What is an iconic brand? How do brands become iconic? Are all familiar brands iconic? How do iconic brands evolve to stay relevant to their consumers? These are the big 4 questions answered in this episode, peppered with loads of examples, both global and local. Here, Amit Ray, a serial entrepreneur, ex-Citi banker, and now a podcaster himself questions Vani on what makes brands iconic.
00:16 – What is an iconic brand?
2:14 – Are all familiar brands iconic?
16:36 – How do iconic brands evolve to stay relevant to their consumers?
Read the complete transcript below:-
Amit Ray 00:00
Vani, we had a conversation before this particular conversation, and I know we spent a lot of time trying to figure out one very basic question, which is what is an iconic brand. So we, that’s a good place for us to start.
For me an iconic brand is one that is in most cases the first brand that you think of when you think of that category. So for example if I had to buy a phone for me, I would think of a OnePlus if I had to buy jewellery, I’d think of Tanishq. If I had to buy functional furniture for my house, I’d think of Ikea. If I have to think of a snack, I’d think of either Kurkure or Haldiram. If I had to think of a car I’d buy a Volvo, if I could afford one and so on. So for me, an iconic brand would be one that is the first brand. Also the brand that you would that you most love that is the most top of mind for me would be an iconic brand. [00:01:00] The other one would be that in all iconic brands, what is absolutely certain is that that the brand offers a very consistent consumer experience, which means that every time I walk into a Starbucks, I know exactly what to expect. When I buy a Volvo car, I know exactly what to get. I know that it will be in my mind there is no car that is safe for than the Volvo or if I open the bhujia packet of Haldiram, I know exactly what taste, I know what it will look like, I know what it would feel like in my hands. I know exactly what it will taste like. So for me, that’s an iconic brand, so a brand that is most likely the first brand that you think of when you think of that category and a brand that is always delivered a consistent consumer experience. So it’s a brand that is consistent. It lives up to its promises. These are brands that don’t make empty promises. They live up to their promise.
Amit Ray 02:00
There are many brands that we have actually heard of Horlicks is a major brand from my childhood, anyway. So are all brands that you know are familiar? Are they all iconic, would you say?
I think all brands that are familiar are certainly not iconic, first of all, I think Horlicks at one time was so really an iconic brand, I think Horlicks has failed to reinvent itself. Horlicks has failed to stay relevant in the face of a whole lot of increasing competition and in the face of the evolving the consumer awareness on the various other additives or various other dietary supplements that’s of that purpose. But Horlicks aside, your question was, does any familiar brand become iconic? No. Any familiar brand is not iconic. For example, Mama Earth is a familiar brand, but it doesn’t qualify to be called an iconic brand. An iconic brand is more than a strong brand. It’s also more than just a brand that has high awareness. It’s more than a brand that is merely familiar because an iconic brand usually is a brand that has the ability to stay true to its course, stay true to its promise for a long period of time. In fact, timelessly so for example, if you think of Royal Enfield, Royal Enfield has almost cult like following. Now, Royal Enfield has not said that let me suddenly start doing bikes in different colours. Royal Enfield is very clear about the psychographic of the audience it wants to appeal to. And they’re happy being exactly that they don’t try and become everything to everyone. So I think a very important point actually is that iconic brands are very sharply defined. They don’t try to become everything to every brand, which is in any case, a fundamental rule of brand proposition but iconic brands more so have the gumption to stay the course, stay true to their promise and even if they remain they find ways of remaining relevant to the evolving consumer culture, but they don’t fundamentally change what they stand. I take the Santoor example, Santoor is a very old brand now Santoor is an iconic brand. And if you see how Santoor has communicated through the times, even how the product has evolved, it is the fundamental premise of their brand. What they’re fundamentally offering is always, and has still been the haldi chandan. Now, how that haldi chandan is presented the context of the story changes. The woman who is mistaken to be not a mother, she has evolved with times. The situations changed, the stories changed but the promise of the soap, the functional promise of the soap doesn’t change. And it’s always presented in the same way. I know exactly what to expect. Also, thinking about the Santoor communication exactly is an important point in the fact that these are brands that have built very strong, consistent codes. For example, it’ll always be about admiration of a woman by a man. It will always be her mistaken to not a mummy, a young girl. Oh mommy. Oh, you are a mummy, really? That hasn’t changed. It’s always been mummy only. It hasn’t become mom, even that hasn’t changed. So there are the way the product is shown, the haldi chandan is shown, all of that has made the sense. I’m not saying that, you say, changing mommy to mom is going to in any way, significantly bring down their iconic stature but the point over here, the larger point over here is that iconic brands have consistent codes. I know what to expect. I have a mentor picture of the brand when I think of an iconic brand. When I think of Coke, I’m immediately thinking of the shape of the bottle. I’m immediately thinking red; I’m immediately thinking of the fizz from the bottle. So there are things about iconic brands, which, I mean, if you were to do a workload at cloud on an iconic brand assuming it’s a global brand, even in different parts of the world, you pretty much get the same words. McDonald’s is pretty much the same across the world. They may have a few different parts of it, but fundamentally the brand experience is consistent. When you think of Starbucks, it’s always, wooden interiors, it’s always a certain shade of green. I know how I greeted by the staff behind the captor, I know they have a certain degree of license if the tomato in my sandwich has gone back that she would have the authority to change the sandwich. I know what the signs of the sandwich will be. I know what the ambiance of the place would be like, I can almost imagine what the furniture would be like. It’s not just about the visual elements actually, it’s all of the sensorial, it’s everything. The whole brand experience pretty much stays consistent.
Amit Ray 07:00
Does it mean that this iconic brand has to be the best delivery of the functionality that you’re looking for?
Who is to decide what is the best coffee? Or who is to decide really what is the safest car? Now there is an engineering angle to it for sure, but I’m saying that that’s where the value of a brand comes in, value of a brand versus a product. The thing is that everything we first evaluate emotionally. For example, because I love Starbucks, I will go and have that coffee, even though I may not think that coffee is the greatest, but there is so much else that makes that brand an iconic brand. What the quotes of the brand are, you know, what the ethos, the culture of Starbucks as a brand is and that’s remain consistent for that reason. So it’s a, but like you said, should it necessarily be the best chances are than brands we consider iconic. Because we consider them iconic, our brains are usually much attuned to having a more partial view towards the assessment or towards the delivery of that brand. Even if there is another product that actually delivers on the same. I mean, for example, in the world of phones, there’s this new phone that’s been launched, Nothing, if you see the feature by feature comparison, this is true actually for phones, it’s true for most electronic you’d look at a Sony TV versus a Vu, which is an American brand, I think or even the world of cars, for example. I mean, the difference in the features is so minuscule, feature by feature we would compare, you can’t really say, oh, this is decidedly the best. No, but our brains are attuned to believing iPhone is the best or that, let’s say a Volvo is the best or that a German car is definitely going to drive far better has better engineering than any other Indian made car for sure. It’s a German car. It’s got to be better. And similarly, so by the way, for, whatever we put out in our mouth, it’s more true for what we put in our mouth. The fact is that the brain tastes much before the mouth tastes. And this has been proven again and again in all blind versus splendid taste. If you were to blind taste to products, you might actually pronounce a poorer decision, a poorer appraisal for an iconic brand. But when you open your eyes and you are seeing what brands then your assessment is different. It’s true for vines, for example, isn’t it? So the whole idea, why do we want to build iconic brands? Why is it that we look towards creating iconic brands? Because iconic brands give you pricing power, iconic brands help lift the product from mere product features to being assessed for more than product features. You’re not merely a product, then. What do you think an iconic and category creator brands like Kurkure should do to defend its iconic status amidst increasing challenges from various regional players? Correct. So what should an iconic brand do? Yeah, it’s a very good question. See, the thing is that in the yester years for iconic brands, it was relatively easier because competition was not as intense, but today one could argue that with so much clutter, it becomes even more difficult for a brand to stand for a USP to have a differentiating product feature now said it’s not possible to take 2,000 – 3,000 peers to court because we have so many of these fakes. How should a brand like Kurkure stay relevant? It’s by staying true to what it is. Don’t change the taste, don’t change the masala, don’t change the fundamental quality of humour, for example, for what the brand has been built. The reason why the brand is bigger than the product is because Kurkure has always been able to show a mirror to society. You funny Indians will have funny traditional rituals and the funny reasons for why we follow our rituals and they do that without offending anyone. So Kurkure is a combination of the kind of innovations we bring to the market. So Kurkure shouldn’t suddenly start saying, there are these young kids who might find that the theca is too much or if we were to appeal to the older segment who might find, I mean, they may have the ability to extend, like Lays did a Lays baked, but then Lays baked is a very small decimal percentage share. The overall contribution to sales of Lays bake to overall Lays is very small, so stay true to your core while staying relevant to the changing consumer. See, any kind of limitation, like the Hazar invitations or the Hazar invitations of fair and lovely has spawned over lot of limitations, right? So it’s as the Picasso says, invitation is the best form of flat be. So, that one can’t help, in this country one can’t help. You can’t take people to court. So you just live with it, I mean, you take pride in the fact that I’m worth imitating. I must be big if I have, if I’ve spawned as many different imitations, then I must be big as a brand is why, for example, Colgate has become a category generic, did you do Colgate? Surf has become a category generic; Surf stands for any detergents.
Amit Ray 12:09
So does it mean that many brands would be iconic in every category?
Absolutely. There can be multiple brands in the same category that can be iconic because different brands are positioned for different audiences. So the audience for a Royal Enfield is very different for Hamara Bajaj. The guy for who Hamara Bajaj is relevant, for him his top of mind will be Bajaj. And the guy for whom Royal Enfield is relevant, for him the top of mind will be Royal Enfield. One could well argue Big Bazaar would also be an iconic brand for certain sections of the society for a certain consumer. It may not be iconic for you and me but it is an icon, in fact, if you remember, we were also discussing, there are many brands, regional brands that you and I might not even have heard of, which are very iconic in that particular area. For example, we were discussing that Paradise Biriyani in Hyderabad, it’s an iconic brand. Now, you and I may not take to that taste, it has to be iconic to that target audience, I mean, for example, I remember when I used to work on the talcum powder category, way back in 2002, for us one of the big iconic players that we were up against when I was working on Fa as a young brand manager, was this brand called Gokul, Gokul Talc in Tamil Nadu. Now Gokul Talc for the users, there is cult like following and I would argue it’s this very dirty tin dabba that tin hasn’t changed for all these years, it’s very clunky, it rusts, but for whatever face we might make about that brand, the fact is for the users of that brand, it is iconic. They would buy a Gokul, they would, there’s no way that a Gokul consumer would buy a Fa Talcum powder for example.
Amit Ray 13:55
So, the brand is iconic mean that it’ll be the winning choice. So choice of Mama Earth over Ponds assuming Ponds is considered iconic.
If both brands are relevant to that consumer, then by all means the iconic brand will win. This is assuming, of course, both brands are relevant and both brands are also affordable. For me, a Volvo is to me the best vehicle. I wish I could buy a Volvo, but I can’t afford that car. So I settle for a Honda City or for a Hyundai Creta, because that’s all I can afford. So, what I finally buy will be a function of availability, affordability, but if two brands relevant to the same teaching, definitely the iconic brand would win. If I could afford a Volvo, then why would I not buy that.
Amit Ray 14:42
Let’s take the Tata Nano, right? It was and everybody knows Tata Nano but I don’t think it did particularly well in the market. Would you say it’s iconic? Is there some such thing as a negatively iconic brand or is that iconic at all?
I think Nano was a failed experiment. There was such a lot of hype around Nano, so I don’t know, I wouldn’t call that an iconic brand because in fact, it is an example of a brand that sort of let you down. The Ambassador, Ambassador was an iconic brand. I remember I myself had done this piece for an article, some journalists had reached out to me on what can Ambassador do to retain its iconic status while still become relevant. And my point of view was at that time Ambassadors shouldn’t lose the fundamental core of what makes it such an enduring car, you know, don’t change the shape, don’t change the way that it’s been, don’t change the roominess inside the car, don’t change the way it looks. Because that was the endearing appeal of that era of the Ambassador. Today, if I buy the ambassador, I will not buy it for great performance. I’ll not buy it for the fastest mobility or the soundest engineering. I’ll buy the ambassador because it brings that memories. It could be a car that they replace everything under the bonnet and make it really smooth and it could have a German engine, but I’m saying that the beauty of an ambassador was the fact that, I mean, even if they were to bring a modernized version of an ambassador, but they shouldn’t fundamentally lose the DNA of what made that car what it was. The fact that it occupied space of the road, the fact that it moved a certain way, you know, the seats were large. And somehow, when I think of an Ambassador, I always think of white towered seats because I don’t know why and Ambassador always had that white.
Amit Ray 16:36
How do you change enough to stay relevant without losing, your meaning or whatever, actually?
Yeah. This is one of the questions I think somebody had even asked, you are absolutely right. So how do I change enough without becoming somebody who you are not? And that is why creating what we call a brand book is very important. You’re not defining what is the brand, what is the brand’s proposition? What is the psychographic of the audience to which we appeal to like we were discussing, for example, if Adidas is about the shoe for a serious sportsman, it’s a performance shoe? It is for the serious athlete; the core of the brand will always stay true to high performance. There is a reason why their brand ambassador is Messi, you know, Messi is the god of football. So, how does a brand stay relevant? Adidas may come with new colours; they may come with new florescent. They may come with the communication that is relevant to the times. They will come with innovations in their portfolio which you know, which are suited to new age sports, et cetera, et cetera. But the core of the brand doesn’t change. So one is the core of the proposition. The reason why iconic brands become iconic is because they have a sharply defined brand book, which is the brand proposition is clear. The personality of the brand is very clear. For example, a lot of the brands you see these days, you can tell when the social media agency has changed on the, just looking at the Instagram feed, you can tell, you know, from here the Instagram, the agency has changed and then a year again, the agency has changed. But you wouldn’t say that when iconic brands, so that’s because their tone of voice, the way they speak, the way they come across the personality. How they relate with the consumer, how the consumer feels when you choose that brand, I know the statements that I’m making for myself when I buy Chinese jewellery, for example, or when I buy a Van Heusen. How I feel, what statement I’m making about myself when I choose that brand is very clear in the consumer’s mind when I’m buying an Apple, what sort of a person I am or if I’m buying a Samsung, I’m more likely to be, or a OnePlus like me, I’m more likely to be someone because I feel I’m not going to pay loads of money for a whole lot of hyped up nonsense, which is how I see Apple. So you can’t be everything to everyone choose who you wish to appeal to, understand the consumer, start by understanding consumer and make sure that you stand for something very sharp for that consumer. I think that is so much to discuss in this topic. There are so many other Indian examples actually that we should talk about. Every time we discuss strong brands, it’s always the brands that dominates internet that we end up talking about, the Indian examples.
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