A double-edged sword

Published: September 6, 2016 2:40 PM

This indeed forms the bedrock of the marketing principle of segmentation. Since a key component of strategy is making choices, which invariably involves an element of sacrifice, it is better for a brand to please some people all the time...

Increasingly, the benefits that people seek from brands are no longer purely functional.  Strong brands connect at a much deeper level, focussing not only on the what and how, but also on the why. (Reuters)Increasingly, the benefits that people seek from brands are no longer purely functional. Strong brands connect at a much deeper level, focussing not only on the what and how, but also on the why. (Reuters)

Abraham Lincoln is credited with the following quote —  “You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.” With due apologies to the great man, we can apply it to branding by changing just one word! “You can please all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot please all the people all the time.” This indeed forms the bedrock of the marketing principle of segmentation. Since a key component of strategy is making choices, which invariably involves an element of sacrifice, it is better for a brand to please some people all the time rather than attempting to please all people some of the time. No brand can please all people all the time.

Increasingly, the benefits that people seek from brands are no longer purely functional.  Strong brands connect at a much deeper level, focussing not only on the what and how, but also on the why. To be able to retain their credibility over time, brands have to be consistent with their viewpoint and never act out of character. Articulating a point of view is tantamount to taking a stand, and the issue with it is that it polarises people, but it is better for brands to stand for something than fall for everything.

The digital age heralds the beginning of the end of linear, one-way communication. In the digital space the consumer is able to share her views not only with the brand but also with the rest of the world, all in real-time. This is a double-edged sword from the marketer’s perspective as the message is greatly amplified with the help of the consumer’s active participation in its dissemination. That’s why it is critical for brands to engage in an ongoing dialogue with consumers so that feedback is quickly received and prompt corrective measures are taken to preempt potentially tricky situations from spiralling out of control. But in order to have a dialogue with the consumer, the brand needs to engage with her, and insipid messaging is hardly ever engaging. This makes it all the more important for brands to clearly articulate their views on the matters of popular interest. Since managing conversations is fast becoming the most important job in marketing, it is critical for brand custodians to be fully plugged-in to the prevailing socio-cultural climate — to be able to take calculated risks without transgressing the boundaries of social acceptability.

An example of a brand that seems to have misread the mood of the moment and got it wrong is Haywards 5000 in a 2008 ad featuring Sanjay Dutt, which has been deservedly lambasted on social media for trying to propagate a sexist, misogynistic and regressive view.

Samit Sinha, is the author is managing partner, Alchemist Brand Consulting

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