6 steps to becoming (more) successful brand builders in Pakistan

Published: October 21, 2014
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After a mile of watching hoarding after hoarding with beautiful women staring down at you, the brand message gets easily lost. PHOTO: FILE

For this particular blog, I just want to focus on talent in Pakistan and its impact on brand building. Brands have become ubiquitous in Pakistan.

Our ability to promote brands on TV, mobiles, hoardings, talk show coffee cups and so on has allowed organisations to simplify the process of building brand awareness, as long as you are willing to spend the cash. And there is clearly no dearth of advertisement cash in Pakistan.

But whether you drive down Shahrah-e-Faisal or Lahore Defence Boulevard, after a mile of watching hoarding after hoarding with beautiful women staring down at you, the brand message gets easily lost. In fact, on a given fortunate day you could have Kareena or Katrina selling you everything from Chinese mobile phones to 3G networks, shampoos, noodles, teas, colas … and you would start wondering who is selling who? More cynically, how many of these Bollywood girls come to Pakistan to use our ghee every day and dip our cookies in their teacups?

In all of this, what is the role of marketers and organisations? In a mature regulated economy, the most critical aspect of brand building will always be marked by ‘consumer trust’ and the credibility of your claims.

However, in Pakistan, trust is secondary to the all-important ‘consumer awareness’. Hence, establishing credibility of emerging local brands very challenging and many marketers rely totally on driving awareness mostly through TV with celebrity endorsements.

In mature markets, such as the UK, consumer watchdogs play a huge role in policing and reporting malpractices. In Pakistan, despite regulations, it is difficult for consumers to authenticate product performance and quality claims. And driven by the rapidly changing market situations, and in hope of staying top-of-mind against more established brands, marketers are forced to frequently change their brand messages, hoping that something ‘new’ would stick! Hence, what matters more is the ‘recall’ of the claims, rather than true belief in them. So what you stated in January last year about your products may be very different from what you say about it six months later.

It really boils down to pricing strategy to create a consumer-brand relationship and relevance and, hence, you see a lot of dependence on visible price points to create sustained relationships. Admittedly this is not such a huge challenge for international brands, imported in by multinationals, if you bring a Starbucks or Dove to Pakistan, your job is far less tedious and way more glamorous.

Ironically, I don’t think the young Pakistani marketers are wrong in their belief and focus on high profile campaigns rather than the value of brands. That is actually what they are coached and how their organisation leaders reward them, without realising that they are actually hurting the talent development as well as the long term health of their organisation.

The six step checklist for brand builders

In a short checklist I have stated a six step approach to brand building, very relevant and imperative for new brands, particularly in emerging markets. This checklist is simply a reinforcement of what most marketers are taught about building branding in schools and should always be part of the essential toolkit:

  1. Always start with identifying your current and potential consumers based on their lifestyles and psychographics. Demographics are a small subset of the complete consumer profile.
  2. Understand your consumer’s need-states. Quantitative studies are not sufficient, conduct consumer diaries and ethnographies for a deeper, better understanding.
  3. Our goal is to create ‘loyalty’ and not just awareness. These days awareness can be driven without brand managers, by a half-decent ad agency with access to media funds.
  4. Spend days writing and rewriting a succinct ad brief. The minimum a brief must clearly state is the consumer need-states and how your brand benefit satisfies those needs. Also make sure it considers or builds on the last ad brief. Ask for a brief review and get feedback from both marketers around you, including the ones at the agency.
  5. Take risks with big, original creative ideas. Test drive them, if possible, don’t just research concept boards. Copying other ad templates or celebrity endorsements might give you visibility but poor brand uniqueness and loyalty.
  6. Your media strategy should be tailor-made to your consumer profile. Focus on it! Being a little bit on every possible medium is not always the best way to maximise Return on Investment (ROI) on your media spend.

Remember, the bottom line is always very human and basic. Brand-consumer relationship is just like any relationship, there is no ‘single moment of truth’, it takes many years and many moments of mutual understanding and consistent behaviour to establish what is true and what builds trust.

Ali Khan Bajauri

Ali Khan Bajauri

The author has over 20 years of experience in international marketing across Pakistan, Europe and North America. He was previously the Country Business Manager for Nestle Water Pakistan, Head of Marketing for Engro Foods and General Manager of Engro Foods Canada. He tweets @bajauri (twitter.com/bajauri)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.