Branding on a Low Budget: Is Social Media the Answer?

Given the nature of competition and media prices, branding has traditionally been expensive. It has been expensive not only in monetary terms, but also in terms of consistency in efforts required over a long period of time. While this second type of cost (time plus effort) is still relevant today, not all successful brands now have to spend a fortune in order to brand their products. The advent of social media and other creative communication strategies have already put their landmark in creating big effects with shoestring budgets.

Is social media the answer? Well, it can act in both ways. A dull and non-interactive non-sharing message can quickly get lost under the pile of ads and statuses. On the other hand, a creative and exciting message can trigger shares, likes and comments to make it viral globally. Blendtech has been a classic case of branding on a shoestring budget. The brand blended weird things like i-phones and golf balls to show its powerful motor (video). More recent viral promotion could be the Volvo’s live test videos of its trucks. In one of those videos, Van Damme performed his epic split by standing on side-mirrors of two reversely driven trucks! No wonder the video got over 80 million views (video).

Here is the trick in using social media on a shoestring budget. It has to be uniquely executed with unforeseen creativity and story. The “wow” factor is the key in triggering the viral spread of the message. Of course, social media could be inexpensive compared to traditional media. But the main part of the “cost” that brands need to carry is the investment in creativity and execution. Social media might not charge you for uploading a video, but hiring Van Damme is not cheap. Creating a story and hiring stunt directors aren’t cheap either. Overall, that is still cheaper because brands do not have to go for placing in traditional media at high rates. Shoestring budget can still work wonders if it contains superb wow factors.

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Three Pitfalls in Branding

There could be more, but these could be the major pitfalls when we brand products:

First, losing relevance! Is the product connecting to customers’ needs? If a detergent claims to make white clothes whiter, shouldn’t it be targeted to school going children or business executives? If you see posters of IELTS training outside superstores, how many students do actually visit them to have exposures to such ads? Siemens has air conditioners that circulate vitamin C through their special filters. In our cultural set-up, who sniffs vitamin C out of air? Differentiation is necessary, but who is going to need that? Staying “relevant” means to avoid running out of focus.

Second, focusing too much on sales threshold! Of course, sales are important, but a good branding program makes selling effort superfluous. A strong branding program may often be undermined by short-term sales agenda.

Third, bragging inside the shell! This is a common problem for big brands that would make themselves susceptible to stumble upon new entrants. This is mostly because of being complacent focuswith their already big brother status and overlooking the important trends in the market. I do not need to change because I am already a strong brand— wrong. The competition today is not between the good and the bad brands, but between the good and the better ones. You may simply be outperformed not because you have a poor brand, but because someone else might have designed a better product or business model beyond your expectation. Customers’ delight with a better product or a business model can eventually make a static big brother out of business. It happened in the past, and is still happening. This is why Uber (click to know more), a crowd-sourced taxi service, is making its way against big competitors like Hertz or Avis. Now the big competitors are thinking to adopt similar models in their portfolio.

Now it must be easy to know what not to do in branding!

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The Value of Blank Space!

It is about advertising and communication. In a cluttered environment where everybody is saying or drawing something, a silent and blank space would attract attention and cut through the clutter. Look at our newspaper ads, where most ads are trying to say everything they could in all the available space they got for money. This is not creating any focus on what they primarily want to say since these ads are saying everything possible and cramming into that space. How about only a strong visual, a tagline and the brand name only, embedded in a wide blank space? How about saying less in a television commercial and tell a better story? How about saying less in billboards yet present more? In a world where everybody is attempting to spread more and more messages, how about saying less and communicating more this time?

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Blue Ocean Strategy: The Room for Ethics

If you search this groundbreaking book for the word “Ethics”, there is none (please let me know if I missed it). This is not a problem at all, because under formal business context, the assumption is that we talk about only legal and ethical avenues to start, manage, and eventually grow a “blue ocean” business. The irony is that many blue ocean businesses could spark ethics debate despite the fact that they are playing in a legal market space. Should one vie for an ethically submerged market even though there are untrodden profit opportunities? How about the Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) food products that is quite legal, yet a sizable group of scientists are in ethical as well as scientific debate whether we are putting ourselves at risks or not? Whereas some scientists claim that GMOs are safe, there are others who claim that it is not. On both sides, there are arguments that we, the common people, are often in the middle of nowhere to understand this. The anti-GMO group often alleges that GMO food companies are well known for their “food security” fear tactics among developing countries and selling a comprehensive seed, fertilizer and pesticide “package”. It is not only the seed that you buy, but you have also to buy the whole package at their designated price. Strictly from business point of view, this is really a wonderful business model, with great profit potential indeed.

At this point, many of us would probably need to know the difference between “hybrid” and “GMO”. In an over-simplified term, traditional hybrids are made of cross-pollination of similar organisms, for example, a cross-pollination can be made between wild big tomatoes and household small tomatoes in order to make hybrid seeds of bigger household tomatoes. GMOs are not necessarily the same. For example, some GMO tomatoes would be modified by cross-injecting genetic materials from another domain, like fish gene injected inside a tomato to make it resistant to cold weather. Probably this is where the scientific community is divided whether GMOs are safe in the long run. Now the point is, are all these blue ocean companies need to care about ethical and scientific debate and come clean, or keep enjoying the blue ocean profit at any cost? Blue Ocean strategy could be a life saver, like a medicine prescribed by a qualified doctor. Blue ocean strategy could be evil, like a medicine in the hands of a drug-addict (?).

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It’s Time for Habit Marketing!

Habit can play a great role in sustaining brand loyalty. Habit can be seen as a display of high degree of automaticity in purchase behavior. If so, brands need to see how customers can be “automated” in buying a particular brand than the other. Of course, this habituation takes time and effort. The question is how this can be done. Does it take strong positioning? Does it require wide availability?

Forming a habit could be a formidable task for brand managers, though not impossible. It may originate not only from strong positioning, but also from convenience of access through wide distribution, consistency in delivering promise (reward), and sometimes a “convenient price”. Habit would be much easier to form for day-to-day disposable and cheaper products than for higher-end luxury products. No wonder why we inadvertently pick Alpenliebe from the jar instead of other brands. No wonder why we step in the closest store to our homes in order to save time and effort. Despite higher brand image of “Firebox”, we choose “Vorosha” because it is widely available to our nearest stores. Once we get habituated to “Bikash”, we don’t even want to consider other options of mobile banking. How about habit of using free internet from Facebook (http://www.internet.org) via Robi would change our internet consumption pattern in future? Next time, sustaining and reinforcing “Habit” could be in your branding agenda. (For a quick review, watch this presentation on the book titled “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg).

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The Silent Salesman

Salesman cannot be silent, it simply won’t work unless he/she is already selling a hyped product. So what would you do? Put salespeople round the clock around customers and retailers? That’s not the case we mean here as silent salesman. It is the 24/7 communication tool that almost acts like a salesman when your real salesmen are not around. You got it now, it’s your packaging!

Packaging is the “dress-up” of your product that reflects the character and personality of the brand. The hard parts are the choice of symbol, color and composition of text that would do the job when customers look at the package. The “Wow” factor needs to be there for initial trials to occur. Granted that mere attractive packaging without ensuring core quality would backfire, yet the communication value of a well thought-out packaging design is unquestionable. Unfortunately, many times, brand managers would put more time on designing product and advertising plan rather than on conducting extensive research and testing on packaging design. Packaging has tremendous rational and emotional values to confer upon the minds of customers. Please take care of this silent salesman!

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The Rise of Do Something!

Digital era gives us a few good things that were otherwise almost impossible in the past. Properly ignited, social media messages can cross boundaries and unite people for a common cause. Dosomething.org is such an endeavor that deserves a classroom discussion in business schools. To date, the site boasts about 3.5 million strong members, mostly young people aged between 13 and 25— involved in promoting, supporting and fundraising for various causes and social changes in the USA and abroad. As the site declares, if you are young and want to engage in social changes, dosomething.org is there for you. Its members are involved in causes like clothes for homeless people, recycling for environmental preservation, scholarship funds for people interested in higher education, etc. The other side— the donor members, provide funds for promoted causes in a “crowd-funding’ model. Crowd funding is a type of crowd sourcing where an individual or group seek funds for an important cause and another individual or group provide funds even though none of these sides has ever seen each other in person.

In an unfair world, can the venture really do something to contribute to social causes? Although not on a scale only possible for national governments and big NGOs, individuals or groups may still pinpoint the priority areas that other agencies might take over as significant causes to work for.

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Never Lie to your Ad Agency!

Ad agencies are an integral part of your brand management system. No matter how much you hate or love your agency, you and your brand have to live with them. However, oftentimes they are the ones who are underestimated, under-rewarded and under-appreciated, yet pressured for magical results! Rather than talking to them with a “doctor-patient” relationship in mind, marketers sometimes try to hide the negatives and brief only the positive things about their brand while developing communication pieces. Agencies need to know the whole story so that they can determine which one to highlight and which one not to. Of course, they can develop a message based on positives and get the bill paid by you. But you are the one who will ultimately suffer in the market if your brand’s weaknesses are not sufficiently alleviated before the activation. If you lie to your agency, you are not doing yourself a favor. It is like hiding an important disorder from your doctor, resulting in an ineffective treatment.

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Why Apple is Interested in Making Cars?

Apple devices have been known for its user-friendliness and prestige. The company boasts a loyal base of customers who would continue cherishing the brand for lifetime. When it comes to designing mobile devices, Apple has its own uniqueness and superiority in its class. However, the recent media reports indicated that Apple is interested in stepping beyond the world of mobile devices. It is interested in electric cars, most probably a driver-less car like Google’s car (click here). Dubbed by media as “i-Car”, this raises many questions in the tech world as to why Apple is interested in this venture.

Well, it should not be surprising if you knew that Steve Jobs was interested in designing a car in later part of his life. This was intimated recently to the media by one of his colleagues that Jobs was really excited to see the design of Tesla (click here). He was actually upset with gasoline powered cars and thought that car designs were lagging behind in terms of technological advancement. Cars do not need to be polluters to the environment. At the same time, cars should be online and “connected”, thus being a part of your fun experience. Apple has been hiring thousands of people from other car companies, negotiating with BMW on electric car technology issues (which BMW recently denied) and most likely working on efficient battery technologies to be used in i-Cars.

However, there is another stream of views which suspects that Apple is actively collaborating with car makers not because it wants to make cars, but because it wants to involve itself with the next generation integration of car technology and software. i-Pod integration has been a common feature in BMW cars that makes playing i-Pod in those cars an easy task. Car apps are also promoted by Apple where programs like “BMW Connected” and “BMW Link” can provide access to many applications like Facebook, web radio and navigation via mobile devices. It appears that, the future of car software, including engine monitoring, tire pressure, oil change notification and many other safety and maintenance features would be integrated into our (Apple) mobile phones. Apple just wants to know cars better so that the next generation software can make your car a connected one with all those tips on your mobile phone.

No matter what Apple is planning to do, even if it comes up with a connected i-Car, it might see a huge success among young consumers who may be willing to conserve the environment and diminish the difference between a phone and a car. The “Next Big” list of mobile devices should not only include mobile phones, Bluetooth and like, but also a car that can communicate online!

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