What a brand means to me

Tuesday, 31 December 2019 00:10 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

The year gone by was an interesting year given the chaos in the market place. Starting from the Easter attack and fear psychosis that gripped the nation and wiped out the buoyant economy of Sri Lanka. The quarter-two GDP crashed to 1.6% with tourist arrivals dropping by a staggering 70.8% in May as against last year. The quarter-three GDP picked up to 2.7% but it left behind almost 70 hotel properties on sale and many being retrenched that ultimately led to the fall of the Government on 16 November. 

Amidst this turmoil, I met one of the most interesting gentleman for the year 2019 – Kirby de Lanerolle. A man who was very close to his grandfather who encouraged him to lay hands and pray for healing from the age of seven. 

Kirby the brand 

Kirby as a brand has got the rub off from both the Government and corporate world. At 22 Kirby founded Ambassador Tea, a tea export and packaging company that won the medium scale export award for value addition. 

Kirby then went on to partner a known industrialist and was instrumental in setting up the $ 25 million ‘state-of-the-art’ Alokozay Tea plant in Jebel Ali, UAE in 2003. Thereafter diversified into food fish farming in Sri Lanka, he went on to pioneer the hatching of sea bass for the first time in commercial quantities.

Kirby was one of the youngest to hold an official Government position that had to be ratified by the Cabinet of Ministers. He was involved as the youngest Executive Advisor to a Cabinet Minister when he was just 28-years-old and served on the Board of the National Aquaculture Development Agency (NAQDA) and was the National Project Coordinator for Aquaculture Development for the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). Kirby was also the Adviser for the Cabinet Minister of special projects and is an all-island justice of peace.

In 2011 Kirby together with his wife Fiona founded the Warehouse Project – urban community development needs. The Warehouse Project became a model and inspiration for people of all walks to do what they can to get involved and serve their community. It facilitated creative solutions for urban community problems through music, arts, entrepreneurship and micro-financing and ensured that all those in need were serviced regardless of race, religion or creed.

Their dedicated service earned them the respect of leaders and other religious organisations who honoured the heart of reconciliation that was administered by the project initiative to bridge religious and racial gaps. Kirby was later awarded a national accolade by the Buddhist prelates as ‘Deshaabimana’ for his service.

Brand Kirby: National policy 

The Minister of Social Services subsequently appointed Kirby as the Executive Advisor to the Ministry of Social Services. Whilst serving under the Ministry of Social Services Kirby conceptualised, initiated and saw the materialisation of the establishment of the National Volunteering Secretariat funded by the United Nations Volunteers (UNV) – which he later became Working Director of. 

He also served as a member on the National Council for Persons with Disabilities appointed by the President of Sri Lanka. In 2012 Kirby was instrumental in envisioning and setting up the ‘V Awards’ – the most prestigious national award for volunteering and was Co-Chair of the National Volunteering Steering Committee. On launch of the program Kirby was honoured as the Chief Adjudicator for the V Awards for two consecutive years.

Excelling also in the field of sports, Kirby is a Gold medallist at the Junior National Level Championship for Rifle Shooting in 1995 and has won medals for Boxing, including Gold at provincial level and Bronze at the 2005 National Sports Festival. 

Brand Kirby: Nat Geo

In 2012, he accomplished the seemingly impossible feat of completing a half marathon without eating for two months, sustained only by the strength of God. This feat was featured in the local media and then brand Kirby went to be featured on Nat Geo and TedX and many other media channels for his power of the faith. 

Kirby was one of the youngest to hold an official Government position that had to be ratified by the Cabinet of Ministers

What is a brand?

Let’s get deeper into this interesting subject – brands. To me, a brand is all about choice, especially when it comes to marketing a personality like Kirby, given that there is so much of share of voice (SOV) that is freely available.

Brands in the personality arena compete in such a crowded and noisy environment, how one is heard and remembered has continuously intrigued me. I believe that a great brand is built on a compelling idea that anchors the consumer’s attention and loyalty by filling an unmet or unsatisfied need, which is what brand Kirby has done successfully in the last 10 years.

If this connection is made, communication becomes more sharp, leading to a strong brand in the consumer’s mind. I guess the thousands who came out to listen to Kirby on a Sunday show confidence in the value of this brand.  

Kirby is one of the power brands of Sri Lanka 

The brand DNA

If I move to a global brand like Nike to take this discussion to a new terrain, my mind goes to the famous press ad headline which said ‘There is no finish line’. This essentially encapsulates the Nike brand’s DNA. 

Nike symbolises an unreachable destination in pursuit of physical fitness and wellness. The idea is both inspirational to a universal audience seeking personal betterment. Overtime, a great brand idea doesn’t change; only its expression does. Renewing and refreshing the expression to ensure continuing relevance is a challenging journey.

A Sri Lankan example that comes to my mind is my favourite brand Dettol, which I managed for Sri Lanka for over three years. The brand has today launched many variants of soap, plasters and hand sanitizers and in the future might launch diapers, prickly heat powder and may be even creams, but the DNA that characterises Dettol remains – germ protection.

This reinforces the idea that a brand’s promise does not change but only that its expression does. This expression is based on the changing lifestyle of the consumer, which is why Dettol keeps launching brands and coming out with new advertising and promotions but will never move away from its DNA. This is what differentiates a strong brand from the herd. Which is what I have been advising brand Kirby to practice when under attack from distractors. 

Right connection

Let me take another case in point: the brand Surf washing soap powder. The brand is all about the ‘Champion Mother’ and yesterday’s mom believed that old-fashioned mothers have dirty kids; modern parenting is all about good mothers who allow their kids to get dirty. Hence a modern day mum will allow kids to be themselves whilst trusting Surf to do the task of removing the dirt from their kids’ clothes.

I believe that ensuring that you make the right connection with the right consumer at the right place and at the right time is a critical component of keeping the idea compelling and contemporary, which is what Surf as a brand has successfully done. I guess the when Kirby was awarded a national accolade by the Buddhist prelates as ‘Deshaabimana’ for his service means that the right connection has been made and the time was right for this brand to appeal to a wider market.

The promise

To explain this point, let me take a globally exciting example from the world of perfumes – a brand called Axe, which is actually a globally acclaimed male perfume. What the brand actually tries to do is to connect with real life, real fantasies and real feelings of 18-year-old boys.

The core of the brand is ‘successful attraction of a female’ and it connects with a target that likes to talk and fantasise about it, but is not very good at it in real life and the brand Axe perfume works because it is a rite of passage: from feeling like boys to feeling like men.

So what the Axe brand does is help reinforce masculinity and makes them believe they can attract the Cleopatras of the world. In doing so, Axe becomes distinctive in the eyes of the consumer and makes it personal to the brand. This is the science of brand building at its best. But the real challenge for a brand is that the product must deliver a promise, which is what makes a brand strong, with a loyal following trailing behind.

New media

Now that we know the key ingredients of a strong brand, let me share a thought on the spiralling new media that is gaining currency because of their potential to engage consumers intimately. It’s all about touch points – the variety of ways in which you can connect your brand with your consumers.

In today’s environment, whether it’s via mainline media, the internet that includes vehicles like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram or for that matter just traditional email, has now changed the name of the game where brands are built.

In the case of outside-home initiatives, the communication tools like point of sale material have been replaced by tri-vision LCD alongside the road that gives avenue for multidimensional salience and relevance. 

Nike does this really well with its target consumers with outdoor vinyls where joggers can interact with them, in gyms you can sample the product and in the department store there is a built in mondor track that one can actually try the shoes they intend purchasing before real purchase takes place. Surf provides a new contact point for mothers with contests for kids at schools, announcing the contests in print and TV, so that the brand experience takes place at two points – at school and at home.

The contest encourages mothers and teachers to unleash children’s potential by allowing them to explore and experience the mesmerising but messy world of colours and crayons. Axe hosts the longest dance party in the world in some countries and the result is an event rich in emotional content that creates a continuum of experience for the consumer.

Next steps

So while the old idea was to give a brand awareness and salience on media, the new way is to give it some buzz and experience. I guess for brand like Kirby too, with all the issues that he has had in 2019, the brand buzz and experience on what this brand DNA is all about to a person wanting direction in one’s life tells us the power of a brand. I guess now the next phase of brand building must take form so that the real value of the brand can be unearthed.

(The writer is an award-winning marketer who twice won the ‘Best Marketer Award’ in Sri Lanka in his 17-year career in top global multinationals. He then went on to be appointed as the Chairman of Sri Lanka Tourism and Sri Lanka Export Development Board and serving the United Nations – UNOPS for five years. He is an alumnus of Harvard University and currently head the leading Artificial Intelligence (AI) company for the South Asian region as the CEO.)

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