Allen Solly, Sony Bravia, ABVP, Brand Proposition, and Millennial Generation

What do the following mean?

# FLEXIBLE

‘Respect every colour’

Denotatively the word ‘flexible ‘means ‘capable of bending easily without breaking’. In order to interpret the second statement (‘respect every colour’) let’s explore meaning of its components on  the dimension know as syntagmatic axis. These are three words chained together to form the sentence.  Their dictionary meanings are as follows:

  • Respect- cherish, admiration, deference, honor, value and revere
  • Every- all individuals, each and every
  • Colour- hue, shade, tint, tone and tinge

Now if I ask you to tell me their meaning.  In all probability the answer would be there is nothing to give, it is very obvious.  The flexibility is a characteristic of a material. And the second statement gives a call to treat all shades of paints or colours as equal.  These are headlines of two brands, Allen Solly and Bravia (Sony).  Let us delve into their meanings at deeper level.

Image result for allen solly flexible ad

In case of Allen Solley, the brand apparently seeks to lure customers by the promise of ‘flexibility’ that stems from the use of materials which enhance wear comfort.  The built in flexibility of a chino would allow its wearer to perform different jobs with ease.  It is an important benefit.

But does it give sustainable differentiation? The fabrics and stitching can easily be copied.  Then how does the brand connect with its young millennial consumers? In order to be valuable, brands must make sense beyond surface attributes and forge connections at deeper level. One such method is to add value by relating the brand with consumer values.  Values are  life guiding beliefs that define a person in terms of what he or she stands for.

So what does ‘flexibility’ means from a person’s perspective? It denotes a particular kind of personality as someone who is not rigid, unyielding and adamant. Flexibility can also mean accommodating attitude and not having a worldview that hardliners have.  Flexibility in this sense conveys a lot about the millennial mindset who show tolerance to dissent and are open to rational persuasion. They are flexible and do not side with extreme binaries. They are pragmatic in their approach to things in life. This meaning operates at second level of signification.

In case of Bravia, the headline- ‘Respect every colour’ makes sense only when it is seen through larger socio-cultural space. The meaning is hidden in the world ‘colour’  The word colour in an indirect sense may signify race, religion, caste or other social categories and hidden power asymmetry. The most obvious categories that come to mind are white and black people.  The usage of the word ‘colour’ in a television’s context is very obvious. It conveys that the television does not discriminate between colours and produces high quality images on screen.  But this is not the actual message. The brand seeks to forge a meaningful relationship at the psychological level.

The brand stands for the ideals of equality and non-discrimination.  It conveys its position against prejudices and biases plague society.  The millennial mind set is not committed to binaries that have been perpetuated by orthodoxy that find expressions   gender roles, religious and social practices.

The newspapers on this Sunday carried the ads of Allen Solley and Bravia but what made me ponder over was another news item  (HT Sept 4, 2017) which went like: ‘ABVP routed in student body polls: chips down for RSS backed student body as they perform poorly in Hyderabad, Guwahati and Punjab universities’.

The writing is on the wall. The narrative of BJP and ABVP is not resonating with the youth. It is time to revisit the values that it wants to stand for before it is too late.

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Rahul Gandhi, Congress, Marketing Myopia and Politics of Spokespersons

The April 1960 issue of Harvard Business Review carried probably the most influential article in the area of marketing titled ‘Marketing Myopia’ by Ted Levitt. Its first sentence went as:

‘Every major industry was once a growth industry. But some that are now riding a wave of growth enthusiasm are very much in the shadow of decline…’. It goes on to say that ‘the failure is at the top’

Now what’s marketing myopia got to do with RG, Congress and spokespersons? In TV debates it’s quite surprising to see how Congress spokespersons refuse to either  listen or show openness to ‘introspect’ or attribute the party’s decline to top leadership. On the contrary they blame it on opposition or competitors and also find faults with voters for not being able to see sinister design of their main rival, BJP.  Upon being quizzed about developments in Bihar and switching over of Nitish to BJP, they try to find faults him.

Levitt says, ‘The railroads did not stop growing because the need for passenger and freight transportation declined. That grew’.Image result for congress

 

Has the need for democratically elected government declined? Do people not look at government for governance and progress?   In fact the need grew with the arrival of new informed youth at the political landscape.  Why did Congress which once stood as the only party in India with footprints everywhere come under shadow of decline? It assumed invisibility of its product and believed there can never be a substitute product to replace it. Levitt explains why the once booming dry cleaning industry was stifled. It did not go in trouble because of better way of cleaning (direct linear competition) but because of unexpected source of synthetic fibers and chemical additives (unexpected indirect competition) that reduced the need for dry-cleaning. Congress could never fathom that competition could arrive from unexpected quarters in the form of Mulayam, Banerjee, Lalu and others. For it believed in superiority of its product.Image result for congress spokesperson

 

Companies get caught in self deceiving cycle which is caused by assumptions that there are no substitutes, faith in mass production and preoccupation with product. There is no guarantee against product getting obsolete. If you don’t make it obsolete by your own effort the others definitely will. Congress’s faith in its formula was so strong that it failed to see the movement in market and emergence of new alternatives.

The cracks in the voter base of Congress were signals of latent misfit between voter expectation and what it promised. Yet it believed in the power of selling. Selling focuses on the needs of the seller whereas marketing focuses on needs of buyer. Its strategy has been persuasive which sought a change on the voters’ end instead of changing its own political product (old narrative). It attempted to fit a square peg in a round hole. The key is what a company offers  is not determined by its managers but rather by the takers. Congress has been so obsessive about its narrative, its win-ability that its perception couldn’t go beyond it. The emerging voters are not extensions of people who were enamored with the role Congress and its leaders played in freedom struggle.  The new generation is rational, clinical in approach, seeks gratification, wants good life and wants it immediately and they are believers of achievement not inheritance.

Congress must note that any industry including politics is a customer satisfying process and not merely  a  goods producing one. Therefore, political agenda begins with voter expectations not with what you have. This is the starting point and process should be worked out backwards. So don’t push RG and the old narrative. Shrinking voter base and loss of states is testimony to that.

Image result for marketing myopia theodore levitt

Spokes persons of Congress please don’t look into mirror to create your appearance. It’s better to look out of window and find out what others want you to look like. In defending current leadership and agenda you damage your party more than strengthen it. The writing on the wall is clear: voters don’t want Congress in its current form so get to drawing board and do some visioning sessions.

Shiv Sena’s Gaikwad and TDP’s Reddy, Airline Staff, Service Marketing, Surface Acting and Deep Acting

One of the critical aspects in marketing and managing service products is customer provider interaction. This is also referred to as moment of truth.  This in a bullfighting situation is the moment when the matador makes the kill. In human interactions, it is also the moment when one’s character, courage or skill is put to test.  When two or more people come in a face to face to situation like a cursory exchange of glance between two car drivers at an intersection or between a doctor and patient, certain outcomes are produced.  These encounters do not produce a sum by way of simple addition, rather they unleash chain reactions as it happens in chemistry.  A chemical reaction that is produced by interaction of two molecules  is often more powerful and impactful.  Therefore, human interactions in social situations are more about chemistry than mathematics.

Jan Carlzon of SAS used this concept of MOT in his airline’s context and stressed on its importance because any customer contact, however remote, is an opportunity to form impressions. The impressions are outcomes of encounters and these must be managed because in services customers don’t take home some tangible entity but they carry intangible impressions. In case of goods, the happening of MOT begins when a consumer sets his or her sight on a product which is followed by interactions during product purchase and use and ends with feedback, if any.  A Forbes article reported that Google came up with its own concept of MOT which was called Zero Moment of Truth (ZMOT) to refer to interactions (website searches, reading reviews etc) that happen even before buying is done.  The things did not stop here and later in  2014, Less Than Zero Moment of Truth was proposed by Eventricity Ltd to signify a situation when something happens in a customer’s life and a product search is started.

The service jobs like those of doctors, teachers, policemen, actors, air hosts and restaurant staff are tough.  They require a special type of labor- emotional labor, a concept introduced by Hochschild (The Managed Heart). The service jobs are not always nice rather often they are nasty. Imagine the stress that airline staff face when they fly into a country whose people are culturally impoverished and wear their crudity and rusticity on their shoulders.  Same also holds true for Uber cab drivers for whom some passengers are nothing less than nightmare.  The economic challenge that looms on their heads is  how to ‘act’ in such a manner that customers take home good impressions. This requires them to hide what they internally feel and ‘act’ in sync with the provided script.

Services are often psychological battlegrounds where employee success depends on the ability to suppress genuine feeling and exhibiting behaviors and emotions that are not in sync with internal emotional state.  This breeds dissonance at the workplace.  The boundary spanning roles are stressful for employees for they have to keep their emotions in check.Image result for gaikwad air india

 

Now consider the two recent cases involving Shiv Sena MP Gaikwad and Diwaker Reddy of TDP (Shiv Sena MP hits Air India employee with slippers on plane at New Delhi airport; Another Gaikwad! TDP MP pushes, shoves & abuses Indigo Staff and gets banned by all airlines). Now imagine the stress these people would have been subjected to when a customer violates all norms of decency. What options do people have in these kinds of demanding situations?

Two types of emotional labor can be distinguished: deep acting and surface acting. An employee on the surface may wear a cool and decent façade or fake emotion for the sake of adherence to organizational rules. This happens all the time when frontline staff shows synthetic smiles and courtesy. Imagine how difficult and stressful it must have been for airline staff to be calm and composed when Shiv Sena MP acted like a goon not as MP. Deep acting on the other hand refers to a situation when an employee genuinely tries to feel the emotion that he or she is expected to show in performance of a service role. Deep acting is about internalization of emotions which removes plasticity and lends genuineness. It requires deeper engagement with heart and soul and cultivation of oneness with the expected role. People have an uncanny ability to discriminate between natural and synthetic. What touches the heart is remembered and forges deeper connections. Not all service organizations invest in frontline staff in order to transform them into people capable of genuine performance. They are quite opposite to logic and are placed at the bottom of organizational pyramid and are given lowest importance.

Viewed from the MPs perspective what do these episodes mean? When media covers these incidents they must remember that remote encounters take place and press chemistry into action. These moments of truth accumulate and create a lump of disgust, frustration and abomination towards specific individuals. This is the reason why even stalwarts are defeated in elections. If they can’t change their core and continue to be crooks, at least they can master the art of surface acting.

Mahagathbandhan and Modi: making of a bomb from empty shells

Have you ever seen some rag picker happily collecting empty shells from a war site? What motivates him is not a desire to create a bomb rather to sell them in metal trash market in order to be able to make some money. Now consider politicians like Lalu, Karunanidhi, Rahul, Mayawati and Mamta. These probably now appear like empty shells without any gun powder. The question arises is whether their assembly under one banner of Mahaghatbandhan is going to create a bigger shell or a bigger bomb? Shells don’t make bombs, it is their contents.

In most cases these leaders and their politics have become irrelevant. What do people like Lalu or Mulayam signify? Their caste based ideology may ring a bell in isolated hinterland of some states but it is simply an irrelevant agenda for new millennial generation. Consider Congress and very paradoxical idea of secularism  that it has thrived on has lost its appeal. The very narrative of secularism is divisive. It takes big section for granted and seeks to appease the other. The UP results testify that. The BJP led by Modi and its new reinvented avatar as nationalistic growth oriented party has cast a political death knell of these players.

Can you create a mega product or brand by assembling together failed obsolete brands? Let’s take example of brands which once ruled the television market like Weston, Uptron, Dayanora, Beltek, Texla and Televista. Would they have created a mega all in one brand with all pervasive universal appeal? Answer is plain and simple- no. Solid brands are not created by mergers of weak or obsolete brands. Rather they are products of imagination and ideas that are in sync with market reality. Let’s consider a very powerful brand like Apple. It is some of parts of Sony, LG, Samsung, HP, Microsoft and IBM? Or is it is an idea very different from them?

In marketing and branding cobbling together different ideas is sure shot recipe of failure. Each brand idea belongs to its core territory and fundamentally these territories are different and that is the reason marketers create different brands. When different ideas are stitched together this undermines the very fundamental essence of branding.  A Brand is created for a given segment and each singularly stands for an idea. The brands diminish in their appeal when they seek to become ‘one size fits all’. More ideas they incorporate lesser becomes their appeal. This is the reason why you have Closeup for young, Pepsodent for worrying mothers and Sensodyne for people with sensitive teeth.

Ask yourself which segment do you belong to and sate your preference. Is there is a toothpaste which enjoys universal appeal? The attempt to put three appeals or ingredients in a product does not make it three times stronger. Rather it reduces it to becoming one third.

Regal Cinema, Nostalgia, Brands and Power of Emotions

This morning while traveling to office I happened to listen to a conversation with long time manager of Delhi’s iconic Regal cinema and  RJ of a popular FM channel. In that conversation while answering the questions posed, the manager’s throat almost choked, voice turned heavy and he ultimately broke down. He nostalgically recalled how the cinema used to be decorated when important events happened, especially when Raj Kapoor released his films. In that brief conversation, he sang song of Raj Kapoor’s iconic movie-Mera Naam Joker- ‘jeena yehan, merna yehan…

Image result for regal cinema delhi

Suddenly my mood also became somber. And images loaded with emotional experiences of the past began to rush past my mind. It triggered a backward time travel down the memory lane. Although I have not visited the theater for many decades, yet the feeling of loss, a personal loss was real.

Why would I be sad if this brand had nothing to do with my present life? It didn’t solve any of my needs. It was completely out of my existential frame. Regal’s presence in CP didn’t seem important to me, it continued to live invisibly without drawing my attention. But how precious its being present there was has struck in my reckoning. I seems, that pulling down of Regal is not entirely is downing of a physical structure, rather it tantamount to stripping me of my memories. If man is nothing but a memory making machine then in one stroke how many of its customers would be robbed off their lives’ precious treasure.

Brands are owned by companies but they are possessed by customers. Their titles and economic value rest with their owners but they live in consumers’ minds. They inhabit in consumer’s mind as knowledge constellations. Regal, the owner say lost out to its competition, “You can’t run business on sentiment all the time.” Brands are not developed emotionally, but they actually run on emotions. They thrive on the power of emotions, moods and sentiments. These provide means for brands to lower anchors in consumer’s psychological waters and forge deeper connections that transcend brand’s appeal from the narrow confines of utility and reason.

Competition kills product relevance by rendering them similar. Its difficult for brands to hold on to their turf’s by sustaining a performance edge. Products get commoditized. It is here brand needs to become an important part of consumer’s life story. When a brand embeds itself in consumer’s life it gains indispensability. Jim White calls it narrative identity.The life story which we say to ourselves to give a sense and purpose to our lives. Marketers extend their brand’s appeal by using emotions. Brands are positioned to engender specific well defined emotion. Consider emotion of love in J&J, sexuality in Durex, humor in Maggi sauce and fear of rejection H&S. Even brands in so called purely functional category like tyre, computer or cement use this route to strike an emotional bond with consumers.

Brands are not consumed in isolation. They get embedded in moments, rituals and events which are soaked in feelings and emotions. The string of these moments and related emotions ends up creating a narrative which is very personal. Brands gain strenght when they become part of this life story. Therefore a brand is much more than what is communicated. So when you start to think Dettol visually a picture emerges – mother tenderly loving and tending the nick or cut or think of a Bournvita. These pictures are brand’s capital because these provide bedrock for loyalty building. When Coke announced the launch of New Coke, the American population hit the streets in agitation. Coke inteded to offer a better tasting drink, yet the move was violently rejected for Coke drink was not withdrawn but memories were. Image result for mera naam joker

 

Brands often use nostalgia appeal to tap into positive emotional stored in old memories. Re-living the past is emotionally gratifying, especially if the current times are filled with uncertainty and insecurity. They use symbols of old times- names, tunes, songs, artifacts, slogan- to exploit brand capital stored in life stories of consumers. Brands like Beetle and Jeep are living examples of nostalgia brands.

Probably similar sentiments and feelings were aroused when Regal announced its last screening today on March 30, 2017. It is will act to erase memories if not completely but certainly push them towards point of no return.

SP-Congress Alliance and Lessons in Branding

Indians do an elaborate consulatations with pandits and astrologers before selecting marriage partners. Similarly companies do elaborate exercise before mergers and acquistions. This is also true in branding. The decision to merge two brands may be taken by top managers but it has everything to do with non-managers, i.e. consumers. What may ring excellent in rational calcuations may not make much sense from consumers’ perspective.

Strong brands derive their strenght from dedicated often fanatic like consumer following. Brand is another synonym of bond. And this bonding is based on multiple layers of mutually satisfying intersections. Further, what sits at the heart of strong brands is uniquness or distinction based on functional or psychological value delivery. Consider: Volvo for long stood for safety,BMW defines itself as ultimate driving machine and pleasure, Mercedes is stately and engineering excellence, Coke is ‘real’ and Pepsi is for new generation. It is brand’s distinction which connects it with a specific consumer group.

Now consider the rationality of brand merger: two strong brands if merged would bring two consumer franchises together under one mega identity. So if Coke and Pepsi come together in one idenity it would create one huge cola brand and Nescafe and Bru would create a big coffee entity. So CokePepsi would seamlessly merge two consumer segments and transfer their allegiance to combo brand. The reason from one side is often non-reason from the other side.

Consumers develop allegiance, affinity and loyalty based on the principle of singularity. That is, a brand appropriates singularly one proposition relevant and meaningful to a segment. The consumers of  Closeup want ‘freshness’ and Pespodent’s consumers want ‘germi-check’.  And there is little un-substantial number of consumers who want both. The segmentation and market slicing is essence of strategy that aims to ‘carve out’ a niche out of an existing market. The consumer heterogeniety manifests in segments and ultimately creation of multiple brands.

What effects would a combo brand would have on their previously committed consumers? They are likley to disenchanted, disgusted and raged depending upon their level of involvement. The core consumers are likley to feel abandoned, betrayed and violated.  The combo brand assumes that consumer differences are superficial and open to merger. Which is far from truth especially in high involvement emotional situations? However, for the indifference fence sitters nothing matters.

Now consider what happened to SP, a strong brand whose franchise was cultivated on certain principles that made sence to a select group. The votes polled in favor of SP came down from 2.20 crores in 2012 to 1.89 crores in 2017. Now consider Congress, it votes came down from 28 lakhs to 7 lakhs in 2017.

So one plus one is not always a good strategy in marketing and branding. Never try to make a brand which creates it value proposition by borrowing elements of available strong brands.

Secularism: product, markets and market aggregation

In Indian politics Congress party constructed their political product on core ideological foundation of secularism.  Based on the evidence of success that this political product ensures, many new political ventures like RJD and SP also sought to create their own versions based on the same formula.  The 2017 elections in UP and earlier 2014 national elections exhibited waning pull of this product.  This has taken many political managers by surprise. The product decline is common in marketing and it does not surprise them.  But the shock and chagrin on top leader of grand old party shows as if they didn’t expect it. As if it theirs’s was a product with timelessness bestowed upon it by assumed captive territory along with people possessed by Gandhi name and nostalgic connection of freedom struggle.

Why has the political product defined by secularism been so compelling and for so long? Words make sense in reference to what they are not.  A word is a linguistic sign and it is interpreted by application of conventions by which a concept is evoked.  Things make sense only in relation to something else usually in the form of binary oppositions. In a way things or words make sense by implicitly referring to what they are not. For instance, there is nothing like ‘good’ without ‘bad’ and ‘fair’ without ‘dark’. All signs make sense by generation of their opposites.  Then the question arises why ‘secularism’ has been such a potent weapon in the arsenal of Congress and other new startup parties.  What did it evoke that a group of people rallied behind these parties notwithstanding their other agenda.

Let us dig into secularists’ language in the meaning space. The word secular means ‘not having any connection with religion’ or ‘not involving religion’. These words convey meaning by what they actually don’t stand for. The use of secularist narrative works by evocation of the opposite. It necessarily implies that other party is sectarian and religious which need not be or it can much more. It positions, the religiousness in pivot of other party’s narrative.  But then how does it work to make the apparatus to operate in favor?

The stress on secularism and its repeated utterances does not allow the discourse to melt in background in the psyche of a particular community. It subtly creates binaries of dominant & dominated, Hindu & Muslim, harmony & discord, big number & small number, natives & invaders, majority & minority.  It unleashes a multi-dimensional divisive force to herd members of minority community by tapping into their inherent primal fears of survival. This method perfected by Congress was used brilliantly by RJD and SP their respective geographical segments.

But things don’t stand still. The Congress end of the spectrum stuck to its tested formula but BJP evolved with arrival of Modi on the scene. He pushed the saffron discourse into background and brought all-inclusive agenda in the center. On the other hand, even the dumbest of person can’t be fooled all the time.  Modi did what is called reverse of segmentation or market aggregation positioning its political product with an appeal cutting across all selected people of all segments. By don’t letting the Congress play on the fears and building an alternative narrative, BJP made its completion irrelevant. If BJP is a growth oriented nationalistic party, it is not an opposite of secularism. The talk of secularism rings hollow because what this product is being compared with.