Historical perspective: The commercial branding era started in Europe after the 17th century when Christianity liberalised the pursuit of literature, science, art and technology. Following Britishs 1760 Industrial Revolution, European inventors Louis Vuitton and Cartier, among others, manifested their brands through luxury products that carried their seals. Inventors such as Karl Benz and Ettore Bugatti shaped precision engineering automobile brands. Henri Nestle created milk powder and condensed milk for infants as substitute for breast milk. European brand creators promoted brands prominently in luxury and sophisticated engineering categories, not in mass scale production. Thats possibly because scale was not paramount in Europe of small independent nations.
Branding of giant companies: North Americas cowboy branding culture had no monarchical influence, hence a different approach. Hot stamping of American Wild West farm animals was done to identify different owners. The 19th and 20th centuries saw an American shift towards inventive power by distinctive inventors like Proctor & Gamble (P&G), Thomas Edison (GE), Graham Bell (telephone), James Casey (UPS), George Eastman (Kodak), Charles Flint (IBM) and Henry Ford. They started with commercial trademark which extended to stylised graphic branding up to 1960. Giant American companies established their power through such symbols. They mastered mass market production and masterminded the religion of commercial branding with mass-scale industrialisation while providing affordable pricing through inventive mass production processes like the Taylor system at Ford Motor Company. The two World Wars helped American business to penetrate brands globally.
So clearly, both in Europe and America, the branding culture started with inventors.
Departure of digi-tech: From 1970s, entrepreneurs like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs started digital interface with customers. That stretched to a new branding dimension from end-1990s with Google, Facebook and YouTube, among others. This led to uncontrollable mass production of digitally-driven products and services with cost reduction and no industrial frontier. These created a huge disruption of absolute behavioural change in human beings, what I call the departure of Brand Friendship in commercial world.
The customer is in command today: Digital technologys biggest contribution to the world is bringing extreme proximity among human beings. No longer can corporations have commanding power over their customers. Previously, the distance between a companys boardroom and customers was wide and cold. If your company was expanding globally, you were advised to invest a percentage of your revenue in brand building. You listened as though its a ritual you cannot ignore. But did you check how efficacious your brand investment was Today, in spite of heavy investment, your customers can make you miserable through criticism in social media that you cannot control. Customers are defining QCW (quality customers want); no longer is internal industry action driving them. If you listen to and address customers, you are in. Otherwise, like inward-looking Kodak, you are out. By not anticipating human behavioural change, even Microsoft is experiencing business descent. Usage of desktop computers is falling by 6% annually because people are moving to smartphone interface.
Vital connection medium: As the brand is your first medium to connect to customers, the big question is how to drive it in this digi-tech, social zig-zag world. Traditional marketing ideas of getting brand pull and emotional connect by hiring a recognised brand ambassador and spending heavily to blitzkrieg the media is not valid any more. International statistics show that 70-76% of purchase decisions happen at the point of purchase. So industry cannot just buy societys emotion and the media. Your only choice is to create Brand Friendship which is beyond the brands monetary transactions.
What exactly is Brand Friendship Its 3 elements are sorrow, seriousness and smile. Youd be sorry if you believe a brand is a selling procedure with give-and-take transactions to make profit. The serious fact is everything in every industry starts from product performance thats better than competitors within a price band. So product seriousness is the key engagement. You have to smile to create friendship between the customer and brand in a social context because your brands success depends on it.
Strong proximity with social relevance: Marriage is mere social recognition. If theres no friendship between a couple, adultery starts and leads to the hide-and-seek game. After every deceptive trick is exhausted, it may translate to divorce or living together in cold war. No friendship between children and parents translates to no trust. Children nowadays live the way they want, while play-acting in front of parents. If you spy on why your adult child did not return home last night, your friendship will disappear even as the child gives a big lie and you want to believe it, although you know its fake. In this contemporary world, is there much meaning between being a minor and adult How can you stop your minor child from not googling the porn website in your absence So, the definition of minor and adults needs a re-look. Real friendship develops not only in school or college, but at any age, time or with any person when a spiritual connect of the anti-hate religion happens.
At the workplace, whether you are the boss or subordinate, unless a certain friendship exists, the delivery you get will be basic. Corporate Brand Friendship is important for tomorrow, not just with customers but to develop friendship with employees. My Brand Friendship idea creates strong proximity with social relevance between the brand and its many stakeholders.
Shombit Sengupta is an international consultant to top management on differentiating business strategy with execution excellence. Reach him at