Monday, August 10, 2015

Breathing Life into a Brand

Listening to the radio and hear Amitabh Bachchan rap to sell a hill station in Gujarat – the discussion initiated next was like a college assignment being presented and debated in class. So may be so far he has endorsed electronics, hair oil, chawanprash, Gujarat tourism, polio campaign, cars, chocolates, cola and more lately, even baby products e-retail website. In our MBA class, we had him endorse condoms, sanitary pads and fairness cream as well. Though the very active debate was around two very similar sounding terms – brand

At one point, say brand ambassador and viable options in mind were Bachchan and Sachin Tendulkar. These two men are like an asset a brand could buy and the halo of dependability and trust to hover above. When controversies involving pesticides in cola and worms in chocolates were boiling and these gentlemen were the ones to bring in an assurance by virtue of their self-image. That is what the biggest difference between a Brand Endorser and Brand Ambassador – they are not just the face for the product but build the whole personality of the product around it. They are people who bring the brand in a flesh and blood to interact with its audience. 

Getting a brand ambassador in today’s time is an expensive affair. Using the ambassador in the right way involves the marketing team to build a whole strategy to present a human face (or human manifestation) of a company that interacts with its audience and take the brand far more than what advertising can achieve. But in my opinion, in a socially interconnected world, an interaction of the consumers with a brand ambassador is usually only limited to shaking hands, clicking selfies and letting the world know that ‘I was there’. The brand, the brand values and what the event was about is somewhere lost. While they still are crowd pullers, I often wonder if the brand actually is deriving benefits.

Which brings be to a question – while we know that in most cases, the celebrity is paid and is acting more as an endorser than a brand ambassador, should we be actually limiting the term brand ambassador in a select few instances.

Interestingly, I see brands interacting with its audiences in so many ways before and after a purchase. There are so many people in an organization that interact with hundreds of business associates every day. It might be selling or buying a product or service, managing vendors and clients, building new business prospects or maintaining relations with existing and lastly – looking after existing, past and future employees. What amazes me at times is considering the amount of word-of-mouth that propagates from these avenues, these sides of brand building are not given prime attention.

For instance, take the case of Google and there is just nothing negative one can identify with the company. People are mostly happy with their products in every way. Call them for a query and they are genuine to revert. As for the business side, no one coming out with woes in terms of unfair practices, non-payment of dues or social injustice. The employees are happy and often talking about their superb environment at work. There are times when even they are working long hours but overall, it is one of the most desired places to work. Apply to Google and even when you don’t qualify, they appreciate your efforts on mail. And all this with no brand endorser or ambassador.

Having started my career in a customer facing role, among the first lessons taught by my manager in those days was to realise that bigger than the name of a company was how every person who had a card with its name behaved in every aspect. How soon people respond, how they respond and what impression they manage to leave on the client. A large part of business is the invisible relation with customers and the approach that people involved followed. Stand up and accept responsibility, be honest and face the music were some of the lessons I had to learn; keeping aside the rush of blood nature I had then.

Counter to this are something I observe and find appalling. As more and more avenues of communication have developed, if anything that seems to have gone down the drain is responsibility and responsiveness. While walls of every big organization are plastered with messages talking customer centricity, responsibility, ownership, open-doors etc., the degree to which these are actually practiced in reality can be an eye opener at times.

Yes, one cannot attend to calls while in a meeting or between something, But it baffles me as to how often people feel no urge to call back to people they could not attend to. The same goes towards replying to emails. A reply saying “no new update” is much appreciated that no revert. Can a brand be connecting to its audience as a human through a brand ambassador when the integral human representatives cannot live and function each day with simple human courtesy?  

I feel there is an inherent and integral need for brands to focus on building brands inside-out. Let every person who is a part of the company, live and breathe its culture on a daily basis. Let every contact point experience the brand in every way and build its equity and preference for real. If that can happen, may be brands can cut down on spends of a brand ambassador and be a living brand in the true sense.

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