When everyone and their grandmothers are rebranding in the age of AI, have you caught up?

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Pic: FreePik

Yesterday ‘work from home’ was the biggest pain point for organisations, today it has become the way of life! ‘Fluidity’ is important, be it in business practices or strategy.

And as with everything else, brands that evolve with time remain contemporary. Until recently, consistency, repetition, logos, and taglines were the key elements that branding was associated with. Today, branding has stretched way beyond these four parameters.

There are numerous factors that have come into play such as technology, social media, print media, advertisements, customer experience – personal or online, economy, brand image, brand value, etc. Each of these has further sub-sets.

Take one aspect such as social media – it has influencers (each platform has it’s own), celebrities, brand advocates, non-happy customers, competitors, type of content, and so on. Audience prefers and expects a certain type of content on a specific platform. Brand marketers need to customise the content according to the platform and the audience on it.

Another aspect that has gained tremendous importance is ‘technology’. It has opened new doors for innovation and branding. More so, with the recent development of AI.

AI has seamlessly become a part of our lives in various forms. The most common example could be chatbots or virtual assistants such as Google Assistant, Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa or Microsoft’s Cortana. Furthermore, even startups such as ‘HealthifyMe’ have gained traction with their AI assistant, Ria.

Since these AI assistants rapidly learn from their inputs and experiences and perform human-like tasks such as taking care of certain aspects of customer care; they serve as ‘personalities’, often reinforcing brand recall. Having human names also helps in easy recall and brand connect.

Brand loyalty and reputation have direct influence on sales and growth. Thus, big and small brands alike are exploring AI for options. Automated data collection and business intelligence can foster better answers to complex problems and ease decision making.

The core of branding is to manage brand perception and if technology can nudge us forward, why not?

 

 

Cinderella and lessons on COVID-19 Pandemic

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It was another sunny morning, most commuters were cursing the traffic, office-hours, boss, lack of leaves, spouse, family issues, need for a holiday, and other countless reasons for lack of time or work-life balance.

And, it came suddenly – like a wish granted overnight, just like in one of those fairytales we all grew up reading where pumpkins turn into a carriage for Cinderella!

So, now that we have our pumpkin carriage why is it that we don’t know what to do with it? Should we thank our fairy Godmother and accept the gift?

 

Wasn’t ‘lack of time’ the most common excuse for anything that wasn’t on our priority list? Be it spending time with our family, starting exercise, reading a book, painting, or pursuing whatever hobby we wanted, instead of cribbing that we don’t have time.

COVID-19 or the Corona Virus has created history for generations to come. It is the first-of-its-kind situation, which has forced people from around the globe to stay inside their houses. Countries are locked down and the world economy has taken a bullet. 

But what will happen when Cinderella has to return at 12? Does she forget the magic of the night?

Or will we, taking a leaf out of her book, learn our lesson on the importance of little things, our family, time and memories and cherish what we have, or go back to cribbing?

This pandemic has paved the way for a very different world, things that were considered ‘basic’ are actually ‘privilege’. We are privileged if we have a roof on our head and a filled stomach. We realise this as we look at so many around us whose jobs are critical to stepping out or manual.

While the governments, WHO, and other organisations strive to cope up with this pandemic, it is also up to us – the citizens to do our bit. Needless to say, in this current state of the world driven by fear, anxiety, and worry; staying in, social distancing and paying our house help (even if they are not coming) can be that small, but significant step.

Unlike Cinderella, we are privileged to have a real family, so let’s manage our routine in such a manner that we always take out time for those important to us.

We live in a digital era, where we the entire family gets busy with their own device, sitting in one room with pin-drop silence. Let’s break the chain on this too!

I am not saying that this pandemic is good in any way, not at all, with death tolls rising higher by the day, but I believe it’s up to us to learn what this difficult time is teaching us.

Just like Cinderella, remember the magic of love and hope and the importance of time.

Dear Zindagi

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One of my first interviews, the employer was a start-up entrepreneur and me a fresher. He was interviewing the first employee for his company and like every other fresher, I wanted to join an MNC. My dad told me to look at this as an opportunity for me to prove myself, to learn and grow with the firm instead of jumping on the bandwagon like everyone else. So, I took a leap of faith and went for the interview.

It went well. I joined. The role helped me shape who I am in my professional life. It made me realise my love for brand management. I had not even realised, but I had started treating the company like my own, and it was exciting that I was able to nurture it that way.

However, as with all good things, situations change. I had to move to another city after marriage and life changed drastically. I started working as an editor at a market research firm, my work was highly appreciated and I even got promoted to brand management specialist.

Once again, life is life. One day when I was sitting at my desk, I had to be rushed to the hospital, only to be admitted for medical problems. This was also a time when we were expecting a baby. So, I informed my employer and took some time off.

A few months later, when I went to join back I was told that I couldn’t continue to work for them as they doubted my commitment. I was shattered. I couldn’t believe it! I was being punished for being a married woman with a baby. (And here we are in the 21st century with the audacity to call ourselves a modern society!?) I was further told that I had been ‘blacklisted’ which means they would give negative feedback about me, anywhere I decide to join going forward. So, a year of my professional life just went down the drain.

I had to pick myself again and work twice as harder. I decided to focus on being a mother to my baby and work as a freelancer from home while searching for a suitable opportunity. Unsurprisingly, the moment interviewers learnt I was a young mother, they seem to doubt my commitment.

It wasn’t easy and if not for my husband and parents, I would have easily slipped into depression.

A new ray of hope came when I got an offer from one of the leading fintech companies in India but in another city. My family encouraged me to join and with their support, we shifted our base once again. This time I was humbled by my employers and once again plunged myself head-on to prove my worth and commitment. Everything was going exceptionally well until I got to know the company was going through a rough time and were downsizing massively.

Such is life. Just when I think, “I am finally settled and content”, I get punched in the face.

Yet, I think I am going to continue to this struggle and continue to look until I find that “comfortable chair” (You’ll get the pun if you’ve seen Dear Zindagi!) that I can call finally call mine.

Internal Branding: Why the Ignorance?

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The latest brand value ranking by Forbes proves that Brands are amongst the most valuable asset for companies. In fact, most of the businesses invest significant resources towards external branding, be it for generating awareness, customer loyalty or similar reasons.

However, it is commonly observed that internal branding is sidelined. This is either due to lack of awareness or sheer ignorance.

For a successful brand strategy, companies have to understand that internal branding is, as (or even more) important than external branding. Yet, for various reasons, companies tend to avoid it. There is a misconception that “branding” is for an external audience and it’s unimportant to focus on internal audience.

In my opinion, this discrepancy could occur primarily because a lot of senior management, particularly in small and mid-sized businesses, turn up their noses at the subject of internal branding. However, it is important to remember that employees are the key asset for a company. If the employees are unaware of the brand promise, then there is a high chance that this will eventually filter down to the external audience as well.

Internal branding not only aligns and supports external branding, but it contributes towards building a culture that engages employees and motivates them to perform better, in turn improving the quality of products and services.

Today’s audience is digitally active and brands get caught in controversies as easily as they get praised, and this is not restricted to giants such as Heineken or Pepsi, even the small business get affected. (Bad experience and word-of-mouth could easily lead to a negative image and reduction in sales!)

Thus, if your target audience doesn’t believe in whatever brand image you are trying to portray, then it becomes redundant.

Today, people share their opinion, preferences, and experiences more easily and frequently than before. You cannot make everyone happy, but you can certainly minimize the number of bad touch-points by taking a step towards building a customer-centric brand (i.e. internal and external customers both! There are multiple touchpoints that need to be mapped in the user journey—and every single pain-point tells the brand story, more than any branding campaign will ever do.

The trick is to identify and improve.

Creativity and Innovation

Creative and Innovative. Two overused words in the corporate world, be it brainstorming sessions, corporate meetings, or company mission statements. Interestingly, most people tend to use these words interchangeably, without really understanding the difference or sometimes, even the proper meaning of the words!

Many a times, people with special talent or artistic capabilities such as painting, dancing, singing, and other such things are referred to as creative. While I do not doubt their capabilities and respect them for their special talent, I would like to point out that it’s better to refer them as artistic rather than innovative or creative.

This is because I am not an artist, but I still belong to the creative domain. Confusing, eh?

As a professional whose bread and butter comes from brainstorming, I manage brands. And I do it because I am creative (at least I think I am!) and try to incorporate my ideas towards developing a market research company.

But this post is not about what I do. It is a modest attempt at explaining why it’s relevant for businesses to know the difference between these two most common buzzwords—Creativity and Innovation, across verticals, that everyone is so fond of using.

According to Theodore Levitt, American economist and professor at Harvard Business School, “Creativity is thinking up new things. Innovation is doing new things.”

The two words play a key role in brand management. In fact, one is incomplete and redundant without the other.

Businesses have to frequently adapt according to their changing external business environment in order to keep up with the latest developments. I will explain using Nokia as an example. It was one of the most valuable brands, globally, until 2008; when it could not anticipate the sudden market expansion of smartphones and suffered heavily. Even though, it reinvented itself later, by collaborating with Microsoft, it didn’t realize that customers in today’s era expect constant innovation. Brands need to accept that they are not as resilient today as they once used to be. However, its latest product launch will decide if it will float or sink further!

Practically, companies aim to minimize expenses, but they also need to innovate their business models. Encouraging creativity among employees is one of the key cost-effective business solutions. As in the case of Starbucks, which allowed one of its employees to experiment on a cold coffee drink that later became an instant hit. Before this, Starbucks had less sales during summers. The launch of this new drink not only expanded their customer base, but also increased their summer sales.

Another recent example could be that of WhatsApp, when it was trolled on social media for copying Snapchat! It was so unpopular that WhatsApp had to bring back its original status feature. Obviously, copying ideas is a strict no-no.

In my understanding, creativity is the catalyst that fuels innovation for businesses to bridge the gap between ‘what they are’ and ‘what they can become’. And brand management involves both.

Note: The opinions and points of view expressed in this article are exclusively the views of the author.

How do you manage something that’s abstract?

As soon as I tell somebody I am a brand management professional, next question I get is- “Oh so you are in marketing?” or in some cases, so you do “logo design and stuff?”

People, branding is not restricted to graphic design. It plays an important role, but it is definitely not restricted to how good your company logo looks! For instance, take Hadoop—the logo is a yellow elephant with blue typo. Honestly, it does not relate to what Hadoop is, at any level, but it has created its brand extremely well, and it’s known as one of the best analytics tools today!

I think it’s time for brands and brand designers to move beyond the visuals (obviously, it helps if the visuals are attractive, but the key is they should be easy to remember, like in case of Hadoop). Today, the customers are digital and bombarded with data of all types. In such a chaos, it becomes an even bigger challenge to differentiate your brand from others.

Branding is not about promoting your products or services (yes, it’s neither marketing nor sales) it’s about telling people what your brand is all about. It’s abstract.

So, how do you manage something that’s abstract?

Look around and understand what influences your audience? How do they perceive you? Do they know you at all? Sure, you can get the data, but a brand manager has to make sense out of it and plan the roadmap for the organization.

Brand management is a tight rope. You have to work in various directions to develop the brand image, while being careful not to cross the line and join the marketing team!

Ideally, branding should precede marketing. However, ideal is not always real. As with a lot of businesses, the organization structure is complex. This leads to everyone doing their own thing. This also results in discrepancy in brand communication. It reflects confusion and eventually filters down to the external customer as well.

Another aspect of brand management is to bring the various departments of an organization together. Thus, it also touches upon an important aspect of internal branding as well. This can be avoided if there is a branding strategy in place. The key thing is to share it.

Lastly, it is important to be patient and take one step at a time towards building your brand. Adapt to the changing the changing needs of your customers and improvise. Building a brand is same as building a reputation. If you can’t keep up with it, you may end up going the Uber way!

Author’s Note: This is one of my pulse articles. The opinions and points of view expressed in this article are exclusively the views of the author and/or subject(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of Allied Analytics or Allied market research, the management or associated bloggers.

Fifty days

Two strangers. complete opposites. There was no way we could have been together. Except – fate works in mysterious ways.

It all began with a phone call. My dad handed me a phone and told me to speak to him. No pressure. Typical arrange marriage scenario in today’s Indian household. After getting over the shock of my parents trying to set me up with a “suitable groom”, I decided to have fun and see where it goes.

Little did I know that I had just walked into the trap. I never believed in love; it was just fairytale for me – limited to children’s storybooks. I mean, common I was surrounded by people who fell in love and out of love every few months! That’s the reality of our lifestyle. We try to run from everything – from relationships to responsibilities. I was no stranger. I was running from marriage, after all, it meant both! but then I decided to entertain myself. After all, what harm could small talk do?

After a discussion on the weather and bad traffic of the respective cities we were both in, we decided to continue our acquaintance. (I mainly said yes, as I had kinda liked his voice). I never realised when he transitioned from being a complete stranger to the guy I was suddenly dating. We decided to meet.

We met. He was not what I had perceived him to be. That’s when I realised that we don’t fall in love with people, we fall in love with perceptions, we fall in love with an image of perfection in our heads and we fall out of love when it doesn’t meet our expectations.

I told my parents that I will need sometime to think things over. He was tall, I was short. He was thin, I was plump. We will make a bad pair. What will my facebook friends say!

Then it hit me. Do I really care? A voice inside me told me the answer.

We got married in 50 days.

Sometimes, we should ditch the world and follow our heart, trust our instincts. Fall in love with a real person, don’t look for perfection, accept the flaws. Trust me, you will never fall out of love again.

E-Commerce Advertising Trends 2016

Driven by the increased adoption of technology, the E-commerce market in India has seen unprecedented growth in the last few years. Quite recently, Times of India reported that the number of online shoppers in India would cross 100 million by 2016.

This highlights the growth potential as well as the fast paced growth rate of the E-commerce industry in India. Now, advertising has always been the catalyst for growth in any industry; after all, you need to sell in order to make profit!

As the going gets tough with the increase in competition, most companies are willing to experiment in different ways to attract their customers and increase their online traffic. Here are some of the most common trends that have emerged in advertising for the online industry for 2016.

Audience Targeting through Personalized Advertising: As advertising is becoming more dynamic, there’s a shift from general advertisements towards more target based advertising. Consumers expect a personalized shopping experience, based on their needs or preferences. This can be done through Video Advertising, Mobile Advertising as well as Social Media Advertising.  While we could consider the aforementioned methods as a part of the personalized advertising trend, they are vital enough to be considered as separate emerging trends in the world of digital advertising and thus, I have discussed them briefly below.

Video Advertising:  Even though you might consider a video ad to be annoying when it pops up in the middle of something you are actually watching, you cannot disagree that it catches your attention that you tend to remember it. Sometimes, if it’s interesting enough, you may even click on it to know more. Indeed, Video Ads are proving to be a useful tool due to this. Moreover, since Google and YouTube have recently released the ‘TruView ad’ ad format, life has become easier. It allows users to skip the ads after a number of seconds, or even choose the ad they want to see; hence, paid search marketers are more likely to explore this in 2016.

Mobile Advertising: According to Gartner, 30% of traffic for E-commerce sites comes from smartphones and tablets. Enough has already been said about the increasing use of mobile devices in the current era, so it is suffice to say that mobile advertising will continue to be a strong trend in the advertising Industry.

Social Media Advertising: Social media is an easy platform to engage directly with the customers. Common social media platforms are Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Pinterest, Instagram, Snapchat, Whatsapp, Google plus, etc. Not only do such platforms provide a personalized experience for existing users, they can also be easily exploited for reaching out to new audiences.  Furthermore, analyzing data from customer management systems and past user behavior on a website could also be utilized to provide a personalized experience for the user.

Adoption of Buy Buttons: Despite the slow adoption of ‘buy buttons’, it should be noted that they do have potential for growth, particularly in niche platforms such as clothing, shoes, and accessories where people might indulge in impulsive buying or come back to browse for more.

As companies continue to explore new methods of advertising, they might want to look at innovative methods by delving into upcoming technology such as virtual reality, chatbots, analytics, internet of things, and differentiate themselves accordingly. These tools can be exploited equally by both the advertising and E-Commerce companies for interacting with their customers.