Agency meetings often throw up issues such as:
'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?'
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 broadcast. 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, and 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, and Horlicks are good examples of brands that have displayed multiple personality types, spoken in various ways -- they may 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 evolve
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 (The Times of India) arrives every day 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 because of the personalised nature of technology. I can pretty much read any blog, watch video clips, review the stock market, or 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 the President of the United States Barack 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, the 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 zaroori 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 nods when you see one friend giving a 'missed call', and another always hosting parties, and so on, and so forth.
The brand model is dead
Brand models need to evolve -- the traditional brand models such as Kapferer, and 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 may not be. Brand models should be developed jointly with the consumers and changed from time to time. Ridiculous as it may 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 times full of misery (terrorism, recession, and scams).
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 dotcoms 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 organisation. 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'...!
(Anirban Roy is strategic planner at Law & Kenneth, Kolkata)