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The true nature of branding

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The true nature of branding

Day 1 of the National Brand Summit (partnered by exchange4media) saw a great deal of fizzle in the marketing community and the revival of some key questions. In times of pressure and rapid change, how are companies to ensure that they stay on the right side of the John Harvey-Jones dividing line? How are they to retain and build their customer base and their margins? If they are constantly being restructured in some way, how are they to succeed in building any enduring link with their customers?

The first session started with the two speakers, Dharen Chadha (Managing Director, Momentum Strategic Consultants) and B Muthuraman (Managing Director, Tata Steel), discussing the contribution of company’s vision in the overall gamut of consumer behaviour. Addressing the importance of the company’s vision in the dynamics of demand and supply, Chadha stated, “Constant re-innovation is the way towards building long-term demands. In your brand building attempts, there is a need to address both tangible and intangible models that would entice consumers and help bond with them. In order to uplift itself and build some decent margins, a company needs to propel itself so that it attracts the right kind of talent in employee space. The old FMCG just doesn’t work anymore; it is the new service model that counts. For instance, Lakme started out as a cosmetics brand, and conveniently branched out into salon outlets, which have added greatly to its revenue model.”

Meanwhile, B Muthuraman stemmed from an altogether different league. Citing the example of Tata and its rich legacy of social consciousness, he asserted that in the demand-supply situation, it is the philosophy of the company that holds strongest. He said, “I don’t believe in lip service, and a whole casket of PR-related activities, in order to hold on to the market space. If your communication is all about what you aren’t, the advertising campaign and the rest of the works isn’t going to help your cause. You need to communicate to the people, what you, as a company stand for. Five to ten per cent of our total revenue moves towards socially relevant causes and we have a clean report card. In today’s context, there is a need to build a brand on a philosophy and not on products and services alone.”

Subject of the second session focussed was: The true nature of branding – how much reality, and how much perception? The debate involved PM Murty (President, Decorative Business Unit, Asian Paints), Ravi Naware (Chief Executive, ITC) and Sunil Lulla (Executive Vice President, Sony Entertainment). Murty believed that the reality of the business was that one couldn’t survive without an exemplary distribution and network system – no matter how great be the communication and PR. “We have invested a great deal in our dealer network. In order to get close to customers and wholesale distributors, we have set up a network of 17,000 dealers across the country. We have made sure that we are present in all the small towns. Our model is based on products, which suit real customer needs, and our biggest strength lies in the supply chain management that helped us build a Rs 300-crore business,” he asserted.

Emphasising on the reality aspects of a business, he said, “Another example of how the business depends on reality and not on perception is that we had brought out a product some time back, which promised to do too many things, the communication was well-thought out and etched out, yet consumers did not buy it. The reality was that the consumer didn’t quite believe that there was, in fact, one product, which could do it all – exteriors, interiors, easy on the pockets, so on, so forth, and they were hesitant. We had to discontinue that particular product since it was an abysmal failure despite the heavy dash of communication.”

Ravi Naware – other reality-supporter, discussed the success story of Ashirwaad Atta, and the ground realities that went inside the entire deal. He stated, “The communication strategy, ‘Khushiyan Chun Chun Ke’ did help to a small degree, but it was the identification of ground realities that really made our case. We spent sufficient time scouting the market; we found out that there was a need to wean consumers of the wheat and chakki system, and to ensure that the same taste was maintained in a hygienic way through the packaged variant. We conducted a small dipstick amongst housewives in order to find out their requirements as far as the roti was concerned. Fluffiness was one of the key issues, along with hygiene, taste and absorption of water (if the dough is easier to knead, and does not use too much of water, its considered to be a good product). We addressed all of these, and today it’s the number-one brand in India. Our next competitor is 26 per cent behind, when it comes to volumes.”

Maintaining a perfect balance of views, Sunil Lulla, said branding was the perfect blend of perception and reality. “In the days when I was at MTV, we had to grapple with the growing strength of Channel V, and our viewership figures were lesser than that of CNN. We were predominantly playing rock music, at the time and our business was running in losses. Until the day, we decided to make a radical change to the entire mix, and bring in 70 per cent of Indian music. We didn’t have separate slots for Hindi and English (unlike Channel V) and we made a complete bhelpuri of the otherwise mediocre music. In addition, we attached a commercial with a young street boy, running with a cup of cutting chai and attached a proverbial ‘MTV Enjoy’ to it – which brought forth the perception that we are a pre-dominantly desi station, with a certain element of the hip and the hype to it.”

Lulla added, “Here, it must be said that while the music was ordinary, it’s the packaging that worked. Perceptions do matter. It’s certainly paved the way for MTV.”

The first day of the National Brand Summit revolving around the emerging paradigms of branding, was a revelation of sorts. It brought in some key issues, raised a number of questions, and revealed new aspects to branding and communication.


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