The recent meteoric success of Patanjali proves that brand differentiation is still key to success. While Baba Ramdev did give salience, to use a BrandZ term, to his range, it is the credentials and trust (differentiation) that the guru evoked that worked to get both believers and non-believers to try his products. Naturals and ayurvedic products have been around for decades. The desire for natural offerings has been a trend for some time. But it was one man who gave the whole category a push. The power of trust – explicit and subliminal – was never better demonstrated. And simultaneously, the role of emotion – even irrationality.
Trust, the traditional core of brands, is under pressure today. In a more open world where knowledge is omnipresent – often in the form of misknowledge – trust in brands cannot be taken for granted. Brands are expected to live a higher order of quality. It may be unfair but it’s a reality. To be differentiated, brands need to continuously reinforce trust; just being branded and advertised is not a guarantee. There is a need to be more transparent. And do the right things the right way. And to be seen to do the right thing, the right way.
Beyond trust, in a product parity world, brand differentiation comes through owning an emotional space. And this must be done in a consistent manner to create preference. Brands like Asian Paints, Fevicol and Red Label to name a few, have benefited in commoditised categories doing this. However, this is only a starting point. Brands need to work harder to keep this emotional differentiation going.
Just as USP can be duplicated, emotions can be owned more strongly by a combative competitor. Worse, it can get weakened with consumers if a brand does not nurture it well – just as emotion goes out of human relationships.
Staying contemporary is one key to staying differentiated. India today is going through social and cultural change. Old values are being redefined and new values adopted. Brands need to recognize this and tell (and show) consumers that they are in tune with these changes. Product innovations for constant upgradation and satisfying new consumer needs is certainly one element. However, products can be duplicated. So, the brand’s story telling needs to be contemporary too – whether its logo, packaging or advertising. Red Label has been built on the platform of ’emotions of bonding’. Its stories reflect today’s’ tensions within relationships – whether ‘Hindu Muslim neighbours’ or ‘Live-in relation’ or ‘teacher – successful CEO’.
Getting into local culture is another important way to be emotionally differentiated. The last two decades saw Indianization of global marketing mixes – whether products or packaging or brand stories. As we move into the future, it will be about adapting to more local sub cultures called multiple Indias – whether geographies or age demographics. I find it ‘amusing’ that some global brands are still trying to find common ground across countries for advertising solutions – India being treated as one market.