In the beginning is the brand! Let’s start with the brand then.
My definition of a brand: The brand is a thought. A thought that lives in people’s minds. A simple thought that gets planted (either by intent or accident) in the mind of a person. This thought then has the ability to germinate and flourish in a person’s mind. It equally has the ability to decay and get relegated to the farthest recesses of the mind.
Brands that invest in keeping their “thought” alive, peppy, contemporary, relevant to the generation, original in impact and innovative in their offerings tend to thrive and do well.
Those that don’t, die and get pushed into the outer-most periphery of near-oblivion in the person’s mind. And remember, this is a “person” and not a “consumer” I am talking about. Brands live in people’s minds. And these people are not necessarily consumers, as yet.
Brands are about strategy. And not about the tactics that brand managers deploy every now and then, imagining themselves to be alive and contemporary. And strategy is reasonably long-term, durable and something that delivers perceptible business impact.
Now let me cut oblique brand-talk and come to the point. If there are seven marketing strategies that brands cannot afford to ignore today, what are they?
Here is my top 7 listing.
The enabling lives dictum: Brands are meant to enrich the lives of people. Brands are meant to be solutions. Real solutions to real problems. The moment your brand is moving away from this dictum, it is time to re-orient your brand strategy. If your business owner is however inclined to go his way, time to call your friendly head-hunter and re-orient your job-strategy instead.
Brands today are offering solutions that look like solutions, but really aren’t. Time to do an audit on your brand and see if what you are offering as a solution is really one. Is it something you would offer your ailing father as a solution? Is it something you would sell to someone who is investing his last buck onto it? Is it something you would sell to this innocent little girl who knows little?
Do the innocence check on your strategy. If you find yourself going berserk selling deodorant that looks like a chick-magnet or offering a television that offers to cure your blood pressure problem, time to re-orient strategy.
Brands at large have a tendency to get carried away by the creative. At times brands swim far away from the basic tone and tenor of their brand proposition statement. At times brands adopt the most desperate measure of saying things they really don’t mean and really don’t represent. Avoid this totally.
Brands are meant to enable lives positively. Not by deceit. Not by subterfuge. And most certainly not by clever lines that hide more than reveal.
The consumer is not an idiot. At the same time, the consumer is not as intelligent as most people imagine them to be. Successive small little doses of advertising hyperbole have made urban consumers develop thicker and thicker skins of understanding. Today, a lot goes, unless specifically pointed out to be a bit too far in its logic. Brands need to understand this, and need to correct issues where they have gone a bit too far and a bit too wrong.
There is a need to do a check on every brand that you manage and handle. Ask the simple question: does it enable lives? And am I communicating this fact adequately with enough integrity? Or have I gone a bit too far? Must I correct this as part of my overall brand strategy?
The inclusive versus exclusive dictum: Brands are essentially meant to be inclusive entities that belong to and within society. Some brands do not however consider themselves to belong to this mindset. Brands, by their very definition are meant to be exclusive statements flaunted by exclusive people.
This old definition and mindset of the brand at large needs to be challenged today. The rationale is a simple one. Society today is getting to be more and more inclusive. Everyone who lives in it is knitted together with one common purpose. Your maidservant is knitted to the purpose of your life, just as you are knitted to the purpose of your maidservant’s life.
Relationships in society have changed. The mindset of slave and master has changed, if you have not noticed it yet. You may not be in love with your maid, but when your maid is in trouble, you help, for whatever reason. Noble or ignoble returns-oriented reasons as well. And when you are in trouble, your maid stretches herself to help. At times with reasons more genuine than yours was!
In a society that is progressively more and more knitted together, brands cannot afford to be exclusive in their stances. Brands need to knit everyone’s purpose together. It is quite likely that your driver wears a Levi’s and is married to the brand, just as your wife is. And if you check your driver’s ‘loo’, you are very likely to find the same tooth-paste you use, the same mouth-wash you rinse your mouth with, and the “same-to-same” sanitary napkin with the latest in absorption capacity (enough to soak up water from a full swimming pool even!) that you find in your bathroom cabinet.
The brand lines are blurring now. When consumption is becoming largely common, do a check on your brand if you are a bit too exclusive for the society in which you operate. If you are, time to change your strategy. Brands need to get off the “Exclusive” pedestal and get onto the “Inclusive” bandwagon out there. The Master and slave days are over. If you have not noticed that as yet!
The green dictum: The reigning colour of the day is green. As more and more damage is done by brands to the society at large, green is getting that much more relevant. Consumers are just about sitting on the wall of an altogether embrace with the green ethos and story.
It will start first with categories that pollute the earth the most. It will start with cars at the highest common denominator end, just as it will start with detergents at the lowest common denominator end of the market. Green has a relevance to both categories. Consumers will start looking at cars that gobble up carbon dioxide and sweat water vapour, just as they will look for detergents that enrich the water let-off instead of pollute the same. A part of good and enduring brand marketing strategy for the future will need to incorporate within it the green and eco-friendly story. Any brand that does not incorporate within its DNA the story of the good earth is skating on thin ice of the future. The future is going to be kind to those that support the earth and its future, and completely unkind and cruel to those who don’t.
If you don’t have a green ethos in your brand, whether you are a retail brand or one packaged at the factory for end consumer consumption, you are a suspect brand of the future. Incorporating the green strategy in your brand is possibly the best thing to do in terms of future insulation. Those who start now have a leg-up to those who start later.
In this space, let’s accept one thing; brands just don’t have a choice. Do it now inexpensively, if you don’t want to do it five years hence, very expensively.
The social grain dictum: If society wants to eat less of you, are you pushing more of you? If society is getting sicker and sicker with more of you in their lives, are you promoting more and more of you? Time to do a check on this in your brand marketing strategy.
Brands need to do a reality check on their social-grain status. Brands that wish to remain sensitive need to swim with society and not against it. You cannot be a salmon out here, swimming against the tide. Swimming up-stream is fine for the tasty pink-flesh, but not fine for your brand.
If society wants to drink less alcohol and you are an alcohol brand, what are you doing about it? If society wants to smoke less of your tobacco-stick, what are you doing about it? What are your social-grain brand stickler points? Even as you promote your brand through the permission-marketing route, what are you doing to correct the in-equity that it is resulting into? Are you active in spreading a chain of your own de-addiction centres? Are you being even more pro-active than that? Are you promoting responsible-drinking norms amongst your target segment through mass-media advertising and PR campaigns that are real and solid, and not just skin-deep, showy and just enough to get good press for your brand?
Check every negative action of yours with a counter-action that is positive. Check the weightage of both. Yes, you are a business, and you cannot match every action with an equal reaction. But are you at least an 80:20 brand in this space of correcting the social issue.
The social grain dictum I am championing here is not about the categories of liquor and tobacco alone. Think about it. Every category has a soft under-belly on this count – even the most innocent-looking ones.
Let’s go down the pecking order of what I call the future “social-ostracism categories”. Processed sugar? Brands that pack aspartame into them, including every diet drink in the market? Butter? Ghee? Carbonated and high-sugar drinks of every type? Every burger and pizza in the market? Snack foods of every kind?
The list can go on and on. Do a check on your brand’s social-ostracism index. If you are likely to figure somewhere on it, just put a flag in your strategy and correct it now.
The communication sensitivity dictum: The consumer is getting more and more sensitive about the clutter of communication that is staring back at him and his family today. As the days go by, the word pollution is going to get a broader application in the world of advertising, branding, marketing and consumer life.
The consumer is going to discover “visual pollution” in the hoardings that stare back at him cluttering his life. In the old days he had the trees and the open sky to look at, and today it is just one hoarding leading to another seamlessly. The consumer is equally going to discover “aural pollution” on his television set and his radio in the car. Pollution is no longer going to be about the things that he is breathing in or what he is finding in his water sources. Instead, pollution is going to be about things he is going to perceive with his eyes and ears as well.
Add communication sensitivity to your brand marketing strategy. Do a check on how the consumer is viewing your effort today. Make those corrections and use it as an active part of your brand strategy. Don’t miss this one in a day and age when we are getting lost in the creative loop that seems to be just getting longer and longer. Let’s not hang ourselves on this one.
The health-intensive dictum: Health is a big concern. India is becoming the diabetes capital of the world. As prosperity indices increase, obesity is becoming a big issue. Hypertension is a day-to-day reality. As every lifestyle disease becomes a big issue in India, brands need to make a check on their health quotient.
You may not want to promote your brand as a health food for now, but do a check to see if you are replacing cheaper un-healthier ingredients in your food today than you must. If you need to rectify this, do it. Brands that do injustice to consumer health – whether it is in foods and beverages or in auto or computers or telecom for that matter – just need to correct their stances. If radiation in telecom handsets is an issue, time to showcase it yourself as a telecom handset player in the Indian market, rather than ruin the lives of millions before anybody waking up. Or for that matter not waking up!
Incorporate the health dictum into your brand marketing strategy. You will not go wrong. And guess what, you will be able to go home to your family and get a nice night’s sleep. Guess what, you might dream a nice dream as well!
The 1:1 dictum: Dictum seven then. This one is about getting personal with your consumer. This was something every brand did in the good old days.
The best way of selling a mobile phone device is to sell it 1:1 sitting in front of the consumer. When this got difficult, marketing folk did group-selling sessions where you sold 1: Many. This was in person again, but one salesperson sold to 40 people in a room. Less efficient than “1:1” selling, but still efficient.
When “1:Many” got difficult, we took the route of getting behind a camera and recording a brand TVC and doing a “1: Very Many” selling mode. This works less.
In this day and age of extreme brand communication clutter, time to re-invent the good old way of “1:1” selling. Try and incorporate this in your brand marketing strategy. Looks difficult in the beginning for many a mass category like tea and toilet paper. Try it though for categories you can. See the results for yourself. You will be sold to it in no time.
An important part of brand marketing strategy is still the way you sell. Don’t forget to include this nugget into your marketing plan. Bumper sticker then: In an era when everyone is selling “1:All”, the one who is selling “1:1” will reap the riches.
(Harish Bijoor is a Brand Strategy Specialist & Chief Executive Officer, Harish Bijoor Consults Inc.)