Is the corporate brand important in the brave new world?

To all practitioners of corporate brands who are still following the textbook path, here is a critical note of caution from Shivaji Dasgupta, Managing Director, Inexgro Brand Advisory

Shivaji Dasgupta
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Is the corporate brand important in the brave new world?

The corporate brand had a clear role in the predictable old world of ‘reputation’. To set a foundation of credibility for the product brands to make promises. In the brave new world of ‘performance’, the role of the parent is diminishing rapidly as only experiences matter to customers. This is exactly why we have to reimagine our corporate branding strategy.

To establish the case, it is necessary to dwell further on the ‘performance’ economy. There are many pieces of evidence to suggest that customer experiences, as felt or amplified, lead to others trying the brand.

Beyond this, there is no further room for communication, as our relationship with the product or service will define the way forward. A strong brand pedigree, corporate or product, can certainly sweeten the trial process but no further advantage can be gained or expected. In fact, legacy equity can actually be detrimental if innovation is the task and the instances are many.

In BLDC Smart fans, the leader is newbie Atomberg, with virtually zero past associations. Even giants like Bajaj and Honda have failed to match up to Ola and Ather in the dynamic arena of EV two-wheelers.

Mobile phones, wearables and accessories, fashion retail, foods and more are lit up by the panache of brand-new players. The D2C evolution, fuelled by ONDC, will add to this dramatic transformation while Covid data points clearly demonstrate a lessening in brand loyalty. Access and need are the new heroes on the block.

Corporate brands were caringly built to give product brands a fast-forward advantage, now the reverse is true. Consistent and compelling brand experiences can add back to the corporate brand, aiding its stature across stakeholders, especially the stock markets.

This will lead to greater B2B implications than B2C and therefore the communication approach will have to be suitably realigned. Starting with a customer-centric value proposition, clearly outside-in and a gestalt of how individual consumer brands make a difference to consumer lives. Let’s look at the Tata Air India scenario as a case in point.

Flyers truly do not care if Air India is now a Tata family member, for multiple reasons. Firstly, the entire experience, from livery to equipment or service will take at least another 18 months to standardise, as planes are purchased, repainted and refitted. Already, social media is agog with experience failures as people like us expect the advertised changes to be implemented here and now.

Also, very importantly, every notable competition is a strong product brand, whether Singapore Airlines, Emirates or British Airways. Nobody is aware of parentage and in this industry, with the possible exception of Virgin Atlantic, conglomerates have not been successful.

But the benefits of the new parentage can be considerable, starting from crew recruitment as folks will feel that their careers are in more stable arms. Suppliers and vendors will also be suitably enthused that their bills will be paid on time, as will airport operators. Therefore, focussed one-on-one communication, not TOI full page, can provide this level of credibility.

The real opportunity will however be the tailwinds for the Tata Group if the business succeeds - a genuinely customer-centric service industry renowned for its complexities will acquire further feathers. Also, the synergistic possibilities with the Hotels and other Luxury businesses are potentially epic, setting benchmarks. Corporate branding thinking must focus on this, not Public Sector-like promise-mongering.

As mentioned earlier, a headstart in credibility has been a major KRA for the corporate brand. But here too, the scenario has changed drastically and appropriate evidence lies in QSR and Restaurant Dining.

Consumers are simply not aware of company brands like Yum! Foods ( KFC, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell), Culinary Brands (Subway, Lavazza, Fresh and Honest), Massive Restaurants by Zorawar Kalra ( Masala Library, Farzi Cafe, Pa Pa Ya) and their many peers including Anjan Chatterjee’s Specialty Restaurants.

As every franchise builds separate equations with customers, the corporate entity gains substantially through accumulated goodwill and therefore investor excitement. Credibility is clearly enjoying a role reversal in the matter of domain expertise, an erstwhile competence of solitary halos.

In fact, the rampant diversity across industries, fuelled by easy outsourcing of capabilities has also not helped the cause of corporate brands. When Oberoi moved to Trident or Taj to Gateway, it was a classic ‘line’ extension but when Reliance relaunches Campa Cola or sets up the Independence brand of FMCG products, the relationship with core business is certainly not territorial.

The moment it becomes pure play ‘trust’ or ‘emotion’, new age customer behaviour comes into play, wherein everybody insists on checking out the experience personally before vetting or amplifying.

The final nail in the coffin for the corporate brand has actually been the standardisation of authenticity and quality, fuelled by a regime of outsourcing as much as consumer vigilance.

There was a time when branded products were, for very decent reasons, considered to be safe because a whole host of local competition arrived from dubious sources.

A classic case in point is packaged drinking water, a potboiler of deliberate discrepancies. This is no longer the case and a very good reason is the E-commerce platform, the very fact that Amazon or Flipkart is selling a certain brand gives it a sense of acquired nobility, a surrogate endorsement of fundamentals.

To all practitioners of corporate brands who are still following the textbook path, here is a critical note of caution. The customer now governs every millimetre of the brand’s jurisdiction, real or imaginary, and the self-centred manufacturer vision has minor relevance. It's time to focus every energy on brand experiences and transfer the essence to the corporate entity. So that a meaningful adhesive of culture and intent can be lovingly crafted. As a matter of fact and not just a raging wishlist. This is, indeed, the new secret sauce.

Shivaji Dasgupta Inexgro Brand Advisory brave new world corporate brand