Recently I came across two buying episodes which throw light on how brands interact with customer:
In the first instance one of my students shared her wrist watch buying experience. She went to buy a watch in a store and asked the sales person to show some timepieces for her. She wanted to be shown some good quality decent to wear watch. Form a large display of watches the sales person pulled out one and handed her to check it out. No sooner than he passed on the watch to her to try she rejected the watch even putting it on her wrist. The thought that echoed her mind was ‘a round, golden watch, it’s my mom’s watch not for me’. Then she moved on to Fastrack counter and picked one from their collection, a watch that had an ‘odd’ shape for a watch and did not conform to the stereotypical image of a time keeping device.
The second instance involves one of my known lady friends. She wanted to change her phone not because her current mobile instrument was giving her troubles rather she wanted to try something new. Her prime consideration was a ‘decent’ phone not ‘very expensive’. To her a mobile for is for primarily for calling and SMSing purposes and ‘applications’ scare her for she has no technology attitude or aptitude. Upon glancing through various options and brands we chanced upon a device that looked good, pleasing to hold, easy to use and bore a trusted name. But learning that it was a ‘Asha’ variant from Nokia was like a bomb destroying her choice for the phone in a spur of a moment. Suddenly all evaluations and deliberations lost relevance and her reluctance seemed like an impregnable wall. No amount of reasoning and cajoling would make her yield to this brand name. She eventually went on to buy ‘Lumia’ but without any understanding of what a Windows phone is what purpose it serves.
In both of these cases the thinking mind finds it baffling as to why a time keeping device is rejected on a ground that it was round (one of the most popular shapes) in shape and how on earth mobile phone selected after due deliberation (features and functionality) suddenly become unacceptable simply because of its name? There is something more at work than that meets eyes. An act of buying involves much more than surface utility centric considerations. Here in the first case the ‘keeping of time accurately’ and ‘being able to talk and send messages’ in the second case. Here the rejection seemed to be stemming out not from ‘what the product does’ rather ‘what the product/brand means’. The shape and name symbolism probably has subversive effect on relationship creation.
Customer – brand exchange transcends the narrow confines of economic utility considerations. Marketing is a two way street. Customers also invest in their relationship with brands. In above two cases, the customer’s rejection is based not product functionality rather unwillingness to have a relationship with the brands in question for reasons extraneous to product. Relationship is a humanistic construct. Either by deliberate design or unintended default brands develops human character which determines their relationship potential. In the cases mentioned above brands fall into ‘dissociation’ set for they embody meaning discordant with customers’ life project. It is probably brand’s failure in making of meaning that a customer wants to make in a specific context. The dissonance stems from friction that customer is likely to experience on psycho-social plane.
Why does a round dial golden watch does not deserve to be a companion of a young girl? The round dial is symptomatic of conformance and tradition. Conceptually the idea that this kind of watch stands for does not gel with the ideas and ideals of the current generation. Watch shape signifies tradition, conformity, power asymmetry and subordination with which a young girl does not identify. You don’t want to be friends with a person who is like your father or mother. Every new generation reinterprets culture and modifies it. The Fastrack brand’s signs offs- ‘move on’ allows free flowing interpretation of symbols and relationships. At the form level Fastrack watches are formless or shapeless which symbolize a break away from past. This also implies cracking of old structures (ideas and ideals) which held our society. A watch in this case becomes a narrative of new generation in search of its own story. The unconventional shape that breaks away shape is like a piece of modern art which shifts the locus of meaning from the communicator to the interpreter. A watch on the wrist is not about objective time that its pointers signify rather about its shape, the container of time. Time is an objective reality encased in a subjective container, whose progression in measured units remains constant but it is its constancy in progression makes every arriving unit different.
In the second case is about subversion by the subconscious of the conscious. The brand name ‘Asha’ upsets the value equilibrium and throws the brand out of consideration into disinclination. The reason is stymied by the invisible effect of the brand name. Brand name not simple signifiers of a person or object. Names plug on to the collective consciousness and fill meaning. Naming is identity giving process, without a name a person will have no self identity. Here brand rejection stems not from what the product is rather the identity connotations that brand bestows upon it. Names can revels cultural values and cherished ideals. Brand name ‘Asha’ translates into ‘hope’ which is not a dissonant idea. But name draws it symbolism from people (e.g.Asha Parekh), movies (Asha movie starring Jeendera), and role (homemaker, dependent). The brand develops a disconnection with the buyer not for reasons of ‘what it does’ rather ‘what it means’ in his or her imagination. It for this reasons some brands become aspirational and desirable.
Consider why typical English or Italian names are considered desirable in ready to wear apparels like Van Heusen, Allen Solly, Louis Philippe, and Armani. A perfume is unlikely to a ring bell with customers with a mature sense of smell if its name is not French sounding. A heavy sounding name in German language certainly adds substance to an engineered object. Naming is one of the processes by which an object can be given distinct human characteristics and mythologies. Imagine the mythologies names like Apollo or Venus or Rama or Arjuna would bring to an inanimate object. This is where customer’s visualization begins whether a brand is worthy of having a relationship with or not.