Is Your Brand Position a Mirage?

- Lata Subramanian

Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind. A book that is a marketing classic. As it should be! After all, by the simple act of crafting the book title so carefully, Al Ries and Jack Trout demonstrated that they knew what they were about.

 

Brand positioning is a craft to be exercised with care and skill if the battle for the consumer's mind is to be won. Fail to practice the craft well and your brand position will not be as intended – in your target audience's mind space.

 

Leading from the above, I have a question for all marketing and brand management practitioners. Is your brand position a mirage?

 

No, seriously. Think about it. Is your brand position a mirage?

 

The thought that many a brand position is no more than a mirage was triggered in my mind by a couple of advertising campaigns currently on air in India.

 

You may be aware of the famous Vodaphone ad, and I can assume you must have at least a few times on TV sometime in the past.

 

Lovely ad, isn't it? The storyline, the music – both caught my attention and I watched the commercial with rapt attention. Until the brand and its message was revealed….

Jan 02
 

Share photos 43% faster/Speed is good / Vodafone – The fastest 3G network!

 

Thank God the commercial ended with “Vodafone Power to you.” If it had been signed off with the usual “Happy to help” tag line, I would have ended up more scornful than I already was.

 

Why? Because for one, my experience with Vodafone was a painfully slow network in Mumbai and Chennai… more often than not. Second, my interactions with Vodafone have been more a case of “Unhappy to help.” I specially recall the one time I walked into a Vodafone store. I think the 'Happy to help' campaign had just been launched. All the store employees had a badge that announced 'happy to help.' But not one even looked a customer in the eye. Let alone smile. They looked as if they were 'unhappy' that they had to help the long line of customers!

 

Almost in sync with the possible brand mirage being created for Vodafone by Vodafone was the latest salvo from brand Airtel. Watch!

 

I was horrified at the blatant promotion of deceit. Is this the kind of family values responsible brands should be seen promoting? Children currying favour with a father to get their way?

 

I am sure the Airtel marketing team and the advertising agency behind this campaign will ask me, “Where is your sense of humour?” Sorry, guys, I can't see the humour here. And neither could a friend from Kuala Lumpur, a homemaker and mother of two children, who independently voiced the same feeling I had when I first saw the Airtel myPlan campaign.

 

I understand that Airtel's intended brand position is 'enabling relationships.' Well, to my mind, the values promoted in the myPlan campaign is simply no way to enable family relationships.The campaign is destructive to relationships. And the brand positioning nothing but a mirage in the minds of its creators. At least as far as this campaign is concerned.

 

Both Vodafone and Airtel are service brands and positioning service brands is always a tough task. You have to be careful. You have to consider if the organization can deliver the brand position. You have to manage customer expectations. And, you have to be careful of implied brand values. Especially in an era where consumers are judging brands by what they are seen to be doing, rather than just saying.

 

Consumers judge brands by what they do, not just by what they say.

 

I seriously wonder what the real brand positioning of Vodafone and Airtel is. Where it matters. In the battle for the consumers' minds. I wonder if the intended brand position of these two powerful telecom companies is a mirage. Worse, I wonder if they actually occupy a negative position in the minds of their customers.

 

Vodafone does in the mind of at least one consumer. Mine.

 

I have been a Vodafone user since mobile telephony was first introduced in India in 1996. I have been with the network through all the mergers and acquisitions – from Max Touch and Orange to Hutch and Vodafone. It means nothing. I just don't see enough reason to switch my provider.

 

It's a similar case with my bank. I am a long-standing customer of ICICI bank. But, the bank's claimed brand position of 'khayaal aapka” (caring for you) certainly does not entirely play out in my experience and ergo, in my mind. Because each time that I have cause for a personal interaction with the bank, its employees are always trying to meet the bank's revenue objectives rather than give me, the customer, true blue investment advice that would take care of my interests. At least, in ICICI's case, their superlative, user-friendly website and digital initiatives such as iWish do substantiate the brand positioning. And the bank is highly efficient in processing customer requests. There is that. Not entirely a mirage then!

 

John Wanamaker once famously said, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don't know which half.” I wonder what he would say today. In an era where marketers are finding it ever harder to find a unique product feature that would help position a brand. And are resorting to all sorts of entertaining gimmicks and emotional tomfoolery in an attempt to gain a customer's attention. Just doesn't cut it, I'm afraid.

 

In such a scenario, would Wanamaker lament the state of affairs and say, “All the money I spend on advertising is wasted. The value is no more than a mirage.”

 

All the money spent on advertising is probably wasted; it's value no more than a mirage.