Marketing Idea No. 239 – Branding in wonderland

Brands always sell dream, aspiration and fantasy. But in the name of aspiration, what brands should not do is create a false sense of reality. FMCG companies are often guilty of doing that. No shampoo in the world probably can make a hair shine like that in normal circumstances, unless the lady model in question already possess nice silky coiffure,  the entire shampoo-ing process was closely monitored in a laboratory/beauty parlor type setting with extensive attention from a few beauticians and followed by close attention of a blow drier. Of course that part of the reality is never quite clear to general people. Does all the celebrity spokesperson who endorses the brand actually believe in the brand? Does Shahrukh Khan really believe Navratna powder is good enough for him to use? Because a brand has tested a product in laboratory setting and achieved certain standards, does that mean its good strategy to make a generalized quality statement like 99% dandruff will be cleaned and dandruff will never come back again?


Its not a question of ethics, because its well within the ethical standards. Its about making smart strategies. Most brands can never live up to such lofty standards that they claim. All the make up in the world probably won’t make most of us look like some of the models that showcase them in pictures. If that’s the case, shouldn’t there be a back lash from consumers at certain point of time? Isnt it obvious that consumers will stop believing in advertising?


If branding is indeed a long term game, what’s the point in making consumers feel they got the short end of the deal to gain ahead in short term? There is space for blunt honesty in branding. And Unilever through its massively successful “Campaign for Real Beauty” under its Dove brand has shown just that.

Marketing Idea No. 238 – To-Let:The absolute vacancy in marketing of truth, whole truth and nothing but the truth (Part 2)

What organizations should do is make a brand promise that they can exceed in delivery, and thus making it seem truthful, sincere and likeable. What they actually do is make lofty promises which they always fall short of. That’s where a little problem call over-promise and under-delivery comes in.


If you got it flaunt it. Even if you don’t got it, make a lot of noise so it seems that you actually got it. That’s pretty much sums up the way companies approach marketing. With our obsession to treat human beings as customers and solving problems as short terms sales, we forget that when you promise a tasty fried chicken and actually deliver a tasty fired chicken, the best possible outcome you can expect is customer satisfaction.


But satisfied customers are not loyal customers. Loyal customers come through constantly experiencing delight and delight comes when your brand delivers more than it promises. Its only when your promise a tasty fried chicken and provide a tasty fried chicken that also has health benefit and comes with free home delivery, that’s when you catch your customers off guard (in a good way), create word-of-mouth and eventually create brand fans.


So you should build an “over-deliver” and “under-promise” policy into everything you do. If you have 3 good things to say about your service, mention only one and let customer experience the other two. If you’re selling pencils, and promise that a pack contains 20 pieces, fill the pack with 22 pieces. The trick is not to say anything about it, but letting the consumers find out the surprise. LEGO is a brand that practiced this. LEGO packs used to contain extra bricks, because they found out that a lot of LEGO bricks get lost as children play with it. So being mindful of that particular bit of consumer information, they packed extra bricks which came as a surprise gift.


Marketing Idea No. 236 – Why every brand is trying to look youthful

There is a cycle at work here.

1. Brands start out by targetting a core group of customers

2. As the brand increases in awareness and popularity, it starts to appeal to mass consumers outside its core group of consumers

3. As the time goes by and the brand proposition looks increasingly generic and old fashioned, the brand upgrades its look & feel and try make itself look younger and cooler. 

4. As competition intensifies in their category, the brand understands that the only way to guarantee future growth is if they target young users.

Catch’em young and they will serve you for decades – that has been the mantra that brands live by. From Nescafe to Gap to Telenor – all brands upgraded their look & feel to make them more appealing to the 16-24 target segment. Disney just took the game even further. To prepare a new market for their products in an increasingly alien market like China, Disney has opened an English language teaching school in China which teaches chinese babies how to speak English by using cool Disney items (Mickey Mouse etc.) as props. To them, thats how you create a new market that futureproofs your business. 

But there are three interesting reverse trends and opportunities thats coming out of it. Marketers need to be careful of this youthful makeover trend as it works as a trap as well.

1. As all brands are upgrading their look and repositioning themselves for youth, the brands that remain consistent without going through changes might all of a sudden become very successful. In an increasingly uncertain and changing world, the brand that remains true to its core proposition, look and feel – can become the anchor of stability that consumers may end up liking. Amul can be a great example as the core look and feel of the brand stayed the same for a better part of 25 years.

2. As all brands appeal to youth, the ones that are targetting other segments (i.e. Corporate, Senior Citizens) might profit by focusing in a relatively uncluttered field. Harley Davidson is increasing their business by steadily focusing on the increasingly older Harley users. While the whole telecom market was looking at youth, Blackberry slowly created the smart phone platform by focusing on executives. 

3. As all brands try to attract youth by making their look and feel cooler; all brands may start to look pretty much the same; like all youth whose starting to look more or less the same with their messy hair-do, low cut jeans and converse snickers.

Marketing Idea No. 235 – The revised role of HR in business

Human Resources has often been one of the most misused and underutilized departments in an organization. Traditionally seen as nothing more than the guys who recruit and train people, HR executives are often subject to envy and ridicule. Envy, because they dont usually have the same revenue and profitability targets that sales, marketing, finance and operations guys have which keeps them up at night. Ridicule, because of pretty much the same reason. They dont have much of a role in company’s profitability. Hence they are often treated as second class citizen.

To change all of this, globally there has been a realignment and repositioning of HR roles. All top organizations have redefined the roles of HR from a support function to a business partnership function. The redefining is to ensure greater involvement and accountability of HR managers with business targets. Some of the traditional functions of HR has been outsourced to make HR managers focus on creating a culture that fosters delivery of brand promise and superior customer experience through superior organizational practices. Titles of HR Directors have become Chief People Officer and HR managers have become Business Partners.

In short, HR has been repositioned inside organizations as another growth gene in the corporate DNA. We just have to wait and see how this repositioning benefits organizations.

Marketing Idea No. 233 – He loves the product. He loves it not

Unlike almost all relationships in the world, marketers should preferrably have a love hate relationship with their product / service.

If its all love, then it clouds marketer’s judgement. As marketers, we are obsessed with out product and as a bi-product of that obsession, we feel our consumers care about our product so much (just like us marketers do) that they literally sleep with our brand, dream about our brand and cant wait to think about our brand again when they wake up. But the truth is, consumers couldnt care less. To them, they are a solution to one of his problems ( and he has many many other problems which none solves for him) and he couldnt care less. As marketers we love our product so much, that at times we dont find any fault with it, even when its as clear as daylight (Ask Kodak, IBM!). We are more in love with the past glory of the product and our personal association with that glory attached with the product’s past. And our love sometimes for our product is so devoted and blind that we cannot let go, even when common sense tells us the demise of this particular product is probably makes more sense than anything.

Thats why blind love between marketers and product is a dangerous proposition.

But in the same way, marketers shouldnt dislike their product. If the marketer has no confidence in the product and if he personally doesnt feel that this is a game changing, fantastic product / service, no amount of creative advertising, media budget and cash discount can make that product a winner. If you are not convinced, none else will.

Thats why there should be a verty delicate and complex relationship between the product/service and marketer. He should have enough faith in the product to continue the loving and nurturing relationship of building that product. Also, that devotion should never turn into blind love that clouds judgement and makes him think about the product and product only, not about how its solving customers problems.

Marketing Idea No. 232 – Marketing lessons from law firms of the world

There is probably one lawyer joke that was born every minute in comedy clubs and internet before the recession hit us. But interestingly post 2008, the number of lawyer jokes circling the system has gone down quite a but.

This small anecdote shows two things. On one side is the huge size and revenue of legal business, particularly in USA, which is by far the biggest legal market in the world. At one point from 1978 to 2004, the legal business in USA grew more than 4 times the size of economy and it used to represent 1.8% of total consumer spending. But the other side of the story shows that just like every other business, recession was not particularly kind of legal business. The revenue of the top 100 law firms went down 4.3% in 2008 and only went up by .3% in 2009.

That of course is not the lesson. The lesson to learn here is which law firms are particularly doing well even during and post recession and why.

Lesson 1: Go global before everyone else

Baker & McKenzie, the biggest law firm in the world in terms of revenue, has opened its office in Latin America in the 195os and in mainland China in 1993

Lesson 2: Specialize

Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz is the most profitable law firm in the world by focusing on only one kind of business – merger and acquisition

Lesson 3: Keep your cost down

DLA Piper is another law firm that serves clients in 19 countries but despite being a prestigious american firm they operate from cheaper cities to keep the overhead cost down.

Marketing Idea No. 231 – Dont be a one trick pony like Microsoft and Google

Sometimes the biggest enemy of sustained success is overnight success. Just ask former superstars like Microsoft, IBM and Google.

Microsoft was once the standard for anything to do in technology sector. But since the glory days of PC, Microsoft has gone through an endless cycle of failed products (Zune) and services (IP TV). After the all conquering innovation of Windows operating system, Microsoft has failed to come up with the next big thing that can sustain the fantastic growth that they are known for. Microsoft stock has not increased at all in the last 10 years, at a time when S&P has outperformed Microsoft stock many a times. Even with their tie-up with Nokia for mobile platform and their 8.5 billion dollar buy out of Skype, the future is looking anything but fantastic for Micorsoft.

Think Google. Yes they are still the darling of silicon valley and the blue eyed boy of Wall Street. But a current research shows that since the search engine, Google has not really come up with any new ground breaking innovation. The cash generating Adsense is something they acquired. They even acquired the popular services like Google maps, Youtube etc. None of these are home innovations, which goes to show the same problem that is crippling Microsoft – they are failing to come up with the next big thing. Google could have gone big in social network. Back when Mark Zuckerberg was still toiling with his novel concept of Facebook, a google engineer called Orkut came up with a social network platform called Orkut. For some odd reason, Google failed to see the potential of a social network. Thats why they didnt believe in the product and Orkut failed to receive the attention and the money that it required.

The lesson is simple. Dont fall in love with your innovation so much that you fail to see the expiry date. The best time to come up with the next big thing is when you are on the high. And dont be a one trick pony.