Brand architecture, Endorsement, Shadow and Sanjay Dutt, Kumar Gaurav and SRK

Lets run a brief check: how do you view Sanjay Dutt, Kumar Gaurav and SRK from brand architecture perspective?

Well, it is not difficult for anybody to know that Sanjay is son of great actor Sunil Dutt. It takes a little digging to find out that Kumar Gaurav is son of legendary actor Rajendra Kumar. But SRK does not enjoy benefit of belonging to an established Bollywood family. How branding strategy affect consumer/audience response? Success at the market end requires credibility, knowledge, consistency, heritage and above all trust. And if someone can stand behind and backup, the job is greatly facilitated. In Sanjay’s case, Dutt name endorses him directly. SRK did not have any endorser/supporter/advocate in  Bollywood. However, in case of Kumar Gaurav, the support become indirect/shadow (his name was new yet people eventually discovered his lineage which came in handy to drive audience behavior.

Consider the following cases and discover the branding strategy:

  • Anchor by Panasonic or Reveal by Calvin Klein or Courtyard by Marriott
  • Kinley / Cheverolet/K-Special/ Maggi/ Cinthol/ Sunfeast
  • Pulsar watch
  • Tudor

In all of the above cases there are two brands (endorser/supporter and endorsed/supported) but as we move down the endorser brand becomes increasingly invisible. The decision about the degree of visibility or connection that an endorsed brand would have is a critical decision. It involves a trade- off between differentiation/independence on the one hand and dependence/linkage on the other. The issue that must be sorted out is how well the new brand is equipped to stand on its own without the support of the master/established brand. And how different or unrelated is the category of the new brand.

  1. In the first case category (Anchor, Reveal, Courtyard) the organization or established by directly endorses the new brand. When a consumer is confronted with these brands alone the response is likely to be uncertainty and doubt. But the moment ‘by’ is coupled with an established name is added the attitude is transformed in a big way. The established brand facilitates the new brand in driving consumer behavior. Simultaneously it also avoids confusion for the consumers of main brand by telling them that if you are Marriott customers the new brand is not Marriott (in terms of service/price/luxury level) but something other than Marriott. The usage of new (rather than one name) is necessitated by the need to convey difference in product or market domain of the new offering (but proximate).

2. In the second group of cases (Kinley, K-Special, Chevrolet), the connection between the new brand and corporate/established brand is made less prominent. This is done when a marketer wants the new brand to convey its own identity for a customer (segmentation) and competitive reasons (positioning). This is often the case when a firm begins to operate in multiple product categories and segments. We have discovered on our own that Kinley is Coca Cola’s product, K-Special is Kellogg’s and Chevrolet is GM’s line & Sunfeast is ITC) by looking at their communication or product packages. By making its link or connection less obvious, the endorsement is make but in a token manner.

3. In the last two cases, Pulsar and Tudor the connection with the endorser brand is made even more indirect and less evident. Can you name the companies linked with these watches? Probably not, it is because company intentionally does not want you to know. But the customers who own these watches do they know of the brand behind these brands? Answer would be yes. Pulsar is a brand of Seiko (a web search of website would reveal that) and Tudor is a brand of Rolex. But in this case Tudor website does not create any link with Rolex but in a strange fashion the pop up Rolex appears on alongside the listed websites.

The connection here is even more indirect and in shadows. Lexus brand was created by using this strategy (Toyota endorsed Lexus in an invisible ghostly manner). When do you resort to this strategy? Here the brand is made is assigned its own individuality/identity and linking it with the established name is likely to be counterproductive. Imagine the prestige damage Rolex would suffer its brand participates in lower price point or similarly the rub off Toyota brand would have on Lexus’s luxury customers. Discovery of endorser in these cases creates eureka feelings. The idea is not to let the endorsed brand to contaminate the established brand.

So SRK in the absence of endorser had to prove his mettle but in other cases the mettle was assumed. People laid their faith on Abhishek again and again for the endorsement advantage he enjoyed for a long time.


Levi Strauss, Growth, Brands and Architecture

Every marketer must walk through market to reach profit goal. Revenue is essential for profit, the surplus left after deducting costs. The revenue goals and profit targets necessitate participation in market or markets. The growth imperative manifests in targets related to market share, sale and profits. Firms pursue their growth differently, a choice involving considerations of horizontal and vertical participation in the market. Branding and brands are important in this context.
Levi Strauss & Co has come a long way since 1873 which invented riveted tough denim wear (‘waist overalls’). The leather patch with an image of two horses pulling the jeans apart was used to demonstrate the pant’s strength. Within the rough jeans wear the company went on to increase its market participation by launching products meant for different segments like ‘Koveralls’ (one piece play wear for children), 501 (made exclusively from 10 oz. red selvage denim), jeans for the ladies by the name of Lady Levi’s, Lighter Blue line (sportswear), Preshrunk and STA-PREST (wrinkle free), wear in corduroy and polyester (to keep up with style changes). This way the brand went on to expand its reach to many jeans consumer segments. In 1996 LVC was introduced based on the reproductions of clothing from the Levi’s Archives. Then came super low waist jeans for women.

In early eighties the Company in an attempt to expand its footprint in upscale dressier clothing market created Levi’s Tailored Classics (LTC) line. The purpose was to tap ready to wear formal wear segment. But the brand failed to appeal to the sense and sensibilities of the target customers. The obvious question was what credibility a hard core denim wear brand has got to offer a classic range of suits which can be picked off the racks. Second if these were tailored then how these are available pre-fabricated off the rack? Levi name did not make sense to this segment and the line was discontinued.

With the progression of time, the concept of dress further fragmented from the binary classes of formal and informal wear. The dress besides operating at the functional level also functions at the symbolic level. A lot about a wearer is expressed by what he or she wears in terms of class, affiliation, personality, attitude and life style. The highly formal dipped in the starch formal clothing was pushed aside by a new generation of entrepreneurs and professionals (25-45 years baby boomers) who were free spirited white collar workers and wanted clothing to reflect their orientation (relaxed not tensed). Dockers brand was introduced in 1986 making company’s foray into what is called Khaki (non denim) market. This sub brand was created to take a plunge into emergent business casual clothing which young people wanted. It was a segment in sandwiched in between highly formal and highly casual jeans wear segments. This brand saw innovation such as StainDefender, Never Iron and Thermal Adapt. The brand was later extended into sunglasses, bed linens, & bath categories.
The Company’s portfolio was further expanded in 2003 with the launch of ‘Signature by Levi’ brand. The idea was to reach out to men, women and children with a product denim and non denim casual range of clothing. In terms of price this was an attempt to capture value conscious customer who aspired to own a Levi. The brand ‘Signature’ sought to appropriate style, quality and fashion and affordability and the words ‘by Levi Strauss’ directly supported it by making an explicit endorsement. Signature promised ‘Superior Fit, Comfort and Style’ to its customers. This move of the certainly allows the company to expand its presence by going out of its top end niche (minimum price 2200 rupees) which contributes to top end metrics like sales and share. But this strategy has its own risks. This kind of reaching out to the lower price points (between Rs. 799 and Rs. 1,499) can harm the mother brand by diluting its equity (exclusivity and class connotations). Titan reached out to economy segment by ‘Sonata’ brand with endorsement coming from ‘Tata’.
Later in 2006, the Company made a course correction by changing the Signature brand into ‘dENiZEN’ this was probably done to protect the Levi brand from potential image dilution harm. The dENiZEN brand was also a response driven by a strategy to fight local brands like Killer and Flying Machine. This brand was slightly differently positioned as a younger brand. In the visual communication ‘dENiZEN’ name stands dominantly out signifying something independent and different which supported by words ‘from Levi’s’. Unlike in its previous avatar as which used the expression either ‘Levi Strauss Signature’ or ‘Signature by Levi Strauss’ the identity of two brands were merged which signified a ‘different kind of Levi’ . But dENiZEN’s branding seeks to reconcile two opposing ends of belongingness and un-belongingness. When one sees the signage of dENiZEN, it signifies there is somebody new and different (denim and non-denim, trendier, young, economy and gender neutral) on the block but it comes from the house of Levis (credibility and trust).
In a new brand consolidation exercise, Levi Strauss & Co is in the process of phasing out its dENiZEN brand from markets other than North America. The Company will instead focus on its core Levi’s brand.

Tata Motors: ‘More car per car’to ‘more luxury per car’ and carpet bombing

In the recently announced results Q2 (September 2011) Tata Motors posted great results. Its net profit registered an increase of about 100 times to Rs 2223 crore compared to Rs 22 cores of the previous year. , Tata Motors posted Rs 1600 cores as against Rs 22 cores Q2 2011. This is an impressive turnaround. Tata Motors has become a matter of debate when it acquired Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) spending whopping $2.5 billion (Rs 12500crores) dragging the company into red (consolidated net loss of Rs 2505 in 2008-9).

Tata Motors is at the top of Indian automobile industry. It participates in both commercial and passenger vehicle markets. In a short span to time the company has evolved from primarily being a maker of commercial vehicles to a force to reckon with in the passenger market as well. Has the trajectory of the company something to do with architecture?

Ratan Tata is an architect from Cornell University. An architect is different from an engineer. Architect is trained to have a global perspective whereas engineers by are possessed by details. Architects have an integrative mindset by which they visualize parts as a whole, engineers are narrowly focused (I owe this to my discussions with Prof Mitra yesterday). An architect’s role is to visualize a structure by observation of both what is ‘present’ and what is ‘missing’. Tata Motors under the stewardship of Ratan Tata is carefully architected into a complete motor company not merely a company with different divisions. An aggregation of parts is not the same as an integrated ‘whole’.

Let us turn to the company’s architecture. Starting as a locomotive manufacturer in 1950 the company went on to expand into commercial vehicles. The ‘Tata’ name and the symbol ‘T”, as a result, got inextricably connected with commercial vehicles. With the sight of burgeoning passenger car market, the company entered the market with ‘Tata Indica’ (combination of ‘Indian’+ ‘car’) with the proposition ‘more car per car’. The idea was to lure price/ value sensitive buyer and company generated huge volume. This success was followed by moving up to the next level of sedan and then came ‘Indigo’( 2002)This was three box or sedan version of Indica. The brand Indigo derived from Indica (‘Indi’ used to leverage upon the equity) was further expanded by adding a station wagon variation ‘Indigo Marina’ (‘Marina’, attempted to indicate the modification, 2004). Later in 2009 the company further expanded its Indigo sedan range upward and launched ‘Indigo Manza’. This extension was meant to take the Indigo brand further up as the brand was given an image of luxury (the color, body shape and features underwent a change). Meanwhile Indica brand was toned up (V2 and Vista) and horizontally ‘Xeta’ was launched to branch into the petrol segment. Besides the movement upwards, the company moved downward by creating an ultra economy segment by the launch of ‘Nano’ (2009). In its latest move the company has launched ‘Vista’ (2011). A premium hatchback positioned as a compact which offers sedan like experience. In terms of branding and communication the company, ‘Vista’ plays down its connection with Indica to give it a new image.

The company leveraged its diesel engine prowess and also grew by moving into adjacent segment of the vehicle market by launch of SUVs. Tata Sierra and Tata Estate (now discontinued) and Tata Sumo were early entries into this segment. Tata Safari (launched in 1998) later fitted with ‘Dicor’ engine became a serious player. In 2010, the company launched a ‘cross over’ vehicle named ‘Aria’ combines three concepts: sedan, MPV and SUV (2011).

In the sedan market, now the company faced a challenge further to ‘move up’ in the segment hierarchy. The top ends of the car markets are dominated by companies with heritage advantage. The luxury brands besides functionality are created by heritage or pedigree and ‘exclusion’. The class connotations are generally the hall mark of luxury brands. Tata’s equity leveraged very successfully into the lower ends of the market was inept for this segment. And then came JLR acquisition. This leapfrogged the company into a space which excluded a company like Tata. A company can make cars as fine as Jaguar or Land Rover, what can’t be manufactured is the ‘imagery’ associated with brands like these. These are formidable barriers to entry.

Tata Motors starting with Indica (1999) both moved up and down  and horizontally to participate in adjacent segments. It is akin to carpet bombing by which attempt is made cover up the entire target area so that no space is left out. The growth trajectory that the company has adopted certainly has something to do with the discipline of architecture. The company has been architected to be serious player in the emergent car market flattened by the forces of globalization.