Brands have a significant role to play in society as they can both add or destroy economic value. Recently, Interbrand published its 2009 list of the top 100 most valuable brands in the world. What’s amazing is that the list of the top five brands — Coca-Cola, IBM, Microsoft, GE, and Nokia — has not changed since 2000 except perhaps for the order between IBM and Microsoft. These brands, together, are valued at $270,000 million. While they predictably do several things right, they have each developed, over time, an ethos showing a strong brand character.
Brand ethos can make that critical difference to a brand’s relationship with its consumers, making it timeless and extremely valuable. The Oxford dictionary describes ethos as “the characteristic spirit, prevalent tone of sentiment of a people or community; the genius of an institution or system”. This is what brand ethos is all about — a systematic and consistent development of a characteristic spirit by very closely interfacing with its consumers on one hand and a tone of sentiment based on creating an emotional bond on the other. Such development draws from the consumer and streams back to him/her constantly.
Deep, insightful consumer connection is the key to a brand’s success. Consumers are the real owners of a brand. Behind every power brand, there is a deep understanding of its consumers — of why they value the brand, of how their needs are met, of how there is a change in their attitudes and how their needs are likely to evolve. The consumer can tell you the structure of your future product offering and assist you in co-creating that. This understanding is the key to maintaining the brand’s fundamental usefulness in relation to the evolution of new consumer desires and attitudes.
From time immemorial, human societies have relied on trust in order to function. Good brands invite trust, earn it, honour it and reward it. They guard their reputation with their lives. After all, for consumers, the mounting pressure of choices makes the need for trust more urgent and perhaps the major differentiator. This trust contributes to brand ethos.
Successful brands constantly evolve and adapt to changes in their consumers’ needs and aspirations. The driver of innovation is not just insight but foresight. Innovation that “tinkers” with a brand’s functionality is masquerading as innovation — a new flavour here, a new pack design there, or the statement of a new improved formula that brings no improved consumer benefit. These so-called innovations, valuable as they sometimes may seem in terms of short-term revenues, can easily take on their own momentum in creating consumer confusion but adding little value. In the long run, tinkering does nothing to expand the market but runs all the risks of greed and complacency.
True innovation pushes the boundaries of markets. A paradigm shift takes place, bringing back not only existing customers with an increasing sense of brand ownership but also a new generation of customers who did not consider this brand due to lack of products or services in line with their needs, personality or attitudes earlier.
Few companies in India understand the value of brand ethos. Perhaps that is why not a single Indian brand finds itself in the list of the top 100 global brands. We need to imbibe a few lessons from sociology into our business and brand management practices.
Nabankur Gupta is the founder of Nobby Brand Architects and co-founding chairman of Blue Ocean Capital & Advisory Services