Category Archives: Branding

Defining who we are!

Brand Your Business Model

Recently, while working closely with a startup help build their brand, a series of interesting revelations about the company and business model came to light. In one of the exercises, we sought to help define the brand purpose. The brand purpose; for those new to the concept, is an idea in branding which aims at helping brands define what they stand for and their place in the world. It has largely been inspired by this interesting talk by Simon Sinek:

But here’s what most I find most organisations, or branding exercises miss out on when trying to define their purpose: They build their ‘Why’ independently of their ‘How’ 

I find that the brand’s purpose or reason to be is not authentic, honest or real if it is not reflected in how you do things. If your brand’s place in the world is completely different from your competition, then certainly you would be doing something different from your competition too, wouldn’t you? So why then, would you stop your brand idea at the ‘Why’? A lot of new successful brands actually have an interesting business model at their heart, but fail to bring this to light.

AirBnB, I find, is a brand that’s doing this right. The AirBnB is brand created around the idea of belonging:

But without its business model, and the true nature of what the company delivers, this idea is nothing but an empty brand purpose without meaning of tangible delivery.

I find that startups would find success if they define their purpose: this helps align the team to a greater objective, instead of being lost with the many operational nightmares of the startup life. But at the same time, they must look at linking this closely with how they actually do things, and a unique and differentiated business model is a great way to make this authentic and tangible.


To Have Or To Be: Social

If we believe that brands can be human, then by extension the human sciences can teach us a lot about how brands behave. Or should behave. Philosophy; I find, has several answers to the problems that brands face. One idea that I think is particularly relevant was explored by Erich Fromm in his book “To Have Or To Be?” (Fromm also has a book “On Being Human” which also holds several introspections for the humanness of brands)

In “To Have Or To Be?” Fromm suggests a premise that humans have two states of life: the having mode, and the being mode. He explores in depth the two states and their effect on the quality of our lives and relationship with the world. Briefly, the two states are:

The having mode: “In the having mode of existence my relationship to the world is one of possessing and owning, one in which I want to make everybody and everything, including myself, my property.”

The being mode: “In the being mode of existence, we must identify two forms of being. One is in contrast to having … and means aliveness and authentic relatedness to the world. The other form of being is in contrast to appearing and refers to the true nature, the true reality, of a person or a thing in contrast to deceptive appearances as exemplified in the etymology of being”

I think there are several areas of branding where this idea of having or being can be applied, but I’d like to start with how this affects a brand’s view on and use of social media.

Social media, in my opinion, is a tool for something that people always needed: belonging. It simply gives a place for people to engage and interact with each other. An online bar of sorts. By extension, a friend of yours who is boring in a bar, is going to be boring on Facebook too. So why should we view social media as being different from just being social!? People who are inherently social, don’t have a “social media strategy”. They’re just themselves, but online.

If we were to extend Fromm’s two modes to brands on social media, we would have two types of brands: Brands that have social, and Brands that are social. 

Brands that have social are by nature hoarders. They talk about “What are we going to do online?”, or “How do we engage with our audience?”, and often the answers to these questions seem almost unnatural to these brands. These brands seek to measure the quantity and quality of their social presence: with a primary goal of increasing social media presence. While there is nothing wrong with measuring presence, it must not be the sole driver of what brands should do online. This brand personified, in a bar, would probably be clueless about what to say to people around but would focus on how many people he/she could impress. Nobody wants to “engage” with someone arrogant, defensive, unapologetic or even trying-to-please-everyone. (Of how many social media failures does this sound familiar?)

On the other hand, brands that are social, will extend themselves more naturally to social media. Without even trying. They’re the friends in the bar whose company you enjoy. Whether it was before social media or after social media, Coca-Cola has always been about bringing people together. Coca-Cola (among other brands) is in the state of being social. It finds it easy to integrate itself into conversations, situations that people are really involved with because being social is core to who the brand is. A “social media strategy” for such brands is easy to define, because these brands are inherently social. 

In this era of social media proliferation, brands must not define a social media strategy outside of their brand strategy. Rather, if social media is so important to the brand, they must define the brand in a way that it is social by nature, or that a part of the brand’s identity extends itself to being social. 

Your Customers Don’t Care

Another irrational behaviour of people is that we feel we are being noticed. In a sea of people, we feel conscious of our behaviours, because we have a feeling of “being watched”.  Truth is, nobody cares. Everyone is busy doing what they are doing, and unless you do something really interesting (or stupid), nobody takes notice.

The same is true for marketers, who believe that their customers are genuinely interested in their brands. The truth is, they’re really not. They’re thinking about their careers, families, pets, vacations and other more important things. Your brand, actually doesn’t feature in their lives.

Source: Tom Fishburne, Marketoonist

This really comes through a lot in how we approach brand management, as marketers who make this assumption always refer to “their consumers” as a group of people who are eagerly awaiting the brand’s next move. This is one; among other, sure shot ways to failure.

The key to truly understanding customers, and getting their attention must begin with the assumption that they are going to ignore you. Next up, ask yourself what is truly interesting and attention worthy: this is not just a matter of communication or brand messaging (Old Spice, for instance), but of remarkable product delivery too (Dyson, being a case in point)

Brands today, live in an economy of attention. We are each vying for a momentary attention of our consumers, divided between a plethora of brands and media. The only way to get their attention is to be truly note-worthy.

The Only Thing To Fear, Is Fear Itself

Picture Credity: Svetlana Belyaeva Photography

Picture Credity: Svetlana Belyaeva Photography

Yesterday, I was lucky to be part of something very interesting.

After moderating an exhaustive brand exploration exercise with the founders of a new startup, a moment of silence settled in the room. A good silence. “This is scary”, said one of the founders. “We’ve been so busy with getting things done, with facing so many little challenges, that we forgot about this.”

Starting any new activity: a company, a new habit, a book, a blog, a job search is a lot of work. And it is easy to get lost in the long list of tasks that need to be done in order to make it happen. When we start we always have a big idea, but it is easy to forget the great big idea when you have to handle daily tasks to make it happen. And that’s ok.

But it is good to be reminded of the great big idea too. Not only to remind others why you are here. But to remind yourself.

And if that great big idea doesn’t scare you, then it won’t inspire you. If you are comfortable with a small vision, then nobody will notice it. Don’t ever start small, because there’s no place for small dreams and vision in the world. Start big, and take little steps everyday to make it happen.


On Brands Being Human

Very often in the business of branding we talk about several ideas and concepts that explore the idea that brands can be human.

We have projection techniques in consumer research that helps consumers understand our brands. We have brand archetypes that help us define them, and we use words like “identity”, “personality”, “tone of voice”, “philosophy” and “purpose” in helping define our brands. I do believe that this is one of the most versatile and powerful ideas in branding, as it allows us to make a lot of difficult concepts easy to understand and also gives us a clarity on what we set out to achieve.

But I also believe this is the most abused concept in brand building.

In sticking with the analogy of people, the reason is simple: The most interesting humans are not those who define who they are and then shove their values and personality down the throat of the people around them. They define who they are, and live by those values. And that’s certainly something that brands can learn from people.

So, the next time you are making your marketing plans or brand campaigns, don’t seek to remind people what your values are. Rather, seek to live by them in everything you do so that your audience can understand it for themselves.

Where Is The Brand Value?

Throughout my MBA I always had one question in Finance and Accounting related classes: “Where is the brand value?” As someone who believes in the value of brand building, I was also asked the same question by my peers: “Where is the brand value? And if you can’t show it, why should we spend money on it?” Sadly, my rudimentary knowledge of Finance and Accounting did not come to the rescue. Today; I am glad to say, I have an answer:

The brand value is in there. Everywhere. And this fascinating answer comes from none other than Aswath Damodaran.

To help elaborate on (and to possibly help my peers in the branding business justify themselves) where exactly the brand value is reflected in the income statement, I’ve made my own simple version of an income statement.  These include some notes of where the value of a powerful brand is reflected in your (or, our clients’) income statement:
Where Is The Brand Value?

My plea to those in the business of brand building: Understand this, as it helps us help our clients. My plea to those in management: Understand this, as it helps you make more informed decisions.

So, having understood this, I have one question for all non-believers: Now, is brand building an expense, or an investment?

The Illusion of Busyness

I believe there are several peculiarities in human behaviour that percolate into management. Besides irrationality, I’ve also been curious about the illusion of busyness. This idea has been discussed several times, often as a plague of modern work culture. This article from Slate suggests that “Busyness is a virtue, so people are terrified of hearing they may have empty time. It’s like being told that you’re obsolete.”

This behaviour is also reflected in managers who are constantly doing things for their company, brand or project. The flaw of this habit is simple: you’ll only get to the wrong place faster, by going wholeheartedly into something that could be wrong.

Annual plans, quarterly plans and company strategy are perhaps made with this in mind: to take a step back and have a long term view on any project but I find that with time, these too become mere operational necessities and one among many things that need to get done.

The trick is to slow down. A clarity on long term future (and more importantly the ability to get there) only needs the answer to two basic thoughts:

1. Who we are: This seemingly simple question is one to easily get wrong, while a lot of companies wrongly define the business they are actually in; a lot of mismanagement ensues. The key rests in identifying the value any pursuit creates, rather than the output it creates. Innocent smoothies are a case in point.


2. Where we want to go: Very often wrongly defined as the financial motive of a company, there has to be more to this. It is a vision that doesn’t just align what we want to achieve financially, but also intangibly. It is a definition of our legacy, not our success. Nike gets it right!

Nike Mission

How we get there (or strategy as the presentations would say) is simply the shortest line between these two points.