Branding is one area in marketing where there are a number of terms and nomenclatures doing the rounds. That some of these terms are interchangeable and some vague and abstract helps people propound them to their hearts content without fear of contradiction. But on the other hand they also create no small confusion in the minds of those who really want to understand them and use the concepts in some context or the other. The other aspect is that many concepts that are redundant are given preference and importance over those that would really help marketers work out practical brand building strategies.
For example, I believe one of the main concepts in brand building, the Brand Story has not been given the importance it deserves. The Brand Story is something which is built using newsworthy background details of the brand that backs the brand promise and which is communicated to the pertinent stakeholders through different media consistently and regularly. Any news story is far better than an advertisement in improving the image of a company as it has more credibility with the target audience. Add to that the fact that stories have the power to subtly explain the brand values and brand promise that otherwise maybe very difficult to convey, it should be a favourite method of communication with all brand managers. But surprisingly it has been rarely used or not been used properly except by some PR agencies.
Infosys and Walmart are two excellent examples of the power of the Brand Story. Through the legends of the founders Narayanamurthy and Sam Walton these companies have clearly been able to communicate the brand’s promise, essence and values to the general public. Believably, credibly, unlike through advertising. The perception gained out of the life, activities and behaviour of these people, which have been brought to the notice of the target audience has helped build the image of the respective companies and convert them into iconic brands. Narayanamurthy and Sam Walton maybe only one cog in the wheel of their respective companies, albeit an important one. But people believe that what they are, represent what their companies’ brand values are. Perception is everything in branding.
Now, that brings us to the next area of brand building which has been relegated to the branding backwaters, so to speak. Cultural and social values. Matching the cultural and social values of the consumers and the brand is one of the key ingredients to successful branding. It is what brands like Kelloggs have been unable to do properly in India. They are presently tuned in only to the cosmopolitan culture of cities – especially like those of Mumbai and Bangalore- and would have to wait for a long period of time for the culture of rural India to change to get countrywide acceptance.
To explain the impact of cultural and social values in more detail we will have to look at brand building and the role of ‘liking’ in the process. The reasoning behind the need for brand building is simple. If people like a brand they are generally willing to pay more money for buying the same. People are also likely to be more favourable to something or someone they like and forgive their odd mistake or deviant behaviour with affectionate indulgence, while they will give hell if someone they dislike does something which is not upto expectations or the required standards.
It has been found in social situations that people stick with those they like and in turn they like those who are similar to themselves. What we can say in New Gen parlance are people with the same wavelength stick together.
Extrapolating this into a marketing viewpoint brings us back to a confirmation of our original hypothesis – that matching the cultural values of the prospective customers and the brand is essential in creating liking and thereby building iconic brands.
Now, the Brand Manager or the Ad Agency has the path clearly defined before them. Since credible, true stories create iconic brands they need to convert any news worthy event involving the brand or the company that manufactures it into a palatable story. A story that will make people like the brand or a story reported in such a way that it will influence their minds positively. Which is also according to or shows the brand’s and society’s cultural match.