Time is the usual fall guy.
There has been an enduring myth that brand building took years and decades. Then, along came upstart tech-fueled startup brands seeking brand equity and impact in a matter of days.
This time-shift is being conveniently blamed for the recent entropy in brand building. But, is ‘time’ the genuine reason for the recent disruption in brand practice?
Conventional brands have strived to make a differentiated product, driven by minor tweaks in functionality (remember USP?) one step ahead of competition. In sharp contrast, new age brands have endeavored to become the default service (in their vertical) by delivering a transformative consumer experience. No wonder then, conventional brands seek to patent the formulation, while new-age startup brands patent their idea. The age-old Yellow Pages and Google provide a starkly contrasting example of this essential difference. Similarly many Indian startups like Redbus, Ola, Zomato, etc. have disrupted conventional brand building.
But then, none of the above is new or unknown to the savvy marketer. The interesting question is “why has this change happened?” Rather than asking how startup brands are different, one should be asking why are startup brands occupying a disproportionate amount of consumer mind space.
At an instant, one would blame consumer cultures as impatient, disloyal and demanding. Realizing the power that they have over brands, one bemoans the fact that such consumers are choosing to avoid marketing altogether.
But when one digs deeper, we understand that time-constrained consumers are becoming discerning in their consumption patterns. The T-shaped consumer is today’s reality, choosing to be uninterested in (or be superficially aware of) a number of categories, while being engaged deeply in specific categories that intersect with their personal desires and passions. The only way to win with this T-shaped consumer is to create marketing that they actively choose to engage with, to further their own life’s meaning.
In other words, 21st century marketing is Meaningful Marketing. It is about improving customers’ lives through the marketing itself.
Meaningful marketing makes a real difference in people’s own lives. It does not primarily exist to drive preference, consideration or purchase. It does that by the way of transforming their lives for the better.
With this understanding, we now realise why startup brands are fundamentally disrupting the long established practices of conventional brands. This is because they seek to do marketing that makes a meaningful difference to people’s lives, while conventional brands are still stuck in the AIDA model of marketing.
Startup brands have clarity on the deeper purpose they fulfill in the consumer’s life. In many ways, they put the consumer first in their business model. In fact, they are so committed to this purpose that, often they seduce the consumer with a lite version, unlike conventional brands that insist on the money first. As an example, while Ola offers free rides, it single-mindedly pursues the purpose of becoming the default transport for everybody.
The next obvious question is “what can brands do to thrive in the age of the startup brand"?” How does one practice Meaningful Marketing?
For any consumer to connect with such meaningful marketing, it needs to stick its neck out on a specific human purpose, deliver an interactive experience that makes this purpose come alive, and lastly, use every media opportunity to further drive this perspective. The essential brand algorithm for new-age brands? To drive meaningful marketing with a disruptive idea along these three dimensions of purpose, experience and utility.
The problem is that, historically, conventional brands have relied on media disruption as its business model. The formula has been to find an insight, come up with a Big Idea (as we lovingly call it), and multiply that by media channels. Unfortunately, it now seems that there are limits to how much we can disrupt what people are doing. Campaigns or products, if they are not worthy of people’s time, will end up polluting the world — literally and metaphorically.
As we forge ahead into the post-digital, all-mobile era, a disruptive marketing idea delivered through meaningful purpose, seamless utility and real-time experience can shift brands from the Old World to the New World Order.
It’s high time!
(The author is chief strategy officer at TBWA\ India)