Who am I? The question lies at the very heart of human enquiry. On a basic level, it refers to identity. In other words, it seeks to answer what we do and what we stand for.
I could be seen, for instance, as a doctor or as a good doctor, as a civil servant or as a corrupt and inefficient babu and as an employee or as a dependable employee. There is a clear distinction between each of these. Who am I, therefore, defines us.
This is equally true for associations, institutions and corporate entities.
It is important, therefore, for companies and business enterprises to know and to state who they are, what they stand for, what defines them and thereby, what distinguishes them from others.
This is USP or branding. Unless a company states its USP clearly, it will become anonymous. It will not stand out.
After building a brands, companies need to protect them through continued client satisfaction. It takes a long time to build a brand but relatively little time to damage it.
The role of effective communication in brand building cannot be over-emphasized. Let us never ignore how strong perceptions are. However, perceptions can be flawed and unless corrected quickly, they take root and get ingrained. The result: brand damage.
The job of communication is to tell a credible story of your product. But if your story appears fictitious, it will only be seen as ‘tall promises’, which is an euphemism for cheating.
There are nine principles of effective communication:
Only truth sells: Never make false promises to the customer. If the product is of poor quality, no amount of fancy packaging will improve it. Communication must create trust.
Don’t defend a failed product: When customers reject a product because it is perceived to have failed, take it off the shelf. You will lose your reputation and money if you persist.
Believe in your product: Unless you are convinced about your brand, you will never be able to effectively communicate it to the audience. If you work for a car company, you cannot be seen as owning a car made by a rival.
Understand the customer: One size doesn’t fit all. You need to understand your target audience so that you might prepare target-specific strategies.
Retain old customers: Market share increases when you get new clients while retaining old customers: Winning new friends does not mean forgetting old ones though.
Monitor the market: To intervene effectively in the market, you need to understand it. At a time when laptops, I-Pads and mobile phones are invading the market, you cannot be seen to be making typewriters. But if there’s market for it, make it your USP.
Tell your story with clarity: Customers need to know clearly what a product can or cannot do. Products are not mystery novels, where the reader expects a mystery to unfold. Products are expected to deliver what the consumer has paid for.
Don’t rubbish your competitors: Product rivalry is understandable and markets are driven by healthy competition. But when rivalry gets openly aggressive and ugly, it distances the consumer.
Be vigilant: Good strategies and good products need to be constantly cared for and nourished. They don’t remain healthy on their own. Market analysis and consumer behaviour require constant monitoring, and at times, intervention.
An effective communications strategy is extremely important. It helps build and protect brands. But to do this it is important to know what we are trying to sell. In other words, to know who we are and what we represent.
(Amit Dasgupta, a former diplomat, is the head of the Mumbai campus of S P Jain School of Global Management. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at email@example.com)