Normally, I do not post immediate sequels to my blog posts. However, the comments of my good friend and respected colleague, Dr Ganesh Nayak on my last week’s blog post, “Products, Brands and the Firm: The Five Immutable Laws of Branding”, Strategy Musings, February 16, 2014 (http://cbrao2008.blogspot.in/2014/02/products-brands-and-firm-five-immutable.html) have set me thinking on the emotional facets of branding. I believe I should not only clarify certain aspects of the previous blog post but also benefit from Dr Nayak’s thoughts to cover certain additional aspects through this blog post. As readers may recall, the previous blog post postulated that six attributes of a product or service, functionality, reliability, durability, maintainability, affordability and differentiability, result in sustainable branding. Dr Nayak rightly commented that important as these points are, a brand is beyond these points.
Dr Nayak mentions that the many of the six points are tangible which a customer can experience in many “me too” products as well. He points out that a premium sedan such as Nissan Teana may have all the six features to a rational mind but the said car as a brand may not be as powerful as BMW or Mercedes is. He follows up that a brand is more of emotions, as a result of which the customer does not think of critically evaluating the above six points in respect of a product under the brand; the customer takes the presence of the factors granted. He refers to Mont Blanc pen not necessarily scoring high on all the six factors but customers willing to spend a fortune to acquire one. Acknowledging the meaningful insights that Dr Ganesh Nayak brings but also reviewing Dr Nayak’s points objectively, it is clear to me that Dr Nayak’s insights point to the need to supplement my previous blog post by developing appropriate constructs for the emotive aspects of branding.
Emotions and loyalty
Emotions are strong feelings, and are characterized by positive ones such as respect, love and attachment, and negative ones such as anger, fear and hatred. Emotions are considered to be independent of rational thought. An emotive act or product causes people to feel strong emotions. A strong brand, without doubt, is based on, and is capable of, evoking strong emotions. When Nokia decided to sell its Lumia smart phone business several people responded more emotionally than analytically; the emotions were feelings of sadness that it marked the end of a historic Finnish brand, rather than feelings of optimism that a new owner with deep pockets and an emerging mobile operating system would infuse new life. The latter was probably based on negative emotions that Microsoft could not yet make a success of computing devices and, in addition, a concern that Microsoft Windows would never be an OS platform that can revive and ramp up Lumia. Clearly, future is somewhat imperfectly but popularly prejudged on the basis of emotions rather than rational thought.
At the same time, in spite of Nokia trailing other firms and brands in product features and customer acceptance, millions of Nokia handsets continue to be sold globally, the reason being brand loyalty. Loyalty, as we know, is the quality of being faithful in support of someone or something. Like emotions, loyalty is also not necessarily based on rational thought but at the same time has necessarily a history of the customer benefitting from the product or service in terms of the six factors in the past. Emotions and loyalty reinforce or erode each other contextually. The objective of all marketing generally, and advertising specifically, is to cause positive emotions and build brand loyalty. That said, it is to be realized that both emotions and loyalty cannot materialize in thin air, and on the other hand require a record of past performance based on the postulated six factors. This blog post postulates five immutable laws of emotive brand loyalty to deepen the understanding of these processes.
The first law: An emotive brand is “product plus trust”
Certain products and firms evoke trust; a belief and an assurance that they reflect quality, dependability, goodness, service and ethics. The trust typically develops from a firm and its products consistently scoring well on the six attributes. Over time, successful firms and products get branded positively, or negatively, predominantly on a singular dimension. For example, certain firms and groups get known for ethical conduct. Certain others get known for consistently high quality of its products. Certain service providers get known for their timeliness while some others get negatively branded for their erratic schedules. Consistent delivery on product attributes leads to brand equity and sustained brand equity leads to brand loyalty. The leading and lagging brands of the world have their instructive lessons on compliance to this law.
The second law: Branding is "banking of emotions"
A firm has to provide products of quality to be a player of any standing in an industry. Yet, some firms and their products gain a higher level of customer trust within an industry. This may be considered firm level aggregate branding. Once a firm achieves collective superiority in all of its products, occasional or isolated setbacks are taken in stride. For example, Toyota, the world’s leading manufacturer of automobiles had, two years ago, a series of product recalls in one of the most stringent markets of the world. Yet, the company could tide over the crisis rather comfortably, and even achieve higher sales in the year after. Apart from an unassailable reputation of quality, a humbled and focused response to addressing the quality concerns protected the Toyota brand. Branding is like a savings bank of emotions for the firm. The larger the account, the more secure is its future.
The third law: Firm branding is portable, product brand extendable
Firms which are fortunate to develop brands tend to be anxious to leverage the success of brands to drive success of new products. While doing so, firms tend to fritter away the opportunity by an inadequate appreciation of scope and limits for brand reformatting. As a principle, product branding can be extended in a product family but not portable across products. Any attempted portability across product lines could be suboptimal compared to develop distinctive line-specific brands. For example, Samsung could extend its Galaxy brand to all its smart phones but its porting to a camera lineup was not as successful. On the other hand, a firm which has high firm level brand equity can port its equity into new product lines. Conglomerates and firms with high brand equity are well positioned to achieve this. New firms of Tata and Reliance groups as well as new product lines of electronic giants are indicative of this.
The fourth law: Low cost is never a high price for branding
Theories of marketing teach us that features with underlay of technology and overlay of luxury come with a price. Premium products demand higher price. That said, price competitiveness of a product, the other five attributes remaining the same, buys brand loyalty. A customer who prefers a Mercedes SUV to a Toyota Innova (also an SUV) typically has such preferences based more on the reputation of Mercedes as a luxury brand even if it is pricey. That said, the same customer who prefers the Mercedes SUV may not prefer a Land Rover SUV, despite Land Rover being better SUV brand because of the much higher price tag that a Land Rover has (Rs 2.5 crore versus Rs 1 crore of Mercedes). The practical application of the six attributes of functionality, reliability, durability, maintainability, affordability and differentiability varies from customer to customer based on the nature of the customer, the social and economic demographics and the product itself. Apart from the customer’s own preferences the overall social infrastructure influences brand acceptability.
The fifth law: Brand loyalty takes the vision of the viewer
Brand loyalty takes many forms. The reasons why a product, firm or brand commands loyalty varies from customer to customer. For someone who understands the entire spectrum of automobile industry, Toyota could be the most favored brand for its innovative accomplishments in manufacturing management, and not necessarily because of the quality of any particular model. For someone who understands aseptic practices, a hospital that has state-of-the-art aseptic practices could command respect while for many others the association of topnotch medical consultants could be the decider. It is for this reason that some brands, “super-brand” themselves to ensure higher brand loyalty. While Aquafina and Kenley mineral (pure) water brands command brand loyalty for purity, Evion and Himalayan evoke further connect with the emphasis on bottling at source of Alpines or Himalayas as the case may be.
The relationship between a seller (the firm) and a buyer (the customer) is neither a selling relationship nor a purchasing relationship; it is one of human relationship. In an organization, for example, people may deliver on performance and may get rewarded in terms of compensation, and teams may share bonuses amongst the members; however, unless there is an emotional connect or an empathetic rapport amongst the team members, the team may not be reaching the fullest potential. Even though a sales transaction between a seller and a buyer may be a onetime occurrence (or even a periodic occurrence in respect of retail transactions), the multi-factorial emotional feel of getting to know a brand, exercising a reasoned choice, being sold with care, actually experiencing the functionality and after-sales service care, and having options to upgrade to next generation products all add up to building the emotional connect around a product, firm and brand.
Wise companies, therefore, do not consider their responsibility fulfilled with delivery to the retail chain; they pursue a diligent and caring connect till the point of contact with the customer, at the time of potential sale and thereafter. While a firm cannot be present at all points of contact, the firm would choose associates and partners who are aligned with its own emotional code of connectivity. The emotive brand loyalty of a firm and its products is probably the most important determinant of sustainability in a hyper-competitive market. The emotive brand loyalty does, however, gets built on the foundations of the six fundamentals that characterize a product or service to the customer: functionality, reliability, durability, maintainability, affordability and differentiability.Posted by Dr CB Rao on February 23, 2014