[Editorial notes: Guest article contributed by Ram manohar, Brand Communications Consultant with over 17 years of work experience.]
Your idea is kickass, and it fills a void in the market. You’ve gotten past validation, maybe even some traction, and are poised to grow. You may have gotten some investment, and both need to and want to invest into your brand, the marketing and creatives. In your imagination, it truly is a game changing brand. But what happens when it is thrown into the deep side of the market pool without a life jacket? Is the idea going to hatch into a brand automatically because you happen to be working with an incubator? Nah. Tough luck there, buddy.
This piece is aimed at entrepreneurs who have a good product/service with a significant market differentiator and want to get it to the next level. Since good ideas are hard to come by, it is only natural that one would want to nurture it and present it to the market in a way that the perception of the product/service is as good, if not better than what it intends to achieve. In the brand game, over-promise is as potential a threat as an under-promise or generic positioning.
On your way to brand-dom, one can easily outline what to do. But a combination of what-to-dos and what-not-tos (from a day to day pragmatic perspective) will go a long way. Therefore, I for one, would like to focus on the banana peels you are bound to encounter en route.
Banana Peel 1 – What’s in a name, after all?
If it’s your baby, then in all probability, you already have a name coined and a dotcom registered. However, most of the businesses do lose out at this stage. The great idea that’s gonna make you a million dollars at least should have a name (read brand identity) 1) that announces the million to those unsuspecting masses that you want to cater to. 2) that spells out what exactly is your product/service is gonna do 3) it is short and sweet and you can live with it till your exit strategy comes good. It is very tough to get all the three right, but brands don’t get made easily you know. As a classic case, I would like to cite Dove – seemingly an unassuming name amongst the glitz and glamour of the beauty brands. But on second thoughts, is it? Dove symbolizes a lot of things to women around the world – purity, love, fairness and softness. Lesson: One can never beat an emotional connect.
Banana Peel 2 – Identity Crisis
Oh yeah, you’re creative. Unless one is creative, one cannot think up of an idea that has the potential to make a million. But for now, let us leave it at that. For designing an identity (read logo) for your business, hire a design set up. For god’s sake, do not get it done yourself, or through your wife’s second cousin. Hire at least a freelance designer who isn’t just working for the money you pay, but has some balls to stand up to say no to you. Since you’re a start up, ideally you shouldn’t be spending money on an advertising agency to do your work. Unless of course, you either have or foresee a long lost uncle mentioning you in his will to inherit that damn estate that all of us do pine for. And another word of caution: Visual Design isn’t a flash of inspiration but a sequence of logical events that give shape to that brand promise that you hope to deliver on. Please, do avoid those vignette effect/s on your design. And of course, that typical IT blue color too – just drop it. And one last piece of advice: Look at some of the latest logos and the styles before deciding on an identity for your brand. Yours should be markedly different. A classic case to cite would be Intel Inside – doesn’t it just elevate it to a much higher plane than the me-toos? The best part is, all it takes is just thought and inspiration.
Banana Peel 3 – The Creative folks
Ah. It’s almost like the girlfriend situation. You desperately need her, yet you don’t. Creative folks are (at least the best of them) are a pain in the wrong place. However, you can’t get by without them either. The sooner you get this reality to sink into your system, the better. They are bound to ask you questions (I wonder whether they do it nowadays) that make you uncomfortable, turn assumptions on their heads and generally make life miserable for you. However, as they say, unless the energies are squared off, nothing good comes out of it. If you happen to work with an agency set up, please do insist that the creatives are present in the meetings unless you want long drawn battles and sub-standard work. Take them head on, and be honest – that is a good way to begin your journey. Meeting them at pubs/bars would be just right – they’re at their creative/vulnerable best there.
Banana Peel 4 – Power Point Presentations
There is one golden rule for your first meeting with the ad agency/design set up that you intend to work with. The lengthier the ppt presentations the shorter is their understanding of your brand/market approach. If it is more than 10 slides then you can be very sure that nothing good can come out of it. Stretch it to a maximum of 15 slides… no more. Here the clichéd KISS (Keep it simple stupid) approach is the best one to go for. Once you’ve briefed them, the only thing they are supposed to present is the creatives (be it ad design, brochure design or radio spot), not a long winding ppt with market data and pie charts and jargons that do not mean a thing. If the idea doesn’t tickle you in the right places, you can be very sure that your prospects wouldn’t be either. Just tell the agency to can it and start afresh. One insight into the branding game: You are not going to expose those power point presentations to your potential target market, it is still going to be the different ads that you make – tvc, press, outdoor or online that should hold the power to bring the customer to your doorstep.
Banana Peel 5 – Brand Communication
How do you look at your brand? Now, the main pitfall most of the start-ups and others face is how to brief the communication professionals one is working with. Nope, please do not use words like young, energetic and dynamic brand. Howmuchever the MBAs around might force you to. A brand (a business on its way to being one) thinks about what should be the key focus of its communication and sticks to it. A classic real life example would be Amul butter. Come to think of it, Amul hasn’t changed its brand communication since it was born. It is easily the campaign with a longevity that even beats the agency that created it may be. A simple idea that is interesting enough to capture the imagination of people would go a long way to stretch that brand spend you are about to commit yourself to. Though these ideas are hard to come by, but if you think you have one in your hands, tell all the overpaid MBAs to go on a vacation and run the campaign yourself.
Banana Peel 6 – Bajaa and Baraat
Allow me one cliché please – last, but not the least is the customer’s perception of your brand. Customers aren’t idiots. One interaction with you, they are judging you against the promise of your brand communication. And once you lose out there, even David Ogilvy cannot save you. Let us put two vital facts of marketing here together – you spent money to acquire a customer. However, when he/she interacts with your brand, bad service will definitely ruin it. A customer with a bad taste left in his mouth will screw up your word of mouth so badly (especially so in a social network age) that you will be leaking, and you will not find a worthwhile plumber. Brands are made/broken in the mind space. So spend some quality time with your front end team and make sure that the Bajaa and Baraat are talking the same lingo as your brand and delivering on the promised land – day in and day out.
[About the author: Ram manohar, aka lanky iyer. Engineer from REC, Nagpur. Brand Communications Consultant with over 17 years experience with some major advertising agencies in India and Dubai. Believes in Creative Strategies and Strategic Creatives. Founder promoter of hungshoe.com a start-up with a slightly tilted view of the world around us.]