Monday, November 27, 2017

Why Brands Need A Larger Purpose?

Why do brands exist? Because they help companies make money? Because consumers’ lives are better by using them? Because investors want to invest in those companies that have successful brands? While there is an element of truth in each of these statements, the reality is that many brands and businesses have existed and even prospered historically because someone had started them in the first place, and the next generation of entrepreneurs continued to do more of the same, at times improving their processes and ending up making them more successful. Yes, there are many brands that have been successful and have been so for years now. But if we look at the really successful brands (some of which have even become iconic) there is a larger truth about them. They all have a purpose clearly articulated by the founders that drives the brands, its employees and which impacts the consumers too as they continue to remain loyal to the brand. Let’s look at some of these brands that we have grown up with, used and admired.

A life without Apple?
No discussion on branding is complete without a fleeting mention at least of Apple. What did Apple do? It’s not only that they produced superbly-designed products that consumers fell in love with. They challenged the status quo. They changed the way people looked at computers, the way people listened to music and later challenged the way consumers looked at mobile phones. Here’s a commercial that best embodies the philosophy of the brand and its visionary founder. 

This leads me to make a fairly important point, a larger purpose impacting humans can make a big difference to the long term future of brands and what better example than Apple to demonstrate this.

And where will you go for your cup of coffee? 
Another interesting modern day brand is, Starbucks, and the purpose? Schultz being inspired by the coffee shops in Italy and realising the integral part the coffee shop played in the average Italian’s life thought about the USA and creating a “third place” in the average American’s life, knowing fully well that the American merely alternating between work and home. Why not create a “refuge” he thought? And then went on to create “rewarding everyday moments” in each one of his outlets all over the country and the world for that matter.

Matha, Pitha, Google, Deivam 
An ancient Tamil proverb says: “Father, mother and guru are good.” In today’s world, one might have to include Google!

Can you think of a life without Google? I for one can’t. Even if I have to travel to far-flung places like Mayiladuthurai who do I rely on? I rely on the lady with the American accent who reels off tongue-twisting Tamilian names that have foxed many Punjabis, with great aplomb. And that’s just one app. How can a student get through college without Google and here we were who studied masters without access to calculators for exams! And what’s their mission, “to organise the world’s information and make it universally-accessible and useful”.

So where do we go from here?
While examples are always inspiring and often reassuring, they might not be of much use if one has been in business for years, making money year-after-year repetitively, often doing more of the same. It’s perhaps time to step back and ask why we are in business. Very often, in today’s world of preoccupation with the performance of the quarter, are we missing the bigger picture? It’s perhaps time to think not only about business, revenue, collections, top line and bottom line but also about the human purpose of enterprise. How do we impact the lives of the people who ensure that our business has been around? How do we demonstrate that they matter to us? How do we touch their lives with our products and services in a more interesting and engaging way than we are currently doing?

So why are you in business?
All of us have answers to questions like “how” to do business. But how often have we thought of “why” we are in business. Sadly, it is not an easy question to answer. Let’s remember too that all consumers like stories, even about brands. So what’s your brand’s story? And how is that involving humans? It is in determining these that will set apart your brand and why should we only discuss brands like Apple, Starbucks, Google or Nike? Which will be the Indian brand that will be spoken of in the same breath? And what will be its purpose that will be its point of difference with the competition? I am an optimist and am waiting for the future for Indian brands to make a difference to the world.

Ramanujam Sridhar is the Founder CEO of brand-comm Public Relations

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

IndiGo manhandling incident has little impact on the brand, business

Though the incident triggered social media anger, there was no immediate commercial fallout, say experts
On November 8, India’s biggest low-cost airline IndiGo found itself in the middle of a PR disaster. A video doing the rounds in social media showed the airline’s staff allegedly manhandling a flier after a Chennai-Delhi flight. What followed were jokes, memes and calls for boycott, all of which a public apology from the airline’s CEO didn’t appear to stem.
But now, more than 10 days later, IndiGo doesn’t appear to have suffered commercially from social media anger. The online travel agents that BusinessLine spoke to said that in the days since the video became public, bookings on the airline — which enjoys close to 40 per cent market share in the domestic circuit — remained as strong as ever. Agents say there have been no requests by passengers to cancel their IndiGo flights or reschedule to another airline; neither has the airline had to drop fares to retain passengers.
So was #saynotoindigo nothing more than an empty threat? How much does negative PR affect the commercial aspect of a business? “Almost never in the short run,” said Ramanujam Sridhar, CEO, BrandComm. “The brand might take a beating for a while, but it’s still a good airline. Our sentiment for how we see the airline as treating its passengers is separate from the airline’s performance in getting you efficiently from one point to another. For a business to lose customers, there needs to be repeated negative experiences. Right now, I think most fliers see this incident as a one-off for IndiGo.”
IndiGo did not respond to a request for comment.
It’s even tougher for customers to express their unhappiness with a business in an oligopolistic industry like aviation, according to Paresh Vaish, Partner, EY. “IndiGo has among the most comprehensive coverage for domestic routes; so for a lot of fliers, the airline is sometimes the only option. Also, customers tend to separate the individual’s experience from the brand itself. So while Rajiv Katiyal (the passenger in the video) might choose to never fly IndiGo again, the chances of everybody else following the same way are slim.”
The only exception, Vaish added, is when passengers are concerned about safety. “Take Malaysia Airlines for example. After the MH370 disappearance, there was a significant drop in bookings which brought the carrier close to bankruptcy.” Brand guru Harish Bijoor concurred. “Sometimes, we may not like the brand but still use the product because there aren’t any other options available.”
Mahesh Reddy, Secretary General, Air Passengers Association of India, believes while the immediate commercial fallout of such incidents might be negligible, they don’t bode well either for a brand or the country’s image. “We’re speaking to airlines and asking them to train their apprentices and staff better. We’re also pushing for this with the ministry. Such incidents must not recur.”
Mature markets
“I think a commercial backlash is more likely in mature markets in the West where expectations of customer service are much higher,” Sridhar said. “Indians are slowly getting there. Right now, when we take to social media to complain, we’re just trying to shame the brand into doing better. We want to say that the behaviour is not acceptable; we’re not going to take this lying down.”

Thursday, November 16, 2017

When will IndiGo learn from its mistakes?

It must remember that training is crucial; every single employee is a brand ambassador
I am no great admirer of IndiGo Airlines, let me state that up front. They are too full of themselves, constantly telling us how they are on time, once again. I must confess that they are generally on time and that is a great boon if you live in a city like Bengaluru, where the air traffic is as unpredictable as the weather and even a few minutes delay can throw your entire schedule out of gear.Yet, they become strangely silent when they are late, blaming the air traffic control.
And they are reasonably inhumane as they ruthlessly offload passengers who come even a few seconds late, without bothering to look at the genuineness of the case. Yet, even their detractors might hesitate to gloat over the airline’s current predicament, after the recent fracas in which a passenger was manhandled by staffers. The sorry incident demonstrates, more than anything else, that companies obstinately refuse to learn from the mistakes of others and insist on making fresh ones themselves.
It can’t happen to us!
Crises are not new, nor are they ever going to go out of fashion. If anything, they are going to multiply in the digital world. But it seems to be a bit like our attitude to death. We somehow seem to think that it’s not going to happen to us, even when we are attending someone else’s funeral!
Airlines, by the very nature of the industry, with frequent customer contacts, multiple moments of truth and the shared use of several common services such as airports and air traffic control, which are handled by others, are more prone to trouble than other industries.
In the latest case, of course, IndiGo doesn’t really have an excuse as its employee and ex-employee are clearly to blame, even if there was severe provocation. Yes, it was not a flight attendant but a logistics person. This brings to mind what Disney used to talk about: every employee is either “on stage” or “off stage”, depending on whether he/she is facing customers or not. A janitor in a theme park is equally important because the visitor is going to ask him/her for directions. They are, therefore, all brand ambassadors, so it’s not enough to merely train the stewardesses and the people at the counter. The person who guides you on to the bus is perhaps more prone to the stresses and strains of customer contact and its risks. Though, in this case, it seems the passengers are the ones who are at the receiving end of the violence.
How prepared are we?
Every business, whether it is an airline, a mall, a hospital or a garment factory, is prone to crises. In the age of social media, the crisis can actually put forest fires to shame, so ruthlessly and violently does it spread. Speedy response is of the essence and IndiGo has been lethargic in this respect, given that the incident happened quite some days ago.
The smarter companies work closely with their communication agencies to catalogue a list of crises that can besiege their business and have a contingency plan to minimise the risk. The focus is on damage control. How can they keep the crisis from trending online? Can the PR company make sure that the ticker of a news channel does not include the company’s brand name? Can they move the news from page 1 to page 7 of a newspaper over a period of time? Can they hope for a bigger crisis to happen to someone else so that their crisis is forgotten?
Don’t gloat over someone else’s crisis
While it is natural for competitors to gloat over IndiGo’s crisis, my suggestion to them is this: look out for a similar or an even larger crisis that can come back to bite you. It may seem cute to create memes or send funny WhatsApp messages mocking the other company but we live in crisis-filled times and it speaks well of a company which stays dignified when someone else is going through a tough time. Who knows what might happen in the shifting sands of business? Keep your head even as your competition is losing theirs. This says a lot about a company’s leadership.
And the lesson to learn for IndiGo is simple. When you keep blowing your trumpet at every possible opportunity, you are opening yourself up to criticism when something goes wrong. If I sounded harsher than deserved, it is simply because I am a customer and I prefer my service provider to let others do the talking.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Is Virat going soft?

Recent ads featuring Virat Kohli show a hitherto unknown side of the cricketer
What comes to your mind when I say Virat Kohli? Champion, competitor, intense, aggressive, in your face, loud, brash... You could reel off these adjectives and for most part, you wouldn’t be off the mark. The overriding impression, in my mind at least, would be of unbridled aggression.
In fact, Rahul Dravid, who is the quintessential well-behaved cricketer, said in a recent interview that some of the things that Kohli says before a series makes him cringe!
Whilst Rahul Dravid may might have effectively signed himself off any major coaching assignment with the BCCI with this statement, it raised my own estimation of him for speaking his mind and echoing the sentiments of people like me. But what’s all this got to do with Virat’s alleged softness?
The king of celebrities
Virat is not only the undisputed number 1 in One-Day batting rankings, but he is also one of the richest sportsmen in the world, as per the latest Forbes list. So he’s clearly a hot celebrity endorsing a whole range of brands, including the tremendous Puma deal.
Yet, most celebrity advertising is similar looking as it focuses on the celebrities, their demeanour and achievements. Using Virat’s example, a usual ad would show him celebrating, shaking a triumphant fist or smashing the ball over the ropes as despairing fielders watch helplessly. No one is really sure whether this advertising and the celebrity, who is so highly paid, is actually helping the brand, given the number of ads and brands the same celebrity endorses.
So how does one break the clutter? The answer, as always, lies in the script: the often ignored component in celebrity commercials. Can we show a new dimension of the celebrity rather than the clich├ęd, similar ships-that-pass-me-in-the-night visuals? Yes, we can. How? By showing a side to the celebrity — Virat, in this case — that was hitherto unknown. The following commercials demonstrate this.
Are you a younger sibling?
If you are a younger sibling like me, you know what it is to be ignored, to be taunted and be asked to get lost by your elder brother or sister, as they carry on with their secretive business! Although the situation itself is not new, one can easily relate to this commercial.
In this ad, the game begins with the picking of teams. And guess who is left out? The youngest kid in the block. As the older kids speak to him derisively, Virat solicitously asks him whether he would want to open the batting for his team. And in a surprise twist, the kid belts out runs all around the park.
The new improved Virat
The commercial that really caught my fancy, however, is the one that shows Virat in a completely new light. In this, he is wearing a kurta, and talks about common themes that you and I can relate to. He says how he does nothing on Sundays and just as he is about to take off in his car, he is called for a game of cricket by kids who, cheekily, ask whether they should give him batting.
Mostly, the commercial shows Virat’s softer side as he talks about traffic jams and playing antakshari with his family.
Do they? Don’t they?
The romance-rumours of Anushka and Virat have been doing the rounds for years now. Now, there are rumours of their intended wedding!
This commercial is set in an actual wedding, and has Virat and Anushka decked in traditional clothes. Looking at the couple tying the knot, they discuss what the bride and bridegroom might be promising each other. The commercial actually ends on a sentimental note.
Interesting, more so for a brand like Manyavar.
Celebrity endorsements often end up as double edged swords, as the commercials are so eminently forgettable. Which is why script writers must strive that much more to beat the clutter and explore new avenues like the personal lives and emotions of celebrities rather than use their exploits to catch our fancy. Yes, perhaps there is another side to Virat Kohli that I did not know existed. And I like it.
Do you?

Thursday, November 2, 2017

After Tinder, Happn stepping up the dating game: Here's how

With 14 million swipes per day, the dating app is garnering popularity globally
Challenging the concept and the market of are many dating apps, which are targeted at freewheeling millennials in India. The most popular app in the country, is also the global favourite, Tinder with 14 million swipes per day. Breaking expectations that it will cater mostly to millennials, a large number of Baby Boomers are using the app, along with users from Tier-II and Tier-III towns, indicating its unchallenging popularity.
“People do not call it Tindering but it is just as popular. Any new brand that comes will have to create the same kind of appeal, ubiquity and applicability. New apps might match the depth that they have in terms of database too, because the ability to match depends on the number of users which is already high in India,” believes Harish Bijoor, the founder of Harish Bijoor Consultants, a private label consulting firm.
Yet, the market of dating apps, is buzzing. A large number of global and local apps, be it Woo or Truly Madly are making ripples in their own way. The most notable of the challengers is the French dating app, Happn which launched last year. The app came in with a big-bang ad campaign featuring Hrithik Roshan. The app is built on the concept that a chance meet with a person can turn into a possible date, with a little bit of help from technology.
Unlike Tinder which matches people based on age, location, common friends and interests, Happn romanticises meetings, in a truly French manner. It matches people who would have met otherwise too, and brings them together based on the grocery stores or laundromats or coffee shops that they visit. Their India ad, narrated by Roshan, shows two people bumping into each other, getting attracted and walking away hoping to meet later.
Experts believe that Tinder and Happn occupy different market segments and cater to different needs. “Tinder has a USP which few other apps can match. Happn’s USP is different and might not appeal to Indian sensibilities where reservations are higher. In India, the odds of a person one sits next to on a bus, not having the best of intentions on mind, is much higher,” says Anil Patrick, CEO at Thinking Hat Corporation, a branding and content management company.
Happn too seems to realise this. The app which launched last year, set a target of a million users in a year, even as they kicked off to a good start with 200,000 users. Tinder, on the other hand, came to India after it was an established brand abroad, and also had the first-mover advantage unlike Happn. “Any later entrant will have to play the catching-up game. Even when global majors like Uber and Amazon came to India with established players like Flipkart and Ola, they had to work towards being seen as an Indian brand catering to Indian situations and emotions,” feels Sridhar Ramanujam, CEO at Integrated Brand-Comm.
Tinder has failed to Indianise itself and its so-called ‘Sanskari’ ad failed to connect with its users, though it did not have any devastating effect on the usage itself. The ad, which came under considerable online ridicule, shows an Indian mother approving her daughter going on a Tinder date, with a tagline, ‘It’s how people meet.’ This is starkly different from its American ads, as one of them shows two people getting bored on a date and simultaneously searching for others during the date, with a tagline, ‘The only dates that matter.’
In India and abroad, Tinder has earned the repute of being popular for casual dates and hook-ups, which users seem to have taken to, even in India. Happn successfully occupied the sweet spot of romance in the many countries that it launched abroad, setting itself apart from the frivolous nature of online dating. If the French app wants to market that as its USP, it might be a long journey in India.
Dating is a relatively new concept in India. The market is catering to two different segments of population, those who are interested in getting married and those who are looking for something casual. And both these poles are occupied with strong brands. “If there is any space within dating that is not hook-ups, Tinder can cater to that too,” observes Bijoor.


  • Experts believe that Tinder and Happn cater to different market needs
  • While Tinder has failed to Indianise itself, it still has the first-mover advantage