Brands: CRiMe & PUNISHMENT

Brands are certainly not walking the talk on customer satisfaction- well, at least most of them-In the last decade or so CRM would have been the most used, abused, misused customer oriented(?) jargon ever prevalent. Relationships and management of that would never have been more at cross purposes.
How would you feel or want to react when you receive a call from one of the leading telecom providers saying it’s a call to remind you about your payment. More so when you receive it three times on an average in a given day at all odd times and the calls start a good 10-12 days before the actual due date. It won’t be surprising that the call center person who is making the call is just ‘ under instructions ‘ and none of them are ever empowered to offer you an explanation. I can’t for the life of me understand how life can be added to life with such an intrusion- or ” Sir your subscription is about to expire (its still a good 90 days away) and the newspaper ( a leading English daily in the market) follows up the late afternoon call on a Friday ( customer relationship you see!!) with the newspaper boy coming home at 9.30 in the night just when you are settling in for dinner( going the extra mile in customer delight!!!) to remind you about your subscription and the cascade of goodies( which no one wants in any case) that we will miss out on. The leader is truly guarding (read stalking) the reader!

Customer satisfaction drive doesn’t stop here- have you tried the shoe on the other foot? Try calling up a bank asking questions about your credit card or settlement plan and the mandatory ” I will get back to you after checking with my manager ‘ or ” that’s a separate department sir and you have to call again, punch in all kinds of numbers(security you see), hold on for a good 20 odd minutes and if you are lucky, you get a human being on the other side of the line, asking you the very same set of questions that you in all your naivette thought you had technologically overcome, only to be promised about a call with a ‘ solution ‘ within 24 hours. Of course, a bank’s idea of 24 hours is very different from yours and mine and if you get any answer at the end of 6 or 7 weeks, after 34 calls, you should be in clover. And these are the same banks who call you ten times a day to remind you that your credit card payment is overdue by 48 minutes and a penalty and interest would be chargeable in case you do not leave everything that you do now and bolt across to the nearest branch or ATM (again very limited in number, in most cases) to pay off what is (over)due. Mind you, they are treating you with kid gloves (supposedly you are a PRIORITY Customer ) because you have been a loyal customer of the bank for only 9 years. In most cases, we end up doing only ‘ banking ‘, and never do life. So much for our ambitions. And before I die, I would like to at least speak to this call centre manager just to assure myself that such a person does exist in real life. Yes, I insist.

‘Customer First ‘, ‘You are the reason for our existence ‘, ‘ Here to Serve ‘, ‘ Your call is important to us(but you damn well hold on for as long as you can because we are not sure when we can attend to you, if at all), CLV(Customer Lifetime Value)…….why spend millions of dollars on hollow claims through all forms of mainstream advertising and below the line communication when none of it is meant to be? CRM needs a serious re visit. Till such time, for us the hapless customers, it is only permitted CRiMe, albeit in disguise.

Brand Building: Great Axepectations !

Its often said that when it comes to branding, marketing & advertising, almost everyone and his cronies, near and dear ones and the entire social network of the individual has an opinion. Why does this happen and what actually causes this sense of uber confidence is yet unknown but prevail it does with alarming regularity causing both angst & irritation amongst brand building professionals who obviously see things from a completely different pair of lens. Especially if they are focused on Excellence!
I got tempted to write this after a 3 hour long meeting with one client a few weeks ago which nearly convinced me that more than half the world’s population or even more are branding experts. Some even gurus. The topic in question at the meeting was the launch of a fashion brand in a completely new geography. The brand is an unknown commodity in that market and we thought the best way to introduce it was to bring in a sense of local culture whilst pushing forth the international aura and chutzpah. The brand’s life cycle was embryonic at best and therefore the need of the hour (or so we felt) was to create something that captivates attention, is not intimidating but inviting and eases people into the acceptance of the brand. The brand was being given birth to that also coincided with the launch in that market, so our strategy and creative thought process was completely influenced and motivated by those circumstances.

Upon presenting the creative concepts that were conceptualised for use in Print, Outdoor, OOH and Television, the feedback that we received was nothing short of rudimentary. In fact, downright shocking. Without actually saying so, what the client was communicating was that we know this better and this is the way we want it. The suggestion given was illogical to say the least and upon probing (we just can’t suffer it silently and gladly you see), we were asked to benchmark our creative communication campaign ‘ on the lines of another leading established brand in the category ‘- was it exactly an apples to apples situation? Far from it- the established brand was in the market for more than 25 years and had gained significant foothold and respect in that category through strategic brand equity development adequately supported by the product that satiated people’s faith and confidence in the brand. And this brand had not even stepped onto Mother Earth yet.

Since we respect all our client’s views and work closely with all of them as their brand guardians and custodians, there was a sense of disbelief and disappointment that enveloped the entire team working on the brand. Its not as if to say that our work should or will always be accepted. Not in the least. We do have only realistic expectations (and we always encourage dissonance, debate and disruption that resonates with the big picture realization) but what took the wind out of our sails was the irrationality of it all. One way to look at the situation was to accept the perception (we just can’t call it fact because it is not true) that the client knows best and he is always right. Or the other way to address this was to go back and make a rejuvenated and fresh attempt at re calibrating the client’s psyche, however obstinate he may be. The endeavor at our end continues.

What is it that makes seriously successful entrepreneurs miss the wood for the trees when it comes to building and growing their brand/s? Is it because they are far too close to the brand that plays with their sense of objectivity leading to only irrational exuberance? Why do perfectly crafted brand building strategies based on empirical and real time, on ground customer/market insight far often get the axe? As brand builders and nourishers, we have many an axe to grind!

Do Nations Build Brands or Brands Build Nations?

What comes first? Is it a chicken and egg situation? I reckon the jury is still out on this and will continue to remain so for some time.
Siemens. Audi. BMW. Mercedes, Adidas. Staedtler. Porsche, Kohler: what do these brand names conjure up in your mind? The Made in Germany factor.

Nescafe, Lindt, UBS, Rolex, Omega. Victorinox, Longines: Small country: Switzerland but look at the big brands that orginate there.

Chanel,YSL, Airbus, Peugot, Dior, Louis Vitton, Lacoste; The French Connection here is strong and over riding.

Versace, Lambhorgini, Ferrari, Alfa Romeo: The Italian touch is omnipresent.

Now let’s look at another dimension and put the shoe on the other foot.

Finland: what’s the call here? The Nokia brand gave this country the attention of the world. Connects the world in a way to Finland (not much motivation otherwise).

Puerto Rico: The Bacardi brand gives this Latin nation a big high all over the world. Three cheers to that!

What does one summarise from this? Do nations build a brand or brands build a nation?

Today we are in a scenario where a brand that orginates from say Germany especially in the Engineering or Automobile space comes into the market with a huge advantage- the Made in Germany label. Likewise, when it comes to perfumes & fashion, France gets top billing. And for watches, chocolates and banks, we need not look beyond Switzerland. What does it take for a nation to entrench its authority on the world consumption stage? Global acceptance, aura, enigma, quality or a combination of all these traits?

Finland was a Scandinavian country mostly lost to the world save for some paper manufacturing mills that shipped out millions of newsprint to newspaper and magazine publishers all over the globe. But it never put the country on the global map. Over the last 15 years Nokia has changed all that. The world’s leading handset brand( though now fast losing ground) is now connecting the country to the rest of the world, literally and figuratively. A classic case of a brand building a nation.

I reckon there is a generous dose of overlap in this. But, what remains a huge motivation is the fact that little known, puny little countries have earned global respect and attention through the power of the brands they create in their home countries. The likes of a Samsung have fought deep rooted biases and prejudices and have shown to the world that a Korean brand can take on the very best(read Apple) head on and succeed significantly.

What’s BEST for brands?

 Brands are like people. Social. Emotional. Foolish. Smart. With a compelling need for appreciation, attention and what have you. Prone to tiredness, fatigue, despondency, disillusionment…aging, lethargy, lack of motivation, energy…the parallel to human traits is incredible. So can the treatment and the way we look after brands be any different? Can we give brand marketing a human touch?

IDEAS.STRATEGY.DESIGN Global (ISD Global) has created a methodology what they call is BEST for brands. The acronym BEST expands to Brand Energy Stimulation Treatment. Often times what we have noticed is that being in the rat race to be omnipresent, dominant and profitable, brands tend to ignore the finer nuances of continuing to evolve and stay up to speed of audience preferences. Look around and you will see a number of them having missed the wood for the trees. Sony, Microsoft, Nokia are some classic examples- though they do retain their iconic status to a reasonable level, they seem to have taken customers for granted not that the likes of Google, Samsung, LG etc are complaining. In an eco system where one needs to sprinting to be standing at the same place, looking back and masquerading in past glory was certainly not the route to take. But, alas, it was not to be!

So what is BEST actually? BEST is like a Spa treatment for brands. Its oxygenating brands, either in the form of a comprehensive cleanse up act or subtle tweaks to the brand personality to bring it back fresh and rejuvenated in front of customers. Make it feel wanted, more wanted, more desirable. Its sending out a signal both internally and externally that ‘ we care for our customers as much as we care for ourselves ‘. Its drawing upon universal scientifically proven energy stimulation methodologies and applying that to the brand domain. So a lot of what we speak about for BEST will also have to do with brand colours, identity shapes, position of signages, materials used for communication etc etc.

Why the need for BEST? We are in an environment that ironically straddles both deficit and surplus- deficit of trust, deficit of time, deficit of buying power and a surplus of products, surplus of expectations, a surplus of irrational exuberance, a surplus of disloyalty. Given such a scenario, brands need to remain on a state of high alert and give customers the love and respect it expects. Looking inward, introspecting is sine qua non for brands, a need of the times. In a soon to be 4G dominant, always on, always connected era, what is relevant in the morning seem to be obsolete by the same evening- the vagaries and the power of the social media system makes the transfer of power from the brands to the consumers, all pervasive, all encompassing, inescapable. Brands are watched, talked about, consumed, revered or trashed, every moment of the day and a live feed is available in real time all across for those who care. There are learnings and there are leanings, there are feelings and there are failings and the cloak of opaqueness has vanished into thin air.

So all those who come on board the isotonic brand wagon and stay energised, connected and wanted, we say Welcome Aboard. And to the rest, all the BEST.