November 28, 2020

Why brands increasingly need ideas that are powerful, resonant and resilient


By Shubhranshu Singh


The ‘MBA style marketing organization’ – mechanical, reductionist, return minded and focused on the short term – is a bureaucratic, staff-driven cost centre. It has caused massive waste, missed opportunities and failure for many businesses.

Marketing as it was originally intended, in its inspired, grand and beneficial form, is more important today than ever before.

The world is awash in innovative products, services, technologies, solutions and business models today. These new offerings must be brought to market and commercialized in order to generate revenue and profit. Technology or product innovation cannot sustain a company unless paired with marketing.

Instead of being led and valued as a driver of business viability and growth, marketing has festered in recent years. For the past couple of decades, the cognoscenti have been claiming that marketing is dead. No sooner had advertising avoidance become technically possible, buying fame off a rate card was no longer an easy option for a brand. The surge of crowd connectedness and social media further attacked the conventional branding models. Recent developments such as the growth of artificial intelligence, adaptive algorithms and predictive analytics are causing marketing upheaval.

Therefore, we are often forced to accept the slur that “marketing is the cost one has to pay when ones product is inferior.” That’s a lot of baloney! In fact in the chaotic, competitively Darwinian, undifferentiated market, the role of marketing is more powerful than ever before, provided that it is done right!

Now, the world is different from any time in the past of the human civilisation in terms of content. Today, the moment you open your mouth as an individual, as a brand, as a business, you risk being washed away in a flood of noise and clamour. Millions of commercial messages are blasted at us every day and round the clock.

Marketing now, for the first time, actually has a chance to be something far more than an imposition into peoples’ lives. The problem is that the marketing establishment has just too many legacy habits it needs to break out of to make that possibility a reality.

We, as marketers, must start to live the story and to tell the story we live. But we have inherited the practices of an industry which is spoiled by overused, rate carded channels and platforms. The entire infrastructure that surrounds marketing is still deeply invested in that broadcast model. Even though, we are living that shift to peer-to-peer, earned media, the problem is few of us have truly begun to grasp what it means in its entirety. This is worse as you go up the marketing hierarchy where self-delusion prevails.

Brands have to have core ideas which are powerful, resonant and resilient and to be able to put them in a storyline. Brand narratives have to make themselves wear clothes of a story, character, conflict and plot. Only after that, can they hope for the best. Of course, they will live or die according to how appealing they are. But that’s the whole-point. One cannot be a broadcaster hoping for passive consumers. One needs to be a storyteller, sitting amidst a large group of people who are not passive consumers, but partners.

Even here the typical ‘MBA marketers’ of the bureaucratic big corporation fail. A decade ago most companies were anticipating a new age of branding, they hired creative agencies and tech firms to insert brands throughout the digital universe. A new lexicon emerged with words such as Viral, buzz, memes, stickiness, and form factor becoming commonly used.

But, despite the hype, such efforts have had very little payoff. As a central feature of their digital strategy, companies made huge bets on what is often called branded content. Again they have fallen flat on their faces.

This is because ‘change is the enemy of vested interests’. In perpetuating the method and the process lies the power of brand bureaucrats. To seem like specialists, they are over reliant on analysis and scientific looking methods. They discount and even disrespect true experiences.

To make the brand stretch and take a proposition worldwide, the brand bureaucrats reduce the brand to a manual, a brand book. The entire focus is to simplify, reduce, explain pithily. The foolish reduction proceeds all the way to how a brand must own ‘a mood’, ‘a word’, ‘a primary association’.

I have a point to make – That which is complex is never simple but it need not be complicated.

Live in the real messy world and engage with it. This is not only a matter of principle but of sheer adaptive survival. It is now evident that there will be increasing complexity in consumer purchasing decisions and Personalization in product design and communications will be more prevalent. The global proliferation of smart phones has made Mobile communications the main feedstock of marketing where personalized data-driven marketing will hold sway. The only prescription that is proven to be effective is for digital to be organization wide and move beyond silos.

The brand bureaucrats who will be extinct are too obliged towards the short term. They don’t know that great brands are built like empires, over decades and centuries not quarters and fiscal years.

(The author is global brand head of Royal Enfield. Views expressed are personal.)





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