Abhinav Sinha

Holistic Brand Management

In Brand Management, Holism, Systems Thinking on October 22, 2010 at 4:24 am

When someone asks you, ‘what’ would your next car be; ‘how’ do you answer? Would you call the thought process that gets triggered, rational? or analytical? skeptical? emotional? or none of them may be. Or maybe, all!

Whatever your answer to the ‘what’ may be, what I want to dwell upon in this post is the ‘how‘ part!

With my background in a variety of customer centric roles with the automotive industry, this question is also of immense professional interest to me. So, I like taking this personally.

On a number of occasions, my inquisitive self has asked this question to a eclectic mix of audience ranging from friends to family, all age groups and varying social strata. I avoid picking colleagues from auto industry though, and am happy about it!

Most people, come up with their snap second responses. Not just quick but firm and confident ones as well. No one has ever asked me for a KBC style set of four options to choose for an answer. Although, while making a a real purchase decision they probably would take into account most options available, but in this case they just seem to know it.

My next act of devil is when I start getting deeper. I quiz them on the power output that their ‘choice’ delivers. Majority does not have a faintest idea, but they somehow believe that it has to be good! I ask them if their ‘choice’ has an airbag option? a tilt steering? or  electrically operated outside rear view mirrors? etc. The most consistent answer that I have got for whatever choice of the car they have come up with is, ‘I think…’

Then ‘how’ do they answer? How could they be so confident in giving out a name, while virtually having no idea of the specifics!

The answer probably lies in the definition of what we delightfully call a ‘brand’. I researched my sources and stumbled across hundreds of definitions but none more satisfying and complete than this one:

‘A Brand is the costliest real estate; a piece in the corner of a consumers’ mind’.                 

To elaborate further, it is a collective set of perceptions that a consumer carries about a person, product or service.  Although a brand is something that provides an identity to that product, it in itself remains intangible.

This takes me to my answer. ‘How’ do people answer flash question pertaining to their choices. The piece in the corner of their minds shouts the answer out and the mouth just rattles it. All of them seem to have a  holistic perception about the product or service, and that is what drives their opinion. Simple! Rest are just details.

However, what isn’t as simple is getting your name plate up on that piece of estate. Brand managers slog their personal and family lives away in wanting to get their first. While getting there is important, what is even more critical is leaving the right impressions behind.

Management of brands is a highly complex business task. For many brand owning companies, brand value is the key driver for the company’s overall strategy. Though it may be considered from a number of viewpoints, one insightful starting point is to recognise that brand value is linked to ‘preferential choice’ for a brand relative to some other.

Organisations that are system thinkers at large and able to see a holistic image of reality, are concerned with not just the choices that their customer make but also the choices made by other stakeholders like employees and shareholders. 

Choice is affected by a host of factors both internal and external to the business. Most evolved companies, including the one for which I work for, have good tools to manage and control internal operational processes and the cost side of the brand management.

However, in my opinion far fewer companies will have the processes to manage the ‘intangibles’ and other consumer processes that are fundamental to the revenue generating part of the brand management. Competitive advantages in delivering the ‘intangibles’ can create substantial value that will be ‘hard to copy’ for the rest.

These processes could be hugely complex in nature and in the absence of systems thinking and a sharp understanding of the causality between drivers and outcome over time, brand management would continue to be dealt ‘intuitively’.

The dominant business tradition called the ‘spreadsheet thinking’ is designed to isolate key variables in order to reduce complexity using a bottom line focus and linear thinking. Most marketing managers would give their right hand away to trade it for a larger number of ‘spot enquiries’ generated out of a brand activity, while completely failing to mention the ‘long term value creation’ objective.

A balance of short term deliverables along with long term targets for the brand is desirable, but hard to achieve. This is where the opportunity exists.

In my very personal opinion, the key objective of successful brand management is to maximize the population of loyals. Thus brand strategy involves the identification of appropriate management actions to create loyalty amongst its stakeholders.

A brand manager in today’s world need to be cognizant of the fact that retention is as much a part of his portfolio as acquisition is.

The study of brands from the perspective of dynamic system theory is enlightening because it leaves the nature of the brand, especially their holistic and dynamic character, fully intact.

  1. Good Explanation !! Wilp help Marketing Guys a Lot 😉

  2. Bhaiya, can we hold your talk on one of the Sundays in November? You really have a lot of insight into this subject and this knowledge definitely needs to be shared :-).
    Please give me a suitable date ASAP. I will need to float a mail atleast 15-20 days in advance so that people can plan their weekends accordingly.

  3. Abhinav
    Sigmund Freud had said that the most imp decisions in a person’s life are taken unconciously: not thru rational mental models but “intutively” as you are calling it. The car buying decision is peculiar. On the one hand it is the seconf most imp decision a person takes in life ( after the decision to buy a house, you taught me that remember?) but typically it is a family decision and I have seen upto 3 generations of family memebers actively get involved in finalising which car should come in. While lease plans, mileage, looks, reports from markets etc etc are all imp dimensions, I wonder if Dr Freud is most relevant here: regardless of all such rational points, the final decision is taken because my “neighbour has one,” my friend’s exp with that model is terrible, impressions about the co reputation all that matters rather than any xl sheet comparisions.

    • Sir,
      Apologies for delay in responding to your comments. Diwali kept me away from blogging for some time. Sigmund Freud’s Interpretation of dreams is one book that I have been aiming at for quiet some time now.

      To build on your point and the one raised by my friend Kunal, brand affinity may or may not necessarily translate into a purchase decision. Although, it would certainly increase the PROBABILITY in its favor. The purchase decision will be made taking into account much more rational aspects like mileage, space and even neighbour’s recommendation.

      That is exactly why in my post I have stressed on ‘creating a base of loyals’ as the key deliverable for a brand manager. One who will not only repurchase the same brand again but also positively influence those around him.


  4. Brother,

    The concept of brand loyalty has been very uniquely explained by you.

    Definitely brand recall and as rightly mentioned by Mr. Shirodkar, word of mouth are biggest contributors to the purchase decision funnel.

    Although non-measurable auto giants as I see are investing huge lumps to create unique brands through various new initiatives. But the intresting thing about auto giants is, they have to position every car/model as a brand in its own segment than just the umbrella brand such as Maruti/GM etc.

    Thanks for the great blog anyways.


  5. Bhaiya. Excellent posts on System Thinking.

  6. Rightly said it is rather indispensable to retain the existing and convert more and more to them as the loyal customers. This can be done using the ToC tools by Goldratt and Deming’s System of Profound knowledge.

  7. I really blog as well and I am composing a thing alike to this excellent blog, “Holistic Brand Management
    Systems Thinking”. Will you mind in cases where I reallyimplement a number of of your
    personal suggestions? I appreciate it ,Tia

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