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Brand Bonding In A Time Of Displacement

If the world has been displaced, can brands stay the same ?

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Last week, I was on a panel discussion on the importance of culture creation by brands and how the pandemic has led to a collective displacement in terms of lifestyles and expectations. A reassessment of value systems will hopefully emerge. It got me thinking about the best way for brands to navigate these changes so that they are closer to their consumers in their their everyday lives.

Brands are a part of culture. Some create it, others further it, while others are part of it. All brands create content but not all are able to create social impact and build culture. The ability to create culture is a test for the greatness of a brand. 

Brands must have consumer orientation. If we understand displacement of the consumer, we will understand the best course for the brand to act as well. This is in part via intuition, in part by active research and a lot of empathy. One only gets there by thinking, feeling and sensing.

In an era of displacement, there can be a lot of untested approaches - what I would call ‘yellow flags’. Therefore it is important to guard against puffery, ineffective advertising, unempathetic fluff, vagueness and hollow calls to action.

It is equally, if not more important to avoid cynicism. Therefore, in a changing world with displacement, scope is more important than scale. If the brand has value in the lives of consumers when the community is feeling this displacement, eventually it will gain scale and stand to benefit from the business model. Having a history of performance, specialization, an advantage in terms of consumer preference and an ability to change course quickly helps. All these help build meaningful differentiation.

At their acclaimed best, brands are cultural systems. In times of flux and change, great brand creation opportunities exist. The actual market offering must make use of cultural content in the formulation of its marketing-mix. Denmark is not the same as India and they are both different from Vietnam. Global brands must fully appreciate the cultural and social transitions to be made. Usually such understanding is systematically excluded from the insights and strategy stages with only a reliance on stereotypes proven by ‘data’.

Corporate brand management enforces a top down command-and-control process that seldom has risk appetite for cultural innovation opportunities. It requires too much context and a willingness to punt - both missing as you go up the ladder.

In a ‘normal’ world, the same product used to be for everyone. Mental and physical availability was to be achieved using distribution and reaching out to consumers - the first goal was to be famous before being liked and to rise above the cacophony of competing messages. For me my experience at Royal Enfield taught me that this model of essential FMCG style marketing needed to elevate to the 1:1 model and that tech advances are making it possible just like earlier mass media had made the mass marketing model possible. 

Fundamentally, the 1:1 marketing model is not an enemy of scale. The challenge is how to figure out the full capability of tools and to know when and how to use them. Share of customer lives is as important as the share of the market. This demands a change of thinking from not only differentiating products but also differentiating customers.

This brings me to my next point - Once brands reach the most relevant customers, they can connect well with them, motivate them and that is how they garner the ability to influence and lead the community as well. This allows them to build culture and at the same time, this keeps the brand at the top of the mind for consumers.

Even as practising marketers, we don’t see it because the economic rationale for brand building has been given way more importance, while it’s sociological impact has been neglected. 

We believe Royal Enfield has managed to achieve such a cultural status through a premium and engaging experience. So, when there was unprecedented volatility everywhere due to the pandemic, we were no exception. We too experienced collective displacement. Our rides and community activities like marquee rides and much loved events like rider mania, etc. were affected by the pandemic as people stopped stepping out of their homes. However, during these times, our bond with our community has only strengthened. We took steps to make sure the community is together at this difficult time. 

Our campaigns like ‘Trip Story’, the ‘Art of Motorcycling’ invited the community to stay connected online and thus looked at the allied interests of our community. 

Consistency and commitment of brands is what creates culture. Those brands that achieve iconic status - are most frequently represented in popular culture and this actively grows the brand halo and leads to mythology for the brand.

Brands are markers of trust, quality guarantee and community. Brands stand for a mission. And brands that stand for a culture allow you to experience a way of life or promote a way of life. If done well, every displacement will become manageable.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.


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Shubhranshu Singh

The author is a global marketer, story teller, brand builder, columnist, and business leader. His interests include studying social change, impact of technology on consumer lives, understanding young consumers, history and politics.

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