We, Indians, are emotional people. We are expressive and are not afraid to let our emotions be known. Observe cricket or any celebration, we show our emotions openly and fearlessly. Not surprisingly, Indian natya and nritya shastra (drama and dance science) identified the navrasas — hasya, raudra, karuna, shringar, adbhut, vibhatsa, shant, veera and bhay — as a means to connect with the audience and used these emotions extensively.
We are today living in a very competitive market world. The Indian consumer is experiencing the tyranny of choice — she is flooded with options and they are increasing everyday. With the emergence of organised retail, this is bound to continue to grow — in every category store brands will become a viable option. Simultaneously, there is a constant threat of commoditisation of many categories. Even in new emerging categories, which are either technology-driven or more complex in structure like mobile telephony and financial services, product differentiation is negligible or if created, gets copied within months. Benefit segments that existed in the 90s have disappeared due to consumer- and product-evolution. In personal care, “health” and “beauty” were two segments, today they are one; in consumer durables, consumers sought either “durability” or “aesthetics” — today they want both and hence it’s one. This makes the scenario pretty tough for brands in India.
The future of brands is, undoubtedly, to quote Jack Trout, “Differentiate or Die”. If a brand is not perceived as different from others in the marketplace, it faces the ignominy of extinction — quoting Trout’s erstwhile partner, Reis. It certainly makes sense to revisit, re-invent and re-interpret Rosser Reeves’ “unique selling proposition” in today’s world while building brands.
There is definitely a solution in Trout’s principles of brand differentiation. Be first in the category, own an attribute or the category, leverage heritage or how the product is made, specialise or use “preference” to be a differentiator. Underlying each of these is a rational product story and they work. However, there could be a bigger opportunity in using emotions as a differentiator in India.
Consider the following. “Tata” as a brand has successfully sold steel, automobiles, tea, salt, finance and even software. “Godrej” as a brand has successfully sold a range of categories from locks to fridges to soaps, cooking oil and detergents. In many of these categories, the brand was a follower to the leader and was not greatly differentiated at the rational level from the offerings in the market place. Distribution muscle does help. Indians are family name-driven — distinct from the individual name fascination of the West; but deeper in this is that consumers have bought the emotions of trust, reliability and ‘shant’ras — peace of mind the brands embody through their heritage and years of existence in the Indian market. Clearly these brands have been able to go beyond the USP and leverage a USE — unique selling emotions.
Branding is about creating stories around products and thus making them engaging and endearing to the consumer. The moral of a brand story is the message. However, hidden within story telling are emotions — the navrasas — which imbue brands with emotions, values and attitudes that could be a weapon of differentiation. Let’s look at some other iconic Indian brand examples.
Asian Paints means paint, but also means a feeling of “apnapan” — a feeling of belonging and happiness that makes it differentiated in the market space. Bru is about taste — the taste of filter coffee — but is equally also about the “authenticity” and “warmth” of emotions shared between the members drinking the coffee. Fevicol owns the attribute of “strong bond” but what makes it different are also the emotions and feelings of “earthy Indianness and simplicity”. What differentiated Vodafone/Hutch from others is not just product and category but the feeling of simplicity, charm and style that the stories of the brand have imbued it with over the last ten years. Titan is just not a world-class, good-looking quartz watch but carries with it the emotions of gifting — love, affection, shringar — imbued in the brand by the countless stories the brand has told consumers over the last 15 years!
When the brand story goes beyond advertising to touch consumers in the greater world through its event-based activities — whether about social responsibility or otherwise — the emotions forge greater bonds. Youth brands that conduct celebrity events acquire and own emotional dimensions that are even more engaging and powerful.
In any communication it is said only 7 per cent of the impact comes from content; the other 93 per cent by how — 40 per cent is how it is said and 53 per cent though the non-verbal body language. The same is perhaps true about brand building. How the story delivered can say a lot about the brand. In today’s world of media clutter — over 400 channels and over 15,000 print titles — emotions can be stirred by how the brand talks to the consumer. A couple of international examples are worth seeking inspiration from. BMW spent $70 mn of its $72 mn on creating seven serial films by renowned film makers for the net — and only $2 mn for being present on the internet. The media usage just added to the brand mystique and charm. Mini went the other way — it launched without a TV ad — doing only on ground activity innovatively — to gain attention and build attitude. The message, the story and the medium are all merging in today’s world and brand differentiation can come from using them in an integrated and innovative manner. There may not be enough Indian brand examples for this but this could be instructive — especially as the form communicates more than the content — at an emotional level.
Clearly, brand stories and how they are told do more than communicate and engage the viewer; they create emotions and feelings that become part of the brand’s repertoire in the consumers’ hearts. Differentiation can happen both in the mind and the heart — and in India, the dimension of the heart is also something to examine closely given we are emotional people.
We need to move from the USP to USE. This could certainly be the Indian way to brand differentiation.
Something worth thinking about.