When visiting India recently, I became acquainted with a product, undoubtedly, well known to the reader. Lijjat Papad exemplifies a fascinating branding concept. The fascination lies not in the taste of the product but in its production and distribution, since it’s baked by thousands of women in their own homes. During the early hours, the Lijjat Papad trucks visit these countless cottage bakers to collect and deliver the popular staple to millions of mom-and-pop stores. The term “home made” takes on real meaning about an economic model that works in this context: the papad is produced by the people for the people.
The philosophy behind Lijjat Papad is not unusual on the sub-continent. Telecommunications, cosmetics and newspaper companies all leverage the power of the people to build their brands. Grameen Bank in Bangladesh, for example, which has become famed for its Nobel Prize winning microfinancing and microcredit facilities for the poor, has given birth to a range of socially-enabling programs. The Village Phone Program, started in 1997, provides an income for more than 200,000 Village Phone operators in rural areas. Mostly women, the Village Phone operators invest in a mobile phone which they are able to rent to other villagers as required. The unique program is administered by Grameen Telecom Corporation for the benefit of rural communities. A by-product of this service, and of Grameen Bank’s microfinancing services, is that millions of people all over Bangladesh have become ambassadors for an accidental brand — Grameen. The name is revered globally as well as locally as a leader in corporate social responsibility.
On the other side of the world, Natura, a Brazilian cosmetics and personal care brand, has developed a network of more than 56,000 consultants who represent the brand, and spread the word about it, across South America. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the brand is the fastest growing cosmetic brand in the region with an annual turnover of $2 billion.
Each of these companies has torn down the wall between their customers and the brand. They’ve enabled customers to spread the word and secured hundred-of-thousands of brand ambassadors for next to nothing. This is a trend that’s likely to grow around the world, perhaps not in the real-life, community-based style adopted in the Indian, Bangladeshi and Brazilian examples, but perhaps in an equivalent online version.
I might be naïve, but why don’t corporations use their networks better? I had a chat with Jack Trout about this and the related topic of micro-targeting, when we both caught up in South America not so long ago. Trout cautions against micro-targeting that splinters your brand message. “Slicing things too thin”, as he describes it, forces changes in the branding strategy which pre-empt “the slippery slope to no strategy”.
The brand needs to establish an overall identity and value position that it can adapt to micro-targets without diluting its integrity. You need, as Trout puts it, to attain relevance in discrete markets with spin against a cohesive strategy. Yet, only a handful of brands have leveraged online micro-communities actively, as Lijjat Papad has done offline. Very few companies have systematically leveraged their consumers’ increasing communications power which is full of capacities for advocating brands.
I’m sure you’re able to find fans of your brand somewhere on the Internet. Find them, categorize them according to the type of admiration they have to your brand. Are they big-time fans, or just supporters? Is your impression that they have a large group of followers, or do their opinions tend to spark a debate? Once you know your brand fans develop a plan for reaching them. LEGO established a LEGO’s builder community – a group of LEGO maniacs (as they called themselves) who simply adore the brand. That community is now the key driver for LEGO’s research and development activities, and a vital part of its communication strategy, helping to spread the word across the world.
Don’t stop there. Find groups who aren’t yet fans – people whose interests match to your brand, who have a strong and respected voice in their communities. Then create a program around them, for them and, in the end, by them. This was how Natura and Lijjat Papad grew to become market leaders. And they both did so without spending millions of dollars.
As Benjamin Franklin once said, ‘Tell me and I’ll forget. Show me and I’ll remember. Involve me and I’ll understand.’ The better you are at involving your customers in the philosophy of your brand the better they’ll understand why you’re something special.
Martin Lindstrom is a globally renowned branding expert and author of BRAND sense and BRAND child. His articles can be read on MartinLindstrom.com