Day 2 of the National Brand Summit drew attention to the question that’s central to the fortunes of most marketers: Is the success of a brand directly proportional to the views of the multiple stakeholders? With a question mark raised on brands like Coke, Pepsi, Cadburys and bottled water marketers, the role of social activists, NGOs, employee unions and other niche groups comes under much prominence. One perception is that it is the people-centric brands that actually help sustain genuine value in the market. Brands ought to reflect the sense of well-being and help realise self-actualisation – that sums up the Tata heritage. Yet, there are others of the Suhel Seth camp that see multiple stakeholders as a threat that brands have to live with, you have to tolerate them if you can’t please them.
The session saw a panel, comprising Suhel Seth (CEO, Equus), Rohit Srivastava (National Planning Director, Contract Advertising), Anand Halve (Partner, Chlorophyll), Aditya Jha (Head, Global Branding and Comm-Infosys) and Gerson DaCunha (Former Head, Lintas).
Calling social activists as “pests”, Equus chief executive Suhel Seth said, “They are like cockroaches – you just have to tolerate them.” Observing the fact that on the flip side, companies are no more responsible to one customer, he added, “Perhaps, we are more reactive than pro-active, when it comes to community service.” With brands coming up as essentially instrumental in the life and existence of the company, it is no longer confined as an onus on the marketing squad, it has taken into its realm the HR and the communication wings as well. “This highlights the point that brands no longer just address the end-user, linear relationships have in fact paved the way for multiple relationships,” Seth made his point.
Dwelling on the social responsibilities, performed by corporates, DaCunha stated, “Corporate Social responsibility is no longer mere lip service. But, social services need to be branded. It is required to reflect the social angle of activities.” Somewhat agreeing to DaCunha’s views, Anand Halve raised a point. “Third party intervention is common, and they all have a say in the fortunes of a given company. The emotional equation is high when it comes to products and services, which is why sufficient stress must be placed on multiple stake holders.”
The debate at the Brand Summit turned exciting with panellists arguing on the issue from different standpoints. Addressing the need for a third-party presence in the stakeholders’ squad to ensure success of a brand, Rohit Srivastava argued, “Every brand needs to step back and think what is the end goal that it is crusading for. I think it makes more sense to have third party stakeholders on your side and to involve them in the entire process of branding. Treat all stakeholders as assets and your resolution should be towards addressing their concerns. I don’t really think that you should see them as pests, and devise ways to shut them up.”
The importance of mass media in the overall gamut of things was another interesting session dwelling on the key issue: Can a brand survive without relying wholly on mass media? The panel featured Ranjan Kapur (Country Manager, WPP Media), Kiran Khalap (Partner, Chlorophyll Brand and communications, Consultancy), K Ullas Kamath (Director, Finance, Jyothy Laboratories), Krishna T (Sr Vice President, Lowe India), and Nawal Ahuja (Director, exchange4media).
Referring to the roll of advertising in the brand building process, Kapur stated, “I don’t really know whether the value of advertising has stepped down a few notches in the entire brand building process. The way I see it, advertising was never the pre-dominant way in which brands were built. It is merely a tool, along with several others. Marketers tend to equate the entire process of brand building with advertising alone, which I believe, is a flawed way of looking at things. Buzz marketing, word of mouth, dealership and distribution, corporate social responsibility – there are so many things that are intrinsic to the building of a brand.”
How far employees are responsible in defining a brand image? Nawal Ahuja of exchange4media is of the view that the face of a brand is to a large extent, defined by the employees. He asserted, “Employees play a key role, when it comes to a company’s reputation and standing in the market. For instance, the picture of the lady hostess (Singapore Tourism) says it all for the company and it reflects the key attributes of the brand. Her warm smile embodies everything that Singapore Tourism would have wanted to say for itself. Front desk employees and the ambience of a work centre, often mirror the image of the company to the world outside.”
Ahuja believed, brand Building was much more than just mass media. “There is a need to look beyond mass media and to tap on to other centres. When it comes to communication with the world outside, a written word, with a personalised touch could add the special something to your brand and distinguish it from the rest,” he advised.
While media professionals were taking different stands, the debate scaled a new height with K Ullas Kamath questioning the need for mass media in brand building. “I don’t have a marketing department in my organisation or a trail of brand managers, and that’s the key to my success. All I know is that we have 2239 stockists across the country, and 1164 dedicated boys who operate across various touch points in the country. And that’s the reason for Ujala’s success. My boys are so passionately involved with the product that I don’t really see the need for something else. The GRPs, CPRPs and the rest of the P’s put together can’t possibly achieve the same. It will take me around Rs 3,20,000 for a 10-seconder on ‘Kahaani Ghar Ghai Ki’, and I will still miss out on more than half of the population. What good does mass media do for me?”
Kiran Khalap stressed on the importance of the Internet as a medium as opposed to conventional mass media like television or print. He stated, “The defining medium of the 90s was television. I believe that the defining medium of the new era will be the Internet. I see it as both as a mass medium and a niche one. The three ‘I’s that prove my point, are Interactivity (Internet is a lot more interactive than any of the other mediums), Internationality (it cuts across nations) and instantaneity (its easily accessible and quick). Marketers need to look beyond print and television, and give this medium its due.”
Emphasising on the effective sides of mass media, Krishna T reflected, “Mass media delivers and that’s the basic truth. When almost every brand is getting cynical about media, why should the advertising and media folks join the bandwagon as well? Mass media is in fact the only tool, which helps you communicate aggressively, and helps you reach out to large numbers. Lets not get cynical about it.”
Evidently, there is a lot more to brand building than what meets the eye. And though the National Brand Summit (dedicated to emerging paradigms in brand building) did not provide all the answers, it certainly did give birth to a lot of pertinent questions.