Saying it on

Prasad Sangameshwaran | Updated on March 10, 2018



There are several pitfalls with the current image-led approach to branding. As the average lifespan of brands is in rapid decline, two experts speak exclusively to cat.a.lyst about the secret to long-term brand health, and wealth.

Allow us to start by challenging your long-held beliefs. The days of the image-led branding approach might be numbered, particularly if one talks about the long-term toll it takes on the brand's health. The notion of image brand building that we have inherited from the west is based on an industrial approach. If the industrial business models are falling apart, then the entire premise of image brand needs to be questioned. And it needs to be questioned fast, particularly if there is a need to take the brand global.

Second, a lot of western brands have been sacrificed at the altar of short-term goals. The very same tendencies are manifesting themselves in India. If we do not hold ourselves accountable, then we will also sacrifice our iconic brands at the same altar.

Third, if Indian brands need to make any impact globally, the advertising, marketing, digital campaigns are all par for the course. Like Nikos Mourkogiannis, Chairman, LongBrand Consulting, and author of the book Purpose: The Starting Point Of Great Companies, puts it, most of the places have already been taken.

“There is no point in running around options that have already been filled up as you will end up as a mere photocopy,” adds Unni Krishnan, managing director, LongBrand.

He elaborates that companies need to do something that is true to their calling and purpose for which their entire business model needs to be reinvented. It might sound tough, but if done well Indian companies can take a huge leap forward. This is the need of the hour because there is a multiplication of crises, both economic and otherwise, and brands need to respond.

Lastly, existing methods of brand valuation are rooted in the image-led branding paradigm of the past. While that approach will continue to have relevance for accounting reasons, to create a strong global brand, one needs to adopt a purpose-led approach. It will then create long-term value as opposed to short-term revenue generation that most current models follow.

Losing touch

Mourkogiannis points out that Greece was a strong country brand. Then, there was Westinghouse Corporation that was not very long ago considered as probably the second strongest brand in the world, after GE.

“I have seen very strong brands being destroyed. The approach has been mechanical. You cannot stamp the Acropolis or the big W and expect them to sell,” he says, and adds that brands speak through their actions and not through their icons.

According to him, we live in a world where a lot of communication professionals are saying that they can create brands and end up milking brands to death. “A strong brand should be a red flag to management because companies with strong brands are most likely to become negligent. Spend on a brand and you just make money, but create a purpose-led brand and you are creating value for the long term,” he says.

In the industrial approach, organisations worked in silos, says Krishnan. While the marketing and branding departments worked towards developing a favourable image and perceptions of the brand, the other functions were focused on efficiency.

So why did some of the iconic brands of the past bite the dust? Simply because the image that was projected outside did not match internal reality and align with the leadership’s approach.

He points out that earlier the brand was valued for perpetuity. About 15 years ago, the average life span of brands was estimated to be about 80 years. Now it is as low as 20-21 years.

A derivative of purpose

Brand is the first derivative of purpose, says Mourkogiannis. Every time one mentions that it’s a good brand they mean that it gives you something that other brands do not, or it sets standards, is very helpful, or is very efficient. Unless one has brands that serve one of the definitions of “good” and unless companies have both tangibles and intangibles aligned to these concepts, one will not have a sustainable brand or a sustainable value creation.

Published on December 10, 2015

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