Branding is more than just a logo, colour palette or tagline or even visual aesthetic.
Branding is a feeling, a kindred connection, that transforms your relationship with patrons from a friendship into a long-lasting marriage.
In 1947, when Kundan Lal Gujral opened a dhaba at Duryaganj in purani Dilli, little did he know that he was laying the foundations for an unbreakable bond between the dhaba and its patrons that would go on to establish his little eatery as brand Moti Mahal. Today, Moti Mahal’s heir, Monish Gujral – grandson of Kundan Lal Gujral – continues to win hearts by spreading the legacy of their coveted daal makhani, tandoori chicken and butter chicken across India and the world through restaurants and books.
While there were no Mad Men in the 1940s to teach Kundan Lal Gujral about the tips and tricks of branding and marketing, what he unknowingly did was speak to the souls of a food-loving nation with his intimate, no-fuss hospitality and of course, buttery finger-licking food. With zero marketing budget, Moti Mahal became a household name that patrons vouched for, resulting in a long-lasting relationship—akin to your favourite Punjabi uncle who loves to feed everyone—that blossomed out of a casual friendship.
If we were to view all brands as entities that are on a mission to form deep bonds with their audience, then just as Moti Mahal can be personified as your hearty Punjabi uncle, Maggi-2 minute noodles give the perception of being a mother’s best friend when it is time to feed her ravenous children or Taj group’s Ratan Tata gives the perception of being India’s wise grandfather that everyone is fond of and deeply inspired by (or at least that’s the perception that I have) or Parle-G is like a childhood friend that brings a smile to your face like it would on seeing your long-lost friend with whom you planned many escapades – seriously, I am sure my playful smile was evident even underneath my mask as the air hostess on an American airline handed me a packet of Parle-G as I flew from Mumbai to Boston!
Each of these entities is a brand because of the relationship it has forged with its patrons – not because of its logo, colour palette or tagline or marketing initiatives or even visual aesthetic. It is how your entity is experienced and valued everyday. This relationship has been built over the foundations of trust built over many years of consistently delivering on their promise and their values.
In today’s context of a world that is ready at the bat of an eyelid to speak up against social injustice, the entity that connects the most with an awoken audience is one that gives the perception of being a trusted, ethical advocate of human rights and equality who is a true change maker. Deepica Mutyala is a South-Asian beauty entrepreneur who launched her line of beauty products for “all shades in-between” in 2019. Her company, Live Tinted takes a stand against bourgeois brands that only cater to a certain fairer skin tone. And this bold move has personified Live Tinted as a woman of colour’s staunch supporter and validator.
Humans are constantly looking for such empathetic connections and companies that are able to do this authentically and transparently go on to become brands that stick. A researcher at the University of Toronto, Rotterman tested how anthropomorphizing a cause can lead to a strong sense of empathy amongst the audience. Anthropomorphism is giving human-like characteristics to a non-human object. In the test, the researchers placed a picture of a tree in a cafe with the prompt “Save Trees” and in the second test they placed a picture of a tree with human-like eyes that said, “Save Me.” The result was that there was a 15 percent higher donation for the personified tree than for the first picture of a regular tree.
While building such empathetic connections take time, audiences are quick to notice when you don’t walk the talk. Gaps between CSR policies and actions are not well-received, especially when you try to position yourself as being ethical. Only by authentically staying true to your values and goals will you be able to evoke the desired perception in the minds of your audience. A common perception shared by a mass is what makes your entity a well-known brand.
Just like a company, where the perception of its brand is derived from every single thing that the company authentically stands for, does and creates, the city of London has a brand too. Its brand is what people make of it by juxtaposing their impressions about London Bridge, Big Ben, Queen Elizabeth, Megan Markle, Downton Abbey, The Lion King, fish & chips, pubs with lots of beer, rugby, David Beckham, the Wimbledon, Oxford University, the red telephone booths, Sherlock Holmes, the red double-decker buses and the underground tube with its fantastic wayfinding. Brand London is a projection by the people, created by an amalgamation of impressions of each of these products, and many more. Like Rome wasn’t built in a day, neither was brand London. Now imagine plonking a casino from Las Vegas in the middle of the posh Regent’s Street in London. It surely is going to mess up the perception that people are constantly creating about the brand London.
Creating the desired perception, ie. brand for your entity thus, comes from some very intangible elements like empathy and trust. And yes, they take persistence with being true to themselves and consistently delivering to the highest standards, and time. But the rewards of investing in these intangibles are a brand that has found a place in the hearts of staunch patrons and some very tangible financial growth. Your brand, derived from perception, will ultimately give you a competitive advantage.