Brands, which really belong to customers, would be better served if they improved the service along with a makeover..
Change of face: Airtel gets a new logo as 3G services arrive. Sunil B. Mittal at a press conference in New Delhi to launch the new logo and signature tune. - KAMAL NARANG
On November 18, 2010 I was near Hampi and opened a newspaper only to find the newspaper carrying a jacket (on its front page) unveiling the new logo of Airtel, my mobile service provider ever since I can remember. Interestingly the new logo was malleable enough to be part of that newspaper's logo in the ad announcing the logo change, where the new stylised shape replaced the ‘o'. Of course, you could forgive my ignorance for thinking that it should really be cueing an ‘a', not that anyone really bothers about what I say or write. India's leading mobile service operator was going to town with new creatives announcing the new logo not only in the paper that I talked about but in several others and supplemented the burst with TV spots for the launch of 3G services with commercials shot internationally. Media reports suggest Airtel is spending a miserly (!) amount of Rs 300 crore on the campaign. Changing a brand's identity clearly means a big investment for the marketer and big business for the advertising agency and the brand identity firm that creates the logo. In the same breath I need to mention that in my view brands are taking the step all too frequently these days irrespective of whether such a change is necessary and for the better.
Is change the order of the day?
Suddenly brands in India seem to be diffident about their identities and are in a hurry to shed them for newer, sexier and (naturally) more expensive ones. Over the last couple of years I can certainly recall brands such as Shoppers Stop, Godrej, Ceat and Canara Bank changing their logos (may the ones I have not mentioned kindly forgive me) as they probably felt their logos did not represent their current standing adequately.
Why do brands change their identities?
“Our logo is dated and India is full of young customers. We wish to create a new identity that will be attractive to young customers.” (And what about poor old customers like us who patronised you, old logo et al?)
“We have changed our business focus and the new identity represents that.” (At least this time we hope you know what you want to do!)
“We are offering a whole new range of services.” (Are you now!)
And so the story goes on. In my view, marketers tend to be more worried about their identity than the image consumers carry of them. To clarify, identity is easily manageable, starting with a logo, a Web page, brochures, advertising – in other words all communication that the company wishes to convey. This in short is the company's view, the way it sees itself. The image of the brand, however, is something entirely different. It is how the consumer perceives the brand and that view could be substantially different. So in my view, merely changing a company's identity (and the logo is its most visible part), may not do much to change the overall image of the company if not accompanied by significant measures to improve its service or delivery.
The “new” and “improved” Airtel logo
I am sure many of us are familiar with the slogans “new” and “improved” that FMCG brands have been using. It is a strategy (?) as old as the hills and often consumers would be hard-pressed to figure out what was new or improved about some of these brands that they have been using since childhood. Of course, logo changes are far more noticeable, particularly when they are backed by huge media spends as in the case of Airtel. Now let's come to the key question: Is Airtel's new logo really an improvement assuming that change was necessary? Of course, discussions on design usually tend to be unresolved as design is such a subjective topic and everyone knows how volatile creative people can be when their work is subject to scrutiny.
The earlier Airtel logo had a boxed-in look to it, while the new logo has a free, unencumbered feel. As one of the analysts who commented on the design said, “It is without boundaries.” In a sense that is perhaps what the brand is attempting to do as it moves across geographies and straddles continents with its new offerings, not being satisfied with merely being the market leader in India. The earlier logo was red, which, one suspects, is a brand property and it is hardly surprising that the new logo continues to be in red. Yet the bone of contention is that the design element cues another brand, Videocon, which also is claiming to be international and which, incidentally, also has ambitions in the mobile services space. But the greater concern is that the new identity seems closer to Vodafone, a major competitor of Airtel and a global brand of repute in the mobile services space.
In this context, it is perhaps relevant to look at historic competitors in another category, soft drinks, where Coke and Pepsi have battled it out for market share and brownie points, ever since I can remember. Of course, Coke and Pepsi have strong brand properties; Coke owns the colour red while Pepsi appropriates blue. It has been said half jocularly that the easiest way to make a Coke salesman see red is to whisper the word ‘blue' in his ear! Similarly a Pepsi salesman would go blue in the face if you just mentioned the word ‘red' to him! But seriously, competing brands build properties that in no way cue their competition and on this count I feel that it is perhaps not the ideal strategy to change yourself to look closer to your largest competitor.
Have mobile, will change!
Let's keep aside the global markets for a second and focus on the Indian market where I can speak with confidence, not so much as an analyst, but certainly as a consumer. I believe I have been a loyal customer of Airtel for years now. I have been wooed assiduously by the competitors and have even flirted with some of them for some time and continue to hold a second line. I remember the citizens of Bangalore cribbing incessantly about the name change to ‘Bengaluru'. “We are the constituents, did you ask us before you changed the name?” they ranted. Of course, politicians have their own agenda, which is largely independent of public opinion. But shouldn't marketers be different? Was I or anyone else asked whether we were tired of the logo? Marketers should somehow remember that brands ultimately belong to consumers and not so much to marketers. If Airtel had asked its consumers, they would have complained bitterly about the clogging of the networks and the frequent call drops. If we had a choice, we would have said stay with the logo, mate; just use the money you plan to spend on the change on the service!
Portability is finally here!
Why don't consumers change their mobile service providers and their banks? It is lethargy, really, as it is too much of a hassle to change, or at least has been, so far. And heavy users like me have another problem. We never really know how good the competing service provider is likely to be. And if after going through the heartburn and hassle of changing your service provider and your number and telling the whole world you end up in a mess, you are unlikely to be a very happy man. It is precisely this fear which has held back people. But now I am not so sure. I think I will experiment and so will a million others, one hopes. I hope service providers stop focusing their entire attention on prepaid and remind themselves that customers like me too matter!
Yes, these are interesting times, not only for marketers such as Airtel but consumers such as you and me. Companies and brands would do well to focus on things that will really make a difference to the consumer's life that are perhaps more difficult to manage, like the coverage and the customer experience, rather than the more easily manageable but relatively unimportant aspects like identity!
Do you agree?
Ramanujam Sridhar, CEO, brand – comm.
Read my blog @ http://www.brand-comm.com/blog.html