The brand protocol

I have spent a few posts thinking about this concept – the ‘why’ in Scarcity Thinking in Marketing and Feels & Fields in Marketing and some of the ‘what’ in Brand with a world view. Essentially, the idea is that as customer attention becomes increasingly more scarce, brands will have to think beyond ‘fracking’ and the efficiency driven marketing approach (with all the seemingly contextually relevant data they offer) for a sustainable advantage.

I have to confess that it doesn’t seem that way now. In Pipeline to Platform Organisations, Neil Perkin makes the point that this  (pipelines to platforms) is one of the most significant shifts in internet era business economics. And the argument is indeed right, proven by the fact that Facebook, Google, Amazon, Uber, Airbnb and even Apple to a lesser extent are all great examples of platform companies. In fact, the article he has linked to states that in 2013, 14 of the top 30 global brands were platform companies. They have been built to scale, which they have achieved to a large extent by building fairly insurmountable ‘moats’, hugely powered by network effects. And there lies my problem because they are now well on their way to becoming platform monopolies (euphemistically called ecosystems) – the new intermediaries on the very web that was supposed to help level the playing field. Arguably, it’s becoming increasingly clear that a fight against them based on efficiency/network effects is either doomed from the start, or becomes unsustainable. More

Brand with a world view

In Feels & Fields in Marketing, I had written about my view that the sustainable advantage in data driven marketing over the long term might be lesser than an approach where the brand is marketed as a worldview – reflected in thought and deed. A couple of nuances I’d like to point out here. One, the reason I feel so is because from the evolution of digital media thus far, the end game of new platforms/technologies arguably seem to be a version of a “cost per” arms race, and that end game is reached rather fast. Two, I don’t strictly see data and story telling as an either/or. It’s just that I don’t see a lot of justice being done to the latter thanks to the focus on the former, and I also see the dumbing down/tempering of messaging to access a larger mass.

However, I’ll admit that putting down ‘brand with a worldview’ into a generic framework is a rather challenging. But I have seen quite a few examples – personal experiences as well as larger campaigns – that highlight various aspects of this approach. The new POTUS has in fact, provided quite some fodder for this. Hardly surprising, since his usage of extreme stances contributed majorly to his victory.  More

Feels & Fields in brand building

information attention

In Scarcity Thinking in Marketing, I’d written about how, in an era of ‘infinite’ consumption choices, attention is arguably the most precious commodity for a brand. Also, as Faris pointed out in his excellent post, it is a zero sum game, and we’re approaching “peak attention”. We’re also well on our way to manipulating (read fracking)  it. State of the art marketing technology (say, programmatic) can sift through a consumer’s data from multiple sources, and use interest, intent and a bunch of other contexts to deliver an ad at the precise point when he/she can act favourably.

Very few brands, however, are close to this level though. Having the data is in itself a huge step, converting that to actionable insights is even huger! Data can be true, but not necessarily accurate. (read) Also, arguably marketing tech is still a wild west with snake oil salesmen. But more importantly, even if we assume that all the brands will finally get there, it then becomes a ‘square one’ driven by who can pay the most. In that respect, I do not see this as a sustainable advantage. Arguably again, at that point in time, new tech might come up with a potential of first mover advantage, but the way I’ve seen the digital marketing narrative evolve, it is probably an optimisation play than anything else. e.g. In the early days of Facebook marketing, much was made about storytelling and organic Likes, but look where we are now! Similarly, something radically different like VR is now being talked of as paradigm shifting storytelling opportunity, but until proven otherwise, I’ll be cynical.  More

Scarcity thinking in marketing

A brand could be defined as a perception in the mind of a consumer, based on his/her/others’ experiences. These experiences could be either of the product/service itself, or its marketing communication. Earlier, in a post in a different context, I had alluded to the framework of choice during consumption. To elaborate, what are the factors that influence a customer’s decision to buy/not buy? The basic 4Ps of the marketing mix cover a lot of ground in this regard. But it does not really acknowledge (even when it is extended to 7Ps) the one thing that is increasingly becoming the most scarce commodity – time.

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Decrees of Influence

‘Influence’ as a subject has been popping up on this blog since 2010, the last post sometime in Feb 2014. In about half a dozen posts, I wrote about influence in the context of the landscape and complexities, visibility-credibility framing, the data driven approach and its challenges, ‘micro celebrity’ price tags, brands’ usage of influencers as media, and my talk on influence at #WIN14.

Conceptually, I am all for “influencer marketing”. I know it can work in some contexts because of what we achieved with it in Myntra in 2012-13. But even further back, in 2010, thanks to a discussion on a post by Palsule, I realised that with web platforms, after a certain scale is reached, the culture starts resembling that of mass (media) and the ‘influencers’ as well as ‘influenced’ begin a relationship that’s familiar from a mass media era. (Influence CyclesMore

Sounds like a brand

An earlier post’s title was reasonably self explanatory -“Convenience & Choices“, but to summarise, I had dwelt on the abundance of choice we have on all fronts these days, and its (inverse) relationship with conscious choice. I’d quoted from a wonderful article on the death of video stores, The enemy of video stores was convenience. The victim of convenience is conscious choice. The post was subjective, and more a consumer/individual perspective, but what does it to the supply side, or specifically, brands?

Would it be fair to say that convenience is an enemy of brands as well? Let me explain. There are ‘brands’ that have been built on the proposition of convenience. Given the internet’s penchant for eliminating middlemen who do not provide its kind of value, and its ability to create convenient interfaces, everything from Google and Amazon downwards is built on the idea of convenience. That’s not what I am talking of. My line of thought is whether convenience (also) leads to a certain kind of commoditisation – it becomes not so much about what I want, but more about how easily I am getting it. So long as the product/service is comparable in terms of price and value proposition, and not necessarily superior, I’d be fine. The premium is on ease and time, and not on the brand/product.  More

The transience of consumption & marketing

Rajesh wrote a very interesting post recently on ownership, and how it would impact brand/marketing/purchase. My own view of ownership has undergone a massive change in the last couple of years, thanks to a combination of factors like increasing life spans, the changing nature of jobs, and the rise of on-demand services. Add to that extreme income disparity, economic flux, and technological advances that have the potential to create obsolescence faster than ever before, and I’m reasonably sure the concept of ownership is up for a revamp.

Rajesh brings up two factors that caused previous generations to value ownership – financial success (trophies) and asset building. If I have to analyse my own motivations in the past, both of these would find a place. If I dig deeper, I also see a couple of others. One would be lack of access on demand. (eg. music/movie CDs, books, even say, photographs) You can see how streaming and cloud storage have changed this. The other subtext I can vaguely discern is ‘control’. A car, home, all lend an air of certainty and being in control. Maybe it has something to do with growing up in middle class India which had quite a lot of experience with scarcity. But in the line of anti fragile thinking, the key skill going forward would be agility rather than trying to retain control. In essence, a whole lot of cases for ownership that no longer seem relevant.  More

Brand Storytelling

Recently, on Netflix, I caught something that I had read about almost a year back – an easter egg of sorts. On my feed, I saw shows ‘watched by Frank Underwood’. For those who haven’t watched House of Cards, that’s the name of the show’s protagonist, played by Kevin Spacey. (fantastically, I’d add) The shows selected seem absolutely true to (his) character, which is manipulative, scheming, and truly Machiavellian!

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Brand Interfaces

A couple of months ago, I had written a post on the inevitable ambient future of what we now call the internet, and the role of AI in it. The post was mostly on the rapidly changing nature of interfaces. The ones we actively interact with – mobile, VR/AR, gesture/haptic based tech – and the relatively more ambient ones like a certain kind of wearables and IoT. In that post, the argument was that Google was best placed to tie together data from mobile, social, sensor, location etc and give it context with the help of AI. (Hello, Alphabet!) As this Wired post states, Google is not a search company, it is a machine learning company. Do read about Google Brain while you’re at it! It has a role in several Google products we use, and shows the potential of what is possible when machine learning really works on content surfacing.

But all that is only context setting. Something that has been occupying a lot of my mind space these days is the impact of these continuing developments on brand communication and distribution. For years, the limitations of traditional media have forced brands to communicate to lumpy masses of ‘target audiences’. As the internet transitions into a much more ambient an ubiquitous form, all of brand marketing will be digital either overtly or under the hood. But even digital’s early versions have been on the same path, with incremental changes based on intent/interest. That, I think, is about to change fast. This superb article on the same subject puts it really well – we need not simply digital strategies but strategies for a digital world. It also explores the technological and platform advances that will allow frictionless experiences for consumers and what it means for brands.  More

The purpose of brand

The Guardian had an interesting post recently, titled “Brand is becoming meaningless“, it (brand) is being replaced by a company purpose that the organisation can rally around. Yes, there is a study that this is linked to, and quotes. To paraphrase, brand is the effect, not the cause, and that has made it lose its fashionable shine.  Someone should tell Maggi this, they just lost $200 mn in brand value, even as the corresponding goods value is ‘only’ $50 mn! (via) Now, just so we are clear, I am not completely against this thought, all the more because this is something I have been writing about for a while now.


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