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Why do brands exist? Because they help companies make money? Because consumers’ lives are better by using them? Because investors want to invest in those companies that have successful brands? While there is an element of truth in each of these statements, the reality is that many brands and businesses have existed and even prospered historically because someone had started them in the first place, and the next generation of entrepreneurs continued to do more of the same, at times improving their processes and ending up making them more successful. Yes, there are many brands that have been successful and have been so for years now. But if we look at the really successful brands (some of which have even become iconic) there is a larger truth about them. They all have a purpose clearly articulated by the founders that drives the brands, its employees and which impacts the consumers too as they continue to remain loyal to the brand. Let’s look at some of these brands that we have grown up with, used and admired.
A life without Apple?
No discussion on branding is complete without a fleeting mention at least of Apple. What did Apple do? It’s not only that they produced superbly-designed products that consumers fell in love with. They challenged the status quo. They changed the way people looked at computers, the way people listened to music and later challenged the way consumers looked at mobile phones. Here’s a commercial that best embodies the philosophy of the brand and its visionary founder.
This leads me to make a fairly important point, a larger purpose impacting humans can make a big difference to the long term future of brands and what better example than Apple to demonstrate this.
And where will you go for your cup of coffee?
Another interesting modern day brand is, Starbucks, and the purpose? Schultz being inspired by the coffee shops in Italy and realising the integral part the coffee shop played in the average Italian’s life thought about the USA and creating a “third place” in the average American’s life, knowing fully well that the American merely alternating between work and home. Why not create a “refuge” he thought? And then went on to create “rewarding everyday moments” in each one of his outlets all over the country and the world for that matter.
Matha, Pitha, Google, Deivam
An ancient Tamil proverb says: “Father, mother and guru are good.” In today’s world, one might have to include Google!
Can you think of a life without Google? I for one can’t. Even if I have to travel to far-flung places like Mayiladuthurai who do I rely on? I rely on the lady with the American accent who reels off tongue-twisting Tamilian names that have foxed many Punjabis, with great aplomb. And that’s just one app. How can a student get through college without Google and here we were who studied masters without access to calculators for exams! And what’s their mission, “to organise the world’s information and make it universally-accessible and useful”.
So where do we go from here?
While examples are always inspiring and often reassuring, they might not be of much use if one has been in business for years, making money year-after-year repetitively, often doing more of the same. It’s perhaps time to step back and ask why we are in business. Very often, in today’s world of preoccupation with the performance of the quarter, are we missing the bigger picture? It’s perhaps time to think not only about business, revenue, collections, top line and bottom line but also about the human purpose of enterprise. How do we impact the lives of the people who ensure that our business has been around? How do we demonstrate that they matter to us? How do we touch their lives with our products and services in a more interesting and engaging way than we are currently doing?
So why are you in business?
All of us have answers to questions like “how” to do business. But how often have we thought of “why” we are in business. Sadly, it is not an easy question to answer. Let’s remember too that all consumers like stories, even about brands. So what’s your brand’s story? And how is that involving humans? It is in determining these that will set apart your brand and why should we only discuss brands like Apple, Starbucks, Google or Nike? Which will be the Indian brand that will be spoken of in the same breath? And what will be its purpose that will be its point of difference with the competition? I am an optimist and am waiting for the future for Indian brands to make a difference to the world.
Ramanujam Sridhar is the Founder CEO of brand-comm Public Relations
Wednesday, November 22, 2017
On November 8, India’s biggest low-cost airline IndiGo found itself in the middle of a PR disaster. A video doing the rounds in social media showed the airline’s staff allegedly manhandling a flier after a Chennai-Delhi flight. What followed were jokes, memes and calls for boycott, all of which a public apology from the airline’s CEO didn’t appear to stem.
But now, more than 10 days later, IndiGo doesn’t appear to have suffered commercially from social media anger. The online travel agents that BusinessLine spoke to said that in the days since the video became public, bookings on the airline — which enjoys close to 40 per cent market share in the domestic circuit — remained as strong as ever. Agents say there have been no requests by passengers to cancel their IndiGo flights or reschedule to another airline; neither has the airline had to drop fares to retain passengers.
So was #saynotoindigo nothing more than an empty threat? How much does negative PR affect the commercial aspect of a business? “Almost never in the short run,” said Ramanujam Sridhar, CEO, BrandComm. “The brand might take a beating for a while, but it’s still a good airline. Our sentiment for how we see the airline as treating its passengers is separate from the airline’s performance in getting you efficiently from one point to another. For a business to lose customers, there needs to be repeated negative experiences. Right now, I think most fliers see this incident as a one-off for IndiGo.”
IndiGo did not respond to a request for comment.
It’s even tougher for customers to express their unhappiness with a business in an oligopolistic industry like aviation, according to Paresh Vaish, Partner, EY. “IndiGo has among the most comprehensive coverage for domestic routes; so for a lot of fliers, the airline is sometimes the only option. Also, customers tend to separate the individual’s experience from the brand itself. So while Rajiv Katiyal (the passenger in the video) might choose to never fly IndiGo again, the chances of everybody else following the same way are slim.”
The only exception, Vaish added, is when passengers are concerned about safety. “Take Malaysia Airlines for example. After the MH370 disappearance, there was a significant drop in bookings which brought the carrier close to bankruptcy.” Brand guru Harish Bijoor concurred. “Sometimes, we may not like the brand but still use the product because there aren’t any other options available.”
Mahesh Reddy, Secretary General, Air Passengers Association of India, believes while the immediate commercial fallout of such incidents might be negligible, they don’t bode well either for a brand or the country’s image. “We’re speaking to airlines and asking them to train their apprentices and staff better. We’re also pushing for this with the ministry. Such incidents must not recur.”
“I think a commercial backlash is more likely in mature markets in the West where expectations of customer service are much higher,” Sridhar said. “Indians are slowly getting there. Right now, when we take to social media to complain, we’re just trying to shame the brand into doing better. We want to say that the behaviour is not acceptable; we’re not going to take this lying down.”