Brand name, generic name and ‘you can’t get papers xeroxed’

Consider the following statements:

‘Please have these papers xeroxed’
‘Give me good quality thermos’
‘Which brand of sunmica you intend putting on your furniture?’
‘My carpenter has asked me to get good quality fevicol.’
‘This is a new brand of tinopal’
‘Ask the pharmacy for a good quality band aid’
‘Get a bottle of non-burning dettol’
‘One type of vicks is available only at chemist shops’
‘It’s very dark here, you don’t have eveready’

All of the above statements appear perfectly correct. People do get their documents xeroxed, store liquids in thermos to maintain their temperature, carpenters do ask for fevicol to join pieces of wood, there is nothing wrong to ask for good quality band-aid and kid do ask for non-burning dettol and people in mountains always keep eveready when they go out.

Recently a new brand of laminates has begun to be promoted on television called sunmica and the question is how can a brand be sunmica because it is what people use on furniture surfaces. Can one have ‘Watch’ as a brand name for a time keeping device, ‘Egg’ for eggs, ‘Laptop’ for compact computers, ‘Pen’ for a writing instrument and ‘Nailpolish’ for nail enamel? In reality yes, why not? Managers enjoy liberty christen their products any which why they like. But naming a product is not an act in exercise of free will. Rather it is an act which can profoundly affect brand success at the point of sale.

Sunmica brand has come to AICA Group as a result of business transfer agreement between The Bombay Burmah Trading Corpn and Aica Laminates India. There is nothing wrong with the brand name except for the fact that pride which a marketer takes in claiming that its brand has become synonymous with a commodity actually may be a cause of serious concern. When a name ceases to stand for a brand rather begins to represent a commodity category, the entire purpose of branding is lost. The purpose of branding to get customers to ask for a company’s product by name. Core to achieving this involves creation of ‘valued differentiation’.

When a brand name begins to stand for a commodity, it is unlikely to be demanded by consumers. It becomes descriptor of a category. Its identity collapses into commodity identity. This phenomenon is common with pioneer brands which create categories. Imagine how tough it must have been for Colgate to establish toothpaste category when nothing existed like a paste for oral hygiene. Once established, the brand enjoys the category creator or ‘first mover perceptual advantage’. But the hidden danger for all pioneer brands comes in the form of dissolution of brand identity with the commodity identity. So who loses when people go on to buy Century, Duro or Greenlam sunmica?

The answer is Sunmica. The challenge for category creating brands is to somehow always maintain their brand identity different from commodity identity. One such easy approach is to keep brand name separate from the commodity in their identity signaling system. For instance ‘Colgate’ kept separate from ‘toothpaste’ in communication through intelligent orchestration of brand elements. In our case of ‘Sunmica’, ‘Sun’ should be separated from ‘mica’ which represents the commodity. In consumers’ minds ‘Sun’ should stand for a distinct brand name in the mica product category.

You can’t get papers xeroxed, you get them photocopied.


Kodak: Burden of being the first and the biggest

Long back Ted Levitt wrote in one of the most influential articles in the area of marketing titled ‘Marketing Myopia’; 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. Others that are thought of as seasoned growth industries have actually stopped growing. In every case, the reason growth is threatened, slowed, or stopped is not because the market is saturated. It is because there has been a failure of management.

Companies and brands as value creators and signifiers seek constancy. Firms seek perpetuity and brands aim to defy the effects of time. Both do not exist in a vacuum rather belong to environment which is always in a state of spin. A boat can scarcely stand still in water without right paddling and maneuvering. Levitt claimed that railroads and Hollywood declined not because of market maturity but due their management who wrongly defined what business they were in. At the center of their poor fate was not the lack of technical competence rather their orientation or mind set. Levitt cautioned that, in truth, there is no such thing as a growth industry, I believe. There are only companies organized and operated to create and capitalize on growth opportunities. There are numerous examples of so called growth industries which are either dead or dying have caught in self-deceiving cycle. Levitt cited a mindset characterized by beliefs that: growth is assured by expansion of affluent population; no competitive substitute; faith in mass production and preoccupation with a product which lends itself to improvement and manufacturing cost reduction.

Eastman Kodak Company gave this world first hand held camera. Along with the camera Kodak is credited among other things for Kodachrome film, electronic camera which sent still pictures from moon, first digital camera, OLED technology, and Kodak image sensors captured close- up of Mars. The company was quick to become a great success by introducing a paradigm shift in the way pictures was taken and who took them. Its user friendly products allowed everyone to capture everyday moments. The slogan ‘you press the button, and we do the rest’ epitomized the essence of Kodak brand- empowerment to capture and store moments for posterity. Technically Kodak replaced glass photographic plates with a film roll making the photographing process much easier and simpler.
Technological developments are not always linear and incremental creating product improvements. Often these are disruptive and out of box. Imagine emerging competition between mobile phone makers and camera makers. Consider how Xerox which pioneered photocopying was threatened by personal computers. Post offices have almost been made irrelevant by e mail services. In the similar vein, old cinema reel prints are fast becoming thing of past as new films are distributed through digital prints. The brick and mortar mom and pop stores in India actually face a real threat from e commerce ventures rather than the likes of Wal-Mart. The dividing line between the television and computer may further get blurred in times to come.
Kodak had its own share of challenged being unleashed by newer technologies both disruptive and incremental. The shift from black and white imaging to color technology was seized by Kodak which allowed the company to exhibit robust performance in the US market. Till the mid-seventies Kodak held monopoly position both in film and camera market. However things began to change with the disruption introduced by the invention of digital technology. As a consequence the sales of both film cameras and film began to decline. The business model akin to Gillette cheap razor expensive blades which allowed Kodak to make money by selling films and processing developed cracks as digital cameras neither needed film nor professional processing. And even prints could also be created on home printers. Kodak’s serious entry into digital camera business come much late in mid-nineties, though it had good product but its high price never allowed to get volumes. The company could not give up its film manufacturing (product centricity) till 2009 even though obituary of the technology was written long back.
The greatest irony is that Kodak itself invented digital camera which eventually blew off company’s business of making film and film camera. It is not that the need to capture moments and share memories has vanished it is just that newer products are better able to satisfy it. The window of opportunity for others was created by Kodak itself as it failed to appreciate the new technology using customer centric perspective. What others did to Kodak, the company should have done to itself.
Who says competition kills?

Anna Brand (6): Brand Is Bigger Than Product

I am reminded of a verse by Guru Nanak:

“0 Nanak! Be tiny like grass,
For other plants will wither away, but grass will remain ever green.

The meaning as I understand is that grass survives but big and tall trees get uprooted when the storm hits. The ego lays ground for destruction. The perception of being ‘big’, ‘tall’, ‘beyond’, ‘unassailable’, and ‘the best’ germinates the seeds of the fall. Ego and arrogance are two of the worst enemies of a human being. The ego, according to Geeta is the attachment to the body rather than the soul. The body is transient but the soul is immortal. Lord Krishna tells Arjuna to surrender his false ego completely for achieving transcendental peace.

Like human beings big companies and big brands are also vulnerable to ego. The bigness- of aspects like size, market share, sales, and scale often breed seeds of decline. Bigness promotes inertia. Long time back in 1985 Alvin Toffler wrote a book titled ‘Adaptive Corporation’ which dwelled upon how organizations fail on account of not being ‘adaptive’ to change. Adaptation is ‘the’ way to succeed in a changing environment.

Consider long standing brands like: Xerox, IBM, Lifebuoy, Coke, and Ford. These brands are able to stay afloat because of ‘flexibility’ and ‘adaptability’. A brand is constant entity in a dynamic environment. True branding is about achieving timelessness by developing an escape route from the operation of product life cycle. Although Lifebuoy is still on the horizon even after decades but it must be understood that it owes its existence to ‘humility’ of being subservient to the cause, the brand. The soul is timeless but the physical elements have limited life. The physical aspects have surrendered completely to the ‘soul’ (the health and hygiene). IBM as a business has undergone great change (the body) but it has stuck on the brand soul (providing solutions). Horlicks as a product has come a long way since it was launched. The product Horlicks has undergone many changes (body) but its soul (nourishment) lived for decades.

Often success of a brand makes the entire enterprise product focused. A success formula of marketing or the product (the means) becomes so important that it displaces the brand (the end). The attachment to the product (the body) breeds arrogance and ego and there starts the decline. The soul (brand) is supreme, the product is only instrumental. Understanding the distinction is the key to creating long life brands. The products can come and go (akin to soul changing body) but the soul is supreme. Imagine how difficult it would be for Nokia to make a transition into services to provide a ‘solution’ which people seek.

One of the important traits of the leader is to keep focus on the goal. Goal is supreme; the leader who leads the team is the means to the end. Leader does not operate in a stagnant environment. So the means cannot be constant in a dynamic environment. Rigidity and lack of flexibility is dangerous. The leader (product) cannot dictate the brand (mission or goal). The leader, the product must adapt to evolving circumstances. Anna Brand stands at crucial juncture where rigidity (fast which worked brilliantly) could be self defeating. Now in the changed circumstances Brand Anna should move to a new level (product reformulation, ingredient changes, augmentations etc) sticking on to the brand DNA (non violence). The success of the brand in the first stage should not intoxicate (ego). The Band Anna is now on the next stage. Leader is a powerful resource; leader can ignite damp gun powder. The leader must understand the instrumentality of the leadership. The cause is supreme.