Death of the brand!!!

This article is a direct outcome of the countless meetings where clients and agency have swiftly killed many ideas for the sake of building a great ‘brand’:

‘This is not my brand!’

‘Where is the brand consistency?’

‘But what is the tone of the brand?’

‘We have to define the personality of the brand.’

‘Who is the brand’s TG?’

Tell you what, the brand is dead.

There used to be a time when a brand was a cultural entity, created by a handful of people across client and advertising offices. The physique was defined, values were defined, personality traits were defined along with all other things that are put on brand identity charts in powerpoint presentations (this is the precise moment when ‘death by powerpoint’ was coined). They were defined and then they were broadcasted. People consumed them. They then had a choice to buy the ‘product’ or stay away from it – but no more. The brand is dead.

Here’s why:

Broadcasting is dead

No brand in today’s world can afford to simply broadcast. Broadcasting needs to be redefined to make it inclusive. Interpretations ignite conversations ignite perceptions. Even if it is a promotional campaign during Christmas or New Year, it has to ignite conversations. Heinz, for example, gave away pen drives shaped like the bottle of Heinz on Facebook, during its promo around the run up to Christmas (12 days of Christmas advent calendar). It helped ignite conversations, 62,741 people shared it on a single day on their FB pages.  We are story telling creatures – we need stories to tell. Give me stories to share. We love to brag. Give me stories to brag.

A brand is fluid

The brand is no longer a single unmoving entity which stands for a set of values and sticks to a set of colours and speaks in a set tone. Different strokes for different folks often seem to be the buzzword in the boardrooms of companies that are actually climbing up on the brand equity ratings. Categories such as telecom, retail, personal care, financial services often end up straddling a wide spectrum of communities that they want to reach; it becomes impossible to just adopt one stand. Tata Docomo, Olay, Horlicks are good examples of brands that have displayed multiple personality types, spoken in various ways – they might still stand for one single ‘idea’/thought, but they behave like human beings.

The brand manager is dead

Brand managers do not own the brand anymore. Brand advocates do. The heart of the brand lies in the heart of the consumer. Brands have to ‘become’. One can only have a vision of where we want to anchor the brand in the lives of consumers. But we do not have control over the journey any longer. That lies in the hands of consumers. Ogilvy once famously declared, ‘the consumer is not an idiot, she is your wife.’ Well, today the consumer is not an idiot, she is the custodian of your brand.

Consumption patterns are evolving

Emerging media challenges the very concept of cultural consumption. Our idea of consumption is continually changing and going through a flux almost every quarter (in line with the technological leaps). So while the crisp copy of the TOI arrives everyday in the morning, I still read it regularly on my smart phone via the TOI app (which by the way was frequently advertised on mainstream media). Consumption patterns are changing too because of the personalized nature of technology. I can pretty much read any blog, watch video clips, review the stock market, read breaking news at any given point, on the go. Products like the Kindle and iPad are pushing the frontiers of how our children will consume educational materials. Steve Jobs was in fact in conversation with Obama on how kids should consume educational materials which are highly interactive and beyond the confines of the classroom. India cannot be far behind on this one too – one ‘value for money’ tablet will usher in similar changes in Indian classrooms.

An era of multiple insights

This is an age of multiple insights – insights about where people move, the number of screens they negotiate, they places they frequent, the fragmented lives they lead…It is no longer sufficient for a brand to capture only one holier-than-thou insight about its target group. It is an idea whose time is over.  Communication has to spring from multiple insights – Airtel’s har ek friend zarrori hota hain is based on the fundamental insight about today’s younger lot – that friendship is a transactional relation but it finds meaning only when multiple insights about ‘friendship’ is captured and played back to the audiences. That is why each one of us nod when you see one friend giving a ‘missed call’, another friend always hosting parties and so on.

The brand model is dead

Brand models need to evolve – the traditional brand models such as Kapferer, Brand Key seem to be inadequate to provide the new dimensions that today’s time demands. The entire business of ‘how will consumers perceive my brand’ leads to intellectual discussions that are often devoid of any ground realities. What you see on brand models are a set of words that the agency or the client wants to believe is their brand. It might not be.  Brand models should be developed jointly with the consumers and changed from time to time. Ridiculous as it might sound, but it is the only Darwinian stroke we have to survive in this jungle.  Sections like RTBs don’t work anymore. RTBs don’t make a brand, love does and love does not have a reason. It should be redefined to RTL – Reason to Love. The RTL for a brand like Coca Cola is perhaps the sense of optimism it emanates in a time full of misery (terrorism, recession, scams etc).

It is painfully difficult to unlearn – but we have to unlearn in order to move forward. Else we will create brands that will burst like the dot coms that promised a lot but died an untimely death. We have to teach ourselves to let go of our brands, because there is nothing to hold on to. The ‘brand’ is nothing but a gut feeling of consumers about a product, service or organization. Armed with a vision of what we want it to be, we can only empower our consumers and generate conversations. Even if it is around – ‘the brand is dead’…! Long live the brand

This article appeared last Friday in

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