Posted on 25-05-2014
Filed Under (BUSINESS) by Shombit

From Discomfort Zone column by Shombit Sengupta in Financial Express and Indian Express

In nearly 300 years of invention, failure and fine-tuning, the brand has put in place some real value in products and services for customers. The exceptional way the world has changed in the last 20 years is incomparable to transformations in the last 3 centuries. The biggest disruption has been the breaking of frontiers among countries, enabled by digital technology.

This colossal phenomenon brought in a new language in the social context in total discord with three preceding centuries. We just cannot look at the brand today as we did traditionally. It’s most critical aspect now is to deliver quality that customers want. Unless the brand creates friendship with the customer, there’s little chance of its survival in the market. Why is that?

Quadra orbit of human friendship: In this third part of my Brand Friendship series continued from my last two weeks’ columns, let me explain by first tracing our social inclination. By nature, human desire has a cyclic logic of friendship. It is surrounded with trust, functional need and emotion. These drive a quadra orbit of human friendship comprising happiness, love, work and the social context where these attributes flourish, and which cannot be dislocated.

Happiness is what people desire most in life at any age. It extends to love in multiple senses. From livelihood to lifestyle, work embeds life, the struggle to achieve. All of this functions in a social paradigm of cocooning collectiveness. Working in an environment of shared trust through caring, sharing and understanding elevates us towards the human desire for happiness.

This positive social system forms the business foundation on which we build up awareness and over time, befriend brands. Take the example of how possessing a musical record, CD, DVD or book is not the trend anymore. The urge to possess these products is diminishing. You’ll find even their physical points-of-purchase, the brick-and-mortar stores, are closing. Everything is getting Internet cloud driven for the purpose of using and sharing. With no individual desire to possess, it is evident that a brand can stick to the customer’s mind like a friend socially does only through Brand Friendship, and not through commercial transactions.

Brand is a social being: In fact in my 1994 book Art of the Brand, I’d written that brands have a role to act as social beings. A few months ago in the French countryside I experienced exactly how a brand can become social. Opposite the entrance of a hypermarket called Super U, I saw a life-size sculpture of a cow with an indication arrow saying, "Get fresh cow milk." A vending machine outside the store dispensed fresh milk from cows in nearby villages 24 hours / 7 days a week. Freshness is assured, farmers replenish milk twice a day. Delivery is automated and hygienically superior. An adjacent machine has different sized bottles for holding quantities of 20 cl, ½ litre, 1 and 2 litres.

I found this was Super U’s superb way of developing Brand Friendship with customers, even by offering 4 quantity options. It’s not about differentiation, but brand distinction. With modern digi-tech, you get fresh cow milk the way a milkman used to bring it directly from the farm, not industrially processed as milk generally is in developed countries. This is an example of how digi-tech power can silently enable the customer to enjoy genuine, fresh, local farmland experience.

Inventors created branding culture: Both in Europe and America, commercial branding culture originated with inventors who wanted to protect their inventions. They used the trademark as commercial power. Brand history shows that only when customers experience enough distinction in the knowhow of a product or service, will they pay premium for the brand. Such brands deliver better profit for the company. Trading of available market products and stamping them as brands is not considered branding. Instead such stamping makes the brand quotient vulnerable.

Self-help brands: With the birth of King Kullen, the world’s first supermarket invented by American Michael Cullen in 1930s, branding underwent another stage. The self-help purchase pattern of supermarkets brought an era of disruption worldwide. Behavioural and consuming pattern changed with the joy of shopping freedom. The brand had to become a self-selling provocation at the point-of-purchase.

With no behind-the-counter retailer to advice on products, brand communication in packaging had to incorporate all details. Shoppers now have the choice of multiple brands in the same category, so commercial self help branding had to be created for their liberalized shopping behavior. Brands in every category have to perform, from innovation to quality distinction translated as brand communication because shoppers make their purchase choice in a matter of just a few seconds. Simultaneously, the brand had to create strong friendship with retailers and distributors to get the right retail visibility. If your brand can create strong friendship with the trade, it will obviously have a rub-off effect, thus creating Brand Friendship with shoppers.

Metaphoric magnifying devices to create Brand Friendship: Past centuries, even past decades, have not faced this onslaught of everyday changing phenomenon that has overshot the invisible boundaries of imagination. Only social aspects can shape your business now; nothing exists outside social magnification. To keep your business up and running you need to use 3 metaphoric devices at the same time, the microscope, binoculars and telescope.

The microscope will magnify the incoherence between your enterprise brand and customers in the competitive environment so you can take short-term actions to reduce risks. Simultaneously, the binoculars will close the gap between your midterm goals and their implementation. Looking through the telescope, your long-term vision will come closer towards planning and execution. These 3 metaphoric magnifying instruments bring you customer proximity for Brand Friendship in the short, mid and long term. Don’t forget to put the Brand Friendship element in your product, point-of-purchase and in disruptive, unconventional communication so that the customer embraces your brand as a friend in his/her social context.

To download above article in PDF Brand in the new context

Financial Express link:

(1) Comment   
Posted on 18-05-2014
Filed Under (BUSINESS) by Shombit

From Discomfort Zone column by Shombit Sengupta in Financial Express and Indian Express

Continuing Brand Friendship from my last week’s column, I’ve termed it industry-customer social relationship that’s beyond mere transactional business sales. Digi-tech power is driving human behavioural change every moment across the globe. This real time connect is frontierless; it’s revolutionizing the customer’s relationship with a brand, leading to its purchase and repurchase in a new branding culture.

Brand Friendship at work: Development of human capital at the workplace is the key to talent creation for sustaining business. To deliver Brand Friendship to customers, a corporation has to first create employee Brand Friendship. For example, often not all customers understand the corporate jargon of sustainability. You have to tangibly prove your company’s friendship with the environment through your corporate social responsibility activities. Customers will then better appreciate your respect for social causes which is priceless, and understand it’s not a PR eyewash exercise to hide something or promote the company. I call this healthy CSR Brand Friendship with the environment and society.

B2B business Brand Friendship: One-to-one relationship with customers is the key to B2B business discipline. It’s included in the Brand Friendship strategy facilitated by 5 aspects: (1) How you understand your customer’s business in the customer’s competitive environment, (2) What industry pain areas you highlight to your customer, (3) How you portray the future of your customer’s industry, (4) How you help your customer shape business strategy and execution as per the requirement of the customer’s customers, (5) How you align to the culture of your customer’s industry and local culture. Very often B2B business leaders say the end-customer domain is not their sphere of activity. This is a monumental mistake. No business in the world exists without end customers. B2B business has to polish these 5 elements to create customer relationships that reflect Brand Friendship.

QCW is quality customers want. Continuous creation of Brand Friendship with customers can emerge if the brand delivers substance that’s unobvious, distinct and trendy from competitors. Customers don’t understand technical quality processes like ISO certification among others. They go for looks, how relevant, adjustable and friendly it is for their different usage needs, and whether it’s reliable and affordable. These attributes build QCW to consistently deliver the brand’s repeat purchase. QCW better defines your company’s quality parameters. It’s 3 strategic attributes reside in the customer’s subconscious and conscious mind, and blend seamlessly to establish QCW:

a. "I believe in it" (reliability)

b. "It works well for me" (user relevance and friendliness)

c. "It looks good” (certain aesthetic appeal that gives pride of ownership).

Quadra-effect orbit of QCW: QCW has a sequential quadra-effect orbit which cannot be dislocated with product, brand, point of purchase and communication. You have to handle these 4 attributes in the fast-paced world of changing behavior with perceptible addition of the Brand Friendship element. Minute execution create continuous friendship of your brand with customers, resulting in continuous growth and profit for your enterprise.

1. Product / service distinction surpassing competitors: At inception, the product has to have some perceptible element of Brand Friendship and perceived as superior with tangible functionality. For example, Ilkone has designed a special mobile phone application for the Middle East that points devout users to the direction of Mecca.

2. Transmitted through humanized branding: The geometrical school branding of stylized graphic design upto end1960s as used by Chase, AEG or Exxon, among others changed to elaborate etching style trademark at the beginning of 20th century. Since 1970s, digital technology has literally changed the branding rule. A totally new industry dimension not dreamt of earlier was created by virtual companies like Google, Facebook, Twitter and Youtube among others at end-1990s. Even Nike’s “swoosh” logo symbolizes the new through Greek Goddess of Victory. These radically different, perceptible attributes, not old-style, post-War stylized graphic, can establish friendship with customers.

3. Magnetic power at the point-of-purchase: You may create Brand Friendship from product development upto branding, but unless customers experience it at the retail, everything will be lost. It’s another science with perceptible elements that’s required to handle the distribution machinery which operates in the uncontrolled environment outside your company’s grip. At the point-of-purchase your brand presence has to be bigger than reality to instantly get noticed over competitor brands. When your brand displays magnetic power tantalizing customers to the retail, instant Brand Friendship is created. If the trade is not friendly with your brand, your brand will fail. A theatre director for example creates strong friendship with the lightman, to be sure the show will not go awry. In the same way the brand’s friendship with its distributors will give it the right light at the retail to magnify Brand’s friendship with customers. Let me illustrate: Inside a supermarket, Gillette set up a winner’s podium indicating first, second and third prizewinners. Gillette products were displayed at a height to engage customers to step up to take the product as a winner.

4. Sociable communication: A brand has to have power to befriend customers socially. Brand has to play a role in a customer’s body and mind, in the family, at school, college and workspace with a social element to create peer effect. Traditional ways of advertising on TV, press and billboards are losing the credibility factor because customers know such hallucinating communication is virtual and ephemeral, removed from reality. Unconventional peer effect, like documentary films, will create better Brand Friendship. That’s why sociable communication in new media is closer to customers. I’ve even seen people whom Apple inspires to bring alive the Apple logo through hairstyling.

Connect to Brand Friendship all day long: As a business leader, you have to absorb and action business operations to match the radical behavioral change of today’s customers all over the world. Whether in manufacturing, service or retailing, your regular mandate is profitable growth. When you engage in Brand Friendship strategy in your daylong activities, it will enormously impact both renovation and innovation of your company’s product and service brands to create Brand Friendship.

To download above article in PDF Befriending brands in frontierless business

Financial Express link:

(0) Comments   
Posted on 11-05-2014
Filed Under (BUSINESS) by Shombit

From Discomfort Zone column by Shombit Sengupta in Financial Express and Indian Express

Religion, it can be argued, is the origin of branding. All religions had intangible ideology but they created physical manifestation with tangible architecture and collaterals. This comprised the genesis of branding, but without commercial give and take. I’m naming this sanctified unification through fraternal relationships as Brand Friendship. Afterwards when formal monarchies materialized, the monarch’s emblem was the brand that symbolized his power to conquer lands and make people subservient.

Historical perspective: The commercial branding era started in Europe after the 17th century when Christianity liberalized the pursuit of literature, science, art and technology. Following British’s 1760 Industrial Revolution, European inventors Louis Vuitton, Cartier among others manifested their brands prominently through luxury products that carried their seals. Inventors Karl Benz, Ettore Bugatti among others shaped precision engineering automobile brands. Henri Nestle created milk powder and condensed milk for infants as substitute for breast milk. European brand creators promoted their brands more prominently globally in luxury and sophisticated engineering categories, not in mass scale production. That’s possibly because scale was not paramount in Europe of small independent nations.

Branding of giant companies: North America’s cowboy branding culture had no monarchical influence, hence a different approach. Hot stamping of American Wild West farm animals was done to identify their different owners. The 19th and 20th centuries saw an American shift towards inventive power by distinctive inventors like Proctor & Gamble (P&G), Thomas Edison (GE), Graham Bell (telephone), James Casey (UPS), George Eastman (Kodak), Charles Flint (IBM) and Henry Ford (automobile). They started with commercial trademark which extended to stylized graphic branding upto 1960. Giant American companies established their power through such symbols. They mastered mass market production and masterminded the religion of commercial branding with mass scale industrialization while providing affordable pricing to customers through inventive mass production processes like the Taylor system at Ford Motor Company. The two World Wars helped American business to penetrate their brands globally.

So clearly, both in Europe and America, the branding culture started with inventors.

Departure of digi-tech: From 1970s, entrepreneurs like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs among others started digital interface with customers. That stretched to a new branding dimension from end-1990s with Google, Facebook, Twitter, Youtube among others. This led to uncontrollable mass production of digitally driven products and services with cost reduction and no industrial frontier. These happenings created a huge disruption of absolute behavioral change in the human being, what I call the departure of Brand Friendship in the commercial world.

The customer is in command today: Digital technology’s biggest contribution to the world is bringing extreme proximity among human beings. No longer can corporations have commanding power over their customers. Previously, the distance between a company’s boardroom and customers was wide and cold. If your company is expanding locally and globally, you are advised to invest a percentage of your revenue in brand building. You listened as though it’s a ritual you cannot ignore. But did you check how efficacious your brand investment was? Today, inspite of heavy investment, your customers can make you miserable through criticism in social media that you cannot control. Customers are defining QCW (quality customers want); no longer is internal industry action driving them. If you listen to and address customers, you are in. Otherwise, like inward-looking Kodak, you are out. By not anticipating human behavioural change, even Microsoft is experiencing business descent. Usage of desktop computers is drastically falling by 6% annually because people are moving to smart mobile phone interface.

Vital connection medium: As the brand is your first medium to connect to customers, the big question is how to drive it in this digi-tech, social zig-zag world. Traditional marketing ideas of getting brand pull and emotional connect by hiring a recognized brand ambassador and spending heavily to blitzkrieg the media is not valid any more. International statistics show that 70-76% of purchase decisions happen at the point of purchase. So industry cannot just buy society’s emotion and the media. Your only choice is to create Brand Friendship which is beyond the brand’s monetary transactions.

What exactly is Brand Friendship? Its 3 elements are sorrow, seriousness and smile. You’d be sorry if you believe a brand is merely a selling procedure with give and take transactions to make your profit. The serious fact is that everything in every industry starts from product performance that’s better than competitors within a price band. So product seriousness is the key engagement of Brand Friendship. Brand has to smile to create friendship between the customer and brand in a social context because your brand’s sustaining success depends on it.

Strong proximity with social relevance: Marriage is mere social recognition. If there’s no friendship between a couple, adultery starts and leads to the hide and seek game. After every deceptive trick is exhausted, it may translate to divorce or living together in cold war. No friendship between children and parents translates to no trust. Children nowadays live the way they want, while play-acting in front of parents. If you spy on why your adult child did not return home last night, your friendship will definitely disappear even as the child gives a big lie and you want to believe it, although you know it’s absolutely fake. In this contemporary world, is there much meaning between being a minor and adult? How can you stop your minor child from not googling the porn website in your absence? So the definition of minor and adults needs a re-look. Real friendship develops not only in school or college, but at any age, time or with any person when a spiritual connect of the anti-hate religion happens.

At the workplace, whether you are the boss or subordinate, unless a certain friendship exists the delivery you get will be basic, without that extra mile of passion. Corporate Brand Friendship is extremely important for tomorrow, not just with customers but to develop friendship with employees. My Brand Friendship idea creates strong proximity with social relevance between the brand and its many stakeholders.

To download above article in PDF Brand friendship

Financial Express link:

(0) Comments   
Posted on 04-05-2014
Filed Under (POLITICS) by Shombit

From Discomfort Zone column by Shombit Sengupta in Financial Express and Indian Express

Forty one years ago was the first time I arrived at Rue de la Glaciere in Paris 13th district crossing an old, open metro bridge. Turning right at an old Haussmannian building, a small road called Rue du Champs-de-l’Alouette had a modern building adjacent to it constructed after the Great War. I came here now to focus on apartment house number 23. Nothing had changed. Cafe l’Alouette in front remains more or less the same. My journey in France had started here after I’d arrived at scientist Late Dr Pyne’s laboratory. He didn’t know me, I’d just heard about him. When I landed in Paris mid-November 1973 at age 19 with less than the $8 I’d left India with, this most generous man gave me my first shelter and turning point here.

To pay homage to Dr Pyne’s memory, I sat at the cafe to look at the building’s 3rd floor and recall my first 3 months in Paris when I understood no French, and could never afford to come to this cafe. I ordered my favourite casse-croute (food for breaking hunger), a platter of multi-choice smoked ham and pate with French baguette (bread). In spite of the overcast 10 degree Celcius weather, people were sitting outdoors as the awning had heaters above to keep the air warm over the tables, a development I’d not seen 41 years ago. While contemplating on my 3rd floor mission, some humming voices suddenly reached my ears. Two women, about 30 and 60 years old, were engaged in intense conversation. The older woman recounting her stressful young life, symbolized French social life today. Activating my research habit of eavesdropping on potins (gossip), I could not miss out on this.

A French sociologue had once long ago advised me that to understand French society I should listen to people talk in coffee shops, hair salons, in the park. I’d been lucky earlier that that a friend was working at a women’s hair salon near my home, and she’d agreed to cut my hair at a corner of the beauty parlour so I could listen to Parisian potins. Women would openly gossip for hours while getting their hair done. They unknowingly gave me immense knowledge about French society which I’d used to induce marketing strategies for different clients. This kind of gossip makes you aware of economic problems, adultery, social discrepancies, love affairs, new trends, food habits, generally about everyday social life and living. Now in Cafe l’Alouette the elder woman was narrating her personal life kaleidoscope to her young friend: “Electricity bill, water bill, EMI bill, cooking gas bill, house tax, income tax, these are life’s daily burdens. In this country, you just cannot enjoy love and better living without stress. That’s all I’ve seen in my young working years.”

Her husband had left her, so she had to manage their 2 children. She’d worked as personal secretary to an entrepreneur, maintaining a life and style beyond her means and call of duty. She’d liked her work but slowly understood she’d become too dependent on her boss. If she raised economic problems troubling her like paying bills, he’d immediately say that personal problems should not be brought to the office. But whenever she looked a little down, her boss would buy her expensive clothes or accessories or take her out for dinner in sophisticated Parisian restaurants, splurging much more than what she needed. “Instead of spending on my dresses and accessories, if I had this extra amount, I would not have struggled to pay bills. But it was impossible to express this to my boss.”

So she collected an exquisite wardrobe to attend official parties and to accompany the boss to different functions. Because her wardrobe was so classy, her friends would consider her above their lifestyle and not include her in their social life. “My allure was higher than my earning,” she said. But she had nobody to tell her woes to then. The comfort of a regular job and commanding position at office kept her very busy. She simultaneously handled all requirements of the boss’s wife and children. In his absence on family holiday, her responsibility was to maintain the office. “After returning from summer holiday, he’d get angry seeing my pale, tired face. He never understood that I never did get the chance to go to the south of France to get a sun tan,” the elderly woman bemoaned. “When he was here I had to be in office before time because he always wanted some intimate time with me. He’d also take my sympathy complaining about his unhappy domestic life. Years went by without my realizing I was not only his secretary but his mistress, I performed both roles.”

Now that she’s retired, the bills are still there but, “I have no work pressure or the pressure of being the boss’s pin-up secretary.” Her son now works in Hongkong and daughter’s in America; she visits them regularly. “So my friend, enjoy your life now, don’t wait to relax till you reach my age. Mistress-secretary was a kind of aura I lived in. I was so conditioned to being the pivot in the office, at the centre of all important happenings that I could never find or adjust to another man because nobody could give me this kind of life full of action and power. My biggest regret is that I live alone and have no lover now.”

Her key message was, “The more you get influenced by and align to superficial society, you’ll live beyond your affordability, and only pay bills; the number and size of bills will continue to grow.” The younger girl asked if she was happy then. “I don’t know,” the elder one answered. “I was so hassled with bills payment, at the same time enamoured with outings in chic restaurants with beautiful dresses while always giving him my best smile, it seemed to me that attending the boss was another bill I was paying.”

To download above article in PDF French bills

Financial Express link:

(0) Comments    Read More