Brand Modi and BJP: Which is Bigger?

I was invited to write by the Business Today to write how Modi became bigger brand than BJP.

I wrote the following:

It is not uncommon in the world of marketing for a brand to become not only bigger than its creator but also to revitalize and rejuvenate it back. What iMac and iPod did to Apple Inc is what Modi has done to the BJP.  

 

Prior to Modi, the BJP brand was on the brink of irrelevance for what it stood for. Its Hindutva identity resonated deeply with the partition generation but its effect had weakened for the successive generations. Demographically, India is one of the youngest nations with more than 65 per cent of people below 35 years. Modi’s ability to become bigger than the BJP lies in his ability to listen to murmurs and whispers of this India, tapping into their simmering anger and hopelessness.

FULL COVERAGE: Lok Sabha Elections 2014

Modi created an identity that resonated with far more people and deeper than that of the BJP. Like brands make sense at surface and deeper levels, Modi’s discourse on economic development and prosperity intersected at the surface level of consciousness. The Gujarat model threw in words like governance, roads, electricity, women’s safety, peace, industry and education, supported by statistics. This satisfied the questioning mind that hankers for reason.

But reason is often the alibi for non-reason. Modi’s ability to become taller than his party lies in his symbolism. He tapped into despair, hopelessness and sinking feelings and arrived on the scene taking on the symbolism of the outlaw and the ruler combined. He is perceived as an icon of disruption and rebellion against the way things are done. It is this counter cultural streak that appeals to youth who desire change. And his traits like being organised, proactive, and confident, and in command of things, subtly connect with the ruler archetype.

Modi’s becoming bigger than the BJP is also attributable to his subtle push from parliamentary to presidential-style campaigning. By directly engaging with the top Congress leadership he acted as a warrior who could take on the establishment head on. Modi’s direct confrontational approach made politics a game close to the WWF in which the camera focuses on the fighter, not the sponsors.

Brand Identity, Image and Change

It is important to fully appreciate the connection between brand identity and image. At the most basic level, brand identity is internal and brand image is external to an organization. Identity is like a charter given to defining the brand in terms of what it stands for encompassing all its attributes, benefit, positioning, personality and values. Identity is a complex issue. Brand identity is executed through all marketing programs and it comes alive through different Ps. Identity is like a unique signature that a brand wants to leave in customer’s mind. Image, on the other hand is totality of perception that is created in customer’s mind. It is external to the firm. It stands for mental picture of a brand that people hold in their minds. It is extracted or decoded portion of expressed or presented identity. It is important for a brand to keep its image always aligned with it identity.

Brands belong to a world that changes every moment. Change is external to brand and it is beyond control. Thus a brand is vulnerable the forces of change which may render it obsolete and out of sync with emergent realities. For instance vanaspati brands like Dalda and Rath suffered as consumers become health conscious. On the other hand Bajaj was quick notice the transition of two wheeler market from scooters to motorcycles. It is imperative for brand managers to define what they want their brand to be and what they don’t. Consider a brand like Suffola cooking oil, it has shifted its proposition from product ingredient (cholesterol busters- PUFA and MUFA- heart attack prevention) to healthy oil to healthy life style.

A brand may engage different senses to create an intended signature. For instance Singapore Airlines uses many senses to create brand distinctiveness- patented scent, cabin ambience, meals and beverages, stewards and stewardess (Singapore Girl), service, Malay sarong kabaya, hospitality and entertainment system. Of all these are expressions of brand identity but Singapore Girl is the most important one. It is visual emblem of what the brand stands for. It is condensation of brand’s core essence by which it seeks to forge customer relationship. It is an extraordinary expression of brand’s core idea of Asian hospitality with all the powerful characteristics like- gentle, warm, elegant, grace, serene and grace.

In order to be successful,  a brand must communicate what it stands for to its target customer. The visual signature is important in this context. Brand’s core idea can be conveyed in split of a second to both insiders and outsiders. It is here all the visual elements- name, font, typeface, color, form, shape, mark, mascot, logo, word mark- are orchestrated to both connote and denote a brand’s core. Visual identity is instrumental in driving brand recognition, preference and commitment by developing a cohesive and consistent picture.  

One of the most visible examples of identity change in India has been Bajaj. In its new logo which can be described as white and blue reverse hexagonal with combined with the words ‘Bajaj Auto’ signed off by cursively written line ‘inspiring confidence’. This identity change celebrated and signified its transformation into a motorcycle major with credible technology credentials (DTSi technology). The identity change is not just a creative change rather it is signification directional change in the life of a brand. The new identity takes forward the Bajaj’s core values –learning, innovation, perfection, speed and transparency- and adds ‘excitement’. The new abstract ‘B’ (flying B) that replaces the old symmetrical hexagonal symbol signifies – style and technology. The brand very subtly leverages company heritage and adds new values to enrich the brand.

Mahindra is another example of Indian group that has made rapid progress in its diverse set of businesses. The group’s rapid stride across all its businesses necessitated the need for a new cohesive and contemporized identity to be signaled across all businesses and geographies. It was designed to mark group’s evolution and its readiness to future challenges. The process got initiated in 2011. The idea was to contemporize the brand and reflect global ambitions. The new word mark in different in style, color and logo- in energetic red presents ‘one Mahindra’- cutting across diverse businesses like IT, vacation ownership, tractors, financial services to automotive. The new mark strikes a balance between continuity –its roots, values and strengths (name Mahindra) and change (new execution) – aspiration and evolution. The new execution is done to appeal younger set of audience.

Mahindra’s new word mark accompanied by new graphic device/ element (called the ‘ridge’) signifies Himalayan mountain range. It condenses the idea of ‘Rise’. The inspiration here is Mount Everest’s ridges that lead to its peak. The Mahindra group in this symbolism becomes a platform or enabler for its people which provides them with paths to reach their potential. This identity change must not be confused with a simple tweaking with its logo. It is not a shallow change of brand elements without corresponding change in people, processes and values. Rather the word ‘Rise’ is summed essence of brand’s ethos, raison d’être, its intent to enable people to rise.

For some managers identity change is nothing more than an indulgence in creativity. This is nothing but hollow exercise in deception. Visual identity change is real when the internal substantive aspects of brands undergo a change.

Tata Motors, Sales slide, and Dichotomy between a cab and a car

Last week one of the news dailies published a news item titled ‘Tata Motors struggling to reverse sales slide: aggressive marketing and deep discounts not enough’.File:2000 Tata Indica.JPG

The car industry is passing through a rough patch. A variety of macroeconomic factors and buyer sentiments are working simultaneously against the industry.  The data released (Jan 2013) by the industry body revealed that auto industry has gone down to its lowest growth rate (close to 3%) since 2002-03. Inflationary pressures, economic uncertainty and customer sentiments are externally imposed constraints which seem to be discouraging people to indulge in big ticket buys.  Industry leader Maruti reported clocked in almost similar unit sales this Jan (compared to last year), Hyundai registered 1.45 % increase. But Tata Motors experienced a huge slide by a massive 61% against the previous year’s figure.car-on-rent-tata-indigo

This kind of situation elicits two kinds of responses. It is not uncommon for managers to search and use tools of immediate sales revival.  Consequently marketing aggression degenerates into excessive use of sales incentives aimed to trigger impulses in favor of promoted brand. Common to car industry are tactics like free insurance, music systems, interest free loans and service package. But the reality of competition is harsh. Any attempt to disturb the market equilibrium by use of tangible or economic value manipulation is quickly copied and neutralized by other participants in the industry.  This brings us to the question why Tata Motors’ decline is disproportionate to overall industry and other players there in?

Tata Motors created a huge splash at the time when Indica was launched (1989). It’s punch line ‘More car per car’ said a lot about the vehicle. Here was product which packed everything more-space, price (less), mileage, trust- to appeal to value sensitive middle car buyers.  The measure of trust that potential buyers reposed in Tata brand can be gauged by huge booking figure (over a lac) which Indica received within weeks of its announcement. Soon after its launch Indica went on to become one of the top selling hatchbacks in India. Later Tata Motors moved up the product spectrum by launching other models like Indigo (three box sedan), Indigo CS(compact sedan), Indigo Marina, Manza, and Aria.

At the heart of Indica’s appeal was trust which flowed from identity that this brand drew straight from company name TELCO. Tata Motors was previously named as Telco which produced commercial vehicles, primarily trucks. The engine of Indica was developed internally which was based on the engine used by the company for its pickups and SUVs. It was a logical extension of the company to move into technologically adjacent market by derivation and modification of what moves the vehicle. Externally, to customers, the Tata name allowed this off spring to tap into huge equity reservoir developed over the decades.  So the name (market assets) and engine (internal capability/ asset) combination created an irresistible offering. So strong has been the link between the offspring and the mother brand, that even now the brand is called ‘Tata Indica’.

Tata being a strong player in commercial segment wanted to move into burgeoning car market.  At the heart of this move were synergies which could be harnessed. Car enjoys a lot of engineering commonalities with commercial vehicles. So to an automotive engineer, a move from commercial vehicle to private vehicle is incremental. The reality in customer mind may not be the same. The customer point of reference to perceive a car (Tata’s car) is likely to be radically different. The term car evokes a very different normative frame, which is created by other brands in the category. A car in customer’s imagination is everything but not anything associated with commercial vehicle.  A car is an identity expression device; it is an instrument of indulgence.  What appears to be a smooth transition internally is not so externally in the mental world of customers.  Hence Indica made a lot of sense to commercial segment (cabs) but fails to excite a typical car/sedan buyer. A quick car ownership survey can establish this fact.

In the world of marketing the idea of creating a brand that appeals to all is very un-marketing. It is counter to the concept of segmentation and targeting. It for this reason, brands especially with the symbolic core have to erect barriers which prevent it from going to non-customers.  Consider how car Audi, Skoda and Volkswagen are strategically positioned which may share internal commonalities but are very different from one another in terms of appeal and appealed.

Pepsi, “Oh Yes Abhi”, Slogans , Resonance and Layers of Meaning

Two important routes to brand creation are visual and verbal. The visual (illustration, pictures, logo) and verbal (message, headline, slogan) elements are combined to create brand image. These elements engage prospects through two of the five senses, the sight and sound. Brand slogans assume heightened importance in present day time-short and over-assaulted consumer. Perceptual filtering and defense mechanisms are pressed into action to escape from incessant barrage of messages that hit consumer’s mind. Slogans for being short and mnemonic are effective tools because of being less stressful on cognitive system. Slogans can convey brand’s essence (what brand stands for) in an instance and simultaneously contribute to brand strength by building recall and visualization.  For instance a sign off/ slogan like ‘High performance delivered’ (Accenture), ‘Melts in your mouth not in your hands (M&Ms) and ‘”When it Absolutely, Positively has to be there overnight’ (FedEx), ‘We try harder’ (Avis), ‘Think different’ (Apple), ‘Solutions for a small planet’ (IBM) convey brand promise succinctly and position it in relation to competition by highlighting relative strength.  Ranbir,Priyanka And M. S. Dhoni Photo Shoot For Pepsi Oh Yes ABHI! Ad

In the quest to bond with its market, Pepsi has launched its new campaign ‘Right here right now’/ ‘Oh Yes Abhi’.  It is interesting to see how brands change gears in their negotiation of psychological space in their search for relevance and resonance. Brand is much more than product, in this case the drink.  And the drink  is likely to deliver the same kind of experience. But then why the campaign has been launched that seeks to alter brand’s meaning semiotic ally? This brings us to the question whether people buy brands only for the utility sake or their delivery extends beyond functional boundaries.  A campaign that aims to alter brand symbolism without any  change of its product is certainly an effort given to align brand’s meaning with evolving consumer psycho-social reality.

Pepsi’s communication campaigns provide an interesting case study on changing youth psychology and life style. The brand is quick to size up the psychological space and read its undercurrents. It seizes opportunity in hidden concerns, dilemmas, and aspirations of its young target group. Prima facie Pepsi’s slogans appear simple statements with a very definite literal meaning. The denotative meaning actually is superficial to all these communications. The brand actually engages with its consumers at connotative level.  Accordingly communication says one thing at express level manner but quite another at the unspoken form. One of characteristics of good brand is that it forges bonds which transcend the logic, reason and rationality. Consider the following slogans which Pepsi has employed over the time:

‘Nothing official about it’ (1996)

‘Yeh dil maange more!’ (2006)

“Pepsi ye pyaas heh badi” (2000)

“My Pepsi My Way”(2009)

“Change the game” (2011)

 “Oh Yes Abhi” (2013)

 

In an interview with ET (28/1/13) Justice Verma  said, ‘If the government takes time, they should make way for persons who are quicker. If, at 80, I am so impatient, govt should understand the impatience of youth’.  Philosophically life is a different phenomenon from what it used to be. The meaning of time, relationships, institutions, consumption and artifacts has changed. There has been a fundamental shift in life values, aspirations and goals: life is short, time runs fast, conflicting priorities, a lot to be achieved, now is when you exist, pleasure is fine, me is first, old is no wisdom.  The certainty (emanating from linearity of progression in everything) coupled with philosophy of abnegation (sense control) made contentment an easily realizable goal. When tomorrow is uncertain, the focus shifts to now, young seek instant gratification ‘ Cause time can’t wait then I sure can’t wait, I ain’t got no patience no I just can’t wait… ‘No time for procrastination’ (Now generation song). The dictionary meaning of ‘impatient’ is lack of patience; intolerance of or irritability with anything that impedes or delays/ restless desire for change and excitement. Impatience is fuelled by a desire to ‘do more’ (‘yeh dil mange more’/ ‘ye pyaas heh badi’) which proportionately reduces the time available. This is the reason why the new currency of trade has become time (do you measure distance by time or kilometer?)

The idea appropriated by new Pepsi campaign taps into inner psychological reality of impatient generation (psychology of instant gratification- no urge deferment).  The slogan ‘Oh Yes Abhi, does not urge you to drink Pepsi ‘right now’ as it may seem to suggest but seeks to give the brand a new consumer resonating identity.

 Prof Mitra, my esteemed colleague at FMS says that Pepsi’s slogans have a third layer of meaning which operate within the realm of sexuality. Read these slogans. They do seem to be laden with  sexual connotations.

Honey Singh, Lyrics, Images, Rape, Identity and YOLO generation

Who am I? What do I stand for? Where am I going?

These questions are so simple that they don’t get any attention. Simple is obvious and obvious is ignored. The YOLO generation – you only live once, especially in their twenties do not have comfort of latching on to cultural categorizations to construct their self and the new is not yet fully emerged. The windmills of liberalization and globalization have rendered the old structures obsolete. The new generation is caught in the situation where the old is not completely gone and the new has not yet fully emerged. The khap diktats, civil society outburst, consumerist culture, rise of the nonsensical movies and lyrics, are all manifestation of this chasm and friction. With the blurring of boundaries the new generation is left on its own to seek answers to the above questions.

The people of the new nomadic tribe are robbed of identity and their privileges that stemmed from fixed social structures. Take a macro look in a metro station or a mall, the humanity stands homogenized but take a closer look and everyone seems to be on a perpetual identity construction voyage. The deeply entrenched power structures are shaken and there is emergence of the new ones. Market is now supplier of symbolic material and consumption is no longer about satisfaction but identity construction.  A Scorpio and an Audi radically differ from each other in their supply of symbolic meaning to one at the steering wheel. Both can’t latch on the old identity structures based on who they are, therefore brand is commissioned for both identity creation and signification.

When the system fails to provide the notions of identity, people are free to make a choice. It is now upon the will of an individual to construct the person he or she wants to be. Consumption in this context gets beyond the realm of utility to acquire symbolism. The choice although free, operates within the overall constraint imposed by a set of possible selves made available in a socio-cultural context. It is not that people choose from a set of infinite selves. Media supplies a limited set of images, symbols and models differing in narrative. Popular media is one big supplier of images and models which are picked by people in arriving at their identity definitions. Primafacie people are said to be free to make a choice but it operates with a constraint imposed by total available set. Culture industries provide repertoire of symbolic products out of which free will is exerted. Bacardi ad says ‘be what you wanna be…’ but images of people portrayed- supply of symbols- narrowly push to you to be ‘the kind of person you should be’.

Each aspect of the environment is laden with symbolism. Popular media as an important part of culture producing industry is a dominant supplier of identity construction resource. The expression of this process manifests in choices that people make – what we buy and how we behave. This influence is so subtle and sub conscious that it escapes conscious scrutiny. The codes of behavior are implicitly established.  Bacardi has very successfully managed to create a new symbolism around rum and establish acceptance of white rum in the youth market. Relationship can only get sanctified if you wear a platinum band, so are you a part of group called ‘platinum people’? Love has got a new expression.

When the identity is fluid and undefined and when we look out to symbols in identity construction process is a song by Honey Singh a potential threat? If diamonds which have very little practical utility can be ‘women’s best friend’ and chocolate can say it ‘better than words’, lyrics can certainly creep into our consciousness taking a sub-conscious route. The blanks of mind are imprinted with ideas supplied by the media to a great extent. The expression of the concept contained in the lyrics would be dangerous, even if it happens in one exceptional case.

Bal Thackeray, Power Brand and the Power of ‘Against’

Branding space is not limited to the world of commerce and business. Branding possibilities exist in virtually every sphere of activity involving exchange of value between two or more parties. In socio-political space, brands are created at a point where ideas intersect. Political brands like the BJP or Congress stand for a combination social, religious and business ideologies which they seek exchange with voting public. In the similar vein Barack Obama brand was meticulously created in the US at the centre of which sat the proposition of hope ignition (“Yes We Can”) and change (“Vote for Change”; “A New Beginning”).  Congress managed to dislodged NDA by appropriating an idea of common (‘aam admi’) which range bell with ordinary people, a silent majority left out and marginalized.

Branding begins with the search of a meaningful idea. There is no dearth of ideas; but the ones floating around tend to be less valuable. Surface ideas offer shallow platforms and create superficial relationships and hence fail to create deeper commitment. Real brands are created by a search and appropriation of ideas which lay buried in the depths of human consciousness. Their location below the threshold of awareness makes them  harder to reach. Only a few with a vision can access them. But these offer pristine branding opportunities. Hitler was bestowed with extraordinary powers visualize what Germans dreamt in their sleep and whispered in the quiet of themselves. He understood these well and subsumed in his ‘Nazi’ brand.  The longing for a change and feeling anomie that Americans suffered became the foundation stone of Obama brand.

Brands derive power from resonating and unique idea.  Brands resonate when the idea on which they are built connects deeply and intimately. The idea or insight must be built by a careful study of life condition of people (the idea of ‘beauty’ (Lux) or ‘iconoclasm’ (Apple). It is the power of idea that a brand manages to extract customer commitment, attachment, love and engagement and ultimately create a community. The critical condition defining a strong brand is that its idea should un- shared.

Whether one likes or not, the out pouring of lakhs of people on the streets of Mumbai to mourn the death of Bal Thackeray certainly provides testimony to the fact that he was a powerful brand.

  • Brands seek loyalty; on this measure he commanded unflinching loyalty of his followers.
  • Brands forge emotional connection to create following; his followers held deep emotional bonds.
  • True brands command unwavering allegiance.
  • Their customers can ‘go out of their way’ (bear discomfort or assThis was equally true for Thackeray.  Shiv Sainiks willingly take both physical and legal risk to carry the will of their brand. But the essential question remains, what idea did this brand appropriate?ume risk) for them.

Many brands forge connection based on the power of negative emotion. So brand strategy is built on the not what it is or who it is for rather what it is not and who it is not for. Bourdieu explains that preference formation may not a positive emotional response rather a negative one.  It implies choice is not based on what people most like but reject what is most disliked. It is choice based on rejection (‘refusal of the taste of others’/ ‘visceral intolerance of the tastes of others’). Class distinctions are often based the rejection of the style of others (lifestyle, tastes and preference).  The choice for a brand like Apple may be based on the rejection Nokia being the common choice of others. Bal Thackeray’s ideas were often based on opposition like support the emergency (when most people disliked it); admiration of Adolf Hitler (people hate him for what he did to Jews); against socialist trade unions (when socialism was cherished dream); and a movement called ‘Marathi Manoos’, anti- Bihari (against the idea of one nation one citizen).  

We may disagree with his ideas and ideology. But given the fierce loyalty that his brand commands it certainly stands for an idea highly differentiated and highly resonating for a select group of people.

Brand, Emotions and Affective Blindness

Marketers wish that their customers were blind and deaf to appeals made by competition. None of the tools in marketer’s arsenal can physically ‘switch off’ two of the most important gateways of perception. The problem is further compounded by ‘pro competition’ polices which seek to neutralize attempts of firms to monopolize the market. The challenge is not to find solution through structural alteration but work it out through consumer mind space.  This is precisely great brands seek to create. Branding in this sense is about developing ‘competition proof’ and ‘competition immune’ brands.

Consider some of the brand in identity building space like Rolex, Mont Blanc, Louis Vuitton and Burberry. The fierce fanatic like desire or pull that they create simply cannot be explained by the application of rationality. Then the essential question is what lies at their heart and what defines their soul. The emotional outburst and consequent surge of the urge suspends reason in animation making people behave in trance like manner. Otherwise how could a time keeping device or a trunk command such mind boggling prices?

The cognitive school explains consumer behavior through a hierarchy comprising of cognition leads to affect which mediate behavior. This was challenged affect based choice model which proposed that emotion affect behavior directly and is a different processing system.  Emotions can mediate preference without involving cognition (separate pathway). While the most decisions are based on cognitive processing some may be mediated by emotions unconsciously.

The affect based choice model seeks to explain the role of emotions in choice for self expressive or symbolic products. It is defined by self focus, holistic, non-verbal:

  1. Emotional choices are more about self rather than what is evaluated. The user (trier) is at the center not what is used (tried). Consider trying a Chanel shade. The choice is base on the imagination of how the person appears. Emotional judgments are self involving the focus in on the person.
  2. Emotional choices are marked by an ‘overall’ impression rather than analysis of individual attributes. The overall preference for a Rolex cannot be traced back to its attributes. Feelings cannot be adequately expressed and communicated. You cannot explain what you like a Rolex.
  3. How are emotions communicated? Verbal language cannot capture the essence of emotions therefore non-verbal communication is used. Images are soaked in meaning and their interpretation tends be subconscious and private. Imagine emotions evoked by J&J baby.

The beauty of emotion based choice is that once it is formed it repels reason based evaluations. Emotions can overwhelm reason. One of the critical decisions in branding strategy is to decide brand’s intended perception. By emotionalizing the brand it may be possible to take a jump over cognition and achieve its insulation from the challenges that stems from consumer ‘thinking mind’.