You may find Naomi Klein's 'No Logo' sitting pretty on many bookcases, but that's all. Although Ms. Klein's critical view on ruthless capitalism was enlightening, her dreams of a brand-less world seem, in modest terms, unlikely. The relationship between brands and humans has scaled to intimate levels to the extent that we recognise that brands are similar to us. Just like people, brands have their own personality, look, desires, ambitions and emotions. And like people, brands have the ability to talk, at times unfortunately. Most of us resent verbose people. It causes us irritation and today, with so many avenues to speak, these types of people seem to have received a whole new lease on life.
Now, speaking too much is a relative term, and the line of impactful dialogue and verbal diarrhoea may vary from industry to industry, similar to how the definition of people that talk too much changes amongst different social circles. If we study the communication approach of the Aam Aadmi Party, the problem of saying too much is easily seen. The new party was starting to build up a tremendous support amongst the masses, but their need to continuously hammer this message led to criticism and the perception of being a hypocrite.
Today, brands have hundreds of avenues from traditional to new media to connect, which means there are hundreds of avenues where consumers, like it or not, are forced to listen. Mediums have increased and due to fierce competition, brands feel compelled to be on every platform and ensure they are speaking on a regular basis. Just because brands are speaking doesn't mean we are listening.
Sahara had been giving one-page advertorials for some years now, even before the blatant response to SEBI through paid mainstream media and the arrogant, aggressive nature drastically reduced perceptions. After spending huge sums of money on building trust, Sahara today is one of the most mistrusted brands in India. Brands should learn from the girl who cried wolf, as when they really have something impactful to say, people may not be interested anymore. They seem to have forgotten the impact of silence.
Consistent and regular communication may build awareness, but it may not lead to the next stages of the brand relationship from relevance to preference to building a relationship. It's the difference between transactional communication and relevant dialogue between a consumer and a brand. A brand that understands the balance between impactful communication and irritating badgering will always come out on top. When Orange came to India, the only medium used was outdoor advertising depicting its logo; this increased curiosity amongst the society and created an instant impact.
Communication involves two entities -- speaking and listening, but the speed and magnitude at which brands are speaking makes it difficult for anyone to believe they even have time to listen. Verbose brands are perceived to exploit any opportunity to be heard. Speaking at every opportunity will erode brand value in the long run. Developing clear and relevant messages and more importantly, using these messages as a rule of thumb as to when a brand should speak will help to build a strong and consistent communication.
The most successful brands speak when communication is warranted. When these brands speak, people listen. People listen because the announcement demonstrates the brand was listening all along. The proof is the colossal audiences that Apple or Google are able to gather when they announce a specific communication; not just that, even news of an Apple press conference makes front-page news. This defines a truly power brand. This holds true for brands as much as people. The global financial ears and eyes are glued when Warren Buffett speaks and the ability of the late Steve Jobs to get masses to turn off their digital devices and listen intently is mind-boggling.
We can be assured that these brands and personalities would not be able to pull the same weight if they were speaking at every opportunity they had. Selective silence is as integral to any communication strategy as the actual communication.
Let's not mistake silence for rest. Great companies spend a significant amount of time in developing and testing their products before introducing them into the market. Timing the market for product launches is a recognised aspect behind the success of any new product. Why not spend time on developing and testing communication ideas? To create truly mesmerising and memorable communication campaigns, we need to go to the depths of the brand, beyond the 'what' and 'how', and question the reason for the brand's existence and discover 'why'. Brands with the ability to communicate the reason behind their existence will go beyond promoting a product or announcement, but they will build a deep-rooted bond with their audiences. These brands do not need to keep on talking because they walk the talk. They understand the importance of being quiet because they know their audiences will be all ears when they do talk.
(The author is founder-director of Ideosphere Consulting & Ourbit Marketing & Communications)