How different is your brand?

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A cause for concern is that most of the brands’ differentiations happen 
only in advertising
What makes brands successful? How is it that certain brands have managed to remain strong over the years? While a multiplicity of reasons can be attributed to the success of brands, they usually have two important characteristics — they are relevant to their customers; and they are different from their competition.
The most important word in branding in my vocabulary is the word ‘different’. Sadly, brands find it easier to talk about differentiation than to actually make it happen. The really successful brands keep differentiating themselves all the time and are not content to sit back and lean on their past laurels.
 
Not a mere slogan
It’s difficult to have a discussion on successful brands without talking about Apple. Its ‘think different’ slogan was much more than just a motto— it was a way of life that permeated the company’s culture and its functioning. It challenged the status quo and changed the way the world computed, listened to music and used the mobile phone.
 
During my childhood, the Sony Walkman was a market leader. But then, the iPod, which enabled you to have around 1,000 songs in your pocket, was launched and the Walkman became history. It was certainly different and the market lapped it up.
 
Closer home...
While India has always been viewed as an attractive market by MNCs, they still struggle to come to terms with certain basics about it the country. It is true that the absolute numbers are much larger than several countries of the world, but the fact is that India is a price-driven market. Indians will patronise acceptable quality at affordable prices.
We don’t want sophisticated or over-engineered products with fancy prices. We will buy shampoos, but prefer the sachets, with its low purchase risk and affordability.
This is the difference a brand like Chik brought to the Indian market. Soon, the single-serve revolution spilled over to almost every other FMCG product, and today, multinationals too have realised the value of this difference, thus jumping on the bandwagon.
 
Seconds matter
India has witnessed a tremendous surge in mobile demand over the years, and today, it has overtaken the US in terms of smartphone sales. It was in this market that Tata Docomo (as it was known then) introduced the concept of per second billing and asked the consumer to be smart by not paying for more than what he actually used.
 
This made the larger competitors follow suit, thus benefiting the average consumer, and helped the fledgling operator get a foot in the crowded and yet vast Indian mobile services market.
 
The brand was noticed by consumers because of this difference. It made the competition sit up, take notice and reluctantly follow suit.
 
Advertising: the only differentiator?
Traditionally, advertising agencies are paid to think out of the box, and to come up with differences in communication strategy and execution which makes their client’s brand stand out from the competition.
But my reservation is that the clients are abdicating their responsibility of doing things differently by leaving it exclusively to the advertising agency. As a consequence, the only ‘different’ thing that happens with brands is in the area of advertising! Very little can be seen on the brand or on the service delivery front.
This cannot be a long term proposition and brands need seriously introspect if they are actually doing something different.
 
Are we living in the past?
There is another side to the coin too. While some companies do innovate and try something different, the results so far have been mixed. An important question we ask clients is ‘What have you done different recently?’ This usually stumps clients. They are so close to their brand that the only differences they are proud of seems to have been done years back.
That implies that nothing significantly different has happened recently. This is certainly a problem. We have an adage in advertising that says: ‘You are only as good as your latest campaign’. Which means any company is only as good as its current team. The same analogy can be applied to branding as well — a brand is only as good as its latest differentiation. So, however difficult it may be, come up with a difference that sets you apart.
So get down to work and do something different for your brands. Today.

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