This page is about things that our people think about branding around us. Some serious, some fun, but mainly gyan!

Series: Decoding Branding Vis-à-Vis Advertising—Part 2

Advertising is about that one special moment when your brand is alive in front of millions of people. You can repeat that moment and its reach depending on how much money you can spend. Branding is about creating and managing that special moment along with hundreds of other important moments when a customer comes in contact with the brand. Every action, interaction, presentation and performance is an opportunity to transform a product or service into a brand that is worth considering, buying and using. A brand is built when you have all the four pillars of branding work together to lift the brand.

The role of the brand is essential for advertising success, but advertising cannot substitute the role the brand needs to play in those hundreds of other moments which are more important than advertising in keeping the customer and making her pay. Most marketers unfortunately don’t pay half as much attention to those other moments. Advertising is that booster dose to the brand, which can touch many potential customers in one go and trigger a dialogue. The brand, however, needs to go beyond touch therapy and penetrate deeper into the customer’s mind by adding value at each stage of the customer journey.

Iconic brands like Starbucks, Zappos and the homegrown Indigo Airlines do this better than those that are unilateral in approach and hail or blame advertising for every success or failure of the brand. This approach to brand building is obviously unhurried and can threaten the CMO’s role who is often pressurized to give rapid returns on every dime spent on marketing. The brand is often perceived as a tool to increase sales rather than an asset that enhances value and delivers sustainable ROI. A measured approach to brand building involves creating and assessing value addition to the product or service rather than getting seized in a sales-oriented mindset.

Organizations need to spend an important slice of their brand-building budget in creating and disseminating knowledge on value creation, developing intent for actions that support it and reward successful value creation. This implies bringing management of the brand at the heart of business systems, processes and capabilities. A brand-led organization is twice as more likely to succeed, grow and survive than an organization that dwells on short-term monetization opportunities in the marketplace. Being brand-led is a philosophy that needs endorsement from leaders in the organization. Brand-led organizations consider advertising as the bridge between the brand and its performance. The bridge becomes shorter with time as the performance starts to speak for itself.

By Saurabh Uboweja, CEO Brands of Desire.

View the article in Economic Times – Retail, 15th Jul 2014

There is a distinct difference between Dominos and McDonald’s as brands though they both operate in the QSR segment. McDonald’s almost since its origin has positioned itself towards the kids and to create a sub-brand of the size of “Happy Meals” has taken it 35 years. In McDonald’s case, the brand and the marketing strategy are well aligned and go hand in hand. Domino’s as a brand, has always focused on relationships – families or friends. Simply by introducing a kid’s menu doesn’t make you a kid’s oriented brand. From its mascot to brand colours, outlet decor to the collection of toys and almost every brand experience including promotions, McDonald’s has focused on attracting kids. With the kind of brand image Domino’s enjoys in the Indian market, which reaches out a relatively mature audience, I don’t see Domino’s changing its overall brand strategy suddenly and start designing its brand experiences to target kids. At best, Juniors Joybox will remain an innovative marketing idea that might never be able to come mainstream and compete with McDonald’s Happy Meals. I expect the other prominent QSR chains, read Pizza Hut and Dunkin Donuts to join the ‘Follow Kids Bandwagon’ soon creating an interesting array of fun food options for kids.

Let’s compare the brand experiences between Happy Meal and Joybox to get a lowdown on the forthcoming kids war in Indian QSR.

Promotional Experience

- McDonald’s is a brand created for kids who bring their families along.

- Domino’s is a brand crated for families and friends who bring their kids along (if they have kids).

Fundamentally, it is not possible to target multiple customer segments with a unified campaign unless you want to confuse the customers. Domino’s is almost certain to run a Joybox campaign targeting kids and their parents but given that there is no known history to Joybox, it would be tough get a mind share.

Point-of-Delivery Experience

- McDonald’s is a brand created for the walk-in customer who will rarely buy for home delivery.

- Domino’s is a brand created for home delivery who will rarely walk-in and eat.

Point-of-delivery is a key experience for kids who have traditionally enjoyed the kids’ friendly ambience inside a McDonald’s (they also cater kid’s parties in a distinct kids zone). Domino’s will not be able to capitalize on this opportunity to create a kids friendly brand as their spaces are usually limited in size and are not created for a large sit-in or party experience. With such limited physical space and low walk-ins, it would any way not make sense to set up a significant point-of-delivery brand experience for kids. I can imagine the Domino’s delivery boys wearing a clown cap though.

Product Experience

- McDonald’s main product is the burger. It is practically very tedious to break it into two or three and is therefore, meant to be consumed solo (no sharing). Most other products of McDonald’s are also meant for solo consumption except fries, which can be shared.

- Domino’s main product is a pizza which has 4-8 slices depending on the pizza size and is almost certainly meant to be shared with rest of the family that includes kids. The other products of Domino’s such as garlic bread can also be shared with ease. Wasn’t Domino’s all about sharing, anyway?

Joybox will certainly have a smaller pizza and garlic sticks. Why can’t kids share with the rest of the family? Rather, why leave them out of the party?

Packaging Experience

Joybox’s design should in all probability be an attraction for kids.

We assume that Domino’s will do whatever it takes to match or improve on the packaging for Happy Meals. I am eagerly waiting to experience it though. 


This could be a real differentiator. The main kick for a kid is not generally the food he eats but the anticipation of the toy he will get with it. If Domino’s can develop more attractive toy options than McDonald’s, they can give McDonald’s a little bit of a run for the money from the kid’s piggy bank.

By Arnab Chakraborty
Associate Brand Consultant, Brands of Desire

From the moment an individual becomes conscious, a continuous feedback loop of perceiving and realizing the world is created which only switches off once the organism dies. The world as we see it, the world to which we emote and respond to is all the result of this streamlined awareness & cognition.

Today we respond positively yet involuntarily to some brands like Apple, Ikea etc. only because they trigger our instinctive tastes, the ancient cognitive biases for beauty, symmetry, simplicity and ease of understanding & usage. With the advent of more and more advanced technology and increase in knowledge base, today we are creating services and products catering to every whim and trim except the basic cognitive triggers.

Happiness is the only cognitive trigger that we have managed to monetize by using its basics and branches such as sarcasm, slapstick, humor, situational, love and goodwill. Its positioning as a positive trigger aids the repetitive use to convert leads and gain audiences. Today we are in a position to look in other directions, to explore other cognitive triggers. I will illustrate with two other triggers to examine the potential.

Branding Cognition

1) Fear is the most powerful and involuntarily trigger. Its strongly negative connotation hinders its usage in branding & marketing to sell products and/or services, but fear as an idea has the strongest belief system. Some prominent examples of the fear meme application are terrorism, capital punishment, social rejection, conspiracies.

However fear can be used to drive positive memes as well. The most powerful application to come out of the fear meme is the concept of God. Born out of an ancient fear of the unknown, today the God meme drives the emotional core of the world. Investment of time, money, energy, faith and commodities gives confidence and belief in return. There are themes for which if the fear branding is amplified, will lead to more results in good time, for example: fuel shortage, civil war, food shortage, nuclear war, extinction of species etc.

2) Language as a cognitive trigger is the most essential brand today concerning our species, it gives us the crown at the top of the food chain, has lead us to sophisticated diplomacy from barbaric origins.  From Feynman lectures to Plato’s model theory, language has been our tool to understand physical and chemical nature of things and language itself. However of late, we have become complacent with language. The semantics of natural languages are docile today when compared with machine languages. The logic of grammar inherent in this brand is not adequately used or developing further.

Some critical themes to explore further research and application of this meme are inter species communication, artificial intelligence based on natural languages, exploration of universal sounds as a language format.

Memes are like viruses, brands that cannot die once created. It is therefore, upon us to drive these brands to not cause more diseases but cure them.

View the column in The Financial Express, 20th Jun, 2014.

By Saurabh Uboweja, CEO Brands of Desire.

With close to 50 million SMEs in India employing about 40% of India’s workforce, there is no denying the need and impact of SME’s on our economy. However, many SMEs remain stagnant for years or are forced to shut shop in the face of stiff competition from organized players who have the financial muscle to scale up faster and sustain longer.

SME entrepreneurs in India are high on ambition and carry the aspiration to leave the shackles of staying an SME and becoming big one day. However, they often lack vision, skills and most importantly financing. In my experience consulting over 100 organizations, many of them startups and SMEs, creating a large and famous brand is a hidden desire that almost every entrepreneur carries deep within him but often feels constraint by the cost it takes to create one. If there is any constraint, it is not financial but the passion or knowledge on how to create a great brand. Remember, every famous brand that you know of today once started small. A powerful myth that holds SMEs back is the staunch belief that branding is not for them, especially if they are into B2B.

Contrary to popular belief, branding and marketing are not the same. Branding is like getting the house in order, and marketing is inviting people to it. Every business, small or big, B2B or B2C needs to get the house in order and focus on predictability if they have to scale up and sustain in a cutthroat competitive environment. Branding is the opposite of chaos, and is, very often the opposite of ‘jugaad’ as well. Both ‘chaos’ and ‘jugaad’ are the biggest distractions for SMEs in their intent to grow big or compete better.

To create a great brand, you have to invest in creating great brand experiences for your stakeholders that can be repeated with ease and in a cost effective way. Marketing is about attracting new customers, which is usually unaffordable for SMEs and doesn’t necessarily guarantee a conversion. New leads, customer conversion and customer retention can be increased manifold times if SMEs focus on their branding and brand experiences. A great brand requires less money to market it. The most famous example of this is the mobile app WhatsApp, an instant messaging company that started small, employed only 55 people by the time it sold itself to FaceBook for $19 billion and did not spend a single dollar on marketing in its short history. However, what they invested into was a great brand experience for their users, which was addictive. Once you invest in great brand experiences, your brand carries the potential to scale up immensely; giving you benefits you cannot imagine with marketing spends.

Marketing spends are usually high ticket size spends with a short-term return expectation. Branding spends on the other hand are smaller, strategic, continuous and long term. They are done with the intent of creating long-term brand equity based on trust and reputation that can be monetized in addition to strengthening the balance sheet of a company. However, like all capital investments, brand as an asset can be monetized only in the mid to long term. Branding is not for the short-term return seekers. The primary driver for SME’s is short-term profits and not long-term returns. Learning to appreciate the benefits of long term brand equity and returns is the first step in the direction of transforming oneself from an SME into an established brand.

If invested wisely and systematically, there are atleast eleven powerful ways of getting a higher return on investment in branding by monetizing the brand equity. When you invest in creating a strong and predictable brand, you are investing in an asset that can be monetized throughout the life cycle of the brand. It is an intangible asset because of which your stakeholders trust you and like to engage with you.

Here are eleven ways of monetizing your brand as an asset:

  1. Charge premium from customers – If you want a premium from your customers, you need to enhance the brand experience to a higher level and ensure that the experience is repeatedly delivered. Customers willingly pay higher for a better experience delivered consistently.
  2. Repeat customers and hence higher revenue rather than focusing on just one-time/first time customers – The secret to business success lies in repeat customers. Customers will only come back again if they are attracted to your brand consistently. The return on repeat customers is significantly higher than the return on getting the first customer on board and this can be ensured through focus on high quality branding.
  3. License or franchise your brand for a fee – Once your brand is established and known for what it does, it becomes possible to extend it to new geographies even without investing directly yourself. For a brand that has proven itself before, investors are attracted towards it and often pay significant franchisee or license fee to represent and use the brand to sell products in a new market.
  4. Staff hiring at lower cost – Great brands are trusted. People want to work for brands that they can entrust their career with and in order to do that they would willingly compromise on a higher salary they would get at a smaller or lesser-established brand. This can potentially save millions of dollars in HR cost for an established brand.
  5. Higher staff retention at lower cost – There is a strong positive correlation between brand equity and staff turnover rate. Brands, which have the capability to ensure a great employee experience, experience lower attrition. Cost of not being able to retain an experienced employee is much higher than the cost of hiring and training a new employee.
  6. Lower interest rates and higher valuation while raising funds – Lenders and investors look for strong signs of financial predictability in past performance and future potential of the organization. You become an attractive brand for lenders and investors when you have never defaulted on loan repayments or have generated consistent returns on investment (not necessarily high double digit returns in one year and a flat performance the next year).
  7. Lower risk premium on insurance – The insurance business is designed around low predictability risks. Very few insurance companies would insure an organization if the chances of its failure are high. If at all they do, they would charge a significant insurance premium. Good branding builds predictability and trust, encouraging insurance companies to trust your risk management skills as well.
  8. Better payment terms with vendors (time cost of money) – Established brands are able to get work done from their vendors as per terms they want. For example, if we work on the branding of an established brand, they would not pay us any advance, and would pay us with a payment cycle of one to three months. This can be very costly for a vendor but saves a lot of working capital cost for the brand. However, vendors continue to work with established brands because there is a very high predictability that they would be eventually paid in the time committed.
  9. More focused spending, less wastage – When you are a brand, you are focused towards well defined goals. Companies have the tendency to create and sell multiple products and services along with many variations of the same. This results in difficult supply chain management, creating inconsistent brand experiences. As a result, there is customer dissatisfaction. Wastage of crucial resources can be avoided if you focus on just a few things as a brand.
  10. Reduced cost of managing the brand – Brand management requires a systematic process to manage and control the quality of all the brand assets and communication that goes out. Organizations often don’t realize its importance and handle this function in a need-based manner. It is estimated that savings due to a scientific approach to brand management are 4-5 times than what companies spend on creating brand communication over a one-year period.
  11. Fewer crises and lesser fire fighting, reduction of unnecessary costs and time wasted in managing crises – Branding is the opposite of chaos! Chaos results in stress, mismanagement, fights and often a situation where nobody can be accountable. In order to become a brand, you have to systematically reduce the chaos in every process of your business. Managing chaos and crisis is always costly and often results in drastic reduction in goodwill.

To know more about how to create a brand as an asset that can be monetized, write to

By Saurabh Uboweja, Founder & CEO Brands of Desire

There are eight main principles in building a great brand – Clarity, Simplicity, Contemporary, Aesthetics, Consistency, Correctness, Completeness and Focus. It is important for every brand manager to follow these principles and to learn how it is done; there is no better case study than “Brand Modi”. Brand Modi may not have consciously focused on these eight parameters in this order, but a quick validation suggests, that he scored around 6.5 out of a possible 8. The other leaders would not even rate 2-3 on this scale.

Brands are built when they are trusted. And trust is built when customers, in this case, voters can safely predict better performance of the government in future. A good prediction is only possible based on past consistent performance and not necessarily on future promises. One of BJP’s key branding strategies was to pose a strong individual as the candidate for PM, rather than the party. It is because BJP as a whole has not been a consistent performer over the years but Modi has been. With a high shrill campaign, it was not possible for Congress to keep fighting at a party level against a high performing individual. They were always reluctant in appointing the PM candidate and made Rahul Gandhi the face of Congress. I do not think Congress ever wanted to fight the election based on a personality; they wanted to fight it on issues and keep the public confused. However, they were forced into playing the game, the way BJP wanted to. Once Rahul was appointed the face of Congress, it was the first big strategy blunder for them. Rahul doesn’t have a history of leadership leave alone consistent leadership of a government. Add to it the confusion and lack of preparation he brings to the table, it all resulted in voters not trusting Congress to lead the future of India.

BJP’s strategy to fight the elections on Modi also worked because the only other projected national leader was Kejriwal who also doesn’t have sufficient history to prove his credentials as the right leader for India. He had an opportunity, which he let go. Winning a state assembly election and running the Delhi Government was his way to prove to the world that he can perform other than only talking. He proved his admirers wrong with his inconsistent approach.

The advantage Brand Modi had in this game was that he was competing with two very weak personality brands – Rahul and Kejriwal. One doesn’t have a history of performance; the other one ran away from the chance to perform. This is the game that BJP wanted to play, they knew they can’t just compete on party politics and issues in a convincing manner.

A great brand is built in three steps:

  1. Pre-service – Campaigning
  2. Service – Performance
  3. Post-service – Feedback

Modi and BJP has been successful in the first challenge. The next target for him should be to perform consistently well over the next 5 years while seeking continuous feedback from the voters on his performance. If he can manage to convince voters over 5 years of his Government at the center, that’s when we will know how effective the Brand Modi is.

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