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Marketers are losing control of brands to consumers

ET catches up with Martin Lindstorm, international branding expert and author of books Brand Child and Brand Sense.

Last Updated: Mar 28, 2007, 01.26 AM IST|Original: Mar 28, 2007, 01.26 AM IST
MUMBAI: HIS website describes him as a Brand Futurist. And not for nothing is this 36-year old, who founded his own advertising agency at the age of 12, touted as one of the world’s most respected branding guru by the Chartered Institute of Marketing. ET catches up with Martin Lindstorm, international branding expert and author of books Brand Child and Brand Sense. Excerpts:

Please tell us about your latest book Brand Sense and the learning therein for marketers.
Over the last two years, I’ve spent time preaching the concept of using our senses in brand-building. For years, we have used hand-shakes, eye contact, smell and the other senses to evaluate each other. Similarly, brand-building is also about creating and conveying emotions in a strategic way through senses; funnily enough, we have never used all our senses while building brands. My book Brand Sense is about using these in an optimum way to create a relation with the consumer. It’s a new philosophy, created just about four to five years back and currently being used by only 35% of the world’s largest brands like McDonalds, Coca-Cola, Microsoft, Nokia and Nestle.

What after Brand Sense?
I am working on a book, to be published by end of January 2008. It’s based on the largest research study in the world about formats of new consumers. We have used some extraordinary research methods and spent $7-million - the result has been outstanding. The book will redefine all ground rules of how we build brands; the results will be shock many people. It talks a lot about religion and draws some interesting parallels between brands and religion. The study was done across the US, the UK, Australia, China, Japan, India and Germany.

What do you think are biggest problems that confront marketers today?
The biggest problem is marketers are losing control over brands; it is moving into the consumer’s hands. As a result, 5-10 years from now between 30-40% of communication will be done by the company and the rest manufactured by consumers. They’ll produce commercials, send them around using blogs and marketers will be reduced to editors of that information. It is already happening, but in the near future, about 60% will be done by consumers. The time spans have reduced, so if a consumer is doing a story about the brand, it will be just as quick as the brand itself - because of word of mouth, because it’s authentic and free of charge.

You talked about religion. How big a role do you think it will play in the business of brand building?
Brands will learn from the world of religion. All studies point out that religion will be an important element; you will have an enemy, branded rituals, appeal to the senses, icons for story telling -aspects that will be embedded much more in the brand. Religion has been around for 3,000-4,000 years while the oldest brand is only 120-years old. Religion has survived because of story-telling. Stories have been passed from generation to generation and if brands need to survive, they must tell fantastic stories. People have realised they are sending emails and no longer sending letters; but letters will come back again - because they work and are tactile. If they don’t, then we better kill the book and kill other elements like, say the watch; you don’t need a watch now, because you have a digital watch on your mobile phone. But the watch now has another function and is a fashion statement. There are a whole lot of things that are not rational in this world, but when you become so incredibly rational, at some point the pendulum tends to go back and you will start realising that you actually enjoy the irrational things. The ‘letter’ is one such things.

Do you think that advertising agencies are still integral to the process of brand building? What is the future?
The concept of the agency is dying - they will not exist in the current format 10 years from now. They need to change to survive. They will be much savvier in understanding interactivity, senses and communities which they don’t today. Ask any agency how to develop a community and they will not know; ask them if they have handled any five sensory communication and they won’t have an answer; ask them if they have experience in adapting elements from religion into branding and they will be blank; ask them if they know about any branded rituals developed and they will not have an answer - they have enormous holes in their knowledge. They have been doing TVCs and hoardings for a long time and need to be touch with what is happening in the real world. Today, if I go and tell them to make a wild campaign, they will ask ‘how can we make media money on it? How much do we charge you? Where do we start, where do we end?’

Which have been the most interesting marketing books that you have read over the last few years?
Eating the Big Fish by Adam Morgan. It’s presented well and has good cases and the other one I like is called An Inconvenient Truth by Al Gore. It’s on global warming and tells you how in the future brands will also have to contribute to issues like that.
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