Playing a long Innings

Playing a long Innings

History of our planet proves that adapting to change is the only way to survive. Those who do not or cannot adapt, become extinct. This is true of human beings, animals and even brands. Brands that do not change disappear from the marketplace… and the consumer’s mind. While many brands have survived for a long time, in the recent years the pace of change has increased manifold and consequently the time available to respond to the changes has shrunk considerably. The problem with many of us is that we think of future as faraway. The future is here. It’s not some event that will take place five, 10 or 20 years from now. It is something that is as close as tomorrow. The pace of change in the recent years has shortened the distance between yesterday, today and tomorrow.

In preparing your brands to survive into the future, it might help to look to the past and learn from it. The first real "brands" began to emerge at around the same time as marketing began emerging as a serious business management discipline way back in the late 19th and early 20th century. By the mid-1900s, marketing had already established itself as a central business function and the four Ps became the tactical tools of marketers. Over the next 30-40 years, the strategic development of marketing as a business function has evolved constantly to adapt to continuous and discontinuous market changes. Concepts such as segmentation, differentiation and competitive advantage emerged and proved extremely useful to marketers in successfully introducing and establishing brands.

But things have been different in the last decade or so. Technology and product breakthroughs, discovery of newer markets (and stagnation of older ones), rising incomes, and telecom and media proliferation require newer and innovative marketing approaches. Because the time to react to competition is shorter than ever before and there is little, if any, scope for blunders. While earlier, a brand could get away with some slip ups, the consumers of today are unforgiving and punish brands that do not live up to their promise by shifting their loyalties to other brands. No wonder so many brands of yesteryears have just disappeared from the shelves. It seems like only yesterday when cars in India meant Ambassador and Premier Padmini; shoes meant Bata; cooking oil meant Dalda or Postman, and colour TVs meant BPL or Videocon. Most of these brands are nowhere close to their positions 10 years ago. Some of them have completely disappeared.

On the other hand, there have been brands that have stood the test of time. Changing consumer preferences, cultural transformation, substitute products, economic recessions, technological obsolescence and many such problems notwithstanding, these brands have been quick to adapt to the ever-changing market dynamics and consumer demand, and grown consistently. These brands have shown what is known as brand resilience.

What is Brand Resilience?

In the year 2000, Indian superstar Amitabh Bachchan rose like the proverbial phoenix. After a long hiatus from Bollywood and a disastrous shot at going corporate that left him bankrupt, Bachchan came back with a vengeance. Today he has not only paid off his debts, but is the busiest star in the film industry, delivering more hits in the year than any other star and has endorsed/is endorsing more than 20 brands. He was also voted as star of the millennium in an online poll by BBC. Brand Amitabh Bachchan is a great example of a brand that possesses resilience.

Brands like Coca Cola, Pepsi, Levi’s, Harley-Davidson, Rolex, Kodak, Nikon, Sony as well as home-grown brands like Thums Up, The Times of India, Parachute, Onida and Amul are resilient brands as they have all been around for many decades during which markets and consumers have both changed beyond recognition. Many of these brands have survived recessionary trends and adverse market conditions and yet have managed to retain their leadership positions in their markets. In fact, many of the world’s top 100 brands are over 100 years old.

The quest for brand resilience

Brand resilience can be compared with a healthy person with strong immunity. A healthy person fights of diseases by practising healthy habits like eating right, following an exercise regime, maintaining hygiene and consulting a doctor when sickness strikes. Similarly, a brand builds resilience by following sound marketing practises, maintaining a fresh appeal, and reinventing itself to remain relevant. Here are a few suggestions on how to build strong, resilient brands.

Survival of the quickest
Brand that don’t respond promptly to a challenge often perish just as brands that are quick to respond get brownie points from the consumer in the form of loyalty. In 1995, when Sony launched PlayStation, the first CD-based video game console, Nintendo and Sega were both unprepared and took time to react. They paid heavily for their sluggishness by losing market to a new entrant like Sony. Today, PlayStation is the market leader by far and also the cash cow for Sony. Nokia, on the other hand, was quick to respond to Sony-Ericsson’s camera phones. Although Sony-Ericsson’s phones became a hit, Nokia launched its own versions of camera phone quickly, ensuring that its market leadership remained intact.

Maintain Consumer Connect
Resilient brands acknowledge that consumers of different generations have different values and ideologies. These brands also know that consumer preferences evolve over time. Liril and Colgate are FMCG brands that have been around for decades and have successfully connected with the consumers of many successive generations. The recent repositioning of Liril (with Aloe Vera) is a case in point. Adding sex appeal to the brand and introducing a male character in its advertising is a marked shift from the age old “waterfall” premise that Liril was associated with.

Remain Loyal to Core Value Proposition
Resilient brands have a personality with which consumers identify them. Sony has always stood for sharp, leading edge technology. The recent repositioning notwithstanding, Liril still stands for freshness. Coca-Cola has quenched thirst for over 100 years and its Thanda Matlab Coca Cola campaign only reiterates that proposition. Colgate means strong teeth, fresh breath. Mercedes still stands for top class and BMW for pioneering engineering. Brands build resilience by taking a stance and sticking to it. They remain loyal their original values and their consumers remain loyal to them.

Kodak Brand’s Resilience From Building Strong Brands by David Aaker

The Kodak Instant Camera (introduced in 1976 to compete with Polaroid) had captured one-third of the instant camera market after one year. However, the company was forced to discontinue the product in 1986 after a successful patent encroachment suit by Polaroid. Kodak’s forced withdrawal of a product from a market it virtually owned is about as bad as it gets. Many brands would have been irrevocably tainted by such a calamity. The fact that Kodak survived this debacle is a tribute to its innate brand strength and to its handling of a painful situation. Every camera owner was invited to return their Kodak Instant Camera in exchange for either a Kodak Disk Camera and film, fifty dollars’ worth of other Kodak products, or a share of Kodak stock. Kodak thus used the incident and the surrounding communication opportunities to reinforce Kodak associations and to support the Disk Camera.

From Building Strong Brands by David Aaker

Why bother about resilience?

Because resilience pays rich dividends in the following ways:  

Provides Longevity
This one is the most apparent benefit. Resilience implies staying power, which translates into l
ongevity. As mentioned earlier, resilient brands survive many generations of human life. Indeed, some have been around for a couple of hundred years. The Times of India was established in 1838. After 168 years, it is the largest selling English daily in the world. That it’s published from India, a country where English is not a native language, tells a lot about the resilience of the brands.

Helps in tiding over adversities
Brands that are resilient are better prepared to survive an unforeseen eventuality, both internal and external to the company. Kartikeya Kompella, business head of a leading DM agency in Chennai says, " Tough times don’t last but tough brands do." In 1982, when other car manufacturers around the world suffered disastrous sales, Mercedes continued to do well and often sold up to 50 per cent more than other European competitors.

Offers scope for market leverage
Resilient brands can try experiments in the market that could be too risky for other brands. In April 1985, when Coca Cola repositioned its flagship brand as New Coke, which was not well received by the market in spite of blind tests showing that New Coke tasted better than Pepsi and earlier Coke. There were protests by a section of Coke fans and Pepsi took advantage of the situation by taking digs at Coke. Coca Cola’s sales had begun to dwindle and the company was forced to reintroduce the old formula drink, which it called Coca Cola Classic. By the end of the year, Classic Coke was substantially outselling both New Coke and Pepsi, putting the company back into the number-one position, which it has enjoyed ever since. Coca Cola got away with its experimentation because the brand was resilient.

Survives onslaught of competition
A brand that has been around for years and has kept its promise with the consumer can often fight even heavyweight competition. Think about Thums Up, which was bought over by Coca Cola on its re-entry to India. Between the mega battle of Pepsi and Coke, Thums Up was grossly ignored by its new owners. In spite of this neglect, Thums Up outperformed both Coca Cola and Pepsi to remain market leader and forced Coke’s management to take the brand seriously.

Sometimes, brands only pretend to be resilient but are not. In times of crisis, such brands often try and take refuge in advertising but usually fail. In A New Brand World, Scott Bedbury points out that no amount of advertising can build or save a shallow brand. “Advertising is the megaphone, not the message,” he says. Many of you will recall that BPL was one of the top three colour TV brands in India in the early 1990s. When crisis struck in the form of entry of Korean Brands, even Amitabh Bachchan’s endorsement could not save BPL TVs from perishing. Cadbury on the other hand used Amitabh effectively to counter the serious threat from the “worm” controversy and is today back to the top. Cadbury was resilient; BPL was not.

Conclusion

It is wise to know that resilience is not infinite. The advantages of possessing brand resilience are many. But that does not mean that strong brands cannot falter and fall by the wayside. Even resilience has an expiry date. But the good news is that brands can get this date extended substantially by remaining loyal to their original value proposition and by being true to their consumers.

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