15 October 2015 14:24:08 IST

Hero has not forgotten

So when you get to work on a brand in the not too distant future, ask yourself the question: What does this brand stand for?

A couple of days ago, I saw an ad that took me back in time. Some thirty-odd years ago. It was an ad for Hero Splendour with the magical, yet, old headline: “Fill it, shut it, forget it”, where the manufacturer claimed superior fuel economy, a claim they have been making since 1985. Incidentally, the brand claimed 102.5 kms per litre which has been refuted by its erstwhile partner Honda Motors.

But how did this platform of ‘fuel economy’ begin?

Let me take you back in time, to the year 1985, when I was a young account executive handling the IndSuzuki motorcycle account. (The brand later modified itself to become TVS Suzuki and even later to TVS Motor company). IndSuzuki had two principal competitors at that time – the Hero Honda CD100 and the Yamaha RX100. These were the new generation motor cycles that the young, middle-class Indian was newly experiencing after years of living in an economy hurt by scarcity.

The Hero Honda CD100 was a path breaking ad at that time .

It claimed 80-kms-per litre and took the market by storm. Though the TVS Suzuki management felt that four stroke engines would not make an impact on the market, the brand and the technology stormed the market.

Obsessed with fuel economy

It is this property of fuel economy that the brand has latched on to date.

India and Indians have always been obsessed with fuel economy.

We believe we are a prudent race and advertisers and advertising agencies have been quick to capitalise on this. I am sure you all remember the ads done by Maruti Suzuki in the passenger car segment of visitors to a luxury yacht and to the NASA centre where a typical Indian consumer asks “ Kitna Deti Hai? ”. ( Watch ad 2)

Own a word in the consumer’s mind

I know that management students like you, don’t have time to read books. I don’t blame you; for that as so much information is available online, a luxury that was unheard of when I was a management student.

Our only recourse to knowledge then was the library, though, in your case, despite the availability of eBooks, I must insist that you read this one book on marketing called Positioning, the battle for the consumer’s mind by Al Ries and Jack Trout.

The authors strongly advocate the owning of one word in the consumer’s mind that they associate with your brand, in their chapter titled: the law of the word is the car brand Volvo . Volvo strongly owns the word “ safety ” and this commercial highlights this feature.

Capturing the consumers psyche

Mind you, it is not like other cars are less safe. All cars have features which make them safe for driving. But Volvo through a combination of consistent communication has taken the safety slot in the consumer’s mind, much the same way as Maruti Suzuki and Hero Honda have taken the fuel economy slot in the Indian consumer’s mind.

Is it easy to do this? It is certainly is not easy to do this, otherwise more brands would be doing it. Even if you do it for a short period of time, the environment and competition could make you lose it. Volkswagen used to own the ‘ reliability’ platform' in the consumer’s minds and yet in the recent past it seems to have lost that position of eminence it had in the consumer’s mind.

So how do you compare this? Remember, that positioning is a competitive statement. It is your way of standing out from the other competitors in the same field. Carefully evaluate what the competition is saying and arrive at a position that is unique, distinctive and relevant to the consumer. Remember too that it has to be relevant to the consumer. Research can help you here. Remember too that the sharply positioned brands cannot be everything to everybody.

Positioning means sacrifice and when you take a stand you may actually put off certain sections of the market. Look at what this brand is doing - it is clearly targeting women and this may upset men. But it is a strategic choice .

And, finally, ask yourself the question: Can I realistically aspire for the position or is it already taken in the consumer’s mind. For years I used to argue with BPL that the technology platform would not work for it as when you asked the consumer which company stood for technology in TVs in the nineties they all said Sony.

So all the money BPL ended up spending on claiming that technology was their competitive edge was all in vain. Sadly, the realisation was a bit late in the day.

So when you get to work on a brand in the not too distant future, ask yourself the question: What does this brand stand for? If not what should it stand for?

And most importantly think long term.

To read more from the Third Umpire section, click here .