Monday, January 16, 2017

Brand-building is a two-way street

Clients, too often, don’t like to be advised by PR firms, despite mouthing platitudes that they are partners | Sentavio/Shutterstock

It is important for PR companies to lead the relationship rather than merely follow a client’s orders

How often do we (PR companies) feel frustrated when we are unable to convince our clients to take some action we know they must take for their own good, but they don’t do it? Very, I’m assuming!

Let me share with you a recent experience I had with one of our clients, a large, profitable firm that is rated very highly by its peers and competitors. The head of communications said, in a very matter-of-fact manner, that they could spare a couple of hours for the MD for media interviews — for the whole year!

Which brings me to a conclusion — that companies have time for discussions on revenue, costs, collections, operations, people, appraisals… basically just about everything except their brand image!

Why are discussions on brand image relegated to the backburner? And even if they do take place but the marketing communications head is unable to convince senior management about it, then isn’t the onus on the PR company to educate the client? And when we do get the opportunity, how ready are we to take on the leadership mantle?

Three kinds of companies 

In my experience, there are three types of companies.

The understated kind
The first, perhaps more popular in the south, is of large, successful companies who are understated and low key. Their attitude is “our achievements must speak for themselves”. While this is noble, it leads to even their genuine achievements not getting the recognition they so richly deserve.

The frustrating thing, however, is that their competitors, who are probably half their size and nowhere in their league of achievements, get disproportionate share of voice, thanks to their desire to be in the news and eager beaver PR companies.

Forward-looking kind
The second type of companies is that which makes forward looking statements — many of which are wishful. “We will open 1,000 stores!” they say without batting an eyelid. And what happens when they complete the year? They have a mere 80 stores!
In the early days, before the internet became a way of life, we had a number of companies which would casually talk in this manner, and without too many after effects. Today, however, companies would be well advised to be more reticent, as their statements are being recorded for posterity on the internet. And no journalist will meet a client without doing his homework first.

Role model kind
The third type of company is akin to Infosys. Now here’s a company that has been a role model of how to handle one’s image and public relations. Whilst they have had fantastic achievements - like being the first Indian company to be listed on Nasdaq - they also ensured that they got the maximum mileage for these achievements.

This leads me to an important observation. While companies should be careful about making forward looking statements, they should not hold back on their genuine achievements and ensure maximum visibility for it whenever and wherever possible.

While a lot of new generation companies seem to understand the value of being in the news, the older, better established brick-and-mortar companies particularly, still suffer from what I call the stiff upper lip syndrome.

So what should PR companies do?

Running a PR company myself, I must confess that too often, we are comfortable in merely taking orders. We don’t rock the boat or assume the mantle of consultants who advise their clients on the desired course of action. We often rationalise and console ourselves by saying, “Every client gets what he deserves”.

What you should do
I need to also tell you that clients, too often, don’t like to be advised despite mouthing platitudes that they have an open mind and that we are partners. But someone must bite the bullet or the PR Company will be left holding the baby. Of course, there is a time and place for everything. Clearly the PR Company must find an opportune moment to share their recommendations.

In my experience, the beginning of the relationship is a good time. Ideally, if we could start the relationship with a media workshop, where senior management could be present, that would make a good beginning.

The reality is that many CEOs need to be told how Public Relations helps their company’s stock price, get better employees and improves the company’s pricing. They simply aren’t aware of these things. I think it is important for PR companies to lead the relationship rather than merely follow the client’s orders.

Which leads me to another difficult question: How many of us are truly ready to be consultants? Do we possess the knowledge and the confidence so that clients can look to us for advice? It’s not an easy question to answer, but it certainly is something that should occupy our attention and energies, if we are to get the importance we deserve.

Monday, January 9, 2017

A twist to the gifting tale

Gifting has spawned interesting concepts and ideas by marketers and branding students

Gifting is as old as the hills. Even when I was a kid, Amul ran a campaign for chocolates with the tagline “A gift for someone you love”. But the pioneer in the Indian market when it comes to gifting has, arguably, been Titan. The brand’s gifting campaigns have set the tone for its advertising over the years.
People had been gifting items of their choice — jewellery, watches, et al — when Titan decided to make gifting its own with its “Joy of Giving” campaign. This was way back in 1999. Here’s the first gifting commercial that the brand executed, featuring a daughter who surprises her parents on their anniversary. 

Titan’s pair watch continues to be a star in the company’s portfolio, and the brand has stayed steadfast with its gifting strategy. The brand’s evolution has seen gifting moving away from birthdays and anniversaries to anytime gifting.
Here’s another commercial about a retiring teacher. (It’s a matter of considerable intrigue to me that in my last 25 years as a teacher, I have never received a gift. But then, I am not retired yet!) 

The saga continues
While there have been many commercials riding the gifting bandwagon, the ones that stand out are those which have a creative twist or those with consumer insights.
Like Nazraana Jewellery’s commercial, for instance, which has an interesting turn and features a husband (a bit like me) who seems to have forgotten his wife’s birthday. Thankfully, his mother comes to his ‘rescue’. 

The commercials that have made a greater impact on me, however, are the ones done for Amazon. One of the positive features of the brand’s advertising, as far as I am concerned, has been its ability to truly Indianise its advertisements. Not merely being satisfied with the fact that it can offer enormous choice to its consumers, it has constantly been searching for consumer insights about India and Indians. Here’s an insight I could relate to with the two commercials shown below. 

There’s that yellow sari again
There are a few of us who constantly get great satisfaction in giving. We are happier gifting to others than buying things for ourselves. After all, the smile on their faces when they receive carefully selected gifts is our ultimate reward — or so we would like to believe. Yet mothers do know their children and are able to see through some of their idiosyncrasies, as this commercial demonstrates. 

Then there’s another commercial where a young husband gets an increment and dedicates it to his wife, saying “What’s the difference, whether you earn it or I?” The delighted wife asks the husband if she can use the amount to get herself a necklace, and he says, “Order whatever you feel like on Amazon”.
When the parcel comes, she asks her husband to open it. Imagine his delight when the gift turns out to be a camera that he always wanted! Yes it is certainly gifting with a twist and it struck a chord with me.

A gift to remember
Another brand that has recently gained traction and market share with consumers has been the deodorant Fogg. It has become a force to reckon with in the fragrances market.
The brand recently diversified into a related category — scents — which, one can say, is a relatively nascent category in India. Most people who use it, usually go for international brands. Having said that, let’s take a look at this commercial, where a bunch of friends are talking about gifts they are carrying for their friend, Rahul’s wedding. While one gets him a bouquet, another talks about giving him Fogg scent, a gift that will keep reminding Rahul about the person who gave him the gift, every time he uses it. Interesting, though I am still wedded to my international brand! 

Yes, gifting is spawning interesting concepts and ideas by marketers and branding students. So what’s the next step? Gifting experiences! Why stop with gifting products when you can gift the people you love an outstanding experience that he/she can remember, recall, share and talk about?
Coming soon in this very column!

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Action heroes turn drivers

  Collin Furtado  Wed, 4 Jan 2017-07:20am , Mumbai , DNA

From roping in sports stars to big Bollywood celebrities, auto makers are now driven to change the face of their commercial vehicle campaigns 

Tata Motors recently announced the signing of Bollywood actor Akshay Kumar as its brand ambassador for its commercial vehicles (CV).
While Tata Motors’s passenger vehicles has Lionel Messi as the global brand ambassador, this is a first for the CV business of the company to appoint a brand ambassador. It is usually very uncommon to see commercial vehicle manufacturers appointing brand ambassadors, let alone big Bollywood actors.

Many of them would instead go in for sports stars, like India’s cricket team ODI captain MS Dhoni who was the brand ambassador for Ashok Leyland from 2012 to 2015. Eicher Motors too had taken Olympic medal winning wrestler Sushil Kumar as their brand ambassador in 2012.
However, Tata Motors is not the only commercial vehicle company to sign on a big Bollywood star. Mahindra in March 2016 signed actor Ajay Devgan as their brand ambassador to promote their trucks and buses. The brand released its first campaign with the star promoting its heavy commerical trucks ‘Blazo’.

While it is not uncommon to see Bollywood stars promoting passenger cars such as Shahrukh Khan being the brand ambassador of Hyundai, Varun Dhawan promoting Mahindra’s KUV100, and Ranveer Singh as Maruti Suzuki’s ambassador. It is definitely new for commercial vehicles to take these Bollywood stars to endorse their products.

As passenger vehicles are more consumer centric, it makes sense for them to use film stars to promote their sales. However, with CVs targetting small enterprises or farmers, there was little need to communicate through such high profile celebrities. Like industrial based advertising, CV firms decided to concentrate on the technical attributes of the vehicle in their communication. Even the previous Mahindra and Tata Motors CV ads used the approach to communicate to industries the reliability of their vehicles.

Very few industrial-based brands use Bollywood star to promote their products: One of them being Binani Cement signing Amitabh Bachchan as their brand ambassador.
According to Sridhar Ramanujam, founder & CEO of Integrated Brand-Comm, these CV companies have now recognised the emergence of entrepreneurs buying such vehicles as they need it for their small business, and well financed by banks and financial institutions.
Another reason that CV companies rope in Bollywood stars is to drive their sales at a time when it has been sluggish due to several road blocks.

While the government’s push for implementation of BS IV emission norms has been a concern for many CV makers, the recent demonetization drive has impacted sales even more. From Ashok Leyland to Tata Motors, Mahindra and others have seen double-digit decline in December sales as a large portion of its sales used to be made using cash transactions. In addition, rural sales contribute a large portion, where majority is in cash.

For Mahindra, signining on Devgan led its May 2016 sales to overtake Tata Motors’, with a 52% market share cargo carrying truck segment. However, Tata Motors managing to do the same with Akshay Kumar at the wheel remains to be seen.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Is Paytm better poised to leverage the digitisation push?

Paytm seems to be a company that is bold, innovative and unafraid to take risks
Marketing has often been described as being in the right place at the right time. One company that might appreciate the wisdom of that statement might well be Paytm. The Paytm wallet was launched as recently as 2014. So we are essentially talking about a brand that is less than three years old!
And yet, the fact that this company has spent over ₹600 crore last year probably explains why it is at the top of people’s minds not just in mobile wallets but across categories. Apart from running huge ads in the daily newspaper, viewers are also subjected to Paytm ads as a constant reminder during cricket matches, as Paytm was the sponsor of the India-England test series that India won so easily. The brand’s good fortune continued in this sponsorship deal as well. In my view, test cricket is a format that relatively fewer young Indians follow, but India’s superior performance, and the fact that the sponsorship coincided with India’s highest test success record all helped superior recall of the brand.
But let’s step back for just a second and examine the advertising strategy in greater detail as advertising has been an important constituent of the brand’s success.
How much should you spend on advertising?
There’s always been a debate on what is the right amount to be spent on advertising for a brand. While there is divided opinion on this, the important thing to remember is that advertising is an investment and not a cost. Brands need this, much like vehicles need fuel to move ahead. I remember an interesting strategy that BPL, the leading consumer electronics brand of the 1980s and 1990s that I used to work on, followed.
BPL would consciously and strategically outspend its competition and at that time I didn’t see the value of this. “Why are they doing this?” I would ask myself, even though no one at the agency was complaining! But it did help them get disproportionate share of the voice, which eventually led them to be the market leader. In fact, they kept spending even in recessionary times, to the bewilderment of industry and competition; and the results were there for all of us to see as the brand became the #1 brand in colour televisions. This is precisely what Paytm has done. Its first ads seemed more about Narendra Modi than the offering.
I personally feel that some level of controversy can actually help a brand in the early stages of its success. 

Spotting trends
One of the greatest challenges brands and companies face is their ability to spot trends that are likely to impact business. I am not sure how many people spotted the dramatic and sudden moves to demonetisation, but a brand that definitely benefited from this move that has caused a major impact in other sectors has certainly been Paytm.
If you look at some of the brands that have achieved phenomenal success over the years have been brands like FedEx and Google. “Can you FedEx it to me” asks the consumer. “Have you tried Googling it?” asks the professor of a student. Who can forget “Xerox” and its generic rise?
Paytm too has been consciously trying to make Paytm a way of life and its slogan of “Paytm Karo” is slowly but surely getting increasing traction. It is not uncommon to find small juice vendors or bakeries with the Paytm signage. The brand claims to have more than a million merchants, with 12,000 individuals selling the service and the company says that five million transactions are being facilitated every day.

The road ahead
Paytm strikes me as a company that is bold and innovative, with risk-taking built into its DNA. I am quite sure the cynics can talk about the mounting losses and the fact that all this visibility is built on VC money, which can often be initially cheap. It is also likely that some of its competitors, such as FreeCharge and Jio Money too could capitalise on the tremendous interest in the category.
While the brand has succeeded in reaching out to more establishments than the competition, we must also remember the depth and width of this country, and all these brands are merely scratching the surface. As more and more people start using Paytm and credit cards, I am sure the stretched networks of India might further struggle, and the honeymoon period of subsidies and discounts too might not last.
But let’s not forget that India is one of the few economies that is actually growing. Whatever the predictors of doomsday might be saying, brands like Paytm with their funding, investment in advertising and visibility might reap the benefits — most by virtue of being “top of mind”.
Yes, advertising works! Use it sensibly and reap the benefits!

Monday, December 26, 2016

In praise of the Big Baskets, Olas and Ubers of the world

Successful companies observe consumer behaviour to keep them
constantly satisfied

I am a consultant who admires and analyses brands. Brands are my livelihood and passion. One of the most important things I have learnt is that there are no brands without consumers. Consumers make brands and when they desert them, the brands no longer exist. Remember Kodak, Nokia and Sony Walkman? Where are these names today?
It is this appreciation of the value of the consumer and their good sense that prompted me to write this piece in their defence. But why now? Yesterday I read an article on how Ola and Uber have got their business models completely wrong. Basically, the piece argues that their model is flawed, built around giving incentives to consumers and drivers who are paid out of cheap capital that is being badly used. I am not going into the economics of their business but let me share my experiences with Uber, as I am a diehard fan of the company, which to my mind is one of the most disruptive brands of today.
Customer comfort is the key
People who live in Bengaluru and take flights generally return late at night to avoid traffic. I usually land at 10 pm and take an Uber to my house, which is a mere 45 kms from the airport! Most recently, I was assigned a new car; Uber seems to upgrade me to a bigger one every time. The driver was respectful and loaded my baggage into the car. But most importantly, he let me sleep! He did not wake me up at the tollgate or ask me for directions as he had an updated GPS. He woke me up respectfully only when we reached my doorstep at 11.15 pm. He deposited my bag and wished me a good night, subtly reminding me to give him a good rating.
But the pièce de résistance for me was that it cost all of ₹649 to travel in the comfort of a Nissan Sunny. I must also mention that earlier, I had travelled the same journey in a rickety Mahindra Logan for ₹1100!
But I’m not complaining. I don’t complain when Ola rides cost ₹6 per km, making commutes in air-conditioned cars cheaper than autos. Nor do I complain when the Big Basket representative comes to my kitchen and loads well-packed vegetables into my refrigerator.
Doomsday is around
However, if you were to believe financial pundits this is the end of such companies and their heady days. Experts have begun asking how long their funds will last while the VCs get jittery.
As a branding person, I know that the pricing is predatory, that they are trying to lock me in. Uber, for instance, makes me many offers as I frequently use their services. My question to the financial experts is simple: Why should I mind? If their business model is flawed, shouldn’t they be more worried than me? I will continue to look out for myself and am fully capable of moving on if I don’t get the value I deserve.
What of the future?
History has shown that consumers are smarter than they are credited with. They know what they want. Remember how consumers rejected the “new Coke” or closer home, Ponds toothpaste? Sadly, marketers and analysts tend to underestimate our capability. As a consumer, don’t you think we know that Uber is pampering us with its predatory pricing? We know that the party may not last. Yes, prices will go up eventually and there is evidence of this worldwide.
I also know that the cars will age and the drivers might get complacent and rude even. What will I do then? I will shop around actively and look at other options. Look at the popularity of UberPool for instance in cities like ours. Regular consumers tend to compare UberPool with Ola Pool and take the one that offers better value.
Yes, consumers are smart and constantly seek value. Today I get value out of these offers but what about tomorrow? Well, who knows? I may even ride a cycle! And what should marketers do then? Observe my actions and scan the environment for new opportunities to keep me constantly satisfied. And I will reward them with my loyalty.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

The legend of Amma

The story of the iron lady who built, sustained and proliferated her personal brand
On December 5, 2016, J Jayalalithaa passed away, ending an era even as millions of adoring Tamilians lost their Amma. Let me quickly clarify that I am no political analyst, and my only relationship with the departed leader is that I too passed the same Matriculation examination that she did in Presentation convent, albeit four years later, at Don Bosco.

Yet, I have always admired her intelligence, and her understanding and execution of the complex and confusing subject of branding without ever going to business school. Let’s take a look at the evolution of the Amma brand and see what we can learn from it. 

Politics, films and branding
Tamilians, as a race, seem obsessed with films and people connected with filmdom. Which probably explains the success of people like Annadurai and Karunanidhi, who were scriptwriters before they made it big in politics. The DMK too realised that the easiest way to get crowds and votes was to rope in an actual film star into their fold. And who better than MG Ramachandran, or MGR, as he is better known?

Anna was the universal leader who held the party together, and after he passed away things soured. MGR then formed the AIADMK, and Jayalalithaa, who was one of his more popular co-stars, joined him in politics.

She inherited the party leadership (with some difficulty) and made it her own with no second-in-line anywhere in sight — something which may come to haunt the party. Jayalalithaa had been groomed in Dravidian politics as an observer (thanks to her proximity to MGR) and one of the many things she must have learnt from the DMK was its understanding of branding, symbols, colours and slogans, which were extensively used and repeated, lest we forget.

You just need to watch MGR’s Enga Veetu Pillai to understand what colour coordination and subtle branding is all about. This is something even established brands tend to forget. Jayalalithaa obviously applied all this to great effect in her use of the ‘two leaves’ logo of AIADMK, which often reminds one of the victory sign that we are all familiar with.
The brand matures with age
One of the challenges brands constantly face is that of ageing. Younger customers come into the market, find existing brands fuddy-duddy and move on to hipper, younger brands. Examples of McDowells No. 1, VIP and possibly even Titan come to mind.

Jayalalithaa, however, handled it brilliantly. The “Kanavu Kanni” or dream girl of the silver screen became Puratchi Thalaivi or revolutionary leader a la the departed MGR (who was known as Puratchi Thalaivar) and later, only Selvi Jayalalithaa.

It was here that the leader’s marketing acumen came to the fore as she realised she wasn’t getting younger and was plagued by ill health, not to forget the cumbersome protection she was rumoured to be wearing.

She actually deglamourised herself even as her channel kept propagating her former youthful films! She was conservatively dressed and referred to herself as Amma, for she was, after all, a person without a family and the entire Tamil race was hers to claim!

Let’s not forget too that Tamilians love handles, and easier ways of remembering people — Anna, Kalaignar, MGR, et al. What better title than Amma, which is ubiquitous, universally recognisable and automatically loved?
While film stars never age and remain 18 forever, brands may or may not have that luxury.
The personal brand extends
The strategic masterstroke, however, was to prefix everything with brand Amma, be it eateries, water, salt or cement. The opponents were napping as the brand proliferated and some of the offerings (like the eateries), even if they lost money, were appreciated by the freebie-loving populace. Everything pointed back to her personal brand.

Even if the State was paying for it, Amma was doing it. Everything added back to her popularity and generosity. The logic might have been flawed, but it was one more reason to love the generous leader who was helping her forever needy children. And everything had political mileage, since she was the party, the government and just about everything, as far as the AIADMK was concerned.

Carrying a personal brand to the consumer is not exactly new but her unique feature was that she carried her equity to a host of subsidised products and services, all of which just furthered her personal brand. This translated into votes as recently as the bye-elections that happened while she was in hospital.

Her personality too shifted. While political analysts called her “the iron lady”, she was benevolence personified to her people.
What of the future?
The Amma brand had been inextricably woven into everything the government did during her tenure. While the future seems uncertain at this moment, I am sure the AIADMK, if it has any sense, will live on the legacy left behind by her.

Whilst it may seem a subjugation of their personal identities, it makes sense to live off the equity of a carefully cultivated, consistent brand. Whether they have the wisdom to understand or even appreciate the strategy and the thought that went behind it, is a completely different discussion.

But I, for one, will never have anything but admiration for the leader and the clarity of her thoughts. 

Monday, December 12, 2016

Build a strong employer brand

While promoting a brand, employers rarely focus on employees
How often have we heard platitudes like “Our employees are our most important assets”; “We are only as good as our latest team” and “Every day when our employees go down the elevator our brand value goes down with them”? 

Many companies realise the value of the brand, but when they talk of branding, their attention and energies seem to be directed solely towards customers and investors. Very rarely, if ever, does it veer towards employees. So let’s spend a little time understanding this concept of employer branding and see what companies should do to build a strong employer brand. The starting point is the realisation that employees are just as important a target as investors and customers.
Who’s the champion?
Every brand needs a champion. While it is difficult to deny the value of the HR director and her importance, I have some reservations when it comes to her ability to champion the employer brand.

She certainly furthers the name and does what needs to be done, but in an ideal world, propagating the brand and its values to the world at large should be done by someone higher up in the hierarchy. And who better than the CEO?
What’s the vision?
In talking about and building an employer brand, a factor that is often underestimated is the importance of the brand’s vision. It is important to remember the idea of a brand like Starbucks — which is about creating rewarding everyday moments, all centred on coffee.

This is what drives the company and every one of its employees all over the world. Does your brand have a clear vision? What efforts have you made to communicate it internally so that your employees first know the vision and then internalise it?
What’s your position?
Positioning is extremely critical in brand building, where a brand differentiates itself from its competitors. While most discussions around positioning seem to feature in the realm of marketing, it is equally relevant for employees and HR as well.

How differentiated is your brand in the eyes of current and prospective employees? Is it relevant to them? How? And if the brand has a distinctive position, is it being communicated to its employees clearly and consistently?
Internal communication
Employees fully involved with the brand are the ones who are extensively communicated with. In my experience, you can never reach a position where you believe you have communicated enough with your employees. A company must think of innovative ways and means by which it can reach out to its employees.

Are they operating in silos? How much do they know about your company, its customers, its values and principles? You may be surprised at how little aware they are. I remember, at one of our multinational clients, its dynamic CEO had made a habit of walking down the office and stopping by employees’ cubicles, quizzing them on the company’s stated values. People who gave the right answers would get instant gifts!
Research is key
Very often, managers have misguided notions about their own brands. Employees, on the other hand, tend to be detached about the same, and often disinterested in its exploits. So how do we understand the extent of their apathy or interest?

Research done by an external agency with focus groups can throw up interesting findings. You will also notice interesting differences in attitude and approach among those employees who are from different time bands. For instance, freshers tend to view a company differently from those who have spent, say, five years in an institution.

This analysis becomes useful when you are trying to identify a set of brand champions who can initiate bonding activities and propagate vision and values in interesting ways. This method might have a greater impact than a top-down method that seems thrust down the throat of employees. 

Relentless execution
Let’s remember that building an employer brand is all about attention to detail and careful execution. It helps if the CEO is a champion of the cause and the brand. It is important to invest in external research which can be objective. Keep an open mind to problems that you may have to face.

Have a clear strategy and ongoing internal communication with employees. And engagement goes beyond TGIF parties, by innovatively opening up channels of communication. Keep checking employee morale at frequent intervals.

It’s not easy but, when done smartly, the efforts bear disproportionate results. Are you ready to think about your employer brand?

Monday, November 28, 2016

Brand managers, beware!

The over-worked managers better be on their guard, lest someone take them for a ride

One of the marketing dictums that is probably as old as the hills is “caveat emptor”. Which translates to “let the buyer beware”. But what does it really mean?
It simply means, given the used car salesmen who seem to be all around us anxious to sell us just about anything, it is important for consumers to exercise proper caution and ensure that they are not taken for a ride. In short, it is taking the trouble of reading the fine print and protecting ourselves.
Now, let’s move on from the consumer side of the world to the enterprise side and focus on an important person in the world of marketing — the brand manager. 

Investing in relationships

Today, this very important person leads a harassed life. Why do I say that? Let me take you back in time to the 1980s, when I joined advertising and a “full service agency”.
The advertising agency was truly a partner and a marketing arm of the company. In those days, sacrilegious though it may sound today, the agency actually earned a full 15 per cent commission on everything it did for the client — including printing letterheads!
So an account executive like me spent time on the client, understood the brand, and stood as an ally to him/her because it made business and financial sense. We invested in the relationship, unlike today — the client was a friend, philosopher, guide and the source of all benefits. Today, however, things have changed for the worse. And it is the clients and brands who end up facing the consequences of the changing dynamics.
Agencies forced to unbundle
The full service agency I started my career with does not exist anymore. What happened? Well, the biggest breakaway came when the emerging stand-alone media agencies demonstrated that they could plan, buy and negotiate media better than the full service agencies.
Clearly, the client was excited, because he was spending crores of rupees and any saving was welcome. Media agencies too built competencies and skill sets to ensure that they continued to deliver — they invested in technology, brought in people who understood numbers and software, and provided enormous value to the client.
However, a major portion of the agency’s revenue was being chipped at from a variety of service providers — events companies, market research agencies, social media agencies, packaging companies, PR agencies and brand identity firms. All of them took shares of the marketing pie, even as the agency watched in horror.
Of course, there are implications for the agency, which largely works on retainer fees and earns much less today. Additionally, it is also unable to recruit the talent it needs. The declining revenue, importance and role of the advertising agency today will certainly make for another story but let’s stay with the harassed brand manager, who is largely on his own in this complex, challenging environment as the agency seems to have deserted him.
Where’s the time?
Today, everything seems to be plentiful except time. More so for brand managers, who suddenly find themselves dealing with multiple vendors, all of whom seem to have an agenda of their own. The advertising agency too finds itself marginalised and not really in control of the brand.
Yes, it handles the mainline advertising but there is social media and mainline media which are largely outside the agency’s purview. It does not feel so strongly about the brand, nor does it think it worthwhile to spend its entire life thinking, sleeping and dreaming the client’s brand.
The brand manager hence ploughs a lonely furrow and bears a heavy cross dealing with multiple vendors, who often work at cross-purposes. Let’s take a quick look at this chart, which indicates the multiplicity of vendors who are falling all over the client. Clearly, the brand manager is under pressure today.
So what should he do?

Today, the brand manager is under pressure but he is the one who can control the brand’s destiny. He knows what the brand is all about; he knows its essence and messaging. It is up to him to ensure that the brand’s integrity is preserved in every single thing that gets done by different agencies. And believe you me, it is by no means easy.
Let me give you a quick example of the challenges faced by him/her. The current top model Ranveer Singh is, as we speak, endorsing six diverse brands — MakeMyTrip, Vivo, Maruti Suzuki Ciaz, Colgate, Ching’s Secret and Set Wet Deo… all at the same time!
Obviously, some smart aleck salesman is selling the celebrity as though there is no tomorrow and with no thought about the target audience or the confusion it might create of endorsing diverse brands. Sadly, brand managers have fallen for this simple sales ploy! Clearly, it is a case of caveat emptor not being followed. 



Wake up, brand manager! I know you are hassled, busy and stretched. But be on your guard, lest someone take you for a ride. Or better still, hire a brand consultant!

Monday, November 21, 2016

What is Donald Trump teaching us?

Marketers need to realise that consumers don’t think the way you want them to

A couple of days ago, Donald Trump won the US presidential elections. The reactions ranged from disbelief to horror to fear to dismay. The educated class, the political analyst, the media and Hillary Clinton got it completely wrong — they had written him off.

Let me quickly tell you that I have no political leanings, knowledge or the slightest interest in politics. My obsession is with marketing and communication — period. Let’s look at Trump’s victory from this perspective. I am sure you will find enough food for thought here.
Love me or hate me
An expression I love quoting is “Love me or hate me but for God’s sake don’t ignore me!” Can anyone ignore an in-your-face Trump? Another quote by Bill Bernbach is relevant here: “If you stand for something, you will always find some people for you and some against you”.

Donald stood for something, even if the educated intelligentsia didn’t bother to pay enough attention to what his beliefs were. They were busy tweeting jokes while he was busy appealing to people’s emotions. And we all know the outcome.
A single-minded thought

“Great advertising is produced by a single-minded thought that comes alive in a compelling way,” Tim Bell, an advertising great of my time, had said. And that’s gospel truth as far as I am concerned.

What did Trump say? “Let’s make America great again” — a line as simple as ache din or garibi hatao. This always brings to fore an important point — that when you are talking to millions, the simpler your message, the greater are the chances of success. What was Hillary’s single-minded thought? I didn’t get it. Did you?
Missing the wood for the trees

Perhaps the UK’s biggest failure in recent times was Brexit, which saw the English polarised, with many wanting to stay on their own. Similarly, with both Obama and Clinton, in America, one saw an inability to understand that the average Johnny doesn’t care for globalisation.

The American voter has probably never heard of “the world is flat”, much less care for it. . This person cares about his/her own job, and Trump’s talk about immigration hit home, as the insecure American blames immigrants for his current state of affairs. Playing on people’s fears seems to have worked. But who knows what might actually happen now that Trump is president?
Spend smartly

In the early stages of the campaign, the Hillary camp was almost gloating over its ability to outspend Donald Trump and consistently kept overspending. Does advertising work? Does it make a difference to voters? It probably does. How else can one reach millions of viewers? Of course my personal view, despite being a great admirer of the discipline (advertising), is that in elections, its value might be overstated, as Hillary Clinton would have discovered.
People in ivory towers
I think one of the greatest challenges in marketing is that people carry their baggage with them. They carry their own prejudices, biases and beliefs wherever they go. Let me give you my personal example.

I am convent educated, did my Masters in Economics at Loyola College and went to IIM Bangalore. So bloody what! I am not the consumer. It is about my consumer who is reading page 3, watching what, according to me, is a lousy serial. So I must focus on him/her and not on myself. And this is really what the Clinton supporters, analysts and most certainly the media, got wrong.

They focused on the outlandish statements made by Trump, laughed at them and thought the world too was laughing with them. The world might have thought that way, but the average voter is not on Twitter. Trump struck a chord in the average voter.

Let me give you an analogy from the world of advertising. Below is an old ad that most of educated India hated. They said “How dare they?” and protested loudly. This was for ‘Fair & Lovely’. But it hit the Indian girl in the gut because it was about her and offered her hope. She went out and bought it by the dozen. 

Hope for the future
Yes, hope is a great emotion in life and that is how India voted a couple of years ago and how America voted this week. Only time will tell whether the hopes will be realised or belied. But it is a big lesson for all pollsters and marketers who are too full of themselves and their pet theories to see that the greatest challenge is to understand the consumer.

he consumers are different and they will behave in the manner they wish to, not the way you want them to, simply because we think we are smarter.

Donald Trump has made many of us eat humble pie and full credit to him. Let’s hope too that our worst fears don’t come true!

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Festivals are all about making people happy

May each one of us do something for someone around us
When I was a kid (oh dear, here I go again) there was a very famous Tamil film song written by a once-in-a-generation poet, that translates to “Take heart from the fact that there are crores of people who are worse off than you”. 

We lived in trying times of poverty, and unemployment, with very little to look forward to. Today, things are different; there is optimism and happiness in the air and this is never more evident than at the time of Diwali. More importantly, there seems to be a trend to actually recognise and help people who are not as well off as we are. It could be the waitress in the coffee shop we frequent, or the maid who helps make our house liveable, or the unrecognised dhobi whom we take for granted.
It is these people who are actually being featured in commercials being done by as diverse categories as retail, detergents, and online shopping portals. And it is these people being recognised and celebrated in this column. I particularly liked these commercials because instead of merely feeling good about oneself, the newer generation wishes to help the less fortunate around them, in whose lives they can make a difference. 

Tipping point
Nearbuy, the online coupon and deals platform, has made a touching video about Sophie, a smart, intelligent, hardworking waitress from Manipur. Three of the company’s employees tip her disproportionately and make her Diwali memorable. The first gives her a tip of ₹5,000; the second hands over an air ticket to Manipur so she can visit her family; and the third presents six months’ rent for her place. 

The deeds are thoughtful and, understandably, completely unexpected. A slightly longish film, it still makes you pause and think what you are doing to help those around you. 

Maid in Mumbai

Reliance Fresh is another brand that cashes in on the Diwali spirit with its Badi Diwali commercial. The ad film is about an affluent housewife and her maid getting the house ready for Diwali. The housewife speaks to her maid in a slightly stricter tone than usual, asking her to get the guest room ready and telling her to use fancy plates carefully.

After the doorbell rings, she asks her to answer the door, and who are the surprise guests for Diwali? The maid’s parents! A fine gesture by the lady of the house who has made her maid’s Diwali memorable by just being sensitive to her needs and doing something that makes a phenomenal difference to the house-help’s Diwali. 

Clean Diwali
The next two commercials featured in this piece star our friendly neighbourhood dhobis. In the first commercial by Amazon, the dhobi asks a lady to give old clothes for his son if they’re discarding the same while cleaning their home for Diwali. And he is dumbfounded when she offers him brand new clothes from Amazon with the statement, “We don’t wear old clothes for Diwali.” 

The last commercial featured in this piece is from one of my favourite brands, Surf Excel. When a young kid goes to collect clothes from the dhobi, he realises that the latter has no Diwali celebration, no home to celebrate in, no place for rangoli.

He and his quickly assembled friends (code red!) roll in their rangoli and create a pattern on their clothes to make the istri-wallah happy near his place of stay. The kid’s mother, instead of being angry, distributes sweets, tying in with the brand’s tag line, “Daag Acche Hain”. I particularly liked the commercial, as it was still in line with the brand’s promise. 

What’s the learning?

It can often get boring if we keep talking about our merchandise. There are smarter ways of staying connected with our customers as these brands just showed. Ideally, if we can tap into a trend, then the commercial has a greater chance of being liked and recalled. Yes, festivals are not only the season to wear new clothes, celebrate and devour sweets, but are also a time to share with those less fortunate than us.

However, let’s not forget too that we are not in the business of philanthropy but of selling products and services. If we can find a way of seamlessly selling our brand’s promise with emotions like Surf Excel did, then we are well and truly in business.
But there is a larger, underlying social message in all these commercials — which is that each and every one of us has the opportunity to light a lamp in someone’s life and delight them. Life need not only be about delighting customers. What about the ordinary people in our lives who are doing so much for us? And that, to me, is the greatest celebration of Diwali. 

Happy Diwali! May each one of us do something for someone around us.