There’s been a paradigm shift in ‘brand-think' over the last few years. Successive slowdowns, demonetisation, a global pandemic, and now the after effects of war, all put together, have not only questioned, but mostly laid to rest many principles considered sacrosanct to building a brand and business that people embrace. Today, brands are constantly navigating the tricky path between hope and consumer scepticism.
“Is XYZ brand my ally, looking out for my best interest, or merely self-serving to its own end?” This is the most pertinent consumer question of our time, which needs to be addressed; and addressed convincingly.
Brands that are able to clearly identify their meaning and role in people’s lives beyond the transaction, succeed more often than not. Even if it requires disrupting established category codes and SOPs; those fearlessly mobilising people, processes, products and services toward that meaning (whether it is enabling everyday confidence, adding a dash of delight to a mundane day, or creating a safe space during uncertainty) are winning both - business and hearts.
We've all seen that in a post-pandemic, always on, omnichannel, transparent world, relying on a fantastic brand narrative just isn’t enough. There are too many variables. It’s hard to sustain. The most thoughtfully nurtured brand image can develop blemishes. Examples of great companies stumbling, despite game-changing ideas and top talent at their disposal have become more frequent than before. What does seem to leave a greater impact, however, is building and cultivating an ecosystem of stakeholders with shared values.
There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that differentiation has moved beyond the proposition and purpose to a set of ‘Non-negotiable Core Values' that drive the brand towards the meaning it’s trying to bring to people's lives. Custodians of loved brands live and breathe these values every day.
For instance, at Bombay Shaving Company, ‘radical honesty' determines our actions and decisions. This makes us okay with even being vulnerable. We're not afraid to communicate it. Often, we over-communicate to create feedback loops, listening and learning from what people have to say about us. This helps us be better, and do better. Honest self-reflection guides our business decisions. It’s not uncommon for us to pull out profitable products if we realise that we have ‘no right to win' in the category, in the long run. Organisations that haven’t yet articulated their core values, should start now.
When values become your major driver, people become the biggest brand asset. And as the lines between brand and its people blur, magic happens. We've seen it first hand at our company: Every initiative, every interaction, and every effort become so pure and fuelled by passion, that consumer trust, satisfaction, and love inevitably follows.
There's an old advertising and marketing litmus test: Hide the product and the logo and the particular piece of communication should still resemble the brand.
According to me, the litmus test for a loved brand today is this: Take an employee out of the company, and she still wears the badge of the brand proudly wherever she goes.
She is encouraged, loved and respected for it.
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