What powerful brands do

Tuesday, 1 March 2011 00:01 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Recently Fox news channel announced that Sri Lanka is the “Rising star of the Asian Economy,” which I felt was an accolade we rightfully deserve due to the strong performance of the private sector in the last two years and the stable environment that existed in the macro environment.However, last week’s Key Persons Forum by FCCISL, where the Japanese Ambassador cautioned the business community that a more aggressive development agenda is required on trade and investment, was an eye opener that we need set the bar way higher than what we are currently at.

My estimate is that at the current performance we will deliver a 5-7 per cent growth, which is essentially organic in nature. If we want a 10 per cent plus growth, then the development agenda will have to be on a new terrain which is essentially what the Japanese Envoy inferred.

Maybe the best case in point will be the apparel industry of Sri Lanka that took Sri Lanka’s growth agenda on a new trail way back in the 1980s. The key question is, what is that big ticket item that we need to chase after?

World in turmoil

The recent uprising in Egypt that is cascading to the rest of the Arab world is upsetting the development agenda of many countries, given that globally we are yet to recover from the financial crisis that shocked the world some years back.

Apart from spiralling inflation due to weather issues across the world, the surging oil prices are adding to the inflationary pressure that the world is up against, adding to the woes of a country that is driving on a new economic agenda like Sri Lanka.

SL in catch-22

Going back to the revolutionary Budget that was presented last November, as the former Head of the National Council For Economic Development (NCED), I was totally excited and was looking forward to year 2011/12 where Sri Lanka’s economy would be unleashed to high gear just like the statement by Fox TV channel, referring to us as the “Rising star of Asia”.

But when La Nina battered us in January and then followed with another burst in February, we were once again ploughed back to emergency evacuations and emergency food, clothing and shelter modes which took away the shine of Budget 2010/11.

A point to note is that a 10 dollar increase in oil prices shaves off a half percentage of GDP, which gives us an indication of the challenges that we are up against for the balance part of the year.

Brand aura

In this backdrop of macroeconomic challenges, Sri Lanka invests almost Rs. 35 billion to bombard a consumer with advertising to catch consumer attention. This value can be way higher as much as even Rs. 50 billion with the below-the-line marketing spend, which highlights the optimism that the private sector demonstrated last year. I am very confident that the private sector will continue its resiliency and take the economy to seven per cent plus GDP growth.

From a brand marketing perspective, what really intrigues me is why some brands succeed with limited advertising muscle whilst others crash with such a roar, even after a string multimedia campaign. In my view there is something right that powerful brands do and others do not. Let me capture some of them. I am going to term these the five hidden Ps of powerful brands.

1. Principles

In my view powerful brands demonstrate their values in every decision that they make. In fact they go on to make a statement to their customer at different stages of the purchasing process. Such companies carefully architecture the impression they want to leave in a consumer’s mind every time they come in contact with the brand and then they implement it with absolute precision.

For example, if we take Tintagel the boutique hotel in the city, from the point of a customer enters through its stately gates to parking the vehicle and then walking to the restaurant, they leave a clear mark in a customer that makes the experience unique. A point to note is that at each touch point the customer experiences the principle by which Tintagel operates. This is what makes it a powerful brand.

Hence, the task for a company wanting to practice this ‘science of touch point’ must first identify these consumer touch points and then do the needful in the recruitment and training of its staff so that gold standard implementation is possible.

This is what I would call ‘principles’ based operations in a company. House of Fashion is one such company where they make a mark on the premise of a no-frill store which offers value-for-money merchandise.

2. Promises

Here what we see is that powerful brands analyse the underlying motivation that makes one get into bed with a brand. For instance, the reason why someone will go in search of a Siddhalepa balm is because he or she believes that by applying Siddhalepa one can get relief from a nasty headache, meaning that powerful brands deliver promises that they are supposed to be selling continuously.

Those who do it with impact make the brand take residency in a consumer’s mind, which in turn elucidates trial and loyalty that results in an increase in sales. I guess this is the essence of a powerful brand.

But a point to note is that successful brands are driven by individuals. Their personal motivation fuels the organisation, which is where the importance of brand management comes into play. Money is not the prime reason for a brand to move, in my view. It is more the convergence between the qualities of the person who drives a brand and the promise the brand offers to a customer.

This means that it will require careful recruitment rather than training. The best example in Sri Lanka to illustrate this point is DHL. From the CEO down to a front-liner, the promise of ‘delivering the impossible’ takes form in their behaviour. Hence the delivery of a promise becomes a way of life to an employee rather than an exception.

I also believe that this ethos holds true on a service brand like Cinnamon Grand, where every employee delivers that ‘Cinnamon Magic’ which cuts out the property from the rest in the industry. I guess this is the reason for the brand to carry away the ‘Best City Hotel’ award for three years consecutively.

3. Production

I also believe that powerful brands create a ‘wow’ every time a consumer comes in contact with it. This involves a careful engineering of the colour schemes, music, temperature, lighting, dress code of the staff and the workers’ attitude to meeting people.

Odel is one of the best cases in point that come to my mind that has done this engineering successfully that leaves a ‘wow’ every time one visits the store. The challenge is to keep this spirit continuously. Believe me it is tough in Sri Lanka with this ‘island mentality’ attitude that exists. But we are fast turning around and maybe by the time Shangri-La comes to Sri Lanka we will be excellent on service delivery.

4. Press

I have noticed that powerful brands get strong press coverage. The key is the noteworthy press exposure rather than the occasional photograph that rolls out in the media. We need to carefully evaluate the avenues that are available and how the information that we release fits into the story/brand.

In the recent past, we have seen how some focused information has been generated from the Ministry of Industry and Commerce. The information that has rolled out has also been relevant, which tends to add the brand’s equity. The challenge is how to maintain this trend rather than just been seen on media, which actually hurts the brand imagery.

5. Prizes

Evaluating performance and rewarding the right behaviour are hallmarks of a powerful brand. Finding out opportunities to recognise and reward those who demonstrate these values tends to bring out the brand promise. Always remember that if you want to change behaviour, then reward the behaviour that is in line with organisational values.

In Sri Lanka a company that does this well is the Cargills Food City supermarket chain. I guess the brand has earned its way up to be one of the most powerful brands in Sri Lanka.

The company crafts its communication very sharply together with locating its stores strategically on the ‘on the way home’ slogan that has made it a top-of-the-mind brand in Sri Lanka.

I guess when a brand is powerful, it can attract some good talent too, which is exactly what Cargills has done in the last couple of years and today it can rightfully be called a power brand of Sri Lanka.


I am sure there are many other elements that make a brand powerful. But I would capture the above five points and term it the five hidden Ps of marketing that make some brands stand out in the market place whilst some just continue to be on the shelf.

(The author won twice ‘The marketing achiever Award” in Sri Lanka by the Chartered Institute of Marketing when he was managing the power brand Dettol for the British multinational Reckitt Benckiser. Rohantha is a Head Prefect and Gold award winner in his final year at college and a recipient of the ‘Best Student’ award when he did his double degree in Marketing Management. Today, he serves the International Public sector in the South Asian region based in Sri Lanka.)

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