- Ruchi Gunewardene, Managing Director of Brand Finance Lanka, busts the myths of marketing and identifies the critical component for success
Brand Finance Lanka Managing Director Ruchi Gunewardene
The traditional view
Marketing theory teaches students that the customer is the key stakeholder and should be central in marketing decision making, whether it be in developing a new product, creating a new campaign or making sure the product is made available in the right place at the right price.
Whilst this is indeed true, in the real world, it is only partially so. In pursuit of theory, we often get caught up in stereotypical marketing jargon such as brand awareness, brand positioning and customer proposition, forgetting what business we are in and why we are in business – which is to have a positive financial outcome.
The brand is often not viewed in the context of the business. As a result, we pursue the myth of building brands through communication, and advertising agencies, digital marketing companies and brand managers venture on creative expeditions to find an idea or a catchy tagline as the solution.
This is a common occurrence, be it the launch of a new marketing initiative, rebranding exercise or even for branding the country. Fiscal responsibility is abandoned as corporate managers pursue this elusive goal of growing the business through communications, having been bewitched by a slick presentation.
The alternative view
The alternative way of looking at this is to view brand building not as a communication exercise, but instead to assume that there is zero marketing budget and to rely on operational capabilities to build the brand.
With this mindset, we will stop trying to figure out what we want to say or what messages need to be developed or what creative route will engage customers. Instead, we will begin to look inwards at ourselves to understand who we are, what we are good at, how we have succeeded and what more can we do for our customers.
We would also look at how we should motivate our employees so they can be our brand ambassadors and begin to engage with customers by saying (communicating) and doing (customer service) the right things.
This introspection drives us to understand our heritage (where we have come from), core strengths (what we do better than the competition) and weaknesses and provides an ability to understand what has enabled us to succeed thus far.
In search of the soul
This deep dive into the soul of our business unearths a wealth of information, which should be the foundation of building our brand, on which would hinge everything that we would first do and then say (once we have the marketing budget!).
When looked at in this way, we would start considering what tangible services we offer and the real value that we provide to our customers. Unless there is a fundamental tangible benefit, why do we need to exist at all and what exactly is our purpose in business? Unless we can truthfully answer these questions, it would be best not to invest any further.
We then begin to look at our employees, the front-line staff who our customers interact with every day, and we consider how employees in turn can succinctly define what they are offering. We need to establish an emotional connect, that is truthful and believable about the company they work for.
These are the fundamental ingredients to build an enduring brand – by building the brand from the inside for the benefit of customers on the outside.
The benefits of this approach
The benefit of adopting this approach is that we begin to act on what we believe, which is a powerful and compelling way of brand building. It is not about making a claim that is half-heartedly delivered to customers; instead, it shifts to action before promises. In this situation, the reliance on heavy advertising is reduced, as there is greater believability through perceived action, leading to customer recommendations.
With this mindset shift, marketing resources are not wasted on communications campaigns that do not deliver what they say and that keep changing the messaging in pursuit of that elusive creative idea.
By first searching and then finding the soul of the company and defining it in a blueprint, we begin to establish an enduring system on which marketing can take place. This blueprint becomes the brand through the credibility it delivers by playing to its strengths, by being different to the competition and by being relevant to its customers. Until we can find this soul, no significant communications investments should be made.
The brand as an asset
This approach shifts the narrative from communications to actions the business would undertake. An enduring and strong brand is an asset, as its actions are based on beliefs in order to create customer loyalty. The brand is built every day through small and large initiatives the company takes across the entire business.
There are a few brands in Sri Lanka that have got this perfectly right. Dialog, which leads the Most Valuable 100 Brands table, is one. The brand’s enduring platform is about bringing the future today.
Brandix, which stands for providing inspired solutions to its customers, is another, whilst MAS is driven on innovation that it embraces by being courageous and open to change. These two business-to-business companies did not build their brands on expensive marketing budgets, but they focused on what they do best to create a more enduring platform for themselves.
Finally, there is the well-known Motha brand, which has been long loved in Sri Lanka and is all about making simple everyday moments more delightful and fun.