In his weekly column, Shivaji Dasgupta says the new era of marketing is about brands wooing brands with a new set of ambitions way beyond the scientific and financial feasibilities of a typical B2B engagement
Delhi | March 14, 2017
The world of Marketing has been for too long divided into the adventurous world of B2C and the clinical world of B2B. While the former thrives and evolves it is now time for the latter to undergo a much-needed transformation. It is a function clearly of brands today being enjoyed and evaluated as experiences and not just as point-in-time transactions. The new era is clearly about brands wooing brands with a whole new set of ambitions way beyond the scientific and financial feasibilities of a typical B2B engagement. Instead of businesses formulating contracts with businesses, brands will now form relationships with brands.
In the age of experience, every brand can be slotted in two very simple compartments: the ‘Interface Brand’ and ‘Intermediary Brand’. The ‘Interface Brand’ connects directly with the consumer and is the object of the financial transaction. On the other hand, the ‘Intermediary Brand’ contributes to the experience through meaningful interventions that may or may not be visible to the end user, or rather, is made prominent in varying degrees depending on its role in creating the value proposition. An appropriate example of this relationship being honed to logical perfection is the airline industry where equipment provided by the intermediary contributes significantly to the reputation and pricing of the interface. Thus, Singapore Airlines flying the Airbus A380 can command disproportionately higher fares due to this association. As a pattern, airlines are fairly prompt in leveraging not just aircraft but indeed engine, seat and entertainment providers to add visible legs to the final product. In the automobile industry, however, the intensity of this association is actually reversed with the car-maker holding on zealously to every demonstrable aspect of the ride. The hapless tire manufacturer, stern steel-maker and key component owners languish in obscurity as mere suppliers. Dolby on the other hand has performed brilliantly over the ages to make its technology count in creating affinity for the Interface Brand in many ways.
If you believe that a high quality of relationship is possible only in select high-tech industries, that is truly unfounded. Especially as mentioned previously at a time when the holistic experience matters more than the paid transaction. It would be deeply rewarding for the premium biryani maker of Hyderabad to link the origin of rice to a renowned Basmati producer with a pedigree in excellence. The milk that results in the quality of superior ice-cream visibly linked to an exceptional dairy can certainly not be harmful. Hotels being candid in promoting the luxury antecedents of the builder may be able to command a premium beyond its level of service. Bombardier designing the trains of Delhi Metro gives the educated customer a lot more comfort than simply the administrative spiels that populate its advertising. Body Shop is a fine example of sourcing being a source of shared value that attracts the customer. In certain industries like luxury and real estate, the eclectic influence of a celebrity designer is known to enhance the desired aura. Quite truthfully, the Interface Brand has been willing to acknowledge the role of the Intermediary Brand only when it added to an overt ability to command a price premium. This is driven often by a set of traditional insecurities that affects the minds of business owners. In the age of experience, however, point-in-time premium is just one leg of a far more significant set of variables that attract and retain the customer.
That is exactly why Brand to Brand must become the new Business to Business, where the Interface Brand considers the Intermediary Brand as a strategic partner in creating the ultimate customer experience and not just a provider of manufacturing inputs. This enables the former to strengthen its hold on the market as a result of this association, creating a truly win-win environment. Inspired equally by the open-source creation culture of the technology world where credit is lavishly yet selfishly bestowed on every significant contributor, where white-label ceases to be standard operating procedure unlike in most old-economy industries. The customer will value the role of every player in creating his delight and be happy to allot positive accountability as per perception.
The first task therefore is to change the process of evaluation for the selection of partners in a typical continuum. While the process of cost feasibility remains important, it will certainly not remain the only significant factor. First and most critical will be the criterion of experience value-addition. The Interface Brand must choose its desired experience and find partners who will add differentiated legs to that process, not just on technical criteria but more importantly from the perspective of creating an user experience. Then comes the aspect of shared brand values in a way connected to the decision of the former. For both parties, only if there is a significant cultural fit, does the relationship truly become sustainable. When Vistara chooses to fly abroad serving Kingfisher Beer may be a tempting but definitely an avoidable choice given the contrasting ethics. If an experience is obsessive about authenticity, then every partner must also subscribe to that ideology. Thus, Bukhara Restaurant of ITC should use cutlery and crockery from a source of similar pedigree and certainly never offer tea bag tea. Mobile phone manufacturers and e-commerce players can add major value if they highlight their technology partnerships and not just clerical features.
An important dimension also is the aspect of internal employee motivation. In the new era of Brand-to-Brand, marketing organizations will attract employees by the quality of their business alliances and not just customer parameters. Good people like to be associated with better people and this as such can become a tool of retention. Society at large will benefit by these Brand-to-Brand alliances as a culture of collective ethical diligence will logically ensue. For the partners are not just a PAN number in an accountant’s ledger but a visible aspect of a deliberate partnership. Customers quite naturally will benefit in undue proportion as the expectation from the experience is clearly mapped on the table – no longer just a solitary swipe of the credit card but a transparent and potentially seductive association. Each adds legs to an experience that is valuable for a few brief moments or indeed an entire lifetime. The movie industry is actually a fine example of a ‘Brand to Brand’ alliance where talented directors, actors, musicians and others combine effortlessly to create the end product. Credit owned and acknowledged in unique pockets yet adding up to a solitary exceptional outcome.
For Business-to-Business to truly become Brand-to-Brand a change in attitude is fundamentally necessary. The Interface Brand and the Intermediary Brand must both evolve to a fluid relationship of co-creation and trust, viewing each other as natural allies in the primary game of delivering exceptional value to exceptionally demanding end customers. It is already happening in some cases but must urgently happen in every case.
(Shivaji Dasgupta is the founder of INEXGRO Brand Advisory with interests in consulting, training and writing. Till January 2017 he was Executive Vice-President and General Manager of Contract Advertising in Gurgaon. In a career spanning 20 years he has also been associated with Enterprise Nexus, JWT and Rediffusion, advising a wide range of organisations across every sector. He believes firmly that inspiring, intelligent and imaginative strategy must remain the fundamental foundation for brand management. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org)