How often do we pause and ponder about industry issues that have a bearing beyond just our rigmaroles? Share insights that can further the common understanding? Or, at the very least, point at things that need to be set right. View Point - an exchange4media platform, will fill this void and become a source of understanding, action and perhaps some inspiration.
Changing Black into White!
Sushil Bahl, Faculty, Marketing Area, Nirma Institute of Management,Nirma University
The writing was on the wall, experts will say. Conspiracy theory experts who have recently read ‘The Da Vinci Code’ will aver that a painting that hangs in the National Museum in New Delhi carried portents of P&G’s now much publicized takeover of Gillette.
But first a word about that painting: it’s a painting of a man and a woman by the river. Both look clean and are clothed. The man has a lush growth of facial hair and the woman has shapely ankles adorned by a silver anklet. Her ankles are smoothly hairless. Harvard symbologists are now claiming earlier knowledge of what has only recently been covered in the financial press. The man and woman together clearly indicate the coming together of a household products company and a predominantly male grooming major. The clothes and river are indicative of personal hygiene and laundry wash that could range from love to Dove and Ariel in between. The man’s hirsute persona and the woman’s smooth ankles are reflective of technology that’s Mach 3, at least. The anklet symbolizes the coming together of masculine and feminine energies that will move forward in lockstep, powered no doubt by Duracell.
While the continental plates shift between Cincinnati and Boston and the ripples (maybe even a Tsunami of warm soapy water) reach our low per cap shores, my mind turns to brands. A company that is arguably the mother of brand management has bought another company that has built and guarded its brand equity like a Samurai warrior with twin-edge blades. The brands that P&G and Gillette built, united under one roof, would definitely constitute an embarrassment of riches. What, though, is noteworthy is that this union comes at a time when brand thinking is under serious pressure.
The Brand Guru killed the brand
The brand management structure in its purest form was supposed to be a system that helped organize large, multi-category businesses on brand specific lines. The objective was to focus on a specific industry, product line and the over-arching brand to drive consumer and economic value. In all this, one point is indisputable: brand management was supposed to be a business management system.
Brand managers were supposed to be economic value drivers connecting to sharply focused concepts of pricing and consumer purchase disposition, market growth dynamics and brand profitability. Brand managers are not Andy Warhols in business suits pursuing the holy grail of the next hot advertising slogan – that’s someone else’s job. Brand managers were supposed to be very hard-nosed, senior business managers entrusted with the financial health of a large brand or business.
Where has this idea been lost? Somewhere down the line the brand became a fashionable word and took a life of its own. Brand equity, brand persona, brand strength rolled off a million lips taking on all kinds of meanings except the one intended. Today, in many situations brand managers are armed with foot rulers to measure the size of the logo in advertisements rather than market share and profitability numbers. Profit drivers have become logo police, and the decline of the brand management system is complete.
Hello again, Brand Entrepreneurship!
When the phrase brand management was coined its original creators probably meant brand entrepreneurship. Imagine -- and I understand that this analogy is simplistic and flies in the face of our desire to become big picture managers -- that all of us are shopkeepers. We start our day with a little bit of cash and then we buy merchandise and sell it to consumers. Consumers buy value. At the end of the day we do the totals and determine our profit or loss. Daily! Too many days of daily loss and we have a crisis – of cash flow or closure. Too many days of profit and we have a challenge – of sustainability and reinvention.
Probably some of the best labs to study brand management as brand entrepreneurship would be in start up ventures. The reason that effect and causality are immediately visible in such ventures is that the need for best brand management practices is heightened here. There is no momentum or history to bind future actions. Decisions follow prudence, not slavish adherence to past practices without understanding. There is an unerring eye on the breakeven point and eventual profitability. Top management inputs are focused on brand decisions and consequent results. And the fear of failure acts as a conscience keeper, as the entire team is focused on one outcome – success.
The culmination of this process results in successful brand building and profitability. And also to the laying down of the foundations of all that ails brand management today – managing communication not profitability, top management detachment, personality cult building instead of brand building and worst of all, a creeping sense of infallibility. Can it be possible that any statement prefixed or suffixed with the word brand today is more a crutch for fuzzy thinking than a statement of action, capability or erudition?
A day without b****s
Who would have thought that such a day would come? I have an exercise for all you b**** building honchos out there. Declare one day a b**** free day and get a measure of the fresh thinking that emerges. Imagine a day when the b**** manager is, well, just a manager. A b**** proposition is only a consumer promise. B**** equity is merely an encapsulation of market experience and heritage. Imagine a day when b**** personality is only a description of stance and tonality. Brand performance is just sales (ok, sometimes awareness and trial), and b**** profitability is just old fashioned profitability. Conceive of a day where advertising creatives talk copy and film makers talk storyline – and neither uses the much maligned B word. Anyone who says b**** gives me a tenner (and I get to retire on a Pacific island!). Problems may well become sharply defined and solutions could tumble out from behind Beuphemisms. You there, with the beard, yes, you owe me ten bucks!