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The Menon mantra -- Don't stretch a brand beyond its capacity 

Padmaja Shastri  
Chennai, Nov 12: When a recent study tracked the market leaders in 25 product categories in the year 1923-and compared it to the present-it threw up a surprising result: 76 years later, 20 out of those 25 brands were still leaders in their respective markets today. A close examination of the survivor brands showed that they had one characteristic in common: they remained true to their core values.

IMI Inc (International Media Investments) chairman & chief executive officer and perhaps the first Indian to head a multinational company nearly 30 years ago, Bhaskar Menon said it is a folly to dilute sharply defined brands. Speaking at the CII Brand Summit on ``Brand Marketing: How wise is conventional wisdom?'' Menon warned that sub-brands and brand extensions confuse the consumer and diffuse the focus, so that nobody knows what the brand name represents anymore.

The horror stories? Chevrolet, for instance used to be the biggest selling auto brand in the US at 1.7 million cars sold per annum in 1986. But when the company started extending the brand equity across everything on wheels and made 10 separate models, Chevrolet sales declined to less than a million.

Levi's, a brand with a colourful history and fully generic equity over a long period, in order to appeal to a `wider market', introduced a plethora of styles and 27 different cuts. What was a clear proposition, became so fuzzy that its brand share nosedived from 31 per cent to 19 per cent over the last seven years. According to Menon, usually conventional wisdom is blind, unimaginative, fearful and misguided. For instance, when General Foods put its newly developed chocolate drink into three test markets ignoring market research and poor consumer response, Nestle cut short the test marketing of its own chocolate drink and instead began concentrating on beating GF in the goal of going national. Nestle assumed that GF knew what it was doing. It was wrong: the launch was a devastating loss and forced a humiliating market retreat, which Nestle could have avoided but for the false respect and fear of competition.

Advising marketers to think anew and create product categories before anybody else can, is key to becoming a market leader, according to Menon. His mantra for success in branding is: ``Keep it simple, keep it clear, get plenty of free publicity from the innovation and don't be tempted to stretch the brand beyond its capacity.''

If you want to get into another market, create another brand tailored specifically to that market, he says. For example Fred de Luca, instead of offering 43 different sandwiches like a lot of delicatessens in the US did, decided to offer just one: the submarine sandwitch. His narrow focus made him so popular that in 1994, his income was $ 60 million. To overcome the problem of increasing audience fragmentation, Menon suggests a two-way, interactive communication with customers. ``Forget about the Tell. Develop the Ask'' - is the new maxim in brand building and brand maintenance. It's not quite unconventional-but the problem is, it isn't a conventional practise for many bewildered brands.

Copyright © 1999 Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.

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