From Aura to Democracy: The Shift in Brand Building
The products now need to be designed to address a dichotomy. It must have a very wide set of attributes to be a part of maximum relevant consideration sets.
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There was a time when products used to appear on our TV screens with a sound that indicated an arrival. A star emerged and proclaimed its supremacy and the background chorus was “all hail”. They were often accompanied by a movie star or a great jingle, apparently describing the reverence to it as a virtue. The brand was the kingdom, the product, its sovereign. Both commanded the consumer’s loyalty based on an assumed to be obvious aura. Not anymore.
The advent of e-commerce in India has changed some basic rules of the brand game. Some might contend that the e-commerce retail size is much smaller to the overall market size in India. Let us remind ourselves that brand building is not about the size of the dog in the fight but the size of the fight in the dog. The e-commerce market is large enough to showcase that fighting capability in an emerging brand and wide enough to give a glimpse of its acceptability across geographies. It’s a fertile ground for the brand seeds to germinate.
This era of aura based brand building lasted till the proliferation of the media. TV in India exploded, print media multiplied the pages and more importantly the visual imagery, and finally digital emerged in a very big way. At this stage, the audience could see that they wanted and not what they were served. The product definitions became more elaborate and it was important to let the customers know the composition, functions and merits of the product. And then came e-commerce and changed the customer choice behavior for good. Consumer choice is now more democratic than ever.
Earlier, consumers started with a benchmark product and explored alternatives in comparison to it. A product to product comparison was the way. The sharper brains could compare a few more features but the consideration set was always small and so were the number of options in a store. With e-commerce a new kind of product exploration behavior emerged - the search. To begin with, a customer now has simultaneous access to a very large number of products. When a potential customer enters the search mode, there are numerous ways to explore the product space. Pricing, functions, effects, what a product contains, and what it does not, and what not. Keep in mind that each of these aspects involve numerous options. We can clearly see that the product selection space has been democratized. There are infinite ways to formulate a consideration set and this marks the beginning of the battle for the brand builders. The conversion to a sale is still waiting to happen.
The products now need to be designed to address a dichotomy. It must have a very wide set of attributes to be a part of maximum relevant consideration sets. At the same time, it must make a very clear and precise case to be the chosen one. During the aura mode, the idea of brand and product reverence was not class oriented. It was applicable to an entry level washing powder as well as a motorcycle. Every brand was created as an unquestionable entity and every product was defined as the only and obvious choice in a very broad class. Now we have a very wide set of products and an even wider set of attributes from which each customer formulates her consideration set. The conversion to the sale is the second step. Today, the expected brand reverence for fast moving goods is very different compared to durables and brand builders have a task at hand. A brand is still a lot more than a collection of attributes.
I am sure that at this stage some people will throw an Apple or a Bose as an example where this logic is defied. There are always exceptions that prove the rule. For every apple there are multiple android based phones fighting to be in consideration sets while establishing their own unique brand value. There is a great opportunity for startups to redefine the rules of the game. The markets always have unmet needs. This is a unique time where the democratization of customer search has opened up possibilities for larger and smaller brands alike. It’s about time, that startup brands will emerge from democratic choice rather than reverence alone. If you love an underdog story, it’s time to watch some live in Indian FMCG market today.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house
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