by Prashant Nair
“You can't make decisions based on fear and the possibility of what might happen.”
- Michelle Obama
For many, it does not seem like a workable go-to business process statement, depending on your individual roles/responsibilities you handle for the brands you work with. It looks that way especially for the multibillion dollar MNC - “XYZ” brand, with whom we are engaged with. I must emphasize here that the brand’s goal is an impressive strategy statement that broadly refers to its drive for positive collaborations with its consumers, both in near future and the present. I learnt over a period of 7 months of my correspondence with their product teams, and their advertising initiatives undertaken by marketing executives that - the brand’s ‘overarching’ goal seemed to have been interpreted as per the short-term product category sales. Sales targets are essential biblical numbers to which most of us indirectly contribute. Don’t we?
A scorching competitive market environment can create a rather abysmal oasis of your sales projection or your brand positioning in the market. Owing to few fellow giants of the industry who keep you honest with real numbers and deny you every bite of that market share pie. The industry I am referring to here is consumer electronics and the market is India. I won’t be revealing the name of the brand. Not necessary one might think.
Our first meeting with the Indian counterpart of the XYZ brand took place in the month of August, 2016. Since then I was keen on diving right into some fundamental issues and ground realities with their core operations team. Our conversations during the few initial meetings suggested, what I now think is - ‘a lack of intent to collaborate with each other internally’. A smooth cross functional team seemed unlikely back then. Their teams are all “stars” and that is where the problem lies. Just like a star, each product team shines alone but not collectively. The XYZ brand to me looked like a distorted constellation that vaguely made sense of whatever it could project. Cohesiveness was the need of the hour and short sighted goals were impeding their larger brand vision / purpose for the Indian market.
It was earlier this summer, and I was in the middle of reading a whole bunch of literature based on branding, when I stumbled upon David Aaker’s explanation to Tactical and Strategic approaches to brand building. Interestingly, the book - Aaker on Branding by David Aaker aptly summarized our on-going brand re-positioning endeavor for the XYZ brand. According to Aaker, building a lasting brand value is not to be seen as a tactical choice, but a strategic one. Brand assets drive strategy and pays in the longer run. Not always necessarily in monetary terms. The short term goals are tactical and they must not rob you off the investments that could have been used for the long term brand building measures. It may be relevant to quote the ‘AP Thailand’ campaign here. A brand that grabbed attention in 132 countries purely because of the investment it made in its brand campaign – ‘The unusual football field’. The campaign was emotional, and it kind of absolved the real estate image and showed a pro-society attitude. The campaign is a benchmark of sorts now.
Investments in a brand can be justified relatively easier by achieving short term sales target. And this is a pitfall brands and its custodians must be aware of. The XYZ brand and its internal organizational decision making is decentralized and they are focused upon individual product categories instead of marketing the categories with a unified advertising tone to lend a distinctive overall recall to their brand. For instance, their recent marketing campaign for refrigerators projects the brand in a tone different to what their Air conditioners or other products are advertised as. Now you may ask - why is that wrong? The answer lies with consumers themselves. The sheer lack of awareness about the brand itself. Even though a sizeable population of the country recognizes the brand logo or its primary colours, the rest don’t affiliate with the brand at a personalized or emotional level. The brand does not have a distinguishing essence or clear brand intent for the Indian market and it is largely bought by people who do not know much about the brand’s whereabouts.
Hence the situation boils down to couple of indicators - 1. The XYZ brand lacks sharing of unified values or brand vision internally, and 2. The lack of brand recall or diminishing brand relevance due to disconcerted projection of the brand.
NOW, THE ORANGE STORY.
And that’s where it all started. It was couple of months ago while returning from the XYZ office, a concept started taking shape in my head. All my understanding of the XYZ brand and the supportive brand theories related to their case inspired a simple brand engagement strategy framework or an analogy perhaps - The Orange.
When we discuss effective brand engagement frameworks, there are few brands who join the dots in our heads. Coca-Cola, Gillette, Mondelez International, Budweiser, Starbucks, Accenture, PayTM, and Amul India are some of the brands who have ensured that their brand tone/voice is consistent with their target audience. Not only that, some of their brand messages were uniform across all advertising platforms, for over 3 decades.
‘The Open Happiness’ campaign by Coca-Cola or the ‘The Happiness Machine’ for that matter stressed on engaging the youth with the brand. Which they have been doing ever so successfully for close to half a century now.
The values of the brand must be sown in its product positioning, later reflecting in its brand engagement strategies. The recently concluded Cannes Lions’17 had a speaker talking about emotions driving long term profits. The rational messaging shows a relatively much slower growth rate than emotional messaging in the longer run. The reason being, people are easy receptors to emotions in any form. It then becomes ever so important to carve out an emotional niche for your brand. Keeping in mind, it should be aligned with your brand values at all times.
All of that we discussed contributes toward building the overall brand essence. You see, an orange reminds you of its essence and that is what makes it timeless. Its values are consistent regardless of the place you buy it or the time you eat it. All of its attributes are emotional connectors for each one of us. You may like it or you may not, but you can’t ignore it.
An apt positioning of a brand or re-positioning exercise must start with identifying those ‘values’ internally and mapping them with the psychographic findings of the target demography. In the process, we will define brand relevance and identify effective carriers for key brand attributes.
This is the story of many established brands operating in India. The forever risk averse attitude, sleeping on family legacy and negligence towards improving business processes proves costly in the longer run. A deeper introspection of values is required to keep your brand afloat amid turbulences in the market.
Perhaps, it is not just about putting the right foot forward anymore, but instead it depends upon when, why and how hard are we stepping in.