Sunday, 3 December 2006

----personalising the brand...

Here are some questions i am grappling with-

Why are some brands ‘cult’/ ‘cool’/ ‘sexy’ and other not so? What can I expect of my brand? Are there limits to what it can achieve? How do I measure this limit?

What makes an ipod or Nokia so cool and talked about. And a Michelin, that for a 120 years, has been chugging along never thought of as a great brand?

Is it the quality of brand management?
Or is it the category?

Perhaps it is just that miniaturisation and technology has opened up categories like the telephone and music player into things that are carried around and that are useful today in expressing one’s own personality- like a hairdo…or nail coloring or a can of Coke or a pack of cigarettes was in the past. To be a ‘killer brand’, the brand must participate in the consumer making a personal expression.

Within this constraint, the marketing elements can be mixed for enhancing the impact:
- The Ipod has a fixed form- it then uses other marketing elements to create an image that is aspirational and invites participation.
- Nokia- the form changes frequently- the brand uses form innovation to create participation.
- Question- What should Google be doing?

Does this mean then , that for a brand to be cool today, it must necessarily extend itself to this ‘personal extension’ category to develop its ‘coolness’. Then use the Halo effect to the other categories of the brand? Eg – Michelin uses its lifestyle products to become ‘cult’, and have this effect rub off on its primary business of tyres. Or HP using the line “making the PC more personal” establishing more intimacy with the consumer?

In the 60s, consumer brands high on quality became well known.

Then, with time, quality was no longer a differentiator- so quality along with Innovation was key to build a brand.

Today, quality and innovation are both not enough. The brand must make a personal expression of the user. Otherwise, strong as it may be, it can never become cult.

Does this explain why cola brand got so well established years ago. Because in a bottle, they could always be carried around. People expressed their choices and their personalities with Coke? Or Marlboro. Something they could not do with a Sony TV, but got around to with a walkman.

Question: Is the portable Play Station therefore a great platform to develop the PS brand as cult among gamers?

With the advent of miniaturisation, we carry a lot of accessories/ electronics/ that we could not have. Personal expression finds its way into a lot of things now.

Implication :

Michelin can be the benchmark among tyre brands/ car brands and other purchases with a similar purchase window/ industry promise (quality and innovation every few years).

But it cannot be as chic as an LVMH or iPod.

The other problem likely is that as more cateories are personalised, consumer spending will be diverted there. Consumers will likely be more brand aware in these categories, diverting money away from say a Sony notebook and settling for a Dell - using the difference to fund ‘personalised categories’ such as newer models of phones/ music and video players/ gaming devices.

- to continue. 1/12/2006.

Saturday, 2 December 2006


What’s in this name?

This brand is a contradiction to me. Each time I think of Sony ,I am reminded of its high quality and success as a consumer brand. Led by the category of TVs. But then , more with the Walkman- it was the ‘must have’ brand of the 80s.

And to me, it has since failed. It missed some key emerging categories- mp3 players/ mobile phones…all that could have gained from its expertise in miniaturisation. Categories that are so personal, so important in the expression of individuality. Brands that help me express myself/ create my personal space/ even as I participate in a busy life- those are the brands I stick with. And here, Sony is missing.

Sony has instead placed its bets on notebooks. On Play Stations. On a new DVD format. But Sony operates in consumer goods categories where it is getting out manoeuvred in the ‘cool factor’. In an ‘open standards’ world, LG/ Samsung and Philips have all achieved the level of quality Sony promises. The ‘wow’ that Sony achieved with its Walkman is missing now from its offerings.

I would still be very happy to receive a Sony as a gift. But would I want to spend my own money on it?


The brand name itself, while sounding exotic, is abstract. The font Nokia as it appears in advertising, is solid, appears dependable and to the point. Nothing frivolous about it.

Not so long ago, the brand was the category. And because the category of cell phones was so novel and sexy, Nokia became the epitome of cool. It helps that among all the phones I have tried, a Nokia phone remains the easiest to navigate and use.

In my view Nokia suffered a double blow with the advent of the ‘clam’ shaped phones from Sansung and the Motorola Razr. Nokia was ‘out-cool’ed. It was not the benchmark in design.

But moving quickly, Nokia now offers eye catching phones; phones for the business user (competing more directly with the Blackberry) and is attempting to catch the mass market in India/ Chine with cheaper/ more robust designs. The brand is spreading its appeal, yet remaining at cutting edge of cool.

This is interesting for me. A Nokia Sirocco range which is clearly great design/ exclusive and looks ‘aspirational’. A Nokia for business which crams business utility on a phone. And the more ‘mass market ‘options, which continue to offer great value and feed off the ‘aspirational’ top end range.

A cell phone helps make a personal point. My Nokia is different from your Nokia. But that’s because I am different from you. Nokia has made it easy for us to accept that difference and flaunt it proudly. Is that then the key to establishing a brand today?

Saturday, 18 November 2006

Coke- Coca Cola

Arguably the most well known brand / logo in the world. The logo itself does not communicate anything about the product. However the free flowing font in the deep red background communicates to me a bold - free personality. Because i have seen it now in every country i have travelled to, i admire its universal acceptance.

I have not drunk this product in months, nor wish to in the future. Somehow the brand has been unable to fight off the influence of health and fruit drinks on me. I cannot associate healthy living with the logo. While i cannot recall any coke advertisement as particularly memorable, "the all American" association to the brand was enough to get me choose Coke over every other alternative.

The brand Coke puts to rest all notions of innovation as key to sustaining a brand. Its just in your face- every day, everywhere...when i ever choose the coke logo i am simply choosing between Coke and Pepsi.

And perhaps this is what endears me to the logo. In this simple act of choosing the one among the two, I feel empowered. Its a great leveller. I may feel embarrassed that i chose Bata over Gucci. Or tap water over Perrier. But, you cant judge me by the Cola that i choose. I prefer the Red American team to the Blue American team. And no matter who you are- me or Tom Cruise or Bill Clinton, in the world of colas, you choose either the one or the other.

Johnnie Walker- Keep Walking

He's upright, erect, purposeful and marching urgentlyon towards a goal.

He seems to be sure of himself, responsible and aware of his choices.

Its an interesting way to humanise the brand, and introduce into the product category solid attributes. The logo suggests to me the need to develop a strong character in order to best enjoy the product.

The "Keep Walking" logo is calling out to people that know what they wish to achieve and are well on their way. The logo sets a high standard for the product. If I can be comfortable in the presence of this brand, i can either deceive myself very well.... or know for sure that I have earned the right to savor the best.

That golden liquid washing the cubes of ice, better match up to the "walker".
It then, better match up to me.

Nike- Swoosh

Modern, cool. Progressive, confident and to the point.
No grand mission statements, performance driven. Just do It.

In precise words, encouraging active participation in life.

However, this is a brand I am losing my connectivity with. On one hand I believe the shoes would be high performance, but on the other hand, I see Nike shoes in gold colour/ trying to attract a ‘teeny’ fashion conscious crowd not particularly interested in getting performance out of the brand.

Leaves me ambiguous… somewhat the Benetton story, where the coolness of the brand and advertising, stopped translating into product exclusivity and product performance.

Its no longer "just do it". The brand seems to be saying "just look like you want to do it".

I might just buy an Adidas, the next time around.

Michelin, Bibendum and "a better way forward"

The Mich man has succeeded in softening the word of tyres and adding a gentle personality to the dark and ‘sex less’ product. He looks human (kind of like in a space suit), manly, but not aggressively masculine. Its friendly, confident but not looking to be assertive.

Is he a friend? or a leader? Which one does he need to be to make me buy the product?

Friendly, bouncy and trustworthy are other words that come to mind. .
The Michelin logo in blue adds to the sense of confidence. However, the “better way forward” doesn’t make a memorable or desirable promise. The friendly overtures of the bibendum are lost in the ambiguity of the promise, confusing me about the product. I'm paying top why dont i get the "best way forward"?

Between the three elements (Brand name, promise and the bibendum logo), I can see French styling and the confidence of a strong brand name, but hesitance in delivering a consumer benefit- not the allure of a premium brand in the tyre market.

Apple- iPod

Easy to carry, great to look at and a top class performer.

The ipod creates my individual space in a discreet way, while at the same time helping me make a statement through the choice of the brand. As a closed system (like the Apple computer) it creates an exclusivity- at the same time, a larger sense of community which has arisen through the rapid acceptance of the product.

The overall Apple promise comes through elegant product design, efficiency and ease of use.

I find its advertising catchy and chic. There is a consistence in its customer contact moments, and this helps Apple retain a strong bond with its customers. A bond that translates into rapid penetration of new product. The ipod, unlike the Mac, being at a lower price point allowed a rapid transition to mass market (from the early adapter stage).

In a world where convergence expresses itself in every product (eg- phones with MP3/ email / video capabilities), the iPod stands alone in successfully delivering one singular benefit.

Apple does not deliver a new product every 3 months (like a Nokia). iPod clam/ iPod Sliver/ iPod Razr/ …no…..its simply convinced us that every Apple innovation is a gift…to be enjoyed and savoured; that Apple is a better judge of form- and in believing that, we can keep ourselves focused on choosing and experiencing the content.


Its American, and the founder was the big daddy of the ‘mass production way’. The logo itself seems casual, and friendly. Nothing too officious about it. Iconic but no longer alluring. It has not, in a long while, given a ‘wow’ moment to the car enthusiast. In a segmented world, Ford has been unable to create/deliver a relevant promise.

To me, a Ford can’t compete with Toyotas’ brand equity on quality/ with BMW on the promise of driving excellence or with Honda for image and value. Yet, its legacy carries it in the face of the second line of car brands. I would prefer it to Rover/ Renault/ Peugeot. I would put it in the same class as a GM make. It’s a value brand, not an aspirational one.

A brand should entice me. Fill me with anticipation, and then blow me off with its performance.

With a Ford, I’m just buying second class fare.


I wonder why people pay more to drive a BMW when you can as well buy a Ford. And get to point B in roughly the same time.

But I travel second class.

What strikes me about BMW, is the boldness and relevance of the brand promise. The ‘Ultimate Driving experience’. Its direct. Superlative. It makes a solid promise, and going by its reputation (and profits), keeps that promise.

The other remarkable point is I have not seen a BMW talk of hybrids. Or new fuel technologies. Again, the focus is on the ‘ultimate driving experience’. If the new technology has not been mastered to provide that experience, let’s not go there yet.

There are those that will pay for the pleasure of a good driving experience. BMW has seemed to focus solely on that. Never mind the ‘mass market’; never mind large production runs to cover fixed costs. A great promise. Focused to the right customer. And kept up to date.

I know I like to keep driving to a minimal. I keep to speed limits. And I take curves cautiously. I prefer to trust myself rather than my car. I am not a BMW target.

And I have never felt spoken to by the BMW. In that one fact, I respect the solid customer understanding and focus of this brand.

The World’s most important brand: Me

There are two brand that strike as very important to me. The first is God. And the second is me.

If God appeared on the planet and launched a new range of product (no matter what), he would be market leader in no time. His only problem would be “pricing”. How could he, the world’s greatest equaliser, price to make a profit?

But lets come to the more relatable example. Me. I am a brand. When I was born, I was the most important brand to two people- my parents. As I have grown and come in contact with other people, my “awareness” has increased. One day, before I die, I would like to be well known and valuable. Think product life cycle curve.

To do this, I use the 4Ps of marketing. But first, I have segmented the market, targeted an audience and positioned myself.

I realise that I cannot be everything to everyone. I realise that I enjoy the company of some people and not of others. And I realise that I am good at doing some things, and not at others. I enjoy doing some things and not all. Just like anyone else.

But as my own brand manager, I take things a bit further. I ask – “who am I?”

Through much reflection, I describe my self as follows:

I see myself as an inquisitive, hard working person who stands apart on account of his ability to identify problems, simplify them, communicate them and then allocate resources to solving them. I enjoy being with people who share this point of view.

This is key. This is what I have identified will give me sustained differentiation and value in the market place. This is the brand statement. All that I do is to be measured against this.

I then focus my energy in being consistent. I am not a “mass market” product. I am open to some people, closed to others. Mr. Mohandas Gandhi was mass market and he clearly showed the high degree of focus required even in establishing a strong mass market brand. (contrary to common practice?)

So I develop myself as a “product” on these principals. In terms of place and promotion, I select how and where to promote myself, what kind of an evolution to select. It is in terms of “price” once again, that I am yet to establish benchmarks. I can say that I add value and therefore tend to get a “higher than market price” in exchange of my efforts.


And as a product, I look back on myself and I look forward to the future; measuring the choices that I make in their effectiveness to enhancing my brand image, recognition and value. I seek to remain relevant. Professionally and personally. Identifying niches, developing myself to fill them. As a husband, son, brother, friend and colleague.


So, as says the TAG Heuer brand statement “ What are you made of” .