Brand it, or Forget it!

He gets down from his Pulsar, swaggers into college in a pair of crushed Levis jeans and Benetton Tee shirt, atop a pair of just do it Nike shoes and swashes his iPhone furiously thumbing a status update.

Welcome to the Gen-X’s college today, a far cry from the college of yester years where Fashion Street cheese cotton shirt atop any old pair of trousers was good enough and only those who came from the crème-de-la-crème of society would putter in on a Luna, for the rest of us cycles were quite ok.

Brands are as ubiquitous as the number of two wheelers one sees parked in our colleges today. They seem to define our very existence, giving us our identity and personality. Life without brands is impossible to imagine, it would be akin to loosing one’s very identity.

Yet, branding still seems to be an enigma for most marketers and also their waterloo.

“That many brands fail to reach their potential or maintain their equity is neither surprising nor puzzling …The real curiosity may be that strong brands exist at all…” – David Aaker

Coming from one of the most respected authorities on Brand Management the above statement has to be taken seriously.

With the cost of launching new brands reaching stratospheric heights and only a fraction of the hundreds launched every year surviving, the issue does require all some serious rethink.

Once upon a time technological innovation or superiority was a sure ticket to success. Today, fresh entrants and virtual novices have access to the same technology that was a preserve of only established giants earlier. Technology therefore fails to offer a long-term competitive advantage. The ever-shrinking product life cycles further aggravate this problem.

The answer to this puzzle, which is becoming more and more complex by the day, seems to lie only in strengthening the relationship between the brand and its’ customer. Which takes us into the realms of Branding.

Many a marketing pundits have indicated that a strong brand is probably the only real long-term competitive advantage that a company has. It is the only guarantee that a business will continue to enjoy a customer franchise over a sustained period of time. The most hardened of the skeptics have also grudgingly acknowledged this when faced with hard research and financial data supporting this fact.

Landor Associates conducted a study on 23 leading brands, i.e. brands that were number one in their respective categories in 1920s. It was sobering to note that 19 of these brands were still leaders, number ones in their categories in 1997. It had to be more than an accident for so many brands to have consistently led their packs for 75 long years, in the face of all that the competition may have done to dislodge them.

The entire philosophy and the set of activities that these companies may have undertaken to stay ahead of the pack and more importantly, be consistently relevant to the customer can together be broadly termed as Branding.

(First in a series on the subject, to be continued…)