Are brands & brand-makers interchangeable?
To start off (before this piece gets into the core question at hand) let’s have a premise for what is a Brand. Textbooks define brands depending on which part of the spectrum they address- as a 360° marketer however, the definition range changes as a Brand is supposed to deliver not just a product promise with immediate returns but also building and developing a sustained relationship. A Brand thus can and should be defined as a cumulative of experiences which make a product from a particular producer the good of choice to come back to again and again. Unlike revenue-based and accounting functions, Brand matrices work as grid formats where the sample set is king for the decision maker. In such a scenario, what marks the difference between one brand and the other?
Brands are not the end to the sales functions. They are the beginnings to a consumer’s relationship and engagement with a product from that one single manufacturer who they feel is maintaining their trust of providing a value proposition. Again, it must be borne in mind that value propositions change for each individual or largely homogeneous sets of consumers and cannot be identified in rational economic behaviour. A standard issue brand building activity entails getting the product right, followed by understanding key differentiators in the marketplace, followed by communication intent, leading to message design and finally medium-wise integrations. While as a formula this is enforced where organizational intent is driven to make a product completely relatable, it is bypassed in essentially mom-n-pop operations where the primary business of trading in a particular product or good to make immediate profits and not of making long-lasting brands. Considering such a situation with almost anything we identify as a brand today is not possible, especially in the cross sub-continental market where Colgate is synonymous with toothpaste from anyone, Coca-Cola is the universal word for cold beverages, Fevicol is the adhesive of choice and Boroline is the lifeline for over-smoked lips anywhere.
Provided that the product is true to its promise, Brands are built on the bedrock of consistency. Consistency in message design and visibility exercises. Lacking on either leads to an unreadable brand. With non-linear marketing the buzzword, which in the good-old days was just understanding consumer visibility paths, brand-making is an even more intense activity in the online world.
Two lines of thought emerge to make a brand. The Autocratic & the Democratic, both with their own pros-n-cons. While the Autocratic maintains quick decisions at the back of gut feelings, mostly without any previous experience; the Democratic comes back with a consensus way forward which, while good for organizational chest thumping, may not let the brand lead to its true potential of being truly relatable. The Autocratic is an individual led approach where even the incorrect may be shoved for consumer consumption whereas, the Democratic being a voice of the majority may not allow the correct thing to pass muster due to hierarchical considerations. In either setup the ‘Brand Maker’ needs a clear line of thought, an isolation of sorts and a shield to be allowed free-thoughts to ensure targeted and relevant communication design. Communication Design is not limited to the art-copy combination but the overall intent, vision, evolution guardrails and visibility channel management.
Nike is a classic example of a core Brand Maker. Working on the seemingly Democratic way of brand-building, where closer inspection reveals a strict Autocratic approach, Nike has been consistent right from the ‘No Finishing Line’ pieces to the last India specific ‘Da Da Ding’. Think over it, not one single piece in the Nike advertising universe has emphasised on winning or buying a Nike product. It has always been about embracing a way of life. The pros-n-cons of this approach? The Nike way of communication follows a highly evolved template of being true to oneself and the copy refresh has always been topical to the human nature of wanting to excel at minimal expense- thus brand consistency as a key performance matrix has been addressed. However, because it is addressing on a particular score consistently, it may be afraid to move to look for a newer matrix.
Is Brand Making only about communication evolution? Partner brands are more about a way of life (Nike, Apple or Volkswagen) than just being an immediate solution. Non-affordability is NOT an issue, non-association IS an issue. As far as PR goes Apple & Google must be the best brands to work on the planet. The brand value coming not just from the products they develop but how they develop, the way they work, the way internal processes are alive to human interactions and the way a shield is provided to have the freedom to fail. Brands being built by isolated mediums in highly interactive settings.
So, what maketh a brand? Just intent, just design, just an individual, just culture – how about a little bit of everything. Brand behaviour in its true sense is a reflection of everything that goes into making it into a visible entity. Thus we have brands like Tanishq which are talked about and aspired due to consistency in a way of life right from the communication to the way store-level behaviour operates, whereas there are the value-for-money jewellers who may have better quality but immensely replaceable due to the urgency of immediate returns and not building a value chain. Even in the telecom space, the Rola-s and the Fruit-themed manufacturers will be forgiven at the drop of a hat but smaller players will be thrown out of the window due to a deliberate and earnest lack of interest in making a long-standing brand value.
The takeaway? Invest time, trust the individuals with reasoning. Good is good as long as it sells is a defunct logic. Question it, revisit it. When it feels right, sit on the other side of the table and think again. Consistency is the key- just that the definition of consistency needs to be arrived at for the brand value.
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