07 Oct 2016 15:29 IST

WhatsApp with branding these days?

Many of the successful brands have broken the rules and adapted to changing times

At the turn of the century, several brands in the technology space began to make their presence felt. Branding, which at the time, had its tonality and paradigms set by the FMCG (fast-moving consumer goods) sort of offerings, was a science apparently in perfect equilibrium. Experts mused that these new upstarts would have to come around to the ‘standard branding perspective’ on things. Today these seem like famous last words.

It is quite paradoxical that the digital revolution has nudged brand thinking along more analog lines, in the sense of there being no exact and absolute truths anymore, and brand narratives being deciphered over a continuum of experiences. The art of branding, it seems, has been given a digital makeover, and all and sundry need to be tuned into this.

Nothing cast in stone anymore

Previously brands were created keeping decade-long perspectives in mind. In today’s over-cluttered marketplace, brands fight to be relevant on a daily basis. The very epitome of this constancy is the strict adherence to a brand logo, no matter what.

And yet Google has had a fascinating take on this over the years. Nearly every single day Google seems to change its garb, to assume the spirit of the moment. From sporting events to festivals, from celebrating famous people to landmark events, Google transmogrifies constantly to seek a local and topical connect. It is, perhaps ironically speaking, their eternal search.

Brands today need to have chameleon-like qualities. The ability to integrate seamlessly in diverse geographical and cultural markets, and become a part of the conversation, or better still lead it, is an invaluable one. This is why old principles need to be shed. There is no such thing which should be taboo. And there is very little which should be held absolutely sacred. The need to adapt on a daily basis is becoming increasingly important. And that entails a willingness to change. There is the old cliché, ‘change is the only constant’ (perhaps that in itself needs to change). But it does ring true for brands seeking to make the transition from stone-cast ideas to podcast-worthy recommendations.

Art of continuous conversation

NASA’s Scott Kelly spent close to a year in space recently. What hooked on an unprecedented level of people to his mission, making it a public event of sorts, was perhaps his daily Twitter feeds. He captured sunsets and sunrises from the space station. He had daily updates on how it was going. He sent back some breathtaking pictures of the earth from a truly distant perspective. Average folk all across the planet could feel a part of his journey, if they wanted to. He had made something considered nebulous distinctly relatable to his audience.

Luckily most brand storylines are not rocket science. That being said, there always is an opportunity to strike an ongoing conversation.

Gone are the days when brands could be purely transactional in their interactions with the consumers. These days brands need to excite, involve and at the very least entertain, even before the consumer reaches out for her purse. Often, they must continue to do so much after the purchase has been made. Brands need to go beyond the hygiene initiatives like wishing the consumer on their birthdays and on festivals. Digital media has offered the chance of building a cult citizenry hooked onto the ideology of the brand. And that is truly worth going to space and back for, in marketing terms.

Give yourself freely

Conventional branding wisdom advises one to never discount price, except in the case of very special circumstances. And yet where would Facebook, Gmail and WhatsApp (to name just three) be if they did not offer a zero-cost user experience? The multitudes of people across the planet, who religiously log on to these platforms on a daily basis, do present a compelling case for why marketers should never feel a pinch in pride while scrapping the ticket counter and opening their doors to the world.

Other means to keep the revenues going obviously have to be found. The idea is to look at the creation of a group of passionate evangelists as the primary asset-creating activity, and the profits will follow. This approach might find application in non-digital domains as well. The opportunity to offer a captive audience base to a partner or sponsor is a lucrative one, and this is just one option – there are several others geared to set the cash registers ringing. Just like in love, it pays to set the object of your attention free.

Strategic consultants advise companies to expand only in areas of their core competence, in a sense, stick close to the knitting. This means if one is in the field of heavy engineering, you could leave the balance sheet in tatters if you ventured into jeans.

Venture beyond

However, the exploits of Amazon have turned this wisdom on its head. What began as a bookstore is now a one-click-shop for just about everything. And that is going way beyond the book.

It is always imperative that custodians realise that brands are in a continuous process of evolution. What was once a primary strength; now needs to be built on, or completely discarded, to adapt to the changing market scenario. Darwin’s theory of evolution does emphatically show the balance of power can easily change. Something which was a competitive advantage once can be easily superseded by an evolutionary breakthrough, or a change in environmental conditions. Brands need to constantly innovate, reassess, retool and reposition, to survive in the harshest jungle of them all – the modern day marketplace.

In the end it’s true that some branding principles will always endure – the need to stand for something, the necessity to find insightful relevance in the life of the consumer and so on. But the digital wave which has swept the planet over the last decade has demanded that branding be viewed from a different screen, perhaps one with more vivid colours and graphics. It has entailed that a brand new thought process be downloaded in corporate board rooms.

(Vinay Kanchan is a brand ideation consultant and a trainer in the art of creative thinking)

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