I often have to justify the unjustifiable on Sundays. It is a day when ordinary things hidden in nooks and cranny get attention and face threat of ouster. That is the reason why kabariwalas do brisk business on Sundays. A small box in my home is a refuge to a lot of discarded objects which also houses a single piece of cuff link. Preserving a single cuff link does not make sense. It is neither likely to be used nor gifted to someone ever. Hence it does not make any sense to keep it especially in times of space crunch in urban dwellings. Tremendous pressures are mounted on me to throw it but I don’t. And at the end I am called an idiot when it say, ‘throw everything out but not this link’.
My stickiness with the cufflink is beyond the comprehension of reason. For the others the cufflink is just an object devoid of any use value or sale value. And there are other cufflinks which score very high both on use value and monetary value but hold little importance to me. To a reason oriented mind this phenomenon is nothing more than an absurdity. But here lies an important branding lesson. Some brands manage to create this kind of stickiness that their customers ‘go at great lengths’ and ‘pay absurd prices’ to buy them, own them and preserve them. Consider a Rolex or an Apple customer. The important question here: is Rolex a watch or Apple a smart phone? I have heard many people say that ‘this guy is absolutely crazy to spend ten lacs on a watch’.
There is a merit in the above observation. A brand can only succeed in a highly competitive and product parity environment through this ‘craziness’. What do strong brands thrive on? It is the strength of their bond with their target customers which borders ‘madness’ That is they work their way up to creating an inelastic demand. The slope of demand is curve is altered so much that it runs parallel to the Y-axis. The customer just does not want to consider any substitute. In fact in their mind there is a given brand or nothing else. Strong brands push their competitors out of customer’s consideration. But if brand is a product then there are hundreds others. These are all commodities in a way. Then how does one create a blind discrimination in favor?
The cufflink to me is much more than merely a device which holds the cuffs together. A Rolex is much more than a device that keeps time accurately. An Armani is much more than a finely cut and stitched piece of cloth. There was a time when the product element allowed a viable route to brand building. Swiss watch makers did this initially with exceptional watch making skills and Japanese did it with excellence in electronics and automobiles. But now a high degree of commonness running across marketplaces pushes the brands to the zone of ‘indifference’. The superior utility or functionality embedded in the product element of the brand which use to be a discriminator has now cease of an effective brand building mechanism in the modern time. It is just an entry ticket to brand building, nothing more.
Brands therefore have to find escape routes from pervasive commoditization. The boundaries imposed by the product should be transcended to create a value add which pushes the brand in ‘no questions asked’ zone. Great brand move up the value ladder and operate on high value orbit. Considerable elasticity differences exist at different levels of value orbit. A brand can escape the wrath of competition by a careful selection of the game that it wants to play in customer’s life. Consider a brand like Airtel which initially focused on signifying the network related proposition and then moved on from ‘communication network’ (coverage, congestion free, voice clarity) to ‘expression’ (‘express yourself’) and further higher on to ‘breaking boundaries’(how communication can break boundaries between countries and make the planet a better place). Similar elevation of value is visible in Dairy Milk. The brand which initially was sold on the basis as milk equivalent (see the brand sign two glasses of milk being poured into the chocolate). In the recent past the brand has transcended the chocolate element to embrace ‘celebration of life’ and now the brand is promoted on the platform of ‘kuch meethas ho jaye’. That is to create some moment of happiness (sweet not chocolate but moments) in someone’s life. A brand like Tata Tea has reinterpreted the role of tea in modern time. The role of tea is to ‘wake up’ but the business that the brand Tata Tea has assumed is to ‘awaken’ the people.
Brand building is about creating a ‘meaning’ which resonates by hitting at an inelastic inner space. The acid test of brand success is when its customer cannot articulate the reason why he or she is committed to a brand. Brands must discover to develop a subliminal connection otherwise they tread on a slippery road.