Timeproof brands and branding

The desire for perpetuity manifests in images cast in stones. Some think one can defy time by converting the soul into matter or statues. But statues are nothing more than soulless body replicas which become relieving places for pigeons. Somewhat a similar dilemma confronts brand managers who seek to create time proof brands. Humans and products have a common enemy, “Time”. Does casting a brand into a physical product ensure its timeproofing?

Statutes do not make Gandhi or Martin Luther King perennial brands. Neither do their products in cases of brands like Lifebuoy or Lux which stood like rocks against time? Like a human body, products are transient and their transitory nature must be recognized. Too much love for the body or the product can be myopic. It can be degenerative and subversive. There cannot be disagreement on the fact that perpetuation of a body or a product is an unreachable goal. Life can be extended by science but it does not proof it against the effects of time. A statue acts as reminder of an idea not the person. It is the resonance with the idea that determines its perpetuity. The idea Gandhi signifies is ‘non- violence’ which has an endless appeal. Product is a physical manifestation of what a brand stands for. So the finite reality of a product or person can only be made infinite by creation of timeless essence, the reason of its existence.

For a brand to exist, it needs home. A product can be housed in a warehouse or retailer’s shelf. But brand and product is not one and the same thing, just as body and soul are not. A brand is perceptual entity; it needs a perceptual space as its home. So its home is consumer’s mental space. Then the obvious question which arises is, how can a brand achieve permanence when a consumer himself or herself is impermanent?

One way out it is to make a brand ‘the’ choice for a customer for his lifetime. This is difficult because consumers pass though life stages and psychological evolution. With the change in consumer demographics and psychographics, constancy of preference for a brand is unlikely. So what is the way out? One such route is to create a brand built on an essence or promise which is time proof. Consider a brand like Lux, which of course is a bathing bar but its essence is ‘beauty’. Beauty is not governed by the law of diminishing relevance. On the same lines Rolex brand is built on the core idea of ‘prestige’. Unless a person attains higher level of understanding of life, prestige makes sense forever. Though cowboys may be fossilized in great western movies but the archetype still holds a pull. Marlboro maintains its existence to the timeless appeal of ‘rugged independence’ which cuts across national boundaries and ages. Almost similar is the code of Harley Davidson, the metal appeals to a particular type of mettle: if one has it, he has it. It does not go with time.

Brands succeed when they enjoy customer patronage. A brand may face a leaky bucket like situation. It means that the brand makes sense to a customer for a certain period of time so customers join the brand and then leave it after some time. Consider a brand like Johnson’s baby care. Women get into motherhood and then move on. A similar transience exists for the users for a brand like Whisper. These brands are built on a very solid understanding of consumer need insight. Life of these brands is perpetuated by perpetual churn of customers. The brand in this situation must find ways to compensate for the customers who leave. It is an essential part of growing up to move from Tommy Hilfiger to Polo or Armani. Cadbury Dairy Milk became a much bigger brand by bringing back the customers who typically abandon a childhood indulgence by pushing the child in them into background. Their ‘kuch khas hai’ campaign was aimed at taking the guilt off when an adult consumes a chocolate.

Often brands are locked in a situation when the market or segments make a strategic transition. Consider the mobile telephony market both in terms of instruments and services. Similar is the reality faced in electronics and computers. This situation embodies a fundamental or structural shift. Nokia as a brand has suffered a setback primarily because it took time to realise the shift towards smart devices. Sony as a brand owes its perpetuity in shifting market by adapting to change as well as leading it. Given the imminent shortage of hydrocarbons, car brands are also on a cusp of shift. Accordingly some car brands have ‘read’ the subtle but fundamental change and are preparing for the next generation. The rise of ecologically sensitive consumer and green consumer are similar trends. Brands that seek perpetuity cannot afford to be aloof to these shifts. Bajaj, known exclusively for scooters ‘read and responded’ to shifts in two wheeler market. Before consumer whispers could turn into a revolt against Maggi for being perceived as unhealthy, the brand changed its track by incorporating healthy ingredients. Lifebuoy noticed the declining carbolic soap market and went on to resurrect the brand by leveraging the health and hygiene proposition. This brought the brand back into relevance.

Brands that look steady on the market horizon are like ducks floating on water. Beneath the serenity of their façade, a lot of paddling happens. Timelessness is about continuity and change. Reconciling the irreconcilable is the ultimate challenge of timeproofing a brand.

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2 thoughts on “Timeproof brands and branding

  1. Very Nicely written. Creating or finding a promise that is time proof and being adaptable to change with time is definitely the need of the hour. Given the examples of Johnson and Johnson and whisper- describing the insight “need” at a particular stage of life cycle and Dairy Milk of course bringing back 2 d left stage through nostalgia – must say it is easier to bring back in the latter as it is related to “taste and choice” but impossible for the former two brands until and unless they eventually diversify into a new segment . Building a promise- “the timeproof idea” driven with constant innovation and differentiation refines value parallel the changing psychology resulting in the creation of a successful brand.

  2. Interesting read…To stay ‘immediately relevant’, a brand needs to have a timeless concept (e:g James Bond) or alternatively it can take elements from popular culture like the Blendtec ‘Will it blend?’ campaign, Amul advertisements…Cadbury has been especially creative expanding the Dairy Milk association from kids -adults (‘kuch khas hai’) – celebration (‘kuch meetha ho jaye’) – dessert … making dairy milk a part of everyday life … And now they have a new variant to celebrate achievement – Bournville (‘You have to earn it’)….Lifestyle brands like J&J, Whisper, Gillette have a strong equity and often pass from one generation to the next thus in a way ensuring their ‘timelessness’…

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