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.

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Tactical solution, Strategic problem, Theory of reasoned action and Pollution in Delhi

Consider some of the headlines:

The pollution level in Delhi has risen to level that in a way robs citizens of their right to safe and healthy living. If terror and incursions across the line of control put life of Indian citizens at risk, the pollution within our cities is no different. Both lead to same outcomes. Both are enemies, except that domestic enemy invites divergent opinions and milder response. Lack of consensus is one big reason why things don’t get implemented. But consensus based decisions are not always timely and correct. Difficult situations require tough and decisive actions. If there is identifiable enemy outside, equally offensive foe thrives within.

First of all there is no dearth of opinions on what causes pollution in Delhi and how much. The list includes causes like vehicular emission, construction activity, coal and wood burning, poor quality of fuel, city waste burning, industrial emissions and dust on streets due to open surfaces. The cause that dominated news now includes stubble burning in neighboring states.

What is of concern in this air pollution? It includes gases and substances that pollution is made up of.  These includes lead, particulate matter, and gases likeNitrogen oxides (NOx). Carbon monoxide (CO). Sulfur dioxide (SO2). Pollution is bad because of its consequences. It is a health hazard and is related to respiratory problems, lung damage, asthma and cancer. The elderly, children and ill are particularly vulnerable.

Broadly two the contributing factors can be classified into two categories: the micro or the ones within in individual’s control and macro which related to governmental interventions. The macro contributors like emissions from power plants, diesel policy, politician-contractor nexus (footpath tiles changes), enforcement pollution policy on industrial units and road encroachments.Image result for pollution index delhi

From marketing perspective, the government can launch systematic campaign based on insights to discourage (de-market) pollution causing behaviors. It is not the same thing as haphazard ad campaigns usually run by governmental agencies (like the one which is currently going which urges people to teach needy children in the neighborhood).

One of the approaches that can suggest route to curb pollution is theory of reasoned action. This theory proposes that Intention (intention to control pollution) is necessary for Behavior (actual pollution controlling actions) to occur and both are likely be related. The intention to indulge in a behavior is caused by Attitude to that behavior (liking or disliking towards polluting behavior) and Subjective norm (how people important to one view when one indulges in pollution control activities).

So it is necessary for government to cultivate Intention before people actually adopt pollution reducing behaviors. What are the strategies?

  •  Create strong negative evaluation/attitude towards polluting behavior. Now the issue is do people know about polluting behaviors and its effects. The answer is probably yes. But they don’t strongly feel negative about polluting behaviors. So what is required it to link these behaviors with something important in their lives so that their attitude shifts from indifference to strongly negative (consider: is smoking bad? Answer is yes and I don’t care. But now if you show that smoking is going to hurt your most loved one-lovely daughter, the attitude is likely to shift to negative toward smoking).
  •  Often people don’t care about certain behaviors (like littering on streets) because it is acceptable/it is a norm/nobody disapproves. We often seen illegitimate as legitimate because ‘everybody does it’/ ‘it’s normal’. So this norm has to be changed. The important people around can exert pressure. This power needs to be leveraged. Although difficult, yet norms can be subtly changed. If people around us start to dislike, abhor and show displeasure at our polluting behaviors, it is likely subtly pressure us into not to violate this ‘social norm’.  Many of us who visit abroad very quickly learn what public behaviors are socially disapproved and fall in line.
  •  Finally, often people with right intentions do not behave in accordance to their intentions (e.g. I intend not to litter yet I do). Here comes the role of enablement by the government. The desirable behaviors would get actualized only when they are accompanied by enabling conditions (the campaign to stay indoors is a hollow waste of money- if people don’t have alternative they  would move outdoors/ the odd-even is bound to make people defy their intention in the absence of alternatives).

It is part of our DNA not adopt a visionary approach to solving problems. The tactical maneuvers to strategic problems do not help. It’s time that we seized up the situation and took a long term stand on the issue of pollution.

BJP, Modi, Criticism and Refutational Communication

  • ‘India’s democracy was under assault”
  • ‘Govt talking big on economy, but nothing happening on ground
  • ‘Intolerant India’
  • “When it came to making speeches, Modi government got into the T-20 mode, when it was about announcing policies, it became a one-day match, and when it came to implementing promises, the government behaved as if a Test match has been abandoned,”
  • “Chhe Mahine Paar, U Turn Sarkar”

These  are some of the slogans that have surfaced at different points in time criticizing Modi government. Politics is a competitive game. It is same as when two or three dominant brands attack each other to gain supremacy. Consider, how Amaze directly or indirectly hits out at Desire and the battle between Coke and Pepsi gets direct and dirty. Marketing is also an attitude building, sustaining and changing game. Leadership implies that a brand enjoys positive consumer attitude and behavior. In the last general elections, BJP was voted into power which also implied that it enjoyed an attitudinal and behavior advantage over its rival Congress. The challenge for the leader brand is to defend and sustain its market by maintaining attitude. The challenger brand, on the other hand, can thrive by shifting and changing consumer attitude in its favor.  So consider the following:

·         “We are Number 2 but we try harder” (Avis Rent a car)

  • Volkswagen’s ‘Lemon’, ‘Think Small ‘ and ‘Lemon’ campaigns

This campaign by Avis allowed the company to gain significant market gains by the power of what in communication is called ‘refutational’ appeal or advertising. The communicator first raises a negative matter and then demolishes it. Volkswagen, after the Second World War launched Beetle car in the US with campaigns including the one in which it boldly claimed its car to be ‘Lemon’  followed by text refuting the claim that the car in the ad is plucked from the assembly line (lemon) by the engineers due to scratch on the glove compartment so that ‘you get plums’.  In a similar vein, Listerine which creates burning sensation in the mouth first admitted its burning sensation (negative belief, possible attack opportunity for the rival) followed by a refutation that this sensation is sign of its effectiveness. This strategy is also used by expensive brands. They first admit that their brand is expensive (therefore target of attack by lesser price brands) and then refute this claim by focusing on their long lasting quality. Why do firms adopt this strategy?

The idea behind refutational communication is to ‘inoculate’ the consumer/audience against competitor’s counter claims and destroy them. So what implications follow for the BJP government? The need is to study these attacks that the opposition is making or is likely to make in future and then use them to inoculate the audience and then refute them by showcasing what has already been done. It is better to erect perceptual defences before the enemy mounts attack.