Sumita Vaid

<font color="#FF0033"><b>O&M Brand Forum</b></font>: A brand's ultimate measure is its sales, says Lazarus

Lazarus says, brands in the 21st century are the North Star for companies; they can help companies grow faster and better

When Shelly Lazarus, chairman & CEO, Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, leaned on the podium and started speaking into the microphone, it was hard to believe that she had, in fact, landed in the Capital at 4 in the morning. Such was her energy. She exuded passion, brands and, of course, 360-degree branding.

Lazarus was in town for O&M's two-day Brand Forum on The Fine Art of Building Brands. This forum, as John Goodman, CEO India & South Asia, O&M, explains: “It is an initial exploration into the meaning of brands – what they are, why they are so valuable, and what they will mean here in India in the next 20 years.”

The speakers at the forum besides Lazarus, include Xavier Dreze, professor, marketing strategy, Indian School of Business & The Wharton School; Peter Mukerjea, CEO, STAR India; and Piyush Pandey, executive chairman & NCD, O&M India.

Lazarus, who talked on The Global Power of Brands, got the Brand Forum rolling with emphasis on India being “high on the radar screen”. “India is a visionary country. I was at The World Economic Forum yesterday and not even an hour went by where India's potential was not referred to.” This economic progress of India reminded Lazarus of her “crispiest brief” given by P Chidambaram some years ago. “When people think of India, they should think software not elephants.”

With flashy multi-variant cars replacing elephants, fragmentation in media making effective communication one of the biggest challenges for ad agencies and companies across the globe, brands and product innovation are prerequisites in today's competitive media environment. “Competition drives quality. But upping the quality is not sufficient. To survive, thriving brands and product innovation need to come together,” Lazarus pointed out.

But not all clients or companies fathom the value of branding. All they want is to sell “stuff”. “But the point is, while yes, one can sell stuff, branding can sell more of that stuff,” reasoned Lazarus. “Products are made of tangibles, of rationale, but brands are not. A brand is the relationship between the product and consumer,” Lazarus explained.

So, when a brand puts innovation in the right context, it simply resonates the right message. Lazarus substantiated her point with TVCs of shoe giant Nike, cell phone manufacturer Motorola, diaper brand Huggies and film roll brand Kodak.

But she was quick to point out that though brand and innovation made for an explosive communication, functional innovation cannot be owned, but brands can. Therefore, the branding per se is important. A product – as unexciting and impersonal as steel or a pension plan – can be made interesting with the right emotional connect. “Take the example of SBI Life pension plan. The brand comes across in a way that makes you interested in the brand. You have to marry logic with emotion, idea with technology.”

While a lot goes in making a brand, Lazarus was of the view that a brand is much more than advertising. Lazarus, however, clarified that she was not diminishing the role of advertising. “Though advertising is important, we know from our experience, it does not ensure longevity of the brand. Far too many TVCs are made, but few have lasting value.”

To prove her point, Lazarus gave the example of coffee chain Starbucks. “It has 9,000 stores in the world, but that chain has never relied on media advertising. It has just focused on store experience. And such has been the consumer response that they are willing to pay that extra premium.”

The truth of the matter is that clients pay for “lasting” impression. So, in order to create that impression, the consumer has to experience the brand in its totality. This is where O&M's practice and philosophy of 360-degree branding came into play, she said. And 360-degree branding is not just about advertising. It is about making a significant impression every time a company comes in contact – directly or indirectly – with a customer.

Whether it is the delivery trucks, the packaging, or the way the company handles complaints, websites, showrooms, brochures or television commercials, the objective is always the same: To make sure the client is clearly communicating what its brand actually stands for. “And, magic happens when brand and innovation meet. This becomes the moment of truth,” Lazarus noted.

However, to arrive at the moment of truth, a deep understanding of consumers is required. “How do you discover the ‘whats’ and the ‘wheres’ of the product? For that, you have to know the fears, the heroes, the things that bring joy to your target group. And this understanding reflects in the brand.”

But consumer insights differ from country to country. Thus, to make the brand relevant in the local context, to adapt it to the local geography, the communication needs to be modified accordingly.

“When we had to promote Dove shampoo in Malaysia, a country where women are not allowed to show their hair, we came out with a communication without showing hair. We showed a woman who shares her experience of using Dove in a way you can feel the texture of her hair.” The point Lazarus made is that the content of the communication could change, but the brand message remains the same.

Having talked about what makes a brand successful, Lazarus drew the attention of the participants to a universal truth, which many ignore or simply are unaware of. “Strong brands are created in the hearts of the people of the company. They have to be passionate about their brand. And if that means trying new things, then so be it. Some companies stumble but they recover. In the 21st century, the brand is the North Star for companies. It will help companies grow faster and better, because the ultimate measure of a brand is its sales,” Lazarus concluded.

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