Monday, 31 March 2008

Engage, Educate, Entertain

Engage, Educate, Entertain. Great brands and great leaders do this.

What is the value of a brand to me? A brand is expected to guide me in my choices. A brand says to me “hello there, we know the world is complex, lots of information, so many products. But this is our stand on all of this. If this interests you, think no further, buy us!”

And in this simple communication, it leads me towards itself. Of course, brand trial and experience will tell me whether I was misled, or the choice was justified. And trial after trial, I will develop continuously my association with the brand.

I expect therefore, a brand to lead me. In a direction for which it has more information and hence more clarity. A direction that I could always look back and judge. But not always look forward and anticipate by myself.

And from this word “lead” I began to make connections between brands and leaders. Are they not similar? Do they not allow us to navigate through this ever changing world and make better choices? Did my leaders not succeed because they built trust with me? Gradually and over time? Did they not own my loyalty for years afterwards? Were great leaders not also great brands?

With all these questions, I thought of what make some leaders succeed with me.

Sure these leaders, like the brands I use, went through very difficult and continuous “tests”. They were judged them on intellect…honesty…commitment…communication…and results. But behind all this, there were some characteristics that motivated me to seek their presence. That allowed my “antenna” to tune itself to their messages. Its these “behind the scene” qualities that I believe made some leaders memorable. I want to share these characteristics with you and propose that the same qualities must drive brand management.

Firstly, my leaders were my “gurus”. They knew more than me the chosen field of work. And they wanted to share their knowledge. In teaching me to make educated choices for myself, through their behaviors they continued to educate me. New concepts, new challenges, new tools….through their better understanding of the changing world, they synthesize the world for me and taught me to choose from the options available. They were “market leaders” for me because above all they educated me and prepared me for the future.

Question: Which was the last brand in your life that educated you? McDonald’s?? Naw, they followed the health food band wagon. Coke?? Naw. Gilette? I don’t think so….So which one?

Secondly, my leaders engaged me- by not talking down to me but talking to me. Honestly, intellectually and openly. They asked me questions, respected my ideas, took on board my sentiments and were open enough to reshape their interpretations. I participated in my own learning.

Question: Which was the last brand in your life that allowed you to actively participate in shaping it? (and don’t fall on the common “but we use market research”….market research is passive.)

And finally, my most memorable leaders were entertaining. Through anecdotes, their ability to laugh at themselves and widen the context of any discussion is enriching. In a “human” way, these leaders make their stories become mine. I see the relevance of their experiences.

Certainly, this is how I remember my best leaders: Engaging, educating, and entertaining.
These are the people I learnt from, I trust and I follow.

So this is what I want from my brands. Not catchy phrases, jingles and pompous claims. Sure it interests me to know that some famous filmstar is associated to the brand. But then all it would take is a more famous filmstar to switch my choices. “Cool” cannot be good enough. Then marketing reduces to the search of “next cool”.

Let me take an example of an iconic brand that I had the opportunity to learn about- Michelin(the French tyre company). Michelin was built in an era where there was no mass communication. It was done city by city, consumer by consumer. That’s why they took years to establish the brand. Consumer interactions and events. (maybe this is perhaps the story of all the great consumer brands.)

Its only in the later years that the power of mass communication (and the simultaneous lack of interactive media) that made companies give up this dialogue in favour of a monologue. The attraction was of reaching larger audiences faster. But TV and radio allowed you to speak to consumers, not listen.

TV has indeed enhanced the sensory elements of the communication message. With special effects, anything is possible and nothing is dazzling enough. But a memorable advertisement is not brand management.

Today brands like Google supposedly get built in 10 years. But will the brand survive the next 50 years? Is the brand simply the excitement around the market capitalization growth?

I believe brand management is not about filmstars. Its not about “jazzy” events. Its not about getting the best distribution in place. Or covering all the price points. Sure, all this is the marketing mix. But at the core of brand management is the ability to spend a lifetime with your consumers. To be with them as their world changes and help them make sense of it.

Most consumers will live at least 70 years. Will the brand?

Educate, engage, entertain.

Saturday, 22 March 2008

Celebrity salesmen

Sure, the Devil may wear Prada, but I think Shah Rukh sold it to him…..

Its sad but true. It seems Shar Rukh, Amitabh Bachchan and Sachin Tendulkar can sell you anything. If the death of marketing was ever in doubt, Indian advertising offers enough evidence for all us professionals to lose hope.

Why is this? Here are some hypotheses…though definitely not comprehensive.

a. The products they are selling no longer offer any USP.
b. The marketing man has run out of ideas.
c. Brand awareness needs to be built up in 24 hours.
d. Brands have no meaning.

There used to be a time when celebrity endorsements used to be tied to beauty products, the odd energy drink. Now celebrities are everywhere and I believe, mindlessly.

I am not against celebrity endorsements. Not at all. For example, I think Tiger Woods works well with Accenture and with Nike. The key being, performance and execution as the brand values that Tiger amplifies.

Akshaya Khanna works well with Thumbs Up. Hrithik with Coke. The personas and the brand values match.

But why does Amitabh try and kick a football Pele style for Dabur Glucose? Shar Rukh selling me Dish TV is pathetic.

So I tried to rationalize this. Where does all this celebrity endorsement work?
To start with , I came up with a few scenarios where celebrities can enhance the brand advertising:

• Celebrities can amplify product characteristics
• They can increase product awareness
• They gain product credibility …etc.

a. But in essence, celebrities add value when their own filed of competence matches that of the product. I.e a movie star or model can endorse beauty products very easily. They can endorse ‘lifestyle” products such as cola drinks, fashion accessories.

b. On the other hand Tiger Woods and Sachin Tendulkar are known for performance and can emphasize “performance” products- sports equipment, energy drinks etc.

c. The problem I am seeing occurs when “lifestyle” is being used to sell performance products. Having Amitabh kick a football “Pele” style is a stretch on the performance attributes of the product. And it does not translate any of Amitabh’s brand properties to the product. Mobile service providers such as Airtel are using filmstars. Why? Do they want me to stop comparing product and competitor performance? I suffer with poor service from Airtel. Why should I ignore all this and accept to say “Hello” with SRK? Why does this marketer want me to believe that there are no product differentiators in this category?

There has to be a match between the property a celebrity beings on board (lifestyle or performance) and the property that the product needs to differentiate itself. (whether lifestyle or performance). When these are mismatched, the outcome is a waste of time, money and effort.

Overall, the frequency with which I am beginning to see celebrity endorsements reflects in my view a decline in advertising and marketing standards in India. Brands are built overtime. Through consistent and relevant messages. While celebrities may guarantee quick recall, they cannot guarantee product success in a competitive environment.