Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Building the perfect property

When competition overwhelms the market and brands find it difficult to differentiate on unique attributes or price, it might be a good idea to invest in building a property?

When one thinks of Coke three things come immediately to mind: the Coke brand mark, the iconic bottle and the colour red. These are powerful attributes and provide instant customer recognition when used in combination or even individually. While Coca-Cola has spent hundreds of millions of dollars over decades to build these attributes, their success is not purely a result of time and money. It is thanks largely to the company’s understanding of one of the basic principles of branding — building strong product attributes that work as powerful differentiators.

The competition for mindshare in a world of look-alike products and services has only intensified since then. And differentiation on attributes is easier said than done. So now marketers have to walk that extra mile to add a strong experiential element to the brand, which in turn can add to its overall equity. Says Wasim Basir, integrated marketing communications director, Coca-Cola India, “The bottom line is building a relationship with the customer. There are areas in which you can achieve it. And in that, there are areas which are unexplored and areas which are already cluttered. In the second case, we need to create, package and place a property in a way that stands out of the crowd and connects to our customers.”

Enter Coca-Cola India’s new property, Sprite Gully Cricket Champs. The format is simple. It invites cricket players from 13 states, 112 cities. Each city will host an independent tournament with all the teams playing in a knock-out format. The winners from the league matches from these 112 cities are given a cash prize. Much like any other street cricket match, there are obstructions hitting which a batsman is declared out or runs get deducted. Likewise there are areas where hitting the ball can fetch a batsman as many as 10 to 12 runs. “We all have played gully cricket at some point of time in our life, but it was never encouraged or presented in such an organised format,” says Basir. “Such properties take us closer to the customers beyond what advertising and other forms of publicity can achieve.”

In his words, this property connects to the core proposition of Sprite — Raasta clear hai. “We never say that Sprite is any magic potion. It’s a refreshing drink that peps you up before you get on with your life. We all have our strengths and shortcomings. Sprite lifts your spirit and you move on to overcome your obstacles — quite a bit of which you do while playing street cricket,” adds Basir.

The foundation of building a property, marketers say, lies in being the property’s relevance to the core proposition of the brand/company. It may start as a loose association, which over a period of time, an organisation may be able to convert to a brand property. Ramanujam Sridhar, founder CEO, brand-comm, emphasises a few things a company needs to bear in mind while embarking on this journey. “The property you are trying to create needs to be close to your core proposition. But if there is nothing unique about the property itself, it will just be another property which people will fail to recall in connection with your brand or company. For Coke, for instance, we have to first look at its mission statement or core proposition, and then who is its target audience? Looking at these two things, Coke needs to associate itself with an interest which its target audience feels strongly about.”

And this is just the beginning. Topmost among a range of other guidelines on how to build a wholesome property is the commitment of the brand/company to sustain the property for a substantial period of time. According to Anand Halve, co-founder, chlorophyll brand & communications consultancy, if a brand or a company is not willing to handhold the property for a length of time, or avoid huge investments, it can latch on to someone else’s event or property as a partner or co-sponsor. “Sprite Gully Cricket is an interesting sports property. But the property should be projected over a long time to be considered a real property. If one does a one-day show or a few-days’ event, it doesn’t qualify to be a property,” opines Halve.

A perfect case in point here is the Kingfisher Derby, a sports property that belongs to the United Breweries Group. It is held every year in Bangalore since its inception way back in 1988 when United Breweries realised that alcoholic beverage advertising will continue to be in dead space in India. As such, the company consciously pursued sports and associations that are “stylish, fashionable and glamorous” in keeping with its UB’s proposition of being the ‘King of good times’.

Halve goes on to elaborate what Sridhar touched upon— the nature of the brand’s connection with the property. “It is the nature of the connection that remains valid for the entire life of the property. For example, the business of the Filmfare magazine is about films. Tomorrow they can open a Filmfare academy to train people for entering the film industry. They can have a Filmfare production company that makes movies. They can do many things, but the connecting aspect in all the cases will be films. To my mind this makes a strong base to build a property.”

The same is the case with the Lakmé India Fashion Week, a property, which had its inception in a crisis of sorts but it is something that has been nurtured over a period of time in a manner that it has become integral to the whole Lakmé proposition and a differentiator vis-a-vis other beauty brands. (Related box ‘How I did it’ on page 4 details the Lakmé India Fashion Week journey in the words of its architect Anil Chopra.)

The Sprite Gully Cricket Champs, on the other hand, is a very different proposition. First, it has a long way to go before it can be anywhere near what the Lakmé India Fasion Week is today. Second, at the product level it is a beverage, but broadly it is a product with a ‘lifestyle’ appeal. The problem with most lifestyle products is, what is of interest today may not be of interest tomorrow. “If you look at how Coca-Cola Company sums up what they are, you will find they change every season or every year —from ‘Pio sar utha ke’, to ‘Brrrrr’, now ‘Happier tomorrow’. So, the lifestyle proposition keeps changing,” points out Halve.

So the whole idea of creating a branded property in this case would be to somehow create an aura around the brand that makes it different from the competition. And if a property promises that, go for it, says Sridhar. As they always said, your brand resides inside your customers’ minds and it got there through their experiences with your product, service, organisation or any related offerings.

Another often-debated aspect here is the commercial-value connection between the property and the core business. In the last five to 10 years, a dubious word has got introduced in the marketing dialogue — engagement. Companies and brands talk about investing to engage their audience. The whole business of engagement is tricky, to say the least.

Take a stand-up comedian who is on the pay-rolls of a club where he performs regularly, and the club earns money because people flock there buying entry passes or tickets and purchase food and beverages along the way. The stand-up comedian can’t claim that he is the one engaging the audience — he is one of the many props so far as the club is concerned. While he gets paid to put up a show, he is not integral to the whole scheme of things. He is absolutely replaceable and easy to do duplicate.

Not clear? Here, the Filmfare example will come in handy. The magazine earns revenue from its telecom partners for the nominations done through mass SMS, it releases entry forms inside the issues with details of the actors and actresses capable of being nominated and the event, then issues are printed with pictures of the winners, TV shows are done to showcase what happened at the event and these shows charge advertisers to place their ads in the programme. As such, the Filmfare award is a money-making property and it strongly links to the fundamental offering of the brand itself.

Now consider General Motors’ recent decision to drop Facebook paid ads. While General Motors will continue to have its free page on Facebook, marketers say its recent move is a reflection of the auto giant’s realisation that ‘clicks per page view’ and the number of ‘likes’ contributes little or too less to the revenue chart. ‘Engagements’ do not translate to any revenue benefit for the company or the brand. In other words, easily dispensable. At little or no extra cost.

The bottom line, therefore, is monetisability.

Here, two more dimension of properties, as pointed out by Halve, come into play. That the brand or company should be able to collect rent (read return on the investment made in the property) on that property, and can sell it at a profit. As Halve puts it, “If you create a ‘name property’, it becomes very difficult to sell it. One cannot buy the Lakmé Fashion Week as the new owner might have a completely different set of brands. At the end of the day, marketing investments must have some marketing returns.”

Samar Singh Sheikhawat, senior vice-president, marketing, United Breweries Limited, takes the argument forward. He says the potential to generate revenue from a property depends on the kind of industry you are operating in. “We have realised that the alcho-bev industry not only survives in a media-dark environment, but also has to conform to a lot of legal and statutory regulations. So to a large extent, revenue in this business is actually driven by pricing which is determined by the government. Therefore, in the alcho-bev space, a property must contribute to a few key things. Yes, either it should contribute to revenue, or contribute to brand salience or consumer advocacy, or it should fit in with the overall pattern of the business one is doing. The Kingfisher Derby, like many of our other properties, is designed on these fundamentals,” says Sheikhawat.

The kind of investment that goes into building a property also depends on the brand and its long-term focus. In terms of return-on-investment, branded properties cannot be expected to deliver short-term sales or even image score improvements, believes M G Parameswaran, executive director & CEO, Draftfcb+Ulka. “When Albert Lasker motivated Charles Wrigley to invest in renovating the stadium in Chicago, Wrigley did it out of his love for the game. The fact the stadium got named Wrigley Fields and continues to be a branded property, in many senses of the term, is a bonus. The same could be said of the scholarships that companies offer like Ford Scholarships and in our own country the Tata Scholarships and Aditya Birla Scholarships,” he explains.

While this is a game fraught with uncertainty, it has the potential to open up whole new possibilities for a brand, if handled carefully. As Parameswaran puts it, sometimes a branded property may vampire the brand and become something that has a life of its own. “If such a thing happens, the brand owners need to ensure that they create a separate revenue stream from the branded property and ensure that there is always an arm’s-length relationship with the brand. The Guinness Book of Records is a great example of a branded property that has got a life of its own. So while Guinness cannot be sold to kids, the book of records is a constant source of inspiration for school kids,” Parameswaran explains.

In other words, brand properties take time to create, and can last a long time. No matter the size of our business, your brands and your marketing budget, by developing unique and memorable brand properties marketers can fully leverage the value of their brand building efforts. 

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