The inanimate brand

Companies spending a great deal of money on developing a brand has become a trend in Sri Lanka. There is the imagery and the reams of paper that goes with it, probably explaining the concept behind the brands; the great deal of time they spend trying to develop even just one or two words, which they think would capture their ethos…

Branding and re-branding have become a very big exercise, with millions of rupees being poured into it in modern day commerce. But often what happens is that the branding exercise stops at that point, and this very important brand image is relegated to a dossier full of words. Most business organisations do not see the need to treat this dossier they spent so much time and effort on as a living document that requires reviewing and to be exercised on a day-to-day basis.

A significant fact that marketers need to understand is that brands deal with people, and not with inanimate objects. I don’t know what brand gurus have to say about this because I am not from that discipline. However, as a consumer using the products behind these brands, I sometimes wonder what all the hoo-ha is about in advertising space, when some of these products hardly live up to expectations.

I believe developing a brand goes beyond its mere logo, and I’m sure the marketing gurus would agree with me. For example, let’s look at a supermarket chain I like to visit (not the one I would stop at on my way home but the other one). They have no standards in the uniformity of goods available. One of their branches may carry a certain brand, and in another one you may not find it. And what’s more, if you ask the manager of that branch for that brand, he’ll probably give you a blank look.

In today’s commercial world, the brands available are manifold offering a wide array of product choices. In line with that, the consumer too has very specific needs designed to suit their individual lifestyle, and the reason one would go to a supermarket as opposed to a local kadé (shop) is because one expects the big brand supermarkets to offer this choice, supporting the purchasing power of their clients.

In a supermarket, frontline staff is the first in line to manage their brand image. What these big stores don’t understand is that this very frontline staff is probably the biggest danger they face in terms of having their brand image completely massacred. If staff is not knowledgeable and conversant about what is available or not available in the supermarket, and therefore are not helpful, it distresses the customer.

It might sound as if I am nitpicking, but I have often found one person manning four weighing scales at a supermarket when I am purchasing goods that need to be weighed, or been in a store that has five checkout counters with only two cashiers standing by them, in both cases causing long queues of waiting customers. These big brand names that directly engage with the public on a day-to-day or minute-by-minute basis have a constant challenge of maintaining their brand image and sometimes they don’t even seem to know it. There appears to be complaisance in actually dealing with this side of the brand story, probably due to the fact that there is less consumer resistance in Sri Lanka than in the West, where bad service may result in a company getting bad publicity from the social media side of it.

Another example would be delivering on the promise of a guarantee. Due to household durables being imported into the country by people other than the local agents, there is a great deal of damage done to the brand. Unsuspecting consumers go and buy well-known international brands and find that there is no guarantee for the products they buy. Of course, the fault may be partially theirs, as they don’t actually check if they are buying from authorised dealers or agents. But then there is the promise of the guarantee itself – how much water does that hold? My family recently had the experience of dealing with a mattress maker who promised a 15-year guarantee on the spring structure of this product, to find that after three years the springs in the mattress were gone. Well, especially on one side, i.e. my side. On examining the mattress, this mattress specialist company started throwing all sorts of fine print at us, but what was most alarming was when they said that a large object was placed on one side of the bed. On arguing with the supplier, my wife indicated that there was no such large object placed on the bed. They even had the audacity to send us a report in which they blatantly stated that the cause of the damage was a large object.

It was disturbing; as there was no large object on that side of the bed, except, of course, me. To clarify whether there was a maximum weight stipulated for the guarantee, I called them, but they were not willing to give me a satisfactory answer and kept to the original story that the cause of the damage was this large object. In the end, we paid them and got the repair done. From then on, I go to sleep every night with the thought that in some parts of this commercial world, I had morphed into a large inanimate object.

Source : DailyFT (

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