Monday, March 28, 2011

Charm of the new, shadowed by me-too

Everybody wants to wake up every morning as a new person. In the pursuit we transform ourselves from the outside but hardly look on the inside. We believe by changing clothes we will be perceived as different people, by changing our shoes we will project a different us or by putting on a new fragrance we will be more approachable. Is it a myth or is it a way to complement ourselves for our changing spirit? Above all, where does this come from because the extent to which this goes is unimaginable?
There is a close analogy of this human behaviour with brands. We are used to seeing new avatars of brands every now and then. And we also get quite inquisitive to know what made the change happen and what the intended desire is. We search for information on the changed brand avatar and then evaluate it basis our own knowledge and instincts. Some of us tend to agree and some of us have a critical view point. But that’s ok, as long as we have noticed the change and have a point of view. One size fits all is not true, right. Brands can only imagine to please everyone by doing what they are supposed to do and what they are not. In reality it is very difficult to take everyone together on the same boat. We have to prioritize between what is important to change and what is perceived to be qualified for change. Although both need to be significantly substantiated with reason and rationality.
But my head starts spinning when I interact with the anchors of change. After all, the people behind the transformation are the first reasons for change. Brands don’t come in our dreams asking for change, right. They don’t send sms, fax or email, asking for a change. However people do that to be the executors of a change. While I do not have statistics to prove or make a strong point about ‘what percentage of change is a result of one’s mind / intention’ or ‘what percentage of change happens because of one person’s ideas’. What I have is the understanding of the minds of the people behind the change (of a small sample).
My experience with some Small and Medium enterprises in the fast moving consumer goods sector has given me enough food for thought and more precisely to have a strong opinion on the subject of ‘branding change’. As a Design Manager and consultant I have interacted with many brand anchors (owners of brands) and have observed their behaviour towards this subject. These brand anchors are leaders in their own right. They are small scale players but they know their territory so well that you might have to think twice to even consider them insignificant. By territory, I don’t necessarily mean market. I mean to say, the game. They know their limits, the liberties, the gaps and the stretch. They think ‘inside out’ which does not mean out of the box. Inside out thinking means, they are highly calculative, rational and self contained.
But when they start to loosen the ropes, open up the boundaries and change some rules, they are really confused. While, I am highly pleased with their intention and conviction to see their brands grow in the new world order by adopting new brand building techniques and infusing inspiration from the bigger canvas, I get perturbed by their imagination powers. I do respect the way they have reached so far and respect how victoriously they have not succumbed to any global forces of change or crashes, but when I get into the perimeter of trust and confidence, I often see a very different them. Their solidity, their confidence, their managerial skills and all of that, makes me wonder and question ‘Why’.
I do understand that Design is a specialized subject and alien for most of them, but I believe that there is a designer in all of us. It’s just that we don’t see it in ourselves. A 40 year old professional or school teacher or a small businessman, they are all designers in their own lives, but may not have received degree or diploma as qualification. A person investing in mutual funds, ULIPS, LIC, Health insurance, real estate, gold or anything that has a valuable return over a period of time, is a designer for me. My mother is a better designer than me and my father was a much much better designer than her. In his lifetime he was very meticulous about his investments and earnings and had started planning even before I was born. We realize his design skills now, when he is no more with us but we have everything that he designed for our future.
We take the subject quite unfamiliarly and that is where the mistake happens. We get carried away by the many interpretations or forms of the word.
Now coming back to the subject, when it comes to SME’s, while they will issue and express all that they want in a brief, they do not realize that eventually they will have to evaluate the outcome and chose the best result. They often get confused between ‘what they will have to choose that is best for the consumer’ and ‘what they will have to choose that is not best for them’.
Over various attempts and interactions, they seem to get over the ‘best for them’ syndrome. The syndrome of MD likes pink and HR likes blue. There are several twists and turns and manipulations to please the ‘inside team’ and have a consensus before it is ready for external environment audit. The design gets operated ruthlessly leaving no charm in it and becoming weak as if it were a patient. The design actually gets treated like a patient, who is not diagnosed enough before applying the sharp instruments and drips. Every department has a say in it and they all tend to view and judge it from their own window.
If the team has been pushed out of this syndrome, they get caught in another fierce syndrome, and that is ‘to do it like them’. This is the midway or the safest according to them. There is evidence lying all around, so there is no fear or confusion. This evidence happens to be of a much mightier and successful brand, so the internal team is almost vulnerable to listen or follow accordingly. It may appear to be the safest because it has been done before and nothing wrong seems to have happened but this is a ‘KILL’. This is the time when you willingly become a prey to the wild beast, when all this while you were a leader of your own territory. You give in yourself to be battered and bruised, leaving no appreciation for what you underwent. The change seems to go unnoticed as the brand does not end up building singular equity. Take a small boat (equity) to cross the river but don’t sit among the fishermen (competition) and go fishing when you have to cross the river.
‘My brand should look premium, young and fun loving like brand X’ is the universal mantra for most of the SME’s brand anchors. Instead of evaluating on the basis of the past and future, the evaluation happens in the index of similarity and ownership of secondary elements of the leader. ‘Why can’t we have the same color as them’, or ‘why can’t you use the same font like them’ or even worse ‘why can’t you just take the same image and put our name on it’. Oops@!
To hell with Intellectual Property, the oxygen of the Design Industry.
It is a battle to explain and convince the anchors that the ‘change’ has to bring something ‘new and interesting’ if words like ‘differentiated and compelling’ are not the cup of tea. It is a war of the words and less of the worlds (brands). ‘Young’ is the oldest, excessively operated and most vulnerable patient, if the MD’s pink is too girlish for the nurses.
A word of caution for all brand service providers, never use jargon if you are not sure how it is going to be comprehended and never compare the solutions with what exists unless you are sure that what exists is not an eye candy. Too much candy will spoil the tooth (idea) and leave the gums (design) bleeding.
Till then, have a sweet day.

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