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Average brands broadcast, good brands engage

There are very thick lines between average, good and great brands. Between the memorable, the faintly forgettable and the magically missable. Swapan Seth writes.

india Updated: Dec 18, 2011 20:22 IST

There are very thick lines between average, good and great brands. Between the memorable, the faintly forgettable and the magically missable.

Average brands broadcast. Theirs is a spiel of the self. Good brands engage in a dialogue. Theirs is a conversation that goes beyond the transaction.

Someone once famously said: "The universe is not made of tiny atoms. It is made of tiny stories."

Great brands start those stories. They write their first paragraph of purpose and then leave it in the public domain for consumer to co-author the contours of that story.

The story then becomes one of the consumers'. It then belongs to the benefits and beliefs of the constituency that it is meant for. As my friend, Sushobhan Mukherjee said, "They become part of a public purpose."

Brand and marketing managers the world over have embraced their brands tightly. The trick is abdication. Not adoption.

Not all brands can do it though. Some may have an insight into the category. Some may have a slug line that allows it entry into this kingdom of kinship. Some may have a pervasive pattern in their DNA that permits it.

Allow me to share some examples with you. "Jago" is such a wistfully wise insight into the terrain of tea. That is what the category does. Well before social media heaved and Anna Hazare emerged, some thought leader in Tata Tea saw this "consumer awakening" coming. Suddenly, a benefit got transferred into a public purpose of awakening. It is my personal belief that it is best juiced out now. But I can understand the socio-political compulsions that confront it and prevent it from exploding the way it could have.

"Jago" has umbilical chords with all kinds of things: political awakening, consumer activation, social uprising. It is magical. So that is a brand that built its public purpose on the back of an insight.

Idea Cellular's "What an idea, Sirji" is an example of how a brand could have got into public purpose, but hasn't quite as majestically as it could have. Though I think it is insanely great. If I were Idea, I would institute awards for the greatest ideas in our country (if they do, good for them.) And once again, get into a larger public purpose. I would penetrate ideation in all walks of life: political, educational, social.

And the third example that I must share with you is that of Tata Steel. Values, which are the bulwark of the group, have found utterance in a portal called www.valueabled.com. It is in the digital space. Through Twitter: @valueabled.

Mindful that "values" were increasingly getting irrelevant amidst the young, Tata Steel found it important to talk about leadership through Wayne Rooney. Or philanthropy through Lady Gaga and Japan. It re-contextualised those values and gave them a public purpose.

On children, Gibran wrote, "Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself. They come through you but not from you. And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you."

A brand is much like that. It belongs to consumers. It belongs to a larger public purpose. The brand manager must find that purpose.

The writer is CEO, Equus Red Cell

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