand sounds for a higher equity

I read a book called 'Brand sense' by Martin Lindstrom, which talks about how the most successful brands cover as many senses as possible in their touchpoints...thus exhibiting a direct co-relation between brand success & number of senses incorporated.
Now every brand will have some inherent senses that it can exploit through touchpoints..e.g. a fragrance brand will marinate consumers in their offering.
Talent lies in incorporating more senses than the only the obvious one (or two) and thus capture a consumer's imagination through multiple stimuli!
This is where jingles and musical intelligence comes into play big time. I personally think human beings are more susceptible to auditory input than to visual input. Every brand can create a musical touchpoint... something distinct... and build communication into this avenue. The trick is to get the tune right... sometimes the most annoying tunes get stuck in the mind but they've served the purpose.... awareness and recall... bingo's bbooiinnnggg is a classic example of an annoying sound that automatically and distinctively brings the brand into my mind.
As a brand I feel adidas is very foresighted... they realized the power of music and have gone ahead and created a special soundtrack with 'welcome to adidas' throw into the track for all their retail stores.... and the stores are only allowed to play this track... I'm sure such effects register in the consumers mind and will justify their investment in time because such tactics will sub-conscioulsy make the consumer choose adidas over another brand. Airtel is another brand that has effectively gained mind-share through the route of capturing the ears of consumers and they've done a great job.
Jingles can serve as an anchor for a brand... you start off with an innocuous tune and suddenly you see the ad, text and whatever else the brand wants to communicate in the mind's eye. However, unfortunately not all brands are exploiting this sense.
Brand managers should, at every step, see how many senses they can incorporate. In the Philippines, HUL organizes events and creates a whole 'cooking extravaganza' experience for their consumers - Hotels, cafes, chefs... very innovative... don't you think? I agree with Martin Lindstrom, a brand which incorporates as many senses as possible will occupy foremost position in the customers mind. Once that is done, you can be assured that the customer lifetime value will be skewed towards your brand even though the customer is an experimenter... we all like our comfort zones... we'll try something new but return to refractory position and once a brand occupies that refractory position, it needs to stay there.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

A new twist to BUMming - Brand under management

To keep a brand alive and kicking is the brand manager's only mandate... sounds simple but it actually involves looking at the BUM (brand under management) as a stand-alone business because keeping it at the forefront of the consumers mind is no mean task.
Why? ... because a brand should stand for something and what it stands for should be repeatedly delivered to the customer... satisfy him... everytime and delight him as far as possible.
So basically the brand has to maintain relationships with the customers, his preferences which are in constant flux and also with its backbone - i.e. the guys who work it... the employees who manage the BUM
It is the brand managers task to figure out the integrated marketing and communication plan, and which functional, rational and hopefully self expressive attributes will be communicated.
Communication, I feel, is the key to kickstarting or boosting a business but it's so easy to get it wrong because even though the objective is decided, suppossedly, this objective which should be the centrum turns out to be the most fluid part of the campaign!
That's where the brand manager needs to ensure that he doesn't lose sight of whether the campaign is an Awareness, Interest creation, Desire generation, Call to action, Reminder campaign.
While preparing the brief it can be easy to lose sight of the main objective, try and do a bit of everything because we as human beings are greedy and end up spreading ourselves too thin.
Communication budgets are too material an amount to make this mistake. Usually research is conducted at the end of a campaign to determine how successful the campaign was... can you imagine the difficulty in getting quality and accurate feedback for a campaign with a confused objective? And then the brand manager will mostly have to resort to window dressing to save his bum (of the arse variety)!
At the end of it, even something like brand management comes down to basics:
1. Knowing exactly what the objective is
2. Sticking to the objective
3. Establishing and maintaing relationships - with not just consumers but business partners and employees as well, a because a successful brand will have each of these stakeholders as a brand ambassador.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The brand-trend continuum

A brand occupies top of mind position in a consumers mind only if it repeatedly delivers value (read promise) over time. Is a brand successful if it comes up foremost in the consumers mind when he thinks of the category of product it falls under or is it successful if it elicits a certain response or association in the consumers mind?
I guess these are two strategies brands can employ:
1. Try to become the category
2. Create a specific position in the consumers mind i.e. stand for something, mean something to the consumer
Choosing option 2 and succeeding is more difficult than making option 1 work because creating a specific position in the consumers mind and staying put there is a really difficult task.
Because consumer trends keep changing. Every change represents an opportunity for a brand to deliver on that trend and occupy numero uno position in the consumers mind.
So for a brand to set up base in the consumers mind, it needs to be endowed with crystal ball powers... well something like that...
However, it can be done... brands in the past have done it, if not globally at least in the countries of their birth... Nike, adidas, Harley, IBM
And doing it repeatedly builds up alot of brand equity and firmly places the brand at the right end of the trend-brand continuum.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Colour your brand with a story

Neck-ties have descended from cravats which apparently were introduced to the French by the Croatians during the thirty year war. If you notice, the most popular print on ties today is the diagonal stripe. Coming back to the origin, the tie's true origin can be traced to pieces of cloth worn by warriors around their necks with the sole purpose of wiping the blood off their swords after destroying an enemy. Wiping the gore off the sword left behind a diagonal stripe. This cloth was never washed and the number of 'stains' denoted the ferocity of the warrior.
Ties today are an essential power dressing item for men. But I haven't seen any apparel, accessory brands use brand stories to engage the customer. Me thinks the origin of the tie makes for a very powerful story that a brand can use to great effect.
I find that brand stories are an excellent engagment tool. I've personally found my response to a product change after reading a snippet on the packaging or have been given some trivia alongwith the product. Not only does my attitude to the product change, but I'm subsequently bound to tell my sphere of influence about the story. And I'm sure I'm not that much of an outlier to state that consumers are likely to react the way I do to a good brand story... of course the keyword being 'good'.
By nature we humans love stories... using brand stories automatically encourages us (consumers) to share 'em coz everybody runs out of a personal story sometime but always wants to have a one to share...

Differentiation in today's world of plenty

Today there is a product for every need, known and unknown alike. Not only are there specific products for the 'need' there also are products which do a complete overhaul and claim cater to additional needs while they're taking care of one...
This to me means that diffentiation on the basis of product attributes seems more difficult or rather maintaining a competitive advantage through a product attribute differentiation is getting increasingly difficult. In such times I feel that a more focused communication strategy can offer differentiation or maybe if the brand increases the number of touchpoints, incorporating more senses that can also be an avenue for the big D effect. For example, if a restaurant wants to increase clientele, I would recommend they get a 'XYZ on wheels' and take the restaurant to an always jaded customer - the young professional...always on the lookout to try something new and a large enough customer base to provide business for a while...Social media can be used to make the offering more engaging like a Korean fast food (roll) lady did... She used Twitter to tell her customers where she would be at what time and what her menu for the day'd be... I think its a fabulous concept and something that can garner enough attention through word of mouth...

Friday, December 11, 2009

why branding is important for an SME

At dinner last night, with a couple of my friends who run their own design firm, AND DESIGN, we were talking about how touchpoints are as important as the actual business so that a certain look is created or delivered to the client. They were telling me about a client for whom they designed a really good looking business card which he loved but he cut corners by compromising on the paper and print quality... end result... the effect of the card was lost...
That got me thinking... sure the way you do your business is extremely important but it is also equally important to look attractive to bring in more business, for which communication has to be attractive...
The thought I had was the minute a business looks capable of generating increasing revenue, it starts to look even more attractive....and it begins unlocking its own value...
Since brand valuation takes into account business that the 'brand' is capable of generating, the SME then automatically starts increasing its own brand equity.... now why is this important?
In case the SME wants to sell out and make a fat profit, 'Brand Value' could be that contributing factor to the high valuation.
Comes back to the fact that Brand building is important at every stage in the business's life...

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Brand resilience

Are established brands too big to fail? If so, do Lehman Brothers, Merill Lynch, GM still command the same brand equity they did prior to the financial fiasco the world is emerging from, hopefully.

I don't think you can ever get too big to be able able to damage your brand... but I do feel that times of trouble determine whether a brand is resilient or not...

According to the Global 500 Report which ranks brands based on their brand valuation, the Tata brand lost only 16% brand equity at the height of the economic crisis while loads of other brands lost between 40-60% equity... Brand Citi lost 59%, Dell 60%, Mercedez Benz 48%, AIG 42%, Allianz 34%, BNP Paribas 33% and Chase 40%!

Brand Tata lost equity due to uncertainty in the auto & steel sectors, the incessant (and still lingering) question marks over their various acquisitions while it gained a few brownie points coz of the Nano .... overall the brand has performed really well and I think its a good example of brand resilience.

So what contributes to brand resilience?
According to me its the faith consumers have in the brand.. the brand has to stand the test of time... which is why functioning with a focus on brand values and delivering consistently will help build equity to such a level that a crisis won't be able to shake the consumer's faith....

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Brand Values

I was recently plagued by a question which I haven't been able to answer satisfactorily...While creating or revamping a brand how do you decide what the brand values should be...
The reason this thought entered my head was coz I've been trying to define what exactly a 'brand' is to me... and the best description I've come up with so far is that it is naught but a set of values that are demonstrated over and over again through all the aspects of business... product, communication, packaging, place, promotion, relationships etc
Once I had a fix on the definition I started thinking about whether brand values are established on the basis of what the brand is at that moment or what you'd like it to be... now if you choose the latter then it means that there are values absent at this point in time but will have to be inculcated... and this is where the dicotomy arises... is it possible to inculcate values or should you draw out positives that you have and not bother with trying to imbibe new values... the reason being that if tis a new set of values you may not be able to demonstrate them consistently thus damaging the brand...Or is it possible to build new relationships keeping the new brand values in mind without any risk to the brand?
My personal choice is to go with what you have and not inculcate new values and if you want new values dig deep to find the right set of values...
I feel that usually brand values are closely linked with the values of the founding figures e,g, Adolf Dassler and adidas - performance, ambition, drive to excel... and founding figures are usually quite even if the brand gets a bit jaded over time, values can be obtained from these founding figures and conveyed through brand stories I guess...
I also wonder if the financial modeling whiz's can come up with a beta for brand risk?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Digital Brand synergy

While researching about brands I came across a write up on an Indian brand of apparel - Turtle, named after the famous Teenage Mutant Ninja Series... but the owners 'went a little deeper' into what they'd like the brand to communicate and came up with a brand story communicating testudine (like a turtle) aspects they wanted to incorporate...they've used the fact that turtles are very active and outlast every other being... thus communicating that they will always be in the middle of things... coming out with new product lines, designs and their brand will last for a really long while...

I personally haven't seen their range of products but I'm sure the touchpoints used will have tremendous brand synergy... I say this because when I logged onto their website I was very impressed with it... the website is very interesting and every aspect has a brand story- simplistically told...

every category of their website builds on the story to culminate into a whole picture which is completely in sync with their brand values and what they stand for...

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Brand building

'Brand' is such an over-used word that sometimes it becomes a filler or impressor phrase. But there is a lot of depth to this term. I've been thinking of how to crystallize my thoughts on Brand Management to be able to pen them down for my own reference.
If somebody wants to build a brand (product or business) he or she needs to build their brand first. Now why is this important you may feel? If there is an existing brand that you want to manage.... you have to be able to demonstrate that you can manage it better... and for that you need to build your brand...If you're launching a new brand... you need a strong brand (your own of course) to be able to create alliances and prove your brand (product, business) is the right choice.

I'm going pen down what Vertebrand Management Consultancy has to say about brand building...

The best way to start would be to clearly define the industry the brand is in... once that is established, it is essential to understand

A. The industry to see how competitors are:
- functioning
- talking
- dramatizing
B. What your strenghts, weakness', stories and vision, mission, objective are are - figuring internal capabilities is extremely important because every company will have some peculiarities which can be highlighted and communicated into brand stories.
Figuring these two out lets you understand what the brand needs to have to belong and what it needs to cultivate to stand out by creating a distinc brand identity and personality - i.e. essentially be top-of-mind when a consumer thinks of buying a product in that category

C. Target Customers & their wants - As cliched as this is, inspite of brands claiming to be customer centric they don't always know what the customer wants or arn't able to deliver it... which means with solid customer relationships (which take time to build) a brand will know what to offer in keeping with trends and how to communicate it. Understanding customer segments and their buying behaviour will allow the brand to be able to constantly tweak its delivery, communication and hopefully over deliver leading to customer delight

All these facets of the business will eventually let you figure out what your brand's core values, differntiators, identity and personality are. This in turn allows for a more synergistic logo, positioning statement and marketing strategy.