Openness, consumer engagement
strengthens brands, earns trust
Once upon a time, being a brand was the surest way to increased income for an organization. However, thanks in a very large measure to the internet, brands are becoming increasingly vulnerable.
This vulnerability is especially relevant in India, as market influence shifts to a younger generation and traditional values exist in tension with modern trends. Ironically, for brands that need to navigate this tension, vulnerability can be a strength.
The Oxford dictionary describes vulnerability as “being exposed to the possibility of being attacked or open to risks.” In the context of brands, vulnerability, as seen in India during the past decade, is arising from the following factors:
§ Faster product development cycles New product development as well as go-to-market cycles have increasingly become shorter. Therefore, the time available to generate higher revenues from a new product launch or a technological breakthrough has reduced significantly.
§ Greater choice Thanks to the internet, geographical boundaries have been demolished. And every brand is now just one click away.
§ More competition The internet also enables small businesses to efficiently reach consumers, an opportunity that was once a prerogative of only large brands.
§ Increased consumer power Consumer opinion in a sales cycle has become more influential. News—good or bad—spreads like wildfire.
Additional factors, such as pricing, can impact the brand image, thus resulting in brand vulnerability. And lack of adequate innovation can impact brand equity and weaken loyalty, also making the brand more vulnerable.
Brand building is the antidote
While brand vulnerability has increased over time because of the above factors, brand building remains the surest way to long-term business success, increased profit, and better market capitalization.
Being a pure manufacturer (and not necessarily a brand) may enable huge economies of scale. However, in a competitive market, the only margin for profit is better efficiency. And efficiency will start tapering beyond at some point, resulting in diminishing returns. Also, as a pure manufacturer it is easy to get displaced by a competitor operating from a different—difficult to match— cost model.
Ultimately, brands reflect society. And Indian society is evolving from being perceived as “righteous” (the older generation) to being perceived as “vulnerable” (the newer generation). If the older generation believed in being conformist, the newer generation believes in taking the untrodden path and taking risks. And taking risks makes you vulnerable.
Hence, the new generation does not look upon vulnerability as a negative trait. Allowing oneself to be vulnerable is interpreted as being open to correction and amenable to new ideas and new thinking. The emergence of social media, allows us to express our vulnerabilities, without feeling that we are all alone in our thinking.
Vulnerability is where creativity begins. Vulnerability demands courage. And as Dr. Brené Brown, an American scholar and author says, “Courage starts with showing up, and letting ourselves be seen.” Thus, brands need to be courageous and leverage vulnerability by allowing their consumers to become a part of the decision-making process.
Whether it is product development, pricing policies, or service delivery issues, the more a brand is transparent and engages with its consumers in the decision-making process, the more it will earn their trust, eventually creating a virtuous circle that benefits all stakeholders.