Shahriar Amin,Independent Brand Consultant, Spreeha Board Director, Adjunct faculty at East West & ULAB

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Branding 101

Positioning in a digital world

Shahriar Amin’s career in the field of brand marketing spans almost 16 years. The marketer spawned a wealth of knowledge by working 12-13 years nationally in Bangladesh and 3 years internationally in Hong Kong. He is currently working as a brand consultant, and alongside nourishes the minds of students in East West University and University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh. He also sits on the board of Spreeha – a social enterprise which is popularizing human-centric design. Shahriar Amin sat down with ICE Business Times to share with us his treasure trove of insightful expertise regarding the world of branding and digital marketing.

How does branding impact customer purchase decision?
Branding put very simply is about perception building. Customer purchasing decision, perception building, and branding; all these are processes that are primarily emotional in nature, despite our hope to be governed by rationality.

For example, let’s say there are roughly 1000 burger joints in Dhaka, and let’s assume you’ve tried out meals at 10 of these joints, out of which you claimed American Burger as the best in Dhaka. So that means you only tested 1% from the entire range of options available and convinced yourself that the best is not there in the rest 99%, which you haven’t even tried. Rationally, that doesn’t make sense, since the choice and decision was made on personal bias and perception; all of which are emotional in nature. Simply speaking, branding is integral to the whole process, since everything we buy is based on the emotion-driven process.

How important is branding for small and medium businesses?
Big or small, branding is important for all businesses. Branding is probably more important for SMEs because they have limited resources and whatever they do, they need to be very efficient and smart.

We hold a common misconception: branding & advertising is the same thing. They are not and branding is so much more than just communication. Every business has to choose a name which relays the message they want the masses to pick up on. This is a brand decision. The shape, text, font of a visiting card; the location for office space; and hiring people who will reflect the organization – all are branding decisions. Advertising is just one aspect of the plethora of tools & touchpoints available to branding. For SME’s, it is imperative to make an informed branding decision. These days, digital media has made it easier, as it reduces the cost of brand decisions, serving as an effective tool for SME’s.

Tell us about the role brand loyalty plays in the sustainability of a business?
Our perception of brand loyalty is confusing. By loyalty, we refer to one’s extended period of loyalty towards a ‘single’ brand, which is a fleeting concept in most cases. For example, a woman may be loyal to Mac lipstick, but on occasion, she might purchase a Maybelline. Hence, a customer’s loyalty may extend to more brands than just one.

A common misconception is confusing customer satisfaction with loyalty. Loyalty is slightly more complicated. Hence, designing branding strategies emphasizes the need for businesses to figure out the demands of their situation and work accordingly.

What is the first phase a company needs to keep in mind when thinking of branding themselves?
Due to the popularity of digital media and marketing, there are certain concepts we’d like to drill into the minds of people. The process that a brand and a customer embarks on together is called the customer journey, without either being aware of the other. The entire customer journey process is comprised of three phases – awareness building, engagement, and conversion.

The focus of digital marketing is on step one – awareness building. The constant change in consumer habit and lifestyle, makes it challenging to grab and retain attention. There are so many options, competitions, and brand choices; as a result, awareness becomes a huge bottleneck for brands to make their presence known and felt. Following the establishment of presence, the second phase of the customer journey is engagement. Why should consumers engage with a brand? Let’s assume, an Instagram user has 10k followers, as in 10k people are interested in the content generated by the Instagrammer – this is engagement. However, turning these 10k followers into a business transaction is a whole different ball game, which brings us to the third and final phase – conversion. This is where the majority of the brands struggle.

Branding is a long term investment, and businesses need to adopt an investment mentality rather than an expense mentality.

Does traditional branding still have any momentum in this digital era?
Yes, very much so. There is no such thing as digital marketing. We used to do marketing in a certain way in the analog world and now we do it in a digitally connected world. Two things have changed – first being the consumers. Millennials are more tech-friendly and also the complexities of our lives have changed making it more fast and agile. So, businesses have to adapt to changes in consumer needs, which is where digitization comes in. Due to digitization, if one assumes the old values and principles on which hundreds of years of marketing is based on is suddenly obsolete, then that is a myopic perception. The tools for branding has also expanded and changed, so businesses have to learn the function and purpose of the new tools to brand themselves effectively. New tools will not replace old tools, it will only give us more options. Old tools will still be relevant. At the end of the day, branding is creating value for the consumers and using that value to create a positive perception of your brand. This principle hasn’t changed when you talk about digital marketing or traditional marketing.

Can a brand be for all age groups, and can it successfully target the mass?
A brand can be purchased by all age groups. But, should a brand target all age groups? No. Because these are two different concepts. Who a brand target’s is a target market decision. If a brand targets everyone, then the brand loses its exclusivity. Example – your mother comes up to you and compliments your Nike shoes, and wants one for herself. You take her to the Nike store and buy her a pair. Nike will never refuse to sell pairs to anyone who wants to buy a pair, but they are not going to start including middle-aged adults to their branding campaigns.

Businesses target innovators and early adopters. Deepika Padukone wore a salwar kameez in Love Aj Kaal, creating a hype. She is an innovator and through her, some social media influencers (the early adopters) in Bangladesh started wearing them, and then it trickled into the mass population. For a brand, it is imperative that regardless of category, they pinpoint who are the innovators and early adopters.

What are the five rules of branding that can’t be compromised?
The first thing a brand needs is to be absolutely certain about who they are trying to be and never deviate from that. They need to know what they are selling, what they can and cannot do. Secondly, a brand should always be relevant to the customer. A brand’s main purpose is to build a business, earn money for stakeholders. But at the end of the day, the bigger your brand and business is, you start losing touch with your consumer base. If consumers lose that emotional relevance with a brand, then that’s a recipe for failure. Relevance cannot be compromised. Thirdly, a brand should always strive to create value for customers. Creating value and relevance in the consumer’s mind regarding a brand is the basis for the sustainability of a brand, not just selling. The fourth point is, branding is a long-term game, so businesses have to always be aware of how to innovate and upgrade themselves. Brands need to envision what they are going to be three years into the future, because culture, people and technology will change; businesses always have to be at the forefront of incremental innovation. Fifth and finally is the latest addition. These days, it’s no longer enough to just come out with a product and sell it to targeted consumers and make a profit. That approach results in consumers questioning the purpose and integrity of a brand. Brands, nowadays, have to focus on how they can give back and add value to the environment and community. A mission statement and superficial CSR activity are not enough. The effort needs to be bigger.

When a brand or a company decides to get into digital, how should they approach it?
Digital is tricky because when we say digital we mean digital media or marketing. We should look at digital as a combination of 3 different things. It is first and foremost a business model. For example – Netflix is a business model which never existed before which offers viewers contents readily – content which was accessible before through TV or going to the movies. By creating a new business model, they are disrupting two different business models simultaneously. So the first aspect of going digital is about coming out with a business model which has nothing to do with marketing. The second thing is about internal transformation. If a business wants to adopt digitization then the business and the people working for the business has to change, so the internal human resources have to be skilled as well. The third aspect is external transformation, which is how to reach an evolving consumer base using digital means.

Do you think branding plays a major part in both profit and non-profit entities?
Branding is critical for all types of organizations. In the last 3 years, the best digital marketing campaign has been the U.S. Presidential Election Campaign. It is one of the best examples of digital marketing, of political campaigning. This tells you that branding practices and principles are relevant to everyone. A non-profit could gain the most out of it because they can learn how commercial organizations are putting these practices into play to get the best benefit out of it. Branding and marketing are crucial for non-profits depending on how they use the tools.

Right now, what are the most effective channels in digital branding in Bangladesh?
One of out of 5 people in Bangladesh is on social media. Social media is where brands need to be right now., In recent years Snapchat and Instagram have marked a significant growth, so this is where brands need to position themselves, and need to decide carefully the kind of content they want to generate. It’s a combination of 3 things – media (channel), content, and third is data analytics.

How much do you think data analytics and big data play into branding?
As the media increase, we are going to be needing a simple data analytics parameter. Because if I have a website I can track everything, but that’s not going to be very effective, because measuring everything is time-consuming, so I need to know what the most important criteria to filter out are. Nowadays, everything is being digitized which means the bulk of data will just keep growing. Having principles like what to measure, how to make business decisions on that, is going to be critical and this is where we are still lagging behind.

I have noticed that those in decision-making positions are not well versed on digitization, however, those in managerial positions are comparatively more tech-savvy. By the time the ones in the managerial position become decisions makers it’ll become too late. Therefore, current decision makers need to become more knowledgeable about digitization, big data, and data analytics.

What are a few major trends that might gain momentum, in the context of Bangladesh, in the next few years?
The most obvious one is that consumers will keep shifting from traditional media to digital media. This will result in people watching digital content on traditional modes like TV. My prediction is that in the next one year probably some of the big multinationals will move their media budget to digital, enticing others to follow suit. In two-three years we will see a significant shift in how we start investing behind media, and what we are creating. As a marketer, we need to be aware of the rules of the game.

The second change, which is already happening, big brands will suffer in the hands of small brands. It’s a trend that’s happening globally. This will intensify because small brands are agile, and consumers are becoming more demanding, as their needs are continuously evolving and changing. Small brands can catch up quicker, whereas decision-making cycles for big business are longer. What small brands lack is that they are usually a one-trick pony, however, with big brands even if there is a hiccup along the way, they have the resources to rectify their errors and move forward.
Infrastructure is also where a lot of things will happen. Brands and business that solve infrastructure problems like logistics, rides, and utilities – all these businesses will be flourishing. The by-product of the millennial population and digitization is that there will be a lot of polarization, so niche brands will see an upsurge.

The misconception about branding and marketing can be clarified through asking questions. People need to get out of their stubborn mindset and become intellectually curious, and start asking questions and generate discussions to clarify misconceptions.

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