Category Archives: Branding

Only New; Not New & Improved

This is a short post – largely motivated by some questions that we are asking ourselves. How do we survive in an established market which already has so many service competitors? Is our strategy wrong or are we just not trying hard enough. Maybe we should figure out what clients want and then carve out a niche for ourselves, or maybe we should only go after a particular type of client? Or maybe we can invest a bit of time and effort to create long-lasting insights that open our clients’ eyes to the possibilities of tomorrow? Yes. That last one sounds like a plan. At least we won’t be creating a host of “me-too” offerings.

It’s important that we refrain from telling our customers what they need. In fact, we should open their eyes to things that they might need in the future. Do they know what could potentially disrupt their comfortable lives? Can we become their partner in future-proofing? At the very least, we would be doing a favour to both ourselves and our clients by creating new categories, instead of fighting for market share.

Market research is good. It spouts a lot of data, is exciting for the quants, but it comes with a bias. Customer feedback will mostly be about things that customers know about and hence, all their preferences & non-preferences will be constrained by their knowledge of needs. If one were to ask the average media consumer of the ’70s and ’80s, not many would have asked for the internet or a smartphone. Or maybe 150 years ago people would have voted for faster horse-carriages instead of a car.

Similarly brand communications also need to undergo a more forward looking change. Instead of increasing their messaging frequencies, brands should work to create a higher purpose of existence. Technology is on our side. There is great fragmentation of media. Brands can really get close to customers and create tailored conversations. Brands can afford to wean themselves from preachy/informing advertising and give the stakeholders something to talk about, engage them, co-opt them, titillate them and be their friend.

What’s Your Story? Branding For Start-ups

At the heart of all brand-building and marketing lies storytelling. But haven’t we all learned that product is the most critical of all Ps? Yes, that remains true. However, a super product with a poor storyline is as unlikely to cut much ice as is a super storyline with a poor product. Innovation in both is important. Especially when starting out and you don’t have huge marketing budgets, and are spending most of your time fund-raising, it’s important that you develop the story very carefully.

Here are some of my thoughts. Please feel free to add to these and/or suggest modifications, or some new viewpoint.

Develop A Story, Own The Conversation

Harry’s is a shaving brand that’s shaking up a market, which has rarely seen a leader past Gillette. That’s not a mean achievement, given that this industry requires constant product innovation, expensive R&D, high volume advertising.

For Harry’s it has been a case of good storytelling. They focused on giving really awesome looking products, with a strong core of message – creative, affordable & equally efficient. This is especially true when the goal is to sell and experience, whether that’s shaving or selling groceries. And when, the story is strong it reflects in every aspect of your value chain – factory shop floor to customer’s shelf.

The customer should feel compelled to talk about it. Therefore, it might be instructive to create engagement that creates conversations. These engagements can be as simple – for example: in the context of shaving, style competitions or creating a National Shaving Day after ‘Movember’. (Harry’s does the latter, but also goes the slightly expensive route of having its own salons, creating a magazine, etc)

Innovate, Innovate, Innovate

As we said in the beginning, the story should reflect in every aspect. The same should most importantly flow into the product or the service that your customer will be interacting with and taking home or coming back for more.

So if your story is creating a hub where musicians around the word can collaborate, then your entire product team’s innovation should be focused on the technology that will create the low latency, making available the easiest modes of recording, creating a pipeline that will compress and decompress data in sync with available bandwidth, etc.

Create your own space for growth. Do good, good will happen to you – take the case of Warby Parker which distributes free glasses to those in need, apart from selling quality, designer eyewear at affordable prices. It gets them huge brand equity, because there is a very unique story to tell – one that surpasses all costs of distributing those free glasses. It creates customer conversations, it creates brand innovation and it definitely creates revenue.

Create a product/service that is truly needed; not just one that will try to chase share in an already existent market.

Don’t Feel Shy of Highlighting Your Expertise

So you feel you have stumbled upon something new that the market needs? Good for you. But why is yours the only team that can do it? Maybe you might have some kickass coders, some brilliant marketers, a rainmaker from heaven, the best guy handling finances and the best VCs backing you.

So once again, please do tell your story. Don’t feel shy of telling the world how great you are. It’s a mistake that a lot of people make – they equate marketing of their individual expertise as boasting. It’s not.

Share Insights, Help People Decide

We are all here to buy and sell services/products and we all want to make informed decisions. Whether you are in the field of mobile technology or food, share your knowledge. Tell people what’s happening around the world, what are the latest improvements in technology, what are the latest trends in menu designs, why X is better than Y, or why customers should opt for Z.

Be the thought leader. Let your potential customers feel comfortable in the knowledge that you know your stuff. Let them feel sure that they are going to be investing in the right product/service.

This is not just about maintaining blogs, tweeting, or having an active Facebook page. Try to be out there at conferences, or if no one invites you, create mini audience-connect sessions of your own at the nearby café.

Ultimately, it’s about positioning your expertise in as helpful a way as possible.

Creative Execution – Flexible & Shareable

Creatively, you do need to go the entire path. The level of creative execution depends from sector to sector and story to story. Be careful about the visual identity and brand language that permeates all stages.

Communicate a single end-to-end experience. It’s very important to establish the mood in your creative execution that fits exactly the story you are trying to tell. Not any more, not any less.

Also, while crafting the creative strategy – think about the future and be careful while creating the story and positioning. You might want to add certain verticals to your business at a later date. In that case, the brand name that you choose, the logo that is designed and the communication that is drafted must leave enough leeway for the audience to connect with even your extended business line at a later date.

Needless to say, plan upfront with your agency, but keep the freedom to do something different. An elaborate storyboard might lock you into something, even if the final product is not in the right direction. That doesn’t mean you micro-manage the creative agency – some rough sketches before shoots work best but after that let their brilliance take over.

Creative content generated must be inspirational, aspirational and easily shareable. The last one is very important these days. Even your website must evoke the same emotions as your story and rest of the creative.

Lastly, of course, plan your campaign release well – media, timing, regions, etc.

Facebook & LinkedIn Must Future-Proof Their Audience Demographics

Facebook must address poor traction in the 18-24 age group, else usage rates may drop sharply in a few years. Even if usage rates remain similar, it is simply leaving too much on the table for other audience aggregators to prey on (ie: share of advertising pie).

While optically LinkedIn seems to be suffering from the same issue, the argument is solid that it targets mid-career folks. However, even there LinkedIn could stand to “future-proof” itself by perhaps building upon college networks, thereby extending versatility.

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Social May Be Sexy, But Advertising Is Not Dead Yet

In my day-job, I identify and engage with organizations which are creating new conceptual businesses or redefining the market segment that they operate in. The end goal of this is to create a new leader / ‘superbrand’ in every category by virtue of investments in advertising.

However, therein lies the conundrum – is advertising alone enough to build a superbrand?

But first, let us be clear what a ‘superbrand’ is. Is it simply the brand that sells the most or advertises the most, has maximum recall? Or is it the one that sells the most without much advertising effort? Perhaps it’s the one that identifies an entire product or service category or maybe it’s merely the one that has been there, in your face, for the last dozens of years… Whatever it is – it could one or all or a mix of the parameters mentioned here – one thing is for sure; a superbrand is one that evokes a strong passion. It is a product or service that people flock to purely to see it, feel it, revel in its company, enrich their lives with it, and most of all spend a moment of their lives living it.

We are talking of winner take all markets. And these may not typically be built on the basis of advertising alone. The reason being advertising or any other above-the-line activity is practically a one-way street. You really don’t create the network externalities that are required for either mass adoption or mass reverence. The problem with depending solely on advertising is that after a point it creates dissonance. Unless a clever creative breaks the clutter, advertising alone can rarely cultivate large scale & long-term loyalty.

But yes, when you are setting out to creating a brand (with the ultimate goal of getting to be a superbrand) advertising is definitely an effective tool to encourage trials, inform people, and many of the other attendant benefits that we have all learnt in school.

However, one aspect holds true – access to deep pockets to fund high frequency & high impact advertising does create competitive barriers. It also causes competition to step up on the ad pedal themselves. But if you are the entrant with the deep pockets, you need to first sort keep your supply side geared up for bursts of new trials, you need to prime your communication to keep evolving as and when newer entrants take to the battlefield and you need build a strong dream for your stakeholders to buy in – both consumers and investors.

So yes, while many branding gurus will debate till the cows come home about the virtues of advertising vis-à-vis going social, I would say just one thing – one does not come at the cost of the other. If you are already higher up in the “branding curve”, I would say, by all means try other cost effective and viral methods of staying relevant because the marginal utility of above-the-line advertising would be very low. However, if you are an ambitious organization still in the commodity or quasi-brand level, you should perhaps start with advertising and habituate people into communicating with you on a daily basis.

What’s your view?