Time to democratise brands: Kevin Hill

MUMBAI: In a world where fluidity is the order of the day and there is no dearth of choice, brands are faced with the uphill task of staying relevant in their consumer’s lives. With the marketing landscape being so dynamic, one begs to ask whether the very fabric of branding needs to revamp.

Kevin Hill Design creative director Kevin Hill explores this topic in a session, ‘Does branding need re-branding’, at the Promaxbda 2012 held in Mumbai.

According to Hill, brands should have a contemporary outlook and disciple. In order to establish new guidelines, it is important to understand how the relationship between a brand and its consumers have changed over time. We need to move away a one-way communication where brands spoke and the audiences merely heard. “Take the example of the recent global debate sparked by Bollywood actor Aishwariya Rai Bachhan’s post partum weight gain. The conversations, supporting and criticising her, have been largely audience led. So you see, audiences are no longer a passive partner in the communication process,” explains Hill.

Since the audiences have become interactive, it is now easier to segregate them into demographic, geographic or psychographic clusters. This also helps targeting communication at the audience since the idea of ‘one size fits all’ no longer bears relevance for brand marketers today. Old methodologies and guidelines need to be replaced by new and more contemporary points of view.

Analyzing your brand along with your audiences is equally important. Every brand has a global DNA, but may have some localised tweaks to better suit the target audience. Also, analyse how the communication from the brand’s end has been. In most cases, the brands are used to talking at the audience rather than talking with them. In this regard, it is important to analyse the tone, pitch, philosophy and language of the communication and adjust it according to the current trend. In other words, democratise the brand.

Brands are not the sole owners of their products now. The consumers are equally passionate about a brand they affiliate to and do not mind speaking out in appreciation or criticism. An effective communication strategy in today’s environment is to let the audience know that they are the owners and brands are the custodians. It is necessary to accept that today, more than ever, brands exist in the context of their consumers.

The consumer is spoilt for choice and has brands vying for his attention in a chaotic market space. “In this tyranny of choice, it is difficult for the consumer to differentiate one brand from another and there is a risk of saturation. Also, it has been observed that due to the abundance of products and brands, brands tend to make a hollow effort to differentiate from their peers rather than being actually different. At times, in their will to be different, brands end up doing something meaningless. The focus is on creating new rather than something true,” observes Hill.

In this case, not only does the audience feel confused and even cheated but the competition also picks up on the flaws and has an opportunity to attack the brand’s strategy. In any day and age, substance and quality will always speak for itself. Authenticity in communication is of paramount importance as audiences are not afraid of challenging mediocrity.

While listening to the audience is important, the trick lies in making critical decisions. Not everything the audience says will be beneficial for the brand. Analyse feedback, test it and then implement. Also, getting to the heart of the brand and communicating from there on makes for an honest communication which is largely appreciated by the consumers.

There needs to be a shift in the approach towards branding. The strategy should shift from exposure to engagement. Similarly, the intent of the communication should change from interruption to permission and from broadcasting to customisation.

“There are some rules that the new age branding professionals and brands should keep in mind. Be authentic, be honest, be open, be charismatic, be meaningful and be true,” sums up Hill.

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