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Branding is about belonging: Wally Olins, Saffron Brand Consultants

By Biprorshee Das , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Marketing | January 27, 2011
Talking about the evolution of branding and its significance, Olins discussed how brands are driven by ideas and how a brand's country of origin is crucial.

Wally Olins, chairperson, Saffron Brand Consultants and popular practitioner of corporate identity and branding, made the final presentation at Global Brandscape, an event presented by the BBC and The Economist. Olins discussed the evolving nature of branding and how the idea of a brand is perceived with particular reference to fast moving consumer goods and services.

With extensive use of examples, Olins illustrated the fundamental nature of branding. "Branding, I believe, is fundamental to the human condition. Branding is about belonging and being seen to belong," he said.

He used the examples of an Aborigine and a doorman, who indicate who they are and what they belong to - one with his tribal markings and the other with his uniform.

Olins indicated that a brand is often an idea perceived in the mind. He spoke of how, while on a cruise, he came across a woman who refused to believe that a casually dressed man was a doctor. "He was not a doctor till he demonstrated he was one," remarked Olins.

He said that from guaranteed consistency, brands, in time, homogenise in terms of rational factors such as price, quality and service and then move on to differentiate themselves emotionally.

However, he said that an individual does not always buy a product that is offered, for instance, at a lower price. For example, in the case of a woman's bag, he said, there are more reasons than just the functionality of the product that leads to its purchase. "The bag is a demonstration of what the woman belongs to. It is an emotional trigger and a symbol of what she stands for. The bag is bought not for functional, but emotional reasons," said Olins.

To elaborate his point, he used the example of "reasonably expensive motor cars". Citing the example of the Italian brand Alfa Romeo, he said that an ad of the brand clearly stated how the car is bought not for its features, but simply because it is Alfa Romeo, a brand that suits the buyer.

"Branding, marketing and FMCG comprise one big package. Brands now have moved from product to retail. Inevitably, brands moved into services," he said.

According to Olins, services brands are harder to manage, particularly when there are no substantial differences between one service brand and another. He used the example of the telecom service providers in India to drive in this point. "Each says, 'we want you to love me more than them'. Are there any substantial differences? If there are, one will soon catch up with the other," he said.

Olins added that for the customer, the person who represents the brand becomes the brand. "As a brand, what is most important is not your customer. It is your own people. They are the people who deal with the customer. And, if they do not do it right, you have had it," he said.

Moving on, Olins spoke of how a brand is based around a simple and clear idea that forms the emotion, the opinion held by the consumer.

For example, he said that brand Nivea may or may not be successful in diversifying into other products, depending on how much the consumer associates the brand with the particular product.

While most people think of a brand in terms of communication, he said that they are also led by products, environment and behaviour.

Car brands, he said, are product-led. "Cars are carriers of the brand. It is the product that leads the brand. Of course, the other stuff matters. However, what carries the idea of the brand is the product," he said.

Hotels such as The Taj Mahal Palace and Tower in Mumbai, Olins said, are brands that are led by the environment built around them, while airlines, he said, was an example of a behaviour-led brand.

"When you fly Air India, you do not tell people what aircraft you flew, but that the service was great. That is a behaviour-dominated brand," he explained.

Olins suggested three architectural models to organise brands -- monolithic, endorsed and branded.

Monolithic brands, he said, are the ones where every product or service is known by the same name. With examples such as Virgin, Apple and GE, Olins said that while this structure is cheaper, coherent and mutually supportive, such brands suffer as a whole when even one product gets into trouble.

An endorsed brand is one that is continued even after a corporation buys over the company owning the brand. This way, the corporation does not have to spend money on recreating the brand idea and can keep the brand name going for long. However, such brands suffer from the disadvantage of being seen as not powerful in all areas. He cited diversified US manufacturer United Technologies as an example of such an endorsed brand.

Finally, the branded models (such as P&G) are the ones where the products under a parent group have no relationship with each other.

"There is no superior model. It depends on a particular situation," said Olins.

Towards the end of his presentation, Olins spoke of how the value of a brand must be measured by how much people are prepared to pay for it -- and nothing else.

He stressed on the huge significance of a brand's country of origin for its implications -- whether it is Indian brands with the cultural and emotional content, German cars or Chinese products.

Olins said that he saw huge opportunities, particularly in India, in areas such as textiles, personal grooming products and Bollywood, among others.

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