Why a brand fails to connect?

Hunger Ki Bajao… a brand of instant soup screams, with weird, absolutely artificial and contrived expressions on the faces of the models, in the advertisements and on the packs of the soup, showing their excitement.

Even though it is a very vocal and noisy campaign, appearing on the pages of prominent metro newspapers  and billboards, the campaign is missing out on the opportunity to connect with the customer group it is targeting the brand to.

1) The advertisements assume that the target customer group, the busy people who don’t have time to go for an alternative to satisfy their hunger, will have all the time to read their elaborate copy of situations where their instant soup can be a ready alternative… This is counter intuitive, if not foolish. Some primary study on the lifestyle and habits of the target group can help avoiding such mistakes.

2) Many of the situations mentioned in the advertisements assume that even when you don’t have access to any other food items or cooking apparatus, you WILL have access to boil water, a necessity to use this soup. At least some realistic thought on the scenarios in which it can be used, could have avoided such silly presumption.

3) For most of the people in this country, hunger is a stark, obstinate and undesirable reality, which cannot be beaten away by mimicking the open mouths of those overzealous models. If it was so easy to Bajao of hunger, so many governments of our country should abandon all other poverty alleviation programmes and distribute instant soup packs to all and sundry who are hungry. There cannot be a more cruel example of making fun of the dirty realities of the lives of people who may not be our target group, but nonetheless who see our campaigns and feel even more isolated from the mainstream of life.

A brand fails to connect when it fails to communicate responsibly. We have to pay the price for irresponsibility.

Avoid falling prey to Me-Too Branding

It is that time of the year when all streets across Mumbai are bidding farewell to Ganpati Bappa and urging Him to come again next year. The traditional religious festival is known for the innovative ways in which the organizer Mandals of various pandals across the city decorate the venues and the ways the idol is made or decked up with an innovative variety of things. But since last few years we can see that it is also witnessing some me-too branding exercises.

Among all the pandals across the city, Ganpati idol at Lalbaug in Mumbai is the most famous for its stature, grandeur and its grand final journey. Fittingly, that Ganpati is called Lalbaug Cha Raja. This King of all the idols is known to fulfill one’s wishes and people throng to have His Darshan even after waiting in queues for hours. Every year, it is visited by millions of people including celebrities and it draws a lot of media attention also.

Lured by the publicity that Lalbaug Cha Raja gets, organizer Mandals of many other Ganpati pandals started renaming their venues such as Chembur Cha Raja, Irla Cha Raja, Kandivli Cha Raja etc. This trend has gone to such an extent, that now the smallest lanes and housing complexes have renamed their venues as XYZ Road Cha Raja and ABC Society Cha Raja. Other than the similarity of the name, there is hardly anything comparable to the original Raja. Even though these Organizer Mandals have no commercial interests of brand building, they provide an excellent example of how a lot of MeToo brands spring up surrounding a success story.

In an example of similar MeToo Branding tendencies, we can see many Saree or Jewellery showrooms copying their names behind some successful one. In character, these MeToo sound-alikes have almost no match with their iconic ideal brand whom they aspire to emulate.

The biggest example of Me-Too branding or the tendency of piggybacking on anything popular is Bollywood, named after Hollywood. Without realizing the basic character of the institution, media and some people coined an easy copycat name and we all now take it easy when our films and music are ‘inspired’ by their original overseas icons. In the scale, originality and technicality, Bollywood is a poor match to Hollywood.

Branding is all about creating and occupying a unique place in the minds of the target audience. Uniqueness is the foundation on which a brand stands. By trying to piggyback on some popular brand, we may get some cheap and early recognition, but eventually, the differences will crop up and the expected advantage will backfire.

The brand should create and build its own identity. Me-Too branding weakens our brand’s image.

Copying some popular brand name is as thoughtless as naming our son Sachin assuming that he, too, will grow up and become as famous as a legend like the master blaster Sachin Tendulkar.

The fundamental fabric of the brand’s identity must be woven thread-by-thread through some creative, innovative and original thinking. Then only it will last longer than the Chinese counterfeits of more popular products.

I conclude with one of my own favorite quotes : “It is easy to compare, it is difficult to be comparable.”

Be original.

Are we shattering our customers’ dreams?

A friend was thinking of buying a new car. One day, he and his son went to see the new cars available in the showrooms. They had shortlisted three brands and  visited the three car company dealer showrooms. At each, they understood about various models available within their budget and took a test drive.

When they visited the first showroom, they rejected that brand out of their consideration list of three brands, due to one small but unsavory incident. It went like this.

They had discussed the various models, variations, prices and even took a test drive. It took them one good hour. In the end, they wanted to see a brand new car of their desired model with a specific color. The salesman willingly showed them the new car kept for display. They were very happy with everything including the price, and almost started dreaming of owning the car. While they were leaving, the son remarked “The interior of this car is very good.” To which the salesman said, “Yes, they are tailor made.” Further inquiry revealed that the car shown on display was not the standard model with accessories listed in the brochure, but with a lot of customized add-on, which costs at least one lakh rupees, not anywhere mentioned in the brochure and also not informed by the salesman throughout this one-hour interaction with them. He disclosed it only when asked. The incremental cost was prohibitive for them and they had to leave leaving their dream behind.

At other two showrooms, they were shown new cars as they were described in the brochure. That made a lot of things easier to decide. They appreciated the business practices of these other two car dealers in contrast to the earlier one.

We all may have come across incidents where we had to pay some “hidden costs” which we were never aware of or were never told of. Such things happen when we are on tours and we are more vulnerable. At such times, we don’t have much choice than to pay up.  It creates very bitter word of mouth publicity and damages the brand reputation irreparably. But when the customer has yet to make a choice, such incidents result in direct loss of sales and our credibility.

Customers are delighted when they get more than they expected. And they get equally disappointed whey we shatter their dreams. Nobody likes people who show them the dreams and then increase the cost of realizing them. Dreams are too precious to be broken by bad marketing. Specially if they belong to our customers’ eyes.

Marketing lesson from Salman Khan movies

Wanted, Dabangg, Ready and then Bodyguard. Salman Khan is THE star of Bollywood. Invincible.  Giving hits after hits. Why is nobody else able to match his winning streak?

As I understand, producers who are making films starring Salman Khan have identified a huge target customer segment unattended by many others. Other huge stars like Shah Rukh Khan, Aamir Khan, Hrithik Roshan are being cast into films which are ‘meaningful’ i.e. they have either some message or issue to talk about, or are based on some historical figure or event. These films make sense to only a part of the film-viewing audience – the people who are intelligent, are aware of or are concerned about  such issues. These intelligent people also have access to other modes of entertainment and films are not the only thing they spend their time or money on.

In contrast, Salman Khan movies can be watched keeping your brain aside. In fact, you may get a headache if you ‘think’ while watching them. Here, the traditional Indian hero comes alive, who can do anything. Nothing is impossible for him. And such fantasies are still in high demand in a very large audience base, who go to movies purely for entertainment, to run away from dark and unpleasant realities of life. They do not go to movies to think over some issue. They don’t wish to waste their scarce intelligence on a film. Also, they don’t have access to a wider range of entertainment options as others may have. So, they throng to cinemas, watch with awe and admiration Salman doing silliest things and clap and whistle on every cheesy line that he may speak. Everything that he does may be predictable and repetition from all his past films, but these people don’t mind all that. In fact, they relish it. Where the ‘meaningful’ cinema watcher will not be able to sit through the film for those 2.5-3 hours even if he gets a free ticket, these fans go to watch it multiple number of times buying their tickets.

Salman Khan gives aspirations to a huge number of Indians, who were earlier entertained by heroes like Mithun Chakraborty or Govinda. After them, this place was vacant. Salman Khan has occupied that slot just in time.

In the volume game where only numbers matter, target the customers who are large in numbers and are aspiring to move up in life. Make a product which suits their taste. It need not be a quality product. But remember, not all want quality. They will come and pay for watching somebody doing all things they dream to do but can’t do in life themselves.

Nobody may understand why, but it will sell like a hot cake. Just like Salman Khan films, not much brain is to be used in understanding this.

Poor execution can waste big money spent on PR

Last Sunday, a doctor friend of mine was invited to an Exclusive Seminar by an equity investment broking firm, to educate them about their premium products for HNI (High Networth Individual) clients. It was a privileged invitation and only a selected number of successful doctors were invited to the seminar, she was told. The selected venue also was a posh new banquet hall which had great interiors and equally great food. They had arranged for a great musical evening following the seminar. The firm took extra care to make her feel special and confirm her participation.

Her experience was far from special. Here is what spoiled her evening and her opinion for the firm that invited her :

1) On Sunday she reached the venue, sharp at appointed 4 pm, only to discover that the main hall on the first floor was jam packed, the event had already started and there were no seats available. Finally, she was taken to the second floor where they had arranged a screen display through live camera coverage of the event from the first floor.

2) The sound on this floor was too loud and the AC was too chilling. She requested some attendants there to correct the volume and the cooling, but they refused to act saying “If somebody from hosts tell us, then only we can do it.” And, all the hosts were busy on the first floor…!

3) The great “musical evening” turned out to be a solo performer crooning some old songs while playing audio tracks on his laptop. After 1-2 songs, it became unbearably boring. She got up to leave. On her way down, some executives spotted her and requested her to stay till dinner was served.

4) She waited till 8.00 pm and finally went to the dinner counters. From there she was sent back and told to come at 8.30, because ‘hosts’ had not yet given green signal to start serving dinner.

5) Finally, when the flood gates were opened at 8.30, she saw a long queue at the dish counters, going down from second floor to all the way on the ground floor…! She could see the hard struggle by the guests for getting food items. There was no space for 650 ‘special’ guests to eat simultaneously at this ‘exclusive’ event…! She could not understand what was exclusive in this event ?

6) Annoyed and angry, she returned from the event without eating and decided not to entertain any offers from this broking firm.

We may spend lakhs of rupees to woo HNI clients by holding exclusive events. And then also invite all-and-sundry, because we could not say ‘no’ to anybody. Then we subject them to tortures of various types and make them stand in queues and struggle for food. Which HNI client would come to us?

If we want ‘exclusive’ clients on our list, we should learn to execute better. Grand strategies on paper fail, when execution on ground is weak. It is not rocket science, it is pure common sense.

BIG reasons of Big Bazaar’s success

Sometimes accused of being a Wal-Mart wannabe, Big Bazaar is surely not a Desi copying an Angrez for sure. It has received great success on its own steam and can be called our own home grown “India’s Wal-mart”, even though the comparison is out-of-place and unnecessary. 

How could Future Group’s Big Bazaar achieve what many Angrez companies still dream to do…? There are some very good reasons and learning lessons for all those who aspire to earn from the buying potential of swelling middle class of India.

1) Big Bazaar has given freedom of choice to those who did not have it in their life
Big Bazaar’s founder Kishore Biyani has popularized the very logical categorization of India in 3 divisions. India-1 is the Upper middle class, about 14% of the population that is the actual consuming class. Serving to this India-1 is India-2, forming about 55% of the country’s population. These are drivers, peons, cleaners, maid servants etc. etc. who have very meager salaries and live a hand-to-mouth existance. The third part is the balance 31% of India-3, which is struggling for the existence.

The Kirana shops which sell goods, do not offer the choice, ambience, service and of course the discounts Big Bazaar offers to customers. You imagine going to your nearby friendly grocer to buy a toilet soap. He will ask you “Which one do you want?”. If you know, you get what you what. But, if you want to know how many new brands, types, sizes are there to choose from, grocer will not be very happy to tell you or show you all this. Such situation is even worse for those from India-2. They are not treated very well if asked such questions or trying to get more information, trying to get a ‘choice’.

Big Bazaar gave them choice. A freedom to choose. It offers a very wide range of goods required for daily needs. You can have a look, touch and feel them, compare and then decide to buy. With the plethora of FMCG items occupying the shelves of stores, such choice is really convenient and facilitating the buyers. This choice, I think, is one very important reason for Big Bazaar’s success.

2) Big Bazaar connects with the masses effectively
The communication of brand Big Bazaar is sharply focused and to-the-point. Big Bazaar talks in local language. Observe Big Bazaar’s communication.

  • “Isse Sasta Aur Accha Kahin Nahin”
  • “Saal Ka Sabse Sasta Din”
  • “Hafte ka Sabse Sasta Din”
  • Sell your Bhangar at great rates”
  • “Purana Do Naya Lo… Badal Dalo”
  • Stall ke Bhaav Balcony
  • Chane ke Bhaav Kaju
  • Paise Jodo Kaam Aayenge

All this smart communication has worked wonders. Today also, you observe any of the advertisements of Big Bazaar competitors. Their tag lines are still in English. This Angrez attitude does not connect with Indians. Big Bazaar has understood it clearly and others have not yet woken upto this simple fact, giving Big Bazaar a clear, distinctive position in customer’s mind. Big Bazaar is perceived as a store which knows India and Indians well. Its communication has been successful in achieving this objective.

3) Big Bazaar has understood its target customer very well
If you go to a super store in any mall, we may find some very smart boys and girls greeting us. This may be good for some, but people like me sometimes get frightened by these fine and smart people, because they are so much better looking than me. They speak so much better than me. They are dressed much better than me. I get put off by all this and hence avoiding such stores who have very smart people greeting me. At Big Bazaar, the staff is helpful, but not overtly smart. You don’t get frightened by their style. This is very practical. The customer coming to Big Bazaar is of the middle class If they are greeted by people smarter than them, they feel uncomfortable. So, Big Bazaar has ensured that customers are not made to feel small by overbearing staff members. This is one very smart strategy of Big Bazaar and it reflects its deep understanding of the customer psyche.

4) Big Bazaar has understood changes reshaping India very well
With increasing urbanization, more and more people are migrating to cities from villages. In villages, there are no big stores, but in nearby towns there are weekly ‘mandi’ e.g. Somwaari Bazaar, Budhwaaar Bazaar, Ravivaar Bazaar etc. In such mandi set up, one gets to look, see, touch  and feel all the ware that is for sale. This is what the village customers are habituated to do. When they come to cities, they had to buy from small kirana shops, where the goods were not displayed freely. They had to ask for what they want and get away from there. Big Bazaar recreates that mandi environment for them. It gives them the same open display of all that is available, and that too, in elegant, clean, air conditioned ambiance with helpful staff to support the customer.. And I think, this is profoundly important from a customer’s point of view. The current demographic shifts happening in India are understood very well by Big Bazaar and are implemented profitably.

The mythical 50 Crore Indian middle class is a part of many smart projections of world leader retail giants willing to enter India. But, Kishore Biyani and Big Bazaar have succeeded in getting to the true understanding of Indian middle class. This a very important learning lesson for all those who wish to succeed in retail in India.

Why products fail?

It is not rocket science to understand why products fail. Good or bad products can be identified by the quality of their advertisement campaigns. These days, an advertisement of a chewing gum is appearing on TV. It promotes the chewing gum that can help you take fast decisions and make smart choices. This is a perfect example of a mediocre advertisement. There is nothing good about the TVC. The theme is outright downmarket and dirty. The cast is of that calibre only. The storyline is also very very distasteful. It cannot be worse. The advertisement is showing three teenager boys ogling at titillating film posters or some real girls partying or taking a swim in a pond. The whole idea is horrible distasteful. First of all, the boys are shown of very tender age. No parent would like to see the advertisements like this along with their teenagers.It is utterly disgusting, to say the least.

The production quality of the advertisement is also very poor. The voice over is so unclear that the name of the product cannot be heard. Same is with the visual of product logo. Even after seeing the advertisement for 10-15 times, you may not understand what is the NAME of the product….!

Looking at the advertisement, you may feel that mediocrity works in groups. The product, the marketing and the advertising team all have proved that mediocre people find each other and produce mediocrity with zeal.

And to top that, one music channel had that product as sponsor of today’s Valentine’s Day… One more mediocre adding itself to the gang….!

No wonder, mediocre products fail. And I must say, they must. Miserably…Even if they are made by great companies. Finally, great companies also have mediocre people occupying privileged positions on its desks. I wish the good sense prevails in the company.