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Branding in electronic age: issues and opportunities

As marketers consider how they may need to rethink their communications during the current coronavirus crisis, one suggestion from behavioral economics is that the framing can be more important than the messaging. Marketers can draw from behavioral science theories and how these can be applied to marketing strategies as new behaviors unlock new triggers. A key issue facing all marketers is whether they should continue their usual marketing activities in willful neglect of the situation.

The typical positive approach may be shaking even though consumers are longing for normality, the depiction of an aspirational and jubilant lifestyle may be overshadowed by anxiety. This could lead to consumers seeing brands as heartless and insensitive.

As vendors acknowledge the stress and uncertainty that consumers are facing, the substitute for ads to reflect a bit of solemnity and seriousness to match consumer moods.

It is supposed to be a mutual argument for brands to moderate their communications in this period, temporarily park or reduce the frequency of their mainstream advertising and sales promotions. But behavioral economics offers another way. It is not so much that marketers need to abandon their usual message. They need to put a new frame around it; which should be supportive and solace in nature.

The vital gush sustaining the message should be supportive and not pushing; and should create an ambience of working together.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, the businesses are going in retreat all over the world including Pakistan, curling up in a corner and trying to brave out this unexpected storm. Things were bad as it was. Even before Covid-19 has reached its peak globally, signs of the most major recession in a century are setting in. The worst hit have been retailers, stores shut down with exports are almost. There will be mass unemployment and empires will crumble. The only brands that have a chance at making it through without complete destruction are the ones that will keep calm, keep their eye on the ball and see this time through with as much poise and grace as possible.

Brands are built on association. They often fail to recognize their own power, dilute their brand equity by over extensions, and become overly optimistic in catering to the market single handedly. They try to betray customers by focusing more on advertising while compromising on quality and forget to keep pace with rapid innovations and technology. Such brands defy the concept of branding which is to facilitate pre-sell by building strong associations. As it is often said that image is more important than sales. Consumers may not differ in their preferences. Studies have proven that the shape of a logo, the colour of the packaging, the likeability of a celebrity associated with a brand, all affect our purchasing decisions.

Like any developing county, Pakistan do has a number of successful brands. The study of brand debacles is equally interesting but systematic study on brand failures is sometimes totally missing.

The world renowned marketing guru, Matt Haig, has classified the brand failures into seven categories:

  • Brand Amnesia: When a brand tries to assume a new garb altogether to bring about a fundamental change in its brand identity. This radical swing confuses the customer thus challenging loyalty e.g. New Coke.
  • Brand Ego: The erroneous estimation of a brand’s capability to deal with the whole market single handedly as Polaroid in the instant photography market, or to go into radical unrelated diversification as Harley Davidson did when it tried to sell perfumes.
  • Brand Megalomania: When a brand having a voracious appetite for new ventures goes into excessive brand extensions, trying to enter into every product category possible. This over stretching sometimes leads to brand dilution which very few brands escape, e.g. Virgin, sellings cars, credit cards, pension funds, cola, cosmetics, records etc.
  • Brand Deception: It is a radical mistake some brands commit when they compromise on quality hoping to cover it up through enticing marketing tactics.
  • Brand Fatigue: When brands turn stale having been on the shelves for too long and as a result creativity and sales sag.
  • Brand Paranoia: The lethal crime committed by insecure brands when they resort to lawsuits, reinventions and imitations in the face of increasing competition.
  • Brand Irrelevance: When a brand is rendered obsolete in the face rapidly changing technology, market shifts, needs and preferences.

We are living in the epoch of information overload. As the media fragmentation increases, it will be even more difficult for brands to reach their consumers. With challenges come many opportunities and this demands more research. There is no one perfect solution. However the brands are required to be more connected with their consumers. 52% of population of Pakistan is below the age of 25. These young people support brands that stand for a cause that is close to their hearts. They despite their cynicism and tendency to be overly opinionated and critical at times, respond positively to a cause that impacts their society positively.

There are roughly three to four million women between age of 18 and 30. These women are trendsetters and opinion leaders. They are the early adopters and their behaviour and brand choices influence that of other women; therefore, when brands engage with digital, they need to do it in a personalized way so that they feel special. However, what is important to ponder is that a mobile or tablet screen is a personal space and the interaction with the user should therefore be ‘personal’ in nature.

Every asset for each platform must be created as an individual entity. It is important to remember that screens today are very different from what they were 10 years ago. Ultimately, each video or other content you upload must be platform-specific (be it Instagram, TikTok or Snapchat) in terms of content and technical requirements. With more and more focus on digital, it’s time that brands start working closely with companies such as Google, Facebook and YouTube to provide customized solutions for better brand communication planning; ending up spending more than you initially planned but then you get better results also, so it is a win-win situation for both parties.

There are multiple ways to do this, two are extremely important in our local context: e-commerce and customer service. From an e-commerce perspective, your brand should ideally have its own e-commerce platform, depending on the industry in addition to having a presence on a significant number of e-retailers. As for customer service, people should be able to access a brand 24/7, e.g. Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp are the new age ways of staying available. None of the ways would work if we do not have an integrated approach that connects all our communication. Single-minded messaging remains the Holy Grail for marketers because different audiences see different forms of communication from a single brand, and more often than not these audiences become confused when the messages they see on different platforms are different.

The author, Nazir Ahmed Shaikh, is a freelance columnist. He is an academician by profession and writes articles on diversified topics. He could be reached at [email protected]

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