Monday, September 7, 2015

Are perceptions hurting your brand?

When you get into your jobs, it is important to worry about brands and its perceptions

“Perception is reality” is a statement that one often hears. What that means is that perceptions can be so well entrenched and deep rooted that people tend to take them to be gospel truth even if they just have a grain of truth in them. Let’s talk about a couple of real life perceptions before we move into the world of marketing and how perceptions can affect brands. “People from the North are more aggressive than people in the South”. Now this is a popular perception whether it is true or not. We form opinions of people based on these perceptions and even make decisions on the strength of these perceptions. Let’s move on to the world of marketing. “Chinese goods are of poor quality.” This is a fairly common perception in India for instance and this is also something that can hurt the brands in question. Whilst some countries like Japan or Germany flaunt themselves as “countries of origin” of some brands, the Chinese may not. Let’s look at the advertising of a famous brand like Haier which is originally from China.

While it is an interesting product concept and truly Indian execution, you will notice that nowhere is the brand talking about the country of its origin. It probably has its reasons but my suspicion is that it does not wish to talk about its country of origin but instead looks at itself as a truly global brand that adapts itself wonderfully to India and its customs. German engineering on the other hand is something that has been the basis of many of the top cars of the world and as a race they are justifiably proud of their engineering ability. Brands like Mercedes Benz, BMW, Volkswagen and Audi come to mind. But not all perceptions about Germans need be positive as I discovered in my own personal experience. However, I am not here to talk about an isolated experience and make that into a profound theory but to talk about Lufthansa.

German airline surprises Indian flyers
Lufthansa is a popular German airline, the largest in Europe that I have travelled several times by in the past years though I do not do so now. The reason? I find the food and service not to mention the prices much better in airlines like Emirates and Etihad. My own experience was that it was a cold if clinically efficient airline even if I found the food indifferent and the entertainment programs minimal but it took me to Frankfurt and the US later on time. Now with the emergence of several competing brands, Lufthansa has this new commercial and press ad.

Though you have watched the commercial, let me comment on it. But before that let’s take a look at the press ad as it makes a point too. Not surprisingly it says punctuality and precision are expected and delivered whilst everything else like the customer service are unexpected as they exceed expectations. Let’s move on the commercial now. Grandchildren have unquestioned faith on their doting grandparents and often see the world through the eyes of their grandfathers as this commercial depicts. The grandpa tells the grandson that they are going to New York to meet the boy’s dad and the child is obviously excited. The grandfather tells the child that they are going by Lufthansa, a German airline. He speaks of Germans in a slightly deprecatory tone which is slightly different from the tone of voice that Germans usually use. He says the Germans are different thereby implying that they are difficult to understand. They don’t know Bollywood he says derisively and their food is not worth speaking about. The great day of travel comes and as the two enter the plane, an Indian stewardess welcomes them warmly and the boy has a slightly surprised look about him which turns to an even greater one when the stewardess brings a full course Indian meal prompting the child to say “grandpa we are in the wrong plane“and the grandfather says that everything is fine as it actually is. So clearly research has thrown up certain negatives and perceptions about the brand and Germans as a race and this communication attempts to address it. Will one commercial address all this? Certainly not but the brand’s ability to accept that it may have a problem and that India and its customers matter to it is the point to be noted which is certainly in its favour. Customers will continue to watch the brand and see if these are mere advertising claims or if the brand means what it says.
So when you get into your jobs worry about your brands, consumers and perceptions. See that they don’t hurt you.

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