Our guest author encourages brands to delve into humility, rivalry-inspired growth, and unexpected inspiration for more insightful year-end reviews.
The title might seem to be an unnecessarily cryptic play on letters. But, sooner or later, this is an exercise which should assume greater importance in branding offices across the country. It is all about questions (Qs) to be asked of oneself when taking stock of brand fortunes at the year-end (Y).
Usually, this is a process which follows a standard template. There’s merit in that, as far as hygiene factors go. Tracking the sales trends. Taking note of new customer groups and markets that have emerged. Decoding sways, favourable or otherwise, in brand parameters. Keeping an eye on revenues, customer acquisition costs, profitability and all such.
These things can and should be always evaluated.
However, these are ultra-competitive times. The clutter in the marketplace matches that of gangster-based OTT shows. Hence, there is a need to go further, into more provocative territory. There is a requirement to break the barriers of conventional thinking and venture ‘out of the box’.
Our ancient cerebral traditions, rooted in the Upanishads, always placed more importance on the act of asking the right questions. This is an idea endorsed by the Greek philosopher Socrates in his didactic method as well. In modern times, when the reflex reaction in the room is to jump first to answers, pulling things back and asking more incisive questions might be the way to open the doors to innovation and market disruption.
Even if, or maybe especially if, the questions are laced with a dash of irreverence, with the extra verb, adjective or turn of phrase, employed to make the punctuation mark at the end seem curvier than usual.
In that vein, here are a few queries to get the grey cells moving…
What were the opportunities we cursed ourselves for missing this year?
Typically, at the year's end, the conversation revolves around what the brand team did well. There is euphoric high-fiving on every conquest-big or small, and rightly so. Teams get nostalgic around the events they seized upon. The avenues they uncovered. The triumphs they achieved. But truth be told, there will always remain a sizeable amount of promising paths that were never explored.
Enough chances which looked enticing but were never grabbed. Unexploited moments which triggered dismayed thumps on the table, which aside from causing trauma to the furniture involved, also serve as a reminder that ‘things could have been better’. These might have pushed the success story further or caused a decisive reversal of fortunes.
An honest acknowledgement of what could have been, reiterates the humility of not getting swayed by success. It reinforces the team’s resolve to keep close track of market trends, with an enhanced and nuanced appreciation of things.
Which initiative done by the competition were we most envious of?
‘Envy’ presents an extremely potent platform, as Onida astutely showed years ago. However, in branding conversations, to carry forward a pun, ‘the devil’ is actually in the details. There is merit in candidly admitting to oneself, that there was something a rival did, which had us all turning a distinct shade of Parakeet Green. And while we might have silently, and not so silently, cursed them for pulling that off; there’s much to be learnt in how they went about it.
Great rivalries often fuel both parties to higher things. Just as sporting champions find themselves becoming better, once a contender arrives on the scene, brands can also find competition extremely invigorating. This kind of attitude inspires the brand team to stretch further, even punch above their weight.
Broadening the scope, to examine which brand-agnostic of category-did something one would have liked to do, is another addendum which could be applied to this exercise. Eventually what had the brand team transforming green, could result in better stories in black and white.
Examine the quirkiest feedback received, can this be leveraged further?
Most research travels along set lines. If it’s quantitative, it is meant to explore the viability of certain assumptions. If qualitative, it tries to extract deeper insights around behaviour and mindset. That might be oversimplifying things, but you get the drift.
However, true inspiration often lies beyond the realms of statistical significance. It lingers on the outer limits of expected responses. This is why taking notice of seemingly offbeat things that consumers say and do, might truly open the doors to new possibilities. Post-it sticky notes began as a brand heading towards failure. But the creators were willing to let people decide where it might prove useful.
They gave away bunches of the product to their office colleagues and waited for feedback. Lo and behold, they found people employing these notes for purposes they had not remotely envisaged. That acceptance of the brand being seen in an entirely different perspective, and not getting stuck with the ideas they originally had in their heads, proved to be the fuel for the mega success of this brand. Not surprisingly, even after years, it has still stuck around.
Be honest, were there external factors which helped us beyond expectations?
It is human nature to appropriate the credit in times of success. We like to believe we have agency in what happens around us. Also, what with performance appraisals and bonuses hanging in the balance; if something good happens on the brand, the number of people vying to take credit rivals the size of the tribe willing to populate their various WhatsApp groups with irrelevant forwards.
Truth be told, success is never as simple as it is made to appear in hindsight. There are often factors, beyond the control of the marketing group, which might have helped sway things. Acknowledging such windfall gains always makes sense, because it prepares the team for times when that might not be the case. The pandemic caused an unprecedented boost in the numbers of several Edtech brands.
But a few years post the event, many are finding it difficult to survive in that space, despite the initial spurt. Highly qualified people hate to admit, that their fortunes were favoured by an ‘invisible hand’. The sooner they learn to accept that, the faster the brand group will have lots to clap about.
To conclude, brand reviews can be far more evocative than they are in most cases. The time to take a look back also presents an excellent opportunity to propel things ahead with the right momentum. A touch of humour and irreverence can often spice up such forums, usually treated with the solemnity of a funeral. Else, sans inspiration powered by levity, everything in the future could be in grave danger.
(Our guest author, Vinay Kanchan is a brand storyteller, innovation catalyst, and the author of ‘Sportivity’, ‘Lessons from the Playground’ and ‘The Madness Starts at 9’)