Delivering a keynote on ‘Effective Brand Communication & its Impact on Society’ at the World Public Relations Forum on September 22, 2023 in Chennai, Subramanyeswar S (Subbu), Group CEO, Mullenlowe Lintas Group and Chief Strategy Officer, APAC, Mullenlowe Group, made the case for brands to take a stand.
The three-day event that kicked off on September 21 is being hosted alongside the Praxis Summit.
While brands could differentiate on some aspects of business (distribution, bundling, product) in earlier times, technology has been a great leveller and brands today ‘are suffering from the bane of similarity’, contended the speaker, who is also the author of ‘Brands to Stands’.
“If brands are getting commoditised, then there is a serious crisis for classical marketing,” he added.
The differentiation that can elevate a brand needs to be seen not by marketers alone, but by consumers the brand seeks to engage, observed the speaker, adding that one cannot build brands on degrees of separation anymore.
“Yet, there is one element, that comes from your brand’s DNA, that can promote divergence from other brands. The so-called competitive advantage we grew up on has a shelf life of 24 hours today. We need distinctive advantage,” said Subbu, terming the latter ‘elusive, mercurial and sacrificial’.
This distinctive advantage manifests as a point of view (or purpose, or stand). It has to be a foundational belief of the brand that needs to then be made the belief of the audience, emphasised the speaker.
Purpose in Practice
Subbu cited the cases of people brands who believed in something and shared it with the world, ranging from Mahatma Gandhi who espoused the purpose of Swarajya, to business leaders like Jamshedji Tata and William Lever, the founder of Unilever.
He cited the case of Levers, which started with Lifebuoy to save lives, and Tata which was created to serve the community. Milton Hershey, the founder of Hershey, famously refused to buy milk from anyone other than farmers even when under extreme pressure, noted Subbu.
“When you base a brand on purpose, they stand up, stand out and stand firm,” he added.
The speaker went on to present some of the agency’s work to drive home the point around brands taking stands and standing out.
In the case of Tata Tea which had multiple brands and when tea as a category was losing out on the younger audience to coffee which was considered cooler, the brand adopted its stance and created the Jaago Re platform.
Subbu explained that while in the western world tea as a beverage was seen as a relaxant, in the Indian context, it was a stimulant. There was enough evidence on social media to show that youngsters wanted to voice their views on social issues. Combining the two, Tata Tea decided to speak in one voice and say, ‘Don’t just wake up. Jaago Re’. ,
“Today Tata Tea is perhaps the largest selling tea brand,” noted the speaker, pointing to the positive business impact of the brand taking a stand on multiple social issues..
He cited the case of Surf Excel’s global ‘Dirt is good’ platform and adapting it in the Indian context. Subbu explained that ‘Daag achche hain’ was born from the truth that it is mothers who inculcate values in children. The brand arrived at the theme that if in the process of doing something good the children are getting dirty, then dirt is good. This has seen multiple iterations over many years.
“Purpose is a force as strong as gravity; but it doesn’t pull things down, it pushes things up,” surmised the speaker.
‘Tonality has to come from the space of humility’
A panel featured Subbu alongside Ritu Jhingon, Group Director – Corporate Communications and CEO, Nand Ghar, Vedanta, moderated by Gayatri Sharma, Head of Communications, India & South Asia, Rolls Royce.
Jhingon emphasised that that brands have to find their purpose right from the beginning, while Subbu underlined that purpose needs to be authentic, on-brand and not be treated as a ‘bolt-on’.
“If you are doing it for optics, it won’t connect,” said Jhingon. She added, “The tonality has to come from the space of humility. You can’t play big brother, you can’t be talking down.”
“There are two pillars to the brand – competence and character. One without the other won’t work,” said Subbu.
The World Public Relations Forum and Praxis Summit draw to a close on Saturday, September 23, 2023.
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