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A brand lives in a consumer’s category

The super brand thus lives in a brand category. It is these categories that consumers latch on to, some consciously and some sub-consciously, writes Gautam Dutta.

india Updated: Mar 21, 2008 00:00 IST
Gautam Dutta

The so-called superbrand might need to redefine itself. It cannot revel in its super isolation any longer. For instance, like it or not, your choice of car speaks volumes about your personality. You might live in a hut but if you drive a flashy car everyone will, consciously or not, label you as someone with cash to spare and status. This brand persona, or personal brand, tends to be an amalgamation of several brands; a sum of individual brands and their respective imageries.

The super brand thus lives in a brand category. It is these categories that consumers latch on to, some consciously and some sub-consciously. Linked to this is the aspirational value that brand managers seek to create. Imagery and its management is a crucial aspect as brands are perceived through associations and not reality.

Sidney J Levy of the University of Arizona was one of the original founding thinkers in the area of brand imagery. He defines a brand image as “a condensation of all experiences a person has ever had in conjunction with a brand.” The experiences include memorable family stories, odd-looking design elements, tastes (for food products), special habits, unusual sounds, and any other way the product consciously or unconsciously impacts our senses, memories, hearts, and minds. To assess brand imagery is to unearth these impressions, interpret and integrate them in terms of a unified whole.

What people think of you is your personal brand. The personality of this brand cuts across sectors-from cars and cellphones to shirts and sunglasses. The Mercedes, the plasma screen and Gucci loafers will undoubtedly fall in one category. The Mercedes owner is just as unlikely to own a 21” traditional TV set, as a plumber will smoke Marlboro. Much of this is definitely linked to your bank balance. But, remember the old adage: “You only get one chance to make a good first impression.” The person in you knows this and also strives to make the best impression. If you walk into a room, and see a Fortune magazine on the table, the associations you make are far removed from what you would if you saw a Stardust magazine.

Personal branding is clearly unavoidable. Others automatically form mental associations as they interact with you–these associations connect you with certain labels, often within the first few seconds. You can’t avoid being labelled, and other people can’t avoid labelling you. It happens automatically because our brains are wired to form associations and recognise patterns. The labels people attach to you become part of your personal brand.

We all know that building brands today is not just about making sales. It is a complicated process that uses customer psychology and advertising to make people come back, again and again. Just remember, the customer is also learning how to use brands to his advantage using a pretty much similar psychological process. As Tom Peters wrote in ‘Fast Company’ some years back: “You are a brand. You are in charge of your brand.”

Today’s savvy consumer wants to be associated with a certain lifestyle and wants to be associated with the products that fit that profile. Consumers purchase products that project the right image for them and, in turn, seek to project their individual personal brands.

Every marketer needs to recognise that his or her brand, whether super or otherwise, falls within a category – a category that is defined by the consumer and not by the marketer. One may say, so what’s new? The newness lies in the fact that today’s consumer is making the market.