Monday, February 27, 2017

Mere nostalgia cannot make a brand iconic

The world has moved to a different level of quality; some Indian brands have been left behind.
Last week, I read the news, with a hint of regret, about the Ambassador brand being sold to Peugeot. Mind you, we never owned an Amby, as it was called, but I certainly have fond memories with it. 

Good ol’ days!
Invariably, all long distance trips were made in it, whether it was the holidays we took to Kodaikanal with its hairpin bends, the business trips to Chittoor with my team or the pilgrimages to Tirupati in the company of my late boss. It was dependable, could be repaired anywhere and seat at least six people comfortably, not to mention fitting mountains of luggage that most Indians still continue to carry.

It had literally no competition because the only other car you could own in those days was a Premier Padmini, for which you had to wait for four years! Of course, people less fortunate than you were waiting seven years to get an allotment of Bajaj Chetak and invariably re-branded as fortunate when the allotment happened.

Those whose horoscopes were special sold the Bajaj Chetak seven years later for the same price that they had bought it for and maybe even gifted themselves a HMT watch with the ill-gotten gains!
This was the India that some of us grew up in. A land of scarcity where even a pair of jeans had to be imported and watches smuggled in. And I think it is important to remember this fact, even as we look at some of these old brands with rose tinted glasses.
Changing the game
Many brands that had lived and flourished in a protected economy, started facing the heat in 1991, when the country suddenly (and not a moment too soon) opened its doors to international brands. And every foreign brand worth its name came into the country, whether it was American, Japanese, German or Korean!

The Indian consumer, who had been starved of choice and was considering choosing between two car brands, suddenly had a choice of 764! And this choice wasn’t restricted to just automobiles — refrigerators, colour televisions, mobile phones (which came a bit later) television channels, all came flooding into the market.

And the consumer just went bananas! Many brands — like HMT watches that proudly called itself the ‘timekeepers to the nation’, Hamara Bajaj or BPL colour Televisions (which had once been the market leader) — no longer ruled the roost as the consumer looked at smarter, slicker, better advertised international brands.

Ambassador — which is the hero of this piece and had been steadily dropping production, till the numbers dropped to laughable levels — is now on the block, and the price is a measly ₹80 crore!
What happened to all the goodwill, the equity built over the years and customer experiences of families that had used it for years? Why indeed is the ‘iconic’ brand, as some refer to it, being parked in the garage for keeps?
Being an icon is not easy
In this context, it must be said that people tend to get emotional about brands and give them iconic status a bit too readily. It’s a bit like calling Shikhar Dhawan great on the basis of a phenomenal debut series. But where is he now?
It’s easy to confuse form with class, and this is precisely what happened with the Amby, which was probably a flat track wonder that could not manage, as foreign brands swung, seamed and reverse swung!
World icons
Let us, in the same breath, look at the truly iconic brands the world has seen. These are brands like Volkswagen Beetle, Harley Davidson and Apple, to name just a few. They are in a different league with evangelists who are passionate about these brands and consumers who don’t mind tattooing themselves with the brand’s logo!

The Amby or the Bajaj scooter never really had this sort of appeal. They were the best available at that time and consumers have fond memories of them. But it’s important to remember that mere happy memories do not make a brand iconic.
What might have been?
And yet, I have an overriding feeling of regret at what the brand could have become. Brands are like children — they cannot grow on love and fresh air alone. They need nourishment. Brands too need sustenance and advertising support; they need to keep pace with times and technology.
They cannot survive on outdated models and poor quality. The world has moved to a different level of quality and sadly, some of our Indian brands have been left far behind, as their owners were businessmen, not visionaries.
Brands need champions and visionaries to guide and lead them and this is precisely where Amby lost out. Birla’s loss is Peugeot’s gain.
Will they have the courage, the desire and competence to revive it to its former days of glory? I wonder!

Monday, February 13, 2017

How you can improve your brand’s pricing

Here are five things you must do to build an enviable brand
When we provide a certain service, how often do we make this statement in frustration: “Why don’t we get the pricing we deserve?” I am sure this concern must have crossed your mind at some stage. I run a communications company, and I know that the inability to get the right price for the services rendered by us irks my team and me. 

In fact, this is perhaps a concern for most other companies who are in the business-to-business space - especially those that are not major brands, or are not as well-known as their competitors. Should we, then, just accept it as poor branding or our karma or fight for our own future? The answer is a no-brainer - we must strive to improve our image and pricing.
So let me share what we have learnt the hard way.

Minimum acceptable price
Be clear what your minimum acceptable price is. Very often, we get greedy and give a fancy quotation for our project or engagement. Let’s say we quote two times the price for a project we know fully well can be done in 1.4 times the cost. It is then that we are head for trouble.
More often than not, the client beats us down to 1.1 times the quoted price, including taxes. So what have we effectively done? We have basically sent out a signal that we are desperate for business and can even go down on our final price by 50 per cent! We are saying there is no sanctity in the initial offer and that we will keep lowering our prices to get the contract.
Is this what a serious brand will do? All too often, senior management gets involved in the deal closer to the finalisation. Ensure that your initial pricing is not way off the mark.

Be prepared to walk away
Very often, we find ourselves saying yes to deals, even though they make no financial sense. At such times, remind yourself that it takes the same level of servicing for a project, irrespective whether you are handling a client on a retainer of ₹50,000 or ₹150,000. You need infrastructure, technology and a team to handle the business. We often don’t take into account these hidden costs and worry only about employee costs.

And what about the opportunity cost? When your resources are locked up in servicing a demanding, low-priced client, you are denying yourself the opportunity to work on a more lucrative assignment. Have the courage to say ‘no’ and yet, not close opportunities to do further business with the same client. Only, on your terms at a later date.

Build competencies
Build competencies within your system. Branding is all about standing for something, and that includes skill-sets. A public relations company that specialises in healthcare has a better chance of delivering a hospital pitch, and a company with experience in education has a better fit with a university.

Carefully work on your competencies and practices so that your team can speak confidently to prospects. Put your team in front of the client, so they can experience what the team brings. This strength will enable you to speak confidently when it comes to price negotiations.
Remember, all of these are about perceived value and the client will not haggle for a few thousand rupees when you are able to demonstrate what you bring to the table by way of experience.

Be a professional service provider
People often think of branding as something magical that transforms their image in the minds of prospective clients and customers. Sadly, it is not. It is just a summation of all the things we do as a professional service provider. It includes the way we answer the phone, the way our people dress, the way we address customer requirements, the manner in which we word the mails, and the professional manner in which our proposals are sent.

Once, a client gave me very good feedback. We had done some outstanding media relations work for this client and got him great media coverage. Yet, the docket in which we presented the coverage to the client was so dull and unattractive that it actually took away the entire impact of the hard work we had put in. 

This is why you must present your achievements professionally.

Keep selling your brand
Somehow, all of us believe that once we are in a relationship, we are home and dry. This is hardly the case. No client is sold for life and it is important that we subtly keep reminding the client of the interesting work we do not only for him/her but for others as well.
Sometimes, we are shy of sharing the excellent work we do for other clients lest they turn around and ask us: “Why aren’t you doing the same for us?” In fact, we should take this as a challenge to do great work for all our clients. Very often, customers have a very limited view of our ability that is restricted by what they have experienced. If that is not adequate, we should endeavour to give the client the best of what we can provide as an agency, even if it means challenging our teams to superior performance.

Building a brand is not rocket science. It is clear strategy and relentless execution, day after day. It will not happen overnight, but work on it patiently and soon enough, others will look up to you as your brand becomes a role model.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Only time will tell

A still from the Titan Raga #MomByChoice advertisement

Titan Raga’s motherhood advertisement is impressive, but it isn’t an out-and-out watch commercial
If my memory serves me right, Titan, the brand, was launched in 1987 when I was a young upwardly mobile advertising executive.
Having been in the ad industry and having worked with HMT watches (a brand that got systematically slaughtered by Titan), I have always watched Titan’s advertising with keen interest and a touch of trepidation in the earlier days, as my brand would usually be at the receiving end.
I have also frequently complimented both Titan and Ogilvy and Mather, who have been partners through this entire period. What a fantastic partnership! Believe me, it is no small achievement, maintaining the consistency in strategy and smartness in execution of the ads. Who can forget Titan’s catalogue style launch advertising, its pioneering of the concept of gifting or the creation of a brand property with its Mozart music track?
It was therefore hardly surprising that I watched Titan Raga’s recent commercial eulogising the mom-to-be with great interest.
Mom: stereotype no more!
Moms tend to be an integral part of our lives and television scripts. They are forever rolling chapattis, picking up or dropping their kids or eternally waiting for uncaring kids who come home at night. You get the picture.
It is precisely this sort of mom that the Titan Raga mom does not wish to be. In case you haven’t watched the commercial that’s been recently launched here’s a quick brief about it.
It’s a tribute to a mom-to-be and there’s a fairly large family and friends gathering to felicitate her. The doting husband gifts her Titan Raga while she gets ready to deliver her acceptance speech. As is the current trend, she speaks in a combination of English and Hindi (I remember us referring to this as Hinglish in the earlier days).
She says her time has come (when she receives the Titan Raga watch as a gift) to be a mom. She goes on talk about how her mom was quite different from other mothers, as she was bindaas, and didn’t spend her life waiting for her kids to come back from school, or she wasn’t someone who followed them around endlessly or even made chapattis for them.
She was busy leading her own life, which meant that she was touring the most exciting places and did the most romantic of things, like getting a PhD at the age of 45!
The mom-to-be reiterates that her mother will always be her role model, as she has taught her that being a mother is not so much about making a sacrifice as it is about making a choice — and it is her time to make the choice now, Titan Raga, et al. Here’s the commercial.
Is there a catch?
Let me quickly clarify that I can never be too stern a critic of Titan as I keep flaunting their watches and writing favourably about them. Yet, while it is an interesting commercial, I must add my two cents, being a consumer and a consultant to boot.
The leading light is a touch older than the Katrina Kaifs of the world we have been hitherto seeing. Is the brand subtly accepting that even if it is not getting older, its consumers are? It’s been my considered opinion that the Titan brand has been aging and is probably not as hep as it used to be, though I have no evidence to suggest that Raga suffers from the same malady.
The other concern is that while it is easy to do commercials like these that are a slice of life, the challenge is that they apply equally to any category and are not intrinsic to watches.
Of course, there is a reference to time in the script, but this is not an out-and-out watch commercial, is it? The best commercials are those that intrinsically link the category to advertising and I don’t see evidence of that. I am sure that the ad agency will argue till it is blue in the face about how old fogeys like me don’t understand the young consumer or the category.
Whilst the ads may be interesting and probably award-winning and even make great conversations, they may not be hard working enough. But then, that’s just a point of view and only time will tell if I’m right.
Let me end with a note of congratulations to the client and agency for producing great work for around three decades. May you be a great example to other clients and agencies on how to be partners in progress!
So how’s your own partnership with your ad agency?