Wally Olins stumps a volley of branding myths

By Devina Joshi , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Marketing | March 09, 2009
Globally renowned branding guru Wally Olins, chairperson, Saffron Brand Consultants, delivered a speech in Mumbai on what branding is truly all about

Accustomed to dealing with highly complex professional problems, experts in the area of advertising and branding often lose their way when it comes to recollecting the simplest truth: 'advertising' and 'branding' are not interchangeable terms. An evening spent with the global legendary branding guru, Wally Olins, chairperson, Saffron Brand Consultants, in Mumbai recently, turned out to be an eye-opener for many in the branding/advertising arena as Olins snuffed out various myths regarding branding as a discipline.

Olins, who has incidentally worked for five years in India with what is now known as Ogilvy & Mather Mumbai, began his speech by saying, "In India, like many other markets, there is a great confusion between advertising and branding. When I left India all those years ago, advertising was just beginning to be understood and accepted. That is the state of branding now."

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Most people erroneously believe branding is about a logo, some colours thrown in, packaging and the use of these in every arena the product is present in. "Reality is a little different," mused Olins. To him, one of the most powerful brands is one that has nothing to do with commerce: the Red Cross, because of what it stands for - the complete invulnerability to being totally vulnerable. What it fundamentally represents is rather powerful.

"The symbol, quite literally, is what lies beneath," he continued. It is a representation of what the brand is, how it manifests itself and how people recognise it. "The problem is marketers see branding as a version of their advertisement," Olins stated, "where, in truth, branding is not a substitute for advertising; it is a part of it."

Olins went on to talk about the four types of brand drivers. In the case of some organisations, the product is the main touchpoint through which the brand is received.

In other cases, the brand is totally driven by the environment in which it operates; here, the feel/experience matters most. "The Taj Mahal Hotel near the Gateway of India is a perfect example of an environment led brand - the Taj President, for instance, just doesn't do it for me," Olins stated.

The third category includes communication driven brands such as Coca-Cola. "What is Coca-Cola? A maroon coloured fizzy liquid of no intrinsic merit or distinction. But more people drink Coca-Cola than water in the USA," Olins observed.

"That's because Coke is 'The Real Thing'! Almost as though water is a poor substitute," he quipped. "Now, here's an advertising driven brand." That is not to say that in such cases, the product takes a backseat. After all, even when Coca-Cola changed its formulation drastically, it bombed, making the company revert back to what people loved the most.

Next on Olins' list were behaviour driven businesses, essentially comprising of service brands. These are driven by people within the organisation and their behaviours. "When I consume a KitKat, I know what to expect; it's the same experience every time," Olins said, "but in the case of a service brand, you don't know what to expect. As human behaviour is not predictable, the experience is different each time."

The airline industry could be a fine example but Olins mused that whether one makes motorcycles or aircrafts, relationships with various parties, including dealers and consumers, are vital everywhere. "So in a sense, an organisation's behaviour is the key across all businesses," he said.

While discussing what qualities a brand can call its own, Olins touched upon the 'country of origin' effect. "Everyone knows Germany is famous for cars. So if a car brand weaves Germany into its branding, it's advisable," he said. But if a German clothes brand such as Hugo Boss talks of the country of origin, "well, we know where that will lead," he quipped. In other words, a brand must draw upon the country's values only when they fit in well with its own.

In that sense, India has a rich cultural heritage and Olins iterated that brands here can greatly leverage that to their advantage. The growth of Indian companies such as Wipro, TCS and Infosys internationally has contributed greatly to this.

Some categories that can benefit from this heritage, or the Indian hospitality/way of doing things, include pharmaceuticals, clothing, food, or anything to do with the body, or homes. "Don't call yourself Jet Airways - Indian companies are just beginning to gain the self-confidence to use their origin in their favour," Olins opined.

In comparison with China, he said that almost everything that China makes is under another country's label. "China is superior to India in terms of infrastructure but brands from India are at a greater advantage to borrow from their culture than Chinese brands from China," he said.

For the record, Saffron Brand Consultants has four offices worldwide - in London, New York, Madrid and the more recent one, Mumbai.