Thursday, June 19, 2008

BRANDING R. I .P. {Uhh...’Rust’ in Peace}

4Ps B&M's Monojit Lahiri endeavours to unravel a new-age, revolutionary, path-breaking philosophy that puts the age-old and much-revered concept of BRANDING to sleep… forever!

“The days of branding being the prime discipline to communicate the consistency of a given product and the reliability of its promise, are clearly over...”

Branding, for decades, has been hymned, celebrated, exalted, venerated and worshipped as the gospel truth by any marketeer worth his FMCG lapels! The ‘High Priests’ have pronounced that the brand is god and the ad executives, GCROE(S) – Gods Chosen Representatives On Earth! For decades, it has been acknowledged as the single most important aspect of business. Its success equals the business (it drives) success. Branding’s prime objective remains the same – to make a product or business look distinct and different from competition and epitomise the vision and values it represents to gain that decisive cutting-edge lead…

Chris Jaques, the iconic founder of Spark Innovation Consulting – which specialises in developing innovation strategies to ignite specific business areas – pooh-poohs this entire empirical evidence and supports his logic with a clinically chronicled five-point rationale. He believes that the days of branding being the prime discipline to communicate the consistency of a given product and the reliability of its promise, are clearly over. There’s been a paradigm shift in the ‘market-product-consumer’ connect with the money going into the services not products, slot. He supports it with hard facts. “Wal-Marts’ revenues are three times bigger than the entire revenue of both Proctor & Gamble & Unilever combined! Citibank & ING, too, are twice their size. This is the age of service not product and service marketing requires a totally different set of rules. Services are customised, not mass-produced.” Expanding this line of thinking Jaques argues that most of today’s real killer brands “are built on concepts, not products.” He goes on to explain how Apple produced the iPod with iTunes. “First they commissioned an idea and a design from Ideo. Next, they bought chips from Motorola and put them in a casing from Foxconn. Then they hired developers to create music software. At another level, agents were going tongs n’ hammer negotiating access to content, which incidentally was created by publishers and artistes. Apple only packaged it all together, managed it and sold it. It produced nothing!”
Heated, the iconoclast continues that if a brand is predictable today, it is most likely to be dead, tomorrow! “Disney develops a new product every five minutes! Sony produces around 5,000 new products a year. Zara can translate a fashion design from the Paris Catwalk to the shelves in 15 days. Innovation is the new god!” Myth-exploding arrives next. “Even if one wants to create a predictable brand message over time, one can’t. Why? Because there are over 50 million blogs, 24x7, flashing out messages about brands. These messages are based on customer experience, personal agenda or social rumour, not strategic positioning! Further brand terrorism is a deadly fact, alive and kicking with China being a soft target. The Formalhyde stores battered their Beer brands. The Triclosan gossip savaged their soap and toothpaste sales. Rui Chenggangs’ nationalist blog shut down Starbucks in the Forbidden City.” Finally, in conclusion, he offers that in today’s market-scape, business is the brand and brand is the business. The brand is absorbed, imbued and encompassed in every conceivable experience that the consumer experiences and encounters – and therefore, in effect, every action a company takes.

The take-out is cataclysmic! Traditional notions of marketing has been stood on its head, with revolutionary new methods blitzing through. In this new scheme of things, marketing organisations are advised to shut shop and become marketing organisms. The maverick Jaques explains, “An organism is a living, breathing creature whereas an organisation is structure-bound and systems-driven. Further unlike the organisation – centralised and controlled – it is decentralised and instinctive, constantly empowering its people and technologies to respond in different ways to different customers in different circumstances at different touch points.” The message is simple: In this new world, the focus is not about 360 degree branding. It’s really about how brilliantly you can manage that critical “one degree” that matters…


Thursday, June 05, 2008

Is “Grey” The New “Gold”?!

4Ps B&M's Monojit Lahiri highlights an issue that is on the verge of taking the ad-frat by storm – the over-50 spenders!

Resurgent India is passing through tumultuous times! In a scenario where over 50% of the population is estimated to be “under 25”, youth is god, revered, hymned, celebrated, worshipped and generally perceived as the hottest target group for marketers. What about – er – oldies... the fifty-plus crowd? Nah, chadde, mock the greedy hawkers of products and services dismissively and emphasise that zooming-in on the low hanging fruit called ‘youth’ – symbolising aspiration, want and purchasing power – is where its at. The oldies, they claim, are a boring, washed-up and irrelevant lot, without excitement, adventurous spirit to experiment or desire to live the good life. They are also, usually, broke like hell, which makes them a totally un-sexy constituency!

Perceptive marketers, who have their ears on the ground and track the pulse of everyday life, believe times, they-are-a-changin’. They believe today’s 60’s are the new 40’s – an entire universe away from the fuddy-duddies of yesteryears. There has been a dramatic change in the script, which has resulted in a totally new picture. For example many of the deadly afflictions that caused death in the past… TB, Typhoid, Small Pox, Cholera et al… are history due to the giant strides modern medicine has made. People – generally – are living much longer, in healthier mode, working through the 60s, post-retirement, even sexually active! Unlike earlier times, its not pack-up time to take sanyaas from worldly pleasures and generally concentrate on either looking after the grand children, running household chores for the busy son … or connecting with religion in a scary way! Japan – sharp as hell in these matters (with a population where over 20% are over 65 and by 2015, every fourth person will touch the same figure) got into the act, pronto. Reports allege that at least two mobile phone companies actually design phones for Gen Grey – a sharp, insightful (and profitable) move considering most mobiles are hugely techno-powered since they are largely targeting the younger set.

Have our marketers and ad frat read the writing on the wall? Does this situation prevail here too? Well, if not in such large numbers, in a smaller way it does... “Some categories – insurance and finance – have attracted advertisers to beam their messages on this target group, but overall, there is ignorance, reluctance and confusion,” says a savvy ad-watcher. He believes that conservative, orthodox and conventional mindset and myths vis-à-vis this community still exist strongly, placing Gen Grey as a group that is “low-value, tight-fisted, close minded, obsessed with the earlier (revered) principle of saving ‘not’ spending.”
They could be hopelessly off-centre and the reasons are not hard to find. The oldies (read 50-plus) of the earlier generations were truly different because they were defined by the times and circumstances they lived in. Mostly, he lived in a joint family – in his prime – had parents to look after, kids to educate, sometimes, even aged relatives to care for. Security and future were his main, over-riding concerns and priorities. Today’s 50-plus is young at heart, financially comfortable with techno-savvy kids doing well in cool jobs and (sometimes) even a portfolio manager to oversee his investments. Further, myths like ‘the older you are, the lesser brand adventurous you become, lesser responsive you are to advertising, lesser willing you are to spend’ have been hurled to the trash can! Hawk-eyed marketers are going beyond financial and Insurance products to energetically woo this target base. Says the ad-watcher, “In today’s battle for Gen Grey’s wallet, a Rifle not a Shotgun, is the need of the hour.” They could – indeed are – taking cues from the west where adwallahs are doing sharp numbers with this crowd. Revlon, recently, launched a brand called Vital Radiance targetting, hot n’ heavy, the plus-50 women. American car-makers too have started focusing on (baby-boomers) the 50-plus men because this group “accounts for half the US spending,” leading them to confidently believe, the older Gen Grey of today get, the deeper, their pockets become! Renowned and respected Behavioral Scientist, Ashish Nandy agrees. “I am 70 and sometimes feel my age but people associating with me, don’t seem to share this feeling!” They can’t really be blamed because, active as hell, Nandy is perpetually on the move – in the capacity of a much-in-demand speaker at Seminars, Symposiums and other forays – at home and abroad. Did his father, remotely do anything similar? He smiles. “He started feeling old the day he hit sixty!” Nandy believes its really a generational thing and perceptively points out to the two dramatic aspects that has driven this change – mindset and consumption pattern. “In my youth, one couldn’t dream of a 50-plus gentleman wearing shorts, tees or jeans, unless he was hugely anglicised, fashion-conscious and came from rich, upper class stock. Today, it is fairly common to see Gen Grey moving around in these, without the slightest trace of self-consciousness. I guess this has motivated marketers to include them in their target group.”

Suddenly the Gen Grey guy is not the over-the-hill, bored, broke, depressed bozo imagined but an active member of MOFS (Male Over Fifty Spenders). Sure kids understand brand and technology, but when it comes to spending big bucks … and by the way it is reported that 18.8% of India is 50-plus, so we really are talking monster numbers, here!