Brands have played varied roles in line with the evolution of societies. They have stood for quality assurance during industrialisation, symbolised lifestyles when prosperity grew (Coke, Vimal), have gone beyond with ‘philosophy’ and ‘soul’ (The Body Shop, Bajaj, VIP), advocated bottomline as recession reined in consumerism (Ikea, Big Bazaar), to now, when they are working to become a partner espousing a conviction within the community it spawns (Apple).
Brands today are increasingly about opinions, partnerships, communities and heart. Brand building consequently is less controlled and more a function of being able to trigger and manage conversations around an advocacy. Something that warrants strongly resonant brand conviction, process, people and behaviour on the inside and identity, portfolio, environment and experience on the outside.
The pivotal role belongs to convictions simply because today, it is more important than ever to generate conversations around a brand. And when are people most likely to engage in conversations? When they’re passionate about something. So if one can hook a brand onto a cause, a conviction, an opinion that people really care about, there is a better chance of building a community of shared belief.
Pluralistic societies with strong history and culture, when subjected to high degree of social change, simmer with numerous socio-cultural tensions. Unassisted nuclear family parenting in competitive high growth societies has turned hyper and is causing substantial parent-child relationship trauma, for example. Or swarthy Indian maleness that is suffocating in the borrowed cloak of metrosexuality. Or caring and benign mothers are venting the inevitable mommy rage. Or addictive communication tools are actually breeding insularity.
Each of these tensions present an opportunity for resolution and creating an iconic connect. For brands, it means espousing a conviction to surrogate for points of views. That is when influential culture brands get created. Users become the medium and start adding to the brand conversations within their communities.
Scooter brand Scooty creates a modern cultural connect with teen girls by propping them into driver’s seat from the conventional pillion. Tata Tea tries to build a community around “Jaago Re”, a clarion call to wake up against corruption and human rights. Unilever’s successful renditions of “Dirt is good” and ‘Real Beauty’ assuage the hyper-parenting and overly cosmetic personal grooming trends in these societies. HDFC Standard Life hinges its insurance portfolio and experience around “Retire with pride”, bridging the lonely lives and financial dependence of the elderly.
Brands as evangelists
Going forward in the cognitive era, the importance of the brand as a cultural resource is what will make it accepted and powerful. Trust, corporate citizenry and social influence will be the most important factors. The causes, fights and convictions that brands advocate, very simply, will be the key. Brands will have to espouse ideologies that resolve conflicts and contradictions at a cultural level. Brand totems, rituals and slogans will be the future through which user-led experience will define brand building and control.
(Ashish Mishra is chief strategy officer and head, Water Consulting)