It is firmly established that brands with a genuine purpose stand a better chance in the marketplace. They earn the respect of customers and society, leading to easier transactions and enhanced credibility. In an ideal form, this association should resonate in the product or service delivery, like Body Shop, but often exists purely as advertising and communication. It works brilliantly in certain cases, such as Nike or UCB, but fails spectacularly when insufficiently loaded with credibility, connectivity and creativity (whether short-term or long-term).
The first recent case is that of Samsonite, a communication aimed at a meaningful association with the Kerala floods, urging tourists to return. It certainly resonates with a high dose of connectivity and credibility, the suitcase clearly an active enabler of the travel experience. Equally, the suspicious domestic and international traveller needs provocative mobilisation, dissuaded by rumours of disease and damaged infrastructure. When a brand of this stature plays the role of an active partner, it adds up to a logical persuasion that benefits almost everybody in the value chain, including society at large. What would make this engagement truly complete is a deeper experiential connect, beyond communication — a special Kerala range, short-term, every purchase leading to a contribution by the company to the relief fund. Perhaps creating a connectivity platform online between NRIs and locals, or even striking a deal with local hotels to offer a complimentary drink to all with this brand’s luggage.
The second recent case is that of Johnnie Walker India, the creator of a technically-impressive advertisement connecting the brand with a major milestone in the space research programme. For starters, the scientific achievement is truly noteworthy, a matter of considerable pride for the nation. The brand too is significantly worthy, with an impeccable track record in innovation and accomplishment, albeit in the indulgent liquor industry. Its renowned ‘Keep Walking’ is the source of connection, Johnnie Walker lauding the nation’s commitment to the space programme, especially the relentless heroes who never say die. Which, quite honestly, is a significant stretch from a core consumer perspective, the two entities unconnected in terms of the genuine brand experience, beyond the metaphor of the tagline. It may even appear as an ill-advised attempt to usurp undue association value, quite unnecessary for an otherwise respected brand.
We know by now that the long-term building of purpose is a scientifically integrated activity, involving a fundamental product-level element much before communication. The focus of this piece is, however, the short-term infusion of purpose, tactical in nature, which is often achieved purely through communication, as in the above cases. Instead of being blindly opportunistic, brands must first explore the ‘experiential credibility’ of the association, whether the event or cause has a symbiotic connect with the core brand experience. It is plainly obvious that luggage and travel are inter-connected, so the Samsonite association rings true at a basic level, unlike the Johnnie Walker linkage which seems laboured and partially audacious. On Kerala, categories that could connect equally effortlessly include airlines, hotels, travel-gear or even taxi services, automobiles, instant noodles and food-delivery apps. On the space programme, the same would apply to science tutorial apps (BYJU’s), engineering institutions or at a lateral stretch, even an energy drink like Bournvita.
After establishing the ‘experiential credibility’, the next step is the ‘inspiring connectivity’, including communication but extending ideally to a piece of the experience, as suggested for the Samsonite case. Maggi could have partnered with NGOs or the Army to set up flood kitchens, with stocks supplied at base rates. Courier companies with full knowledge of residential districts could allot their staff for rescue and rehabilitation, powered by their intricate knowledge of areas. Hospital chains could easily design year-long follow-up programmes for the disease-affected, an alliance between radio stations and mobile networks leading to further discoveries. Any of the above could easily lead to a lovable advertising or digital campaign to amplify this short-term brand purpose, the evidence of genuine contribution adding enormous weight. Even a pure-play communication campaign would work, when armed with the insight, mandate and creativity demonstrated by the luggage major.
In an ideal world, the purpose of the brand must be a fundamental element of the value proposition, rooted in lengthy commitment. However, there are enough short-term occurrences, celebratory or even destructive, for brands to strengthen customer relationships. When they score highly on ‘experiential credibility’ and ‘inspiring connectivity’, the results are likely to be positive.
(Shivaji Dasgupta is the Founder of INEXGRO Brand Advisory and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org)
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