This blog comes as a sequel to my previous one that was rather morbidly titled Death of a Brand. So, to maintain similarity, I start in a similar way as I did with the last blog. Which are some of the brands that you knew about growing up and they’re still there today. Let me think – a few that come to my mind instantly are Maggie (noodles), Maruti (Suzuki), Dettol (anti septic & soap) and Surf (washing powder). Why didn’t they perish like many others? What characteristics made them keep going over the past four decades. What did the owners of these brands do differently?
The very first thing is that they listened and adapted. If creating and launching a brand is tough, sustaining it is tougher. I argue that whenever a new brand is launched it is a mere name on a packaging. The early consumers don’t have a connection with any attribute of the new brand that they can link it to. Sure, if the parent company is a well known one it can create an expectation in the mind of the consumer but that can change by using the actual product. That’s why many companies take test marketing seriously, in that they do a tight launch without any publicity to speak of in a limited area of consumers. Collect feedback and improvise before they roll out on a large scale.
The different between any brand and a surviving brand is that the latter continuously does some form of test marketing, improvisation, and adaptation. And by doing so, over a period, they create a strong perception in the minds of consumers who then spread the word exponentially. So, even today if I buy a Suzuki car I know that I am assured of an economical ownership, a service centre anywhere in India and a decent resale value. This perception was not created within a few years, rather it took decades to get there including some models that didn’t sell well and had to be replaced by better looking & running cars.
Often, I have heard pundits exclaiming advertising is the key. You need to be visible. Only then you can hope to sell in volumes. I don’t entirely disagree or agree. Yes, advertisement & publicity is important, no doubt. Without it, no one outside of your company would know about your brand. But consider this: an average person sees anywhere between 4000 to 10000 ads in a single day. But we “notice” less than a 100 of them. In the 70s, a person saw only 500 to 1600 ads in a day (disclaimer: this study was conducted in America, so please take it with a pack of salt). My point, though, is that recall of advertisements whether visual or print is low. And therefore, I don’t agree with mass advertising. This brings me to my second point on revival of lagging brands – advocacy.
A satisfied customer is your biggest victory. And if such a customer is willing to speak a few words on his reason of satisfaction and if his words could be telecasted, it creates a huge impact. Today people need to hear stories that they can relate to. They don’t need to hear companies extoling the virtues of their own brands. For example: I would like to buy a brand of which I have heard something good from a person who is similar to me or his needs match that of mine. If it works for him, it should work for me too. Regrettably, very few brands invest in creating customer advocates. For those who use a brand because a famous celebrity endorsed it, know this: that celebrity couldn’t care a dogshit about the brand or you. They’re doing it to earn an income. If you buy that brand and not happy, the celebrity is not going to pay a visit to help you.
Lastly, change the rules of the game. Lagging brands can reverse their fortunes if they change the goal posts. Choose or develop an attribute that makes your brand standout a cut above the rest. Then, do everything possible to convey that attribute. Dalda was a brand whose name was generic in the vanaspati oil space back in the days. But it got passed over by scores of other brands. Recently, Dalda has made a comeback with the aim to make an appeal to a specific target group – younger housewives. The specific attributes were zero in cholesterol and contains Vitamins A, D & E that have nutritional benefits. The packaging too changed. The product now comes with informative packaging and is available in pouches, food grade plastics, bottles and jars.
Or, take the case of BSA Cycles. Who can forget the old advertisement with the iconic Kapil Dev cycling his BSA with bunch of excited kids. In time BSA’s equity got eroded beyond anything calculable. It was relegated to being an unknown brand struggling to compete in a cluttered, competitive marketplace. But then the owners of BSA, T I Cycles, reincarnated the brand. In the company President’s words, “We don’t sell cycles. We sell cycling.” Today BSA products are being promoted as a healthier option for kids (compared to Netflix or Netsurfing), an environment friendly option to adults. Simultaneously, it also began to work with dealers and started rolling out modern retail outlets. Dingy shops in congested places and poor display of models invariably meant that people ended up buying the wrong cycle, which contributed to poor satisfaction levels leading to people exiting cycles altogether. This was completed reversed by the company. Today, TI Cycles has 90 stores (BSA Go, Track & Trail, etc.) and over 240 Hercules BSA zones (shop in shop) inside major dealer outlets. They also decided to leverage its BSA and Hercules brands to a wider age group by venturing into fitness equipment and battery-operated e-bikes.
Continuous feedback & improvement, customer advocacy and attribute-based selling is what revives lagging brand. Time will tell whether Dalda, BSA and similar brands that were nearly wiped out will end up winning the race. But my point is no matter who you are or how bad the circumstances might get, you are never out of the fight. You just need to think out of the square and commit to the plan that you think can work.