Walt Disney’s former CEO Michael Eisner once said, “A brand is a living entity - and it is enriched or undermined cumulatively over time to become the product of a thousand small gestures.”
Eisner’s remarks about “living entity” make the process of building brands similar to raising kids. If brand managers treat the brands they handle as their “own babies”, then there is an awful number of babysitters on hire - the advertising agency, media agency, activation agency, in-store salesmen - all chipping in their own contribution to dictate how a brand should behave with consumers, what promises it should make, what needs it could fulfill, what principles it must conform to.
But too many cooks can spoil the broth. What’s worse is that it could be burdened by the inconsistency of learnings from too many mothers. And then there’s the consumer’s mind, which paints its picture of the brand.
So who is the brand custodian in today’s times? Who can nurture the brand taking it under his/her aegis? And, like all good parents, who learn the art of letting go, can brand custodians do the same?
There are different points of view on this. Nikhil Rao, VP-marketing (chocolates), Cadbury’s says, “Brand managers and marketing managers are typically responsible for the brand today. The onus lies on them to ensure that every consumer feels special through the brand experience.”
Ambi M G Parameswaran, executive director and CEO, Draft FCB + Ulka (Mumbai) however says that the organization’s CEO alone can fit into the role of brand custodian. “The CEO has to give directions and makes sure that the brand stays within the dimensions defined. If he is not personally involved in understanding what the brand stands for and be its custodian, then he is not doing its job,” he says.
Rajeev Raja, creative head, DDB Mudra however states that there is no hard and fast rule about brand custodians. “A brand custodian is a product of circumstances – I’ve known account managers who’re really passionate about the brands they handle, as are strategic planners. It all depends upon affinity with certain brands or categories. Ultimately it’s about meeting the tangibles that help present a consumer interface that’s true to the brand persona.”
However, marketers have often been accused of clinging on their own brands too much and for far too long. In a connected world where the web is changing the way brands interact with consumers, there are some who believe that it is inevitable that like mature parents, marketers too ought to learn the art of
“Going forward, brands have to make it conducive for consumers to participate in shaping their grammar and relevance,” says Pinaki Bhattacharya, senior VP-planning, Saatchi & Saatchi. “Today many marketing and advertising professionals are cognizant of the changing dynamics, but the fear of losing control is real. The consumer is talking control faster than we can fathom.”
Pinaki Bhattacharya, senior VP – planning, Saatchi & Saatchi
“Increasingly, the consumer is the custodian of a brand. And that is the way it should be. For Saatchi & Saatchi, being the Lovemarks agency, it is a belief system. The classical discourse on brands is increasingly irrelevant. It is deemed that a marketer creates a positioning for a brand and transmits that to the consumer who decodes it and keeps it in her heart. That is increasingly not going to happen. It is already difficult to control the stimuli that consumers receive and share with peers and the rise of social media will only heighten the difficulty. The sooner we co-opt consumers to the process of brand management the better it would be for brands. ”
Nikhil Rao, VP – marketing (chocolates), Cadbury’s
“ By classical definition, a brand custodian is someone who is the architect of a brand, designing and deciding how the brand appears, what attributes it should possess, how the brand speaks to consumers in various media. In times of increasing consumer choice and consumer ‘literacy’, the brand custodian needs to be able to understand and translate what the consumers want, need, think and feel into what the brand stands for. Gone are the days when brand marketers could operate by averages and extrapolated quantitative data. Each consumer wants to be spoken to and pampered individually.”
Sriram Krishnamurthy, VP – sales, marketing and service, Onida
“The definition of brand custodian is different from that of brand owner. The custodian is a person on whom the brand equity rests and that clearly, is the mind of the consumer. But under practical circumstances, anybody who affects the value of the brand is a custodian - right from in-store sales staff, to the people you see in the TVC. At every consumer touch point, the custodian helps uphold the qualities of the brand. At Onida, we try to ensure that right from dealers to the salesperson in-store are trained in delivering the right interface to our customers. Word-of-mouth becomes an important influence in the consumer mindset.”
“A brand custodian is someone who’s the most knowledgable and passionate about the brand. Account managers and planners fit that role since they really know the brand well and their affinity with a brand or category helps creates custodians in agencies. It’s the agency which helps meet the brand tangibles, since it is responsible for creating consumer interface in a manner that’s true to the brand persona. By default, the client is the primary brand custodian. Social media is going to change these definitions in terms of immediacy, since it will allow live interactions with consumers and make agencies and clients be on their toes.”
M G Parameswaran, executive director, CEO, DraftFCB+Ulka
“The brand custodian is and will always be the CEO of the organization. A brand is the company’s most valuable asset and a CEO has to be personally involved in understanding what it stands for and be its custodian. He/she need not be involved in micromanagement, but will have to give general directions and make sure the brand stays within the dimensions defined. It is fashionable to speak of the consumer taking over the brand and managing it for us. While I may want to dismiss it as wishful thinking, I think it is important for brand custodians to monitor the ‘buzz’ that is taking place in the social media and understand the reasons behind it. ”