Apply to change; evolve to grow: Brand Summit 2005

CHENNAI: The second day at the brand summit infused a lot of inspirational thought, discussion and provocation with speakers across genres addressing the age old yet absolutely paramount subject of branding in the new era and expectation setting with the target group.

A day of branding all the way. From the branding of a state to hardware, to beauty products to rural branding to the more macro 'Brand India' the summit covered it all.



Kick started by Bharat Bhushan principal secretary - tourism, Government of Kerala, the speaker threw light upon enhancing customer connect for profitable business solutions. Talking specifically about the hospitality services category, brands adopt an even more complex avatar in making that connect and creating an enduring bond with the consumer. Experiential marketing he said combined the desire for favourable experiences with the believability of first hand knowledge.

Referring to Kerala as 'Gods own country' Bhushan discussed how the campaign for promoting Kerala as a tourism destination worked wonders in terms of actual results and attributed it to experiential marketing and how it succeeded in establishing a connect with the consumer. "What matters most is how an experience shapes a consumer's perception of the brand. The brands that succeed on a long-term basis are those able to form strong, differentiating emotional bonds with consumers. Without this bond, a brand's relevance and connectivity with a consumer is not sustainable." Kerala if looked at closely was an endeavour to realise the customer experience at every 'touch point' and more importantly to create touch points that would ensure sampling the experience.



Changing gears, from branding Kerala, the focus moved to consultative selling where Parag Samarth, country manager, Industrial and Distribution Sector, IBM India discussed this evolving concept and how it has helped establish the all important connect with its consumers. Some important points in note were establishing common goals across the company, creating customer value in every interaction, building and leveraging team synergy and thereby improving the win rate whilst shortening the sales cycle.

The IBM Consultative selling focused on a need based concept where the process puts the customers first, understanding his needs and there on moving to the execution of sales opportunities through customer interactions. The underlying principle being the ability to add value to the customer at every step of the selling process. His closing words being, " Let's not think of marketing as a manipulation, but as a process that delivers solutions and not products."

Moving on to a more macro topic, 'Brand India', the session was hosted by none other than Jairam Ramesh, the economist who defined India in five points:

1) Multilayered

2) Evolving

3) Aggregate brand

4) Brand in transition

5) Unique psychology



Describing India as an onion he said those marketers who have not understood the fact that India is multilayered have quickly come to grief. He blatantly said that 'Brand India' was impossibility and the focus must be on building sub brands and India be a cafeteria of brands. Ramesh explained, "Lets not fall into the same trap as the 'India Shining' campaign fell into," taking a dig at the BJP led campaign. "We are diversity in unity and this fact must be celebrated."

Are consumers asking for too much?

The general consensus on this one was that consumers should be expecting the moon and if they are not then one has a problem. Increased levels of awareness has catalyzed the whole process of consumer expectations. Moving away from FMCG categories Ajit Mantagani president - denim division, Raymond India said, "In our line of business, we have to provoke the consumer to ask for the moon thereby increasing the value associated with our products. Given the existing environment, where a customer has more choice, other products to choose from, it became imperative for companies to develop trust and connect for them to succeed."

He pointed out that defining one's primary consumer was itself a strategic issue, as non FMCG categories do not deal with the end user directly and hence a lot of middlemen also become one's customers.

Next was Lowe's executive creative director R Balakrishnan, who in very simple words said gaining an insight into a customer is nothing but looking inside one's self. Citing examples of the Balbir Pasha campaign to Vim Bar to Saint Gobain, Balakrishnan said the moment marketers stopped borrowing from consumers and started giving, that's when we will become a cutting edge community.

Coming to making a rural connect, Rajesh Gupta VP DCM Sriram said how it was imperative to first have knowledge of the domain. Marker research done by a third party could provide with data but not the desired connect. Most rural consumers may abstain from telling you what they want, so the trick is to sense the needs and translate them into sales. Interpretation being critical.

Last mile branding in a retail model was covered by Pankaj Mehra, national sales director Loreal. The ultimate expectation has to do with an overall, more holistic assessment of what a brand delivers. This means that brands are expected to become more responsible for what they stand for in terms of their identities and what they provide beyond just the product. Since the way people define value changes with the times, consumers today are more in tune with the overall experience a brand provides versus what a product offers in terms of its attributes and functional benefits. While there are many companies that have already addressed a broader experience with their brands and products, marketers need to look closer at how their brand can enhance the overall experience that consumers will encounter before, during and after consumption of the end product.

The closing session highlighted the new age consumer and where they were headed. Delivered by Venkat Ramaswamy, professor of marketing at the University of Michigan, focused on the "next" practices of value creation. "Everybody is sensing a very basic and fundamental shift in business," said Ramaswamy. With increased awareness, consumers today are highly networked with the Internet, mobile phones and the rise of consumer to consumer communication. He reiterated that it was time companies wake up and understand that they can no longer create value for the customer, but need to create value with the customer. Hence there has to be a constant endeavour towards co-creation.

Overall the day provided insight, raised relevant concerns: some age-old, some emerging one to ensure perspective and progress.

The discourse delivered some interesting take home value!

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