1940s, Rosser Reeves coined the term unique selling proposition (USP) to denote the one unique, identifiable difference that sets one's brand or business apart from everyone else's. While well received back then, the term was much criticised decades later, when competition made it near impossible for any kind of exclusivity to settle in. Branding gurus then pointed out to the emergence of the ESP (emotional selling proposition) age - the adoption of an emotional premise by a brand to extend its appeal beyond functionality. But that area, too, seems to be fuzzy at the moment.
At the 2nd National Brand Summit 2007 organised by the All India Management Association (AIMA) in Mumbai recently, VS Sitaram, executive director, consumer care division, Dabur India, sought the middle ground: He propagated the ASP theory. ASP, or active selling proposition, he said, is the phenomenon of creating unique brand experiences as a whole. It stands for the belief that it's not just about what a brand says, but how it behaves.
This becomes particularly important in the wake of communication clichés, benefit clichés, technology clichés, and range and promotion clichés. "An ad showing a woman with smooth, black hair could belong to any hair care brand," observed Sitaram. Similarly, a promotional line such as 'Aaj ka lakhpati kaun?' could apply to any category or brand. "This has led to an ocean of sameness," he said.
The solution, according to him, lay in two steps - defining the brand world, and taking it into the consumer's world.
The brand world can be defined through tangible assets such as shape, colour, smell (such as Dettol), texture, taste, symbols (McDonald's), sound (the Nokia tune) or even jingles (Nirma, Titan). Intangible brand assets include freedom (such as Harley Davidson), safety (Volvo), gentle care (Johnson & Johnson), or even attitude (Nike).
Taking these assets into the consumer's world is a different ballgame: In-retail experiences and unconventional means should be utilised in addition to the regular mass media (television, press, radio and outdoor). For instance, Nike used Bluetooth marketing in Barcelona, whereby consumers passing a Nike billboard could download the Nike TVC using Bluetooth technology.
Sitaram also gave the example of the Ford Escape. When Ford launched the Escape (an SUV), it had to ensure that the product wasn't seen as a me-too. After the regular mass media act, Ford did the unconventional number. A dealers' meet was called, wherein they were allowed to experience the brand by driving it. Escape owners were invited to go on a 'No Boundaries' trip with a professional team. Among other things, Ford also did some OOH activities, including placing tyre tracks near escalators and other areas in malls (with the Escape logo and brand tagline to boot).
The brand even put an Escape atop a building in Taipei, signifying how one can truly 'escape' from monotony. (The government authorities, however, had it removed because it was viewed as a bit extreme.)
"Consumers should be allowed to see the brand, feel it, touch it, play with it, shape it, share it and, thereby, experience it," reiterated Sitaram.