Hot Cheese or Breadcrumbs?

A weekend. A pizza. 

A pizza experience starts the moment you order. Choosing from a variety of your favorite toppings. That sweet anticipation- knowing it is going to be quick. The joy when the Pizza delivery guy rings your doorbell. Those hot Pizza boxes ! The delight of asking for and getting those extra oregano & chilli flake packs.

Nothing beats the pleasure you get from unboxing a pizza box. The first sight and captivating aroma of hot bread, melted cheese and tomato sauce and basil.  The pleasure of picking and biting into that first cheesy slice. The joy of sharing a Pizza with others. Pizza is hedonism at its best. 

But sometimes at the end, you are left with those ugly dry Pizza bread crumbs*. And your guilt. 

All products are experiences. Each experience has its high point and a low point. We crave for and look forward to experiences for its high points. But we know low points are inevitable. But should an experience end on a low point?

Brands need to rethink about their product experience journeys and if the experience ends on a low point, you have an opportunity to do something about it. When the lowest point of a product consumption experience journey is consciously (by design) reversed to form a High Point, it becomes an unexpected delight for consumers. Because deep down consumers  were already expecting those compromises. And when they don't have to, it is a refreshing change. 

Atleast, the Pizza guys did something about it by experimenting with those crusts. Did they succeed? Well, the jury is still out.

(*The right term for outer edges of a Pizza is 'cornicione', some people refer to it as crust but crust is actually the entire bread component.) 

Everyday tiny fairy tales

What if you had a secret pass code that opens up doors to the coveted things in life?


Access to world's finest le nez  crafting a fragrance for you? Check
Moisturisers brought (or inspired?) straight from the Alps? Check

Sometimes brands make those little fairy tales come true. Because even grown ups love fairy tales. Sometimes branding is about those tiny things that make people feel special.

There is a circus out there. And you are invited.

There is a new circus in town. And everyone is out there. 

If you are a clown, make them laugh. If you are the lion, roar on the chair and jump through the fire loops. If you are the trapeze artist, swing high.

But if you don't know your special act yet, don't just jump into the circus because everybody is out there. First know your part. Then go play it out. 

As a brand, develop your own thoughts first. A point of view that you think the world is missing out on. Think about your own thoughts. Then maybe go social.  Or not. 

You can be a part of the circus. Or you could simply be the product that does its job well. 


Why brand name matters?

One day, some archaeologists came across a clay tablet (those ancient non-digital iPads used in c.3400-3000 BC) in what used to be the Babylonian city of Uruk (modern day Iraq). On that tablet they found a few glyphs and the following words: 

29,086 measures barley 37 months Kushim

that implies 

‘A total of 29,086 measures of barley were received over the course of 37 months. Signed, Kushim.’”

Kushim - possibly, notes Historians, could be the first recorded name of a person in the history of mankind. Kushim seemed to be an accountant. He counted and kept records of grains. Of course, Naming has existed even during prehistoric times. No one knows when it started.  Since the time history has been recorded orally, names have existed. I am pretty sure names are even older than that. Human language probably started to develop around 100,000 years ago. And there are a lot of speculative theories of how it happened:

Brand Naming Haiku Branding.jpg

According to this wikipedia note on 'Origin of Language', 

"In 1861, historical linguist Max Müller published a list of speculative theories concerning the origins of spoken language:

Bow-wow theory: The bow-wow or cuckoo theory, which Müller attributed to the German philosopher Johann Gottfried Herder, saw early words as imitations of the cries of beasts and birds.

Pooh-pooh theory: The pooh-pooh theory saw the first words as emotional interjections and exclamations triggered by pain, pleasure, surprise, etc.

Ding-dong theory: Müller suggested what he called the ding-dong theory, which states that all things have a vibrating natural resonance, echoed somehow by man in his earliest words.

Yo-he-ho theory: The yo-he-ho theory claims language emerged from collective rhythmic labor, the attempt to synchronize muscular effort resulting in sounds such as heave alternating with sounds such as ho.

Ta-ta theory: This did not feature in Max Müller's list, having been proposed in 1930 by Sir Richard Paget. According to the ta-ta theory, humans made the earliest words by tongue movements that mimicked manual gestures, rendering them audible."

This shows we have been acute observers of our environment and quick learners too. And we fidget with everything we were bestowed upon. Once language existed, humans being social animals wanted to talk. Talk about various things. Those things needed to be identified. 

So, the need to name comes from the ease of identifying someone or something easily. Naming is assigning a name to something. Naming is an old human urge. Through naming we make sense of things.

But why have Humans always named stuff? 


Names are used primarily to identify an entity (person, animals, things, places, feelings, objects, experiences) or a class of entities. 

The need to identify is critical from a classic Darwinian point of view. Survival of the fittest! Ancient world was full of perils. Every day was a battle of survival for the early cavemen and the tribes of hunter gatherers. These ancient men had to identify that beast having those terrifying eyes and sharp teeth and ferocious gait. They had to identify food. They had to identify which plants were edible and which plants were poisonous. And these identities had to be shared to ensure survival of the tribe. 

Identifying is a primal need. It keeps you alive. 

Fast forward to a time when we started settling down. 

With advent of human settlements in villages and towns, in order to differentiate between two people sharing the same name, last names or surnames came into practice.  These surnames were either patronymic (referring to the father or mother), a toponymic (indicating where a person is from), an epithet (which describes a person in some way) or a name derived from occupation, office or status. 


Without a name, you would often call a person or a thing by its associations-features, traits etc

"Yesterday I was on my way to office and I saw it. First, I thought it was a bird. Then it seemed like a plane. But boy was I so wrong. It was Him. That strong guy who flies in blue tee, red inner-wear except worn on the outside...the guy with wavy hair and a red cape, you know the one who shoots laser from his eyes!"

Sometimes time is of essence. You want to be economical with words. 

Imagine, every time you are falling down from a skyscraper and shouting out for his help with that longish narrative. So, to avoid lengthy confusing narratives, we used a shortcut- The Name. Later that name became an automatic trigger of associations. 

The name "Superman" makes our life easy. The moment you hear Superman-you will visualize the gentleman exactly as the one explained above. The moment you hear 'Pizza' you will think of yummy melted cheese, basil and tomato sauce spread on hot flat round bread'.

Names are tags for an idea or group of ideas that mean something. In a way they are one-word stories. Sort of. 


People have always believed when you name something, it gives you power over it. According to folklores, knowledge of a true name allows influence over it. 'A true name is a name of a thing or being that expresses, or is somehow identical to, its true nature. The notion that language, or some specific sacred language, refers to things by their true names has been central to philosophical study as well as various traditions of magic, religious invocation and mysticism (mantras) since antiquity'. Names were always thought to be potent. So much that many religions believed in the power of naming in rituals. Doing a ritual "in someone's name" was believed to be magical. Also, it is said that when you don't understand something, naming 'IT' would be the first logical step towards understanding it. 

There is immense power in a name. So much so that even demons were exorcised by revealing their true names. (Conjuring 2 anyone?)

Power is a beastly instinct. Animals mark their territory by peeing. Politicians mark their territory by naming- places, bridges, parks and policies. 

Power is sexy. Naming yields power. 

Hope, Prosperity & Immortality

Naming your child after a God (or saint) is nothing new. We have been doing it since ages. Chances are, right now, there is a person near you with a Biblical name or a name derived from Hindu or Greek God. Many religions encouraged parents to name their kids after Gods, Saints or even Kings. 

There is this unspoken belief that the child imbibes certain good traits of Gods themselves or maybe blessed by them forever if they are named after them. Some names are naturally trustworthy. Some names promise to bestow upon us good luck.

There is  hope and prosperity in a name. A name lives forever. Enough said. Now we know why we name stuff.

Let’s go back to our old friend Kushim. We don’t know what Kushim means. There could have been many Kushims. And that was probably ok. Naming a human is relatively easier. If your first name does not uniquely identify you, chances are that the combination of your first name and last name will make you unique. Even if that is not true, then your looks and appearance, your education or career or your social status will lend you an identity.

But Naming brands is a different ball game altogether. 

 Why your brand name matters?

There are a zillion brands in the market. The world does not need another "me-too" brand. Being just another name in the category does not mean you are a 'brand'. A mediocre or bad name will cost you millions in advertising spends later. A good name can be the difference between being lost and being remarkable. And honestly, if you were not inherited with a bad name, why not start off your business on the right foot. 

What should a brand name do:

Your brand name should help reflect and identify your product/service. It should ideally explain what you do. But once it does that it needs to do more. It needs to set consumer expectations. A brand name is like the title of a book or a movie trailer. It needs to reveal a bit of what experiences lie ahead. However, it need not be an entire story. 

Merely identifying is not enough.

In the world of business, if your name does not uniquely identify you, you are bound to end up as white noise. A commodity forever stuck in price wars and limited by category growth rates. Being uniquely identified is critical to breaking free from commoditization. 

Names that lend consumers a sense of identity are the ones that go beyond their products. They stand for an idea. E.g. “Virgin” is an idea of infusing every category it enters with a welcome refreshing and ‘new’ perspective). Being seen as a young brand in a category of old establishments is not a bad idea.

A sense of identity is a set of ideals that you would want to be associated with. It is how you wish to be seen. It lends meaning to a meaningless existence. It helps you belong to something bigger than yourself. A powerful name will lend the consumer that sense of identity. 

A powerful brand name will provoke consumers to think about the status quo. It will challenge the world as is. It will reflect how the brand is going to disrupt your world for the better. It will not necessarily belong to the category at the expense of differentiation. It will choose meaningful differentiation over category relevance.  It may seem like an outlier in the category but for a reason. 

E.g. Tesla is a powerful brand name for a new age electric car company. Nikola Tesla was a genius inventor who invented modern alternating current electricity supply system.  Tesla also had an extra ordinary personality and charisma. He was known for his creativity, curiosity, rationality, asceticism, and immense powers of imagination. A perfect name for a company challenging the status quo of conventional automobiles. Tesla is catchy, powerful, memorable and teases a promising story of invention.

Caterpillar is another weird but powerful brand name for a large earth moving equipment company. Caterpillar is a small slow moving bug. But it represents the transformation. (caterpillar metamorphizes into a beautiful butterfly). 

Naming a computer company as Apple would be quite tough (“there is nothing techy about an Apple”) these days as per standard name selection process in client board rooms. (Decision by committee usually means you will end up with a mediocre safe name)

And yet Apple challenged the status quo of big brothers like IBM.  A classic example of how a brand name chooses differentiation over category relevance. 

The Boring Company is a not-so-boring name for a company that actually bores (tunnels). A tongue-in-cheek name for a company that aims to make commute better.

Arrogant Bastard Ale sees itself as an aggressive beer. It does not make the consumer sit on a pedestal. “You probably won’t like it. It is quite doubtful that you have the taste or sophistication to be able to appreciate an ale of this quality and depth” Its tagline – “You are not worthy”.  A challenger brand has to be gutsy and take the bull by the horns. When you don’t have the budget of your large sized global competitor, you got to let the name do the talking.  Honestly, they have punched above their weight. That's what underdogs do. 

Challenger brands need to be more creative with their brand name.

Challenger brands need to be more creative with their brand name.

Most clients* are unable to fathom the potent such brand names have. Most naming briefs end up wanting to belong to a category but not convey a unique point of view in that category. I feel both brand naming agencies and clients need to cross that chasm of risk together. Risky is not being risky enough. We need to loosen up a bit. We need to challenge the dogmas of what kind of names work. We need to develop a sense of humour. We have to be confident and believe in the story we want to tell. 

(* Large FMCG companies usually want to take the broadest market segment possible. They want to be no.1 or no.2 in the category usually in terms of volume/value. So, they usually choose  names that broadly reflect the category (describe their product directly). They would opt for safer names- ones that  most people 'get it'. Descriptive names worked well for them. But things are changing. Stricter trademark laws are now forcing them to avoid generic descriptive words. Also, marketing thinking in brand teams is now evolving. They are beginning to understand the power of leveraging brand name as a strategic branding tool and a storytelling device.) 

In a world of homogeneity, if you don’t have an unlimited marketing budget to pour into marketing 'a well belonged brand', it would be wise to craft 'a well stood out brand' with a unique point of view. 

A meaningful and ownable brand name that explains the whyness of your business might be your shortest, most cost-effective advertisement for your business.  

Not all good brand names are provocative, deep and meaningful. They can be imaginative, mad and fun. Good sounds are addictive. Like bubble wraps. They give immense pleasure, whether you call out or you hear them. Abstract sounds can even be imagined and have shapes. Understanding phonetics and sound symbolism for your product is important. Especially impulse product names should sound fun.

E.g. Google, Snapple and Yahoo are fun to hear names every day. So is Dunkin Donuts. Or Coca Cola. 

Brand naming is part art, part science. It involves applied knowledge of linguistics, consumer psychology, creativity, sound symbolism, semantics and strategic brand thinking. It is a detailed process that should not be skipped through. More importantly, it can be the sharpest strategic branding tool in your business arsenal. Used wisely, it can immediately give you unfair advantage over your competitors. 


Invest in an appreciating asset :

Think of it, as a business owner or custodian you invest considerable amount of money and resources on machines and factories. These assets depreciate with time. 

Your name is going to be the most utilised asset of your business and an appreciating one at that. A name begins your brand story well.  People like to know why you do what you do. Let your name be the starting point to that story. 

Your brand name will often be the first touch point with your customer. First impressions matter in a world vying for attention. And as a brand manager or a business owner, you will keep hearing the brand name every hour of your working day. Make sure you get the name right. 


Your brand name matters.

Cape Of All Hope

Cape Of All Hope_HaikuBranding

Dear Brand, 


We know we are beyond the ordinary. We also know we are flawed. We know we have 'the power'. Even if that power remains untapped or undiscovered. We are in search of our glory. We are meant to roam the colosseums. 

We believe we are snowflakes. Unique in every way. Not a mere demographic. We perform to our own special soundtrack-day in, day out. We live as if we will live forever. Sometimes, we are knocked down to our knees waiting to get up again. We are fighters. With bruises and some wounds. We can surely take some punches. But we always get up again. With our boxing gloves on. We perform. We think we can change the world. At least our own world. We are saviors. We often save ourselves (and often from ourselves). 

We are ready to take the plunge. We are standing on the edge. Only if someone would bring us our cape. Or simply open up the skies. We are meant to fly. 

Sometimes we are lost. We just need a compass to course correct.  Times when we are alone, on a road trip, we just need to share a meal or a story. There are days we are invisible. We need a spotlight. To shine on like a crazy diamond. Once in a while we stop performing, we either need a stage or a muse. Sometimes we stop changing the world, we just need to be asked to do so again. Sometimes we forget we are heroes. All we need is a reminder or a gentle nudge or a band-aid.

Yes, we are all heroes, in search of a cape. 

But YOU, Sir, were never the hero. Why pretend to be one now? Don't tell us YOU are the biggest, meanest, fastest or the boldest one. Don't even tell us YOU are 'the chosen one'. Don't tell us the world revolves around YOU. Don't tell us we exist just to deserve YOU. 

Let us be the heroes, you be that cape. Or that boxing glove. That soundtrack. That muse. That spotlight. That compass. That shared meal. Or simply that nudge. 

 In more ways than one, our story remains incomplete without you. We need you.  

Yours Sincerely,

Your Consumer

(The Hero)

To be or not to be : An Opinionated Brand



Recently we saw the launch of Republic TV in India. A powerful media brand, crafted with passion by a media maverick Arnab Goswami and his team of true believers. Brand Republic TV  has a strong Point of View. Mr Goswami believes in a new style of journalism- that of reflecting opinions of a young nation that wants to express itself like never before. His venture is also in a way challenging the status quo of the hegemony of Western World media behemoths like BBC and CNN. His vision is to see Republic TV as India's first truly global media network.
A media brand with a clear point of view will ensure that it is never ignored.  Journalism used to be all about facts. But then facts become a commodity, a hygiene factor. Republic is a brand that goes beyond by providing a perspective to mere facts. 



Republic TV is not disconnected to a world that is increasingly turning opinionated. A world where we see a new breed of revered opinion leaders rising. Yes, we are living in a highly opinionated world, that too a polarizing one. The world is facing an unprecedented level of dichotomy. People are clearly taking sides. Modern twitter wars capture this succinctly.   

I will leave the whyness of all that is happening to the sociologists, psychologists and philosophers or to my future blog posts.

But given the state of the world, what does it imply for your brand ? For the sake of binary, I will offer you two perspectives. See if one of these fit-in with your worldview:


One is that of chaos. Agitated opinions lead to revolutions. Since a lot of change is happening around us for the good or the bad, people will look forward to seeking what they don't have- a coveted sense of certainty, a sense of neutrality and predictability and the bliss of not being judged. 

Everyone around us has a strong opinion. Not necessarily a unique one, but almost always certainly a binary one. When everybody and his uncle is full of opinions, the last thing we need is our brands holding strong opinions, judging us, asking us to choose sides, preaching us or questioning the status quo. 

In such a scenario, we'd imagine politically correct brands that stand on a firm ground, anchored in deep rooted values, not pivoting at the drop of a hat will hold in good stead. With too much change around, we would rather seek trust, familiarity, predictability and comfort zones
And so the Big Brothers - these neutral, well oiled mega institutions and predictable brands should do better in an agitated unpredictable world. The belief that products should do the talking and a larger share of voice in promoting functionality and sheer size and strength of the company will do the trick. Microsoft, IBM, Reliance, Colgate Palmolive are just some of the names of large companies doing well. 
The Bold, the Edgy and the Crazy ones (those round pegs in square holes) run the risk of freaking out people in an already chaotic world. Many new brands with a unique Point of View and highly opinionated stance have failed to find traction. Maybe it was about the products not living upto the brand philosophy or non branding related factors or culture not in sync with brand creed. Perhaps consumers are rewarding predictability in a world of chaos. 

Perhaps, it is a case of too much of a thing.

Perhaps, Republic TV should also fail in this context. 

 Or not. 


The other perspective is that of Boredom. Brands with no opinion are bland and an instant turn off for a generation that feeds on opinions. So if they are not big enough to start with, they run the risk of not getting noticed. At all. Paradoxically, the safety net itself becomes the risk because don't we all know that 'Change is the only constant'.
Brands should merely reflect the world reality. A brand is nothing but a haiku of the world we live in. A snapshot that captures the essence of who we really are as a consuming society.And the world we live in is a highly opinionated one. 

Brands with strong opinions merely reflect this reality.  

We chose brands like we chose people. We seek authenticity even if it is lopsided with imperfections and bias. We generally dislike people who are plastic or too diplomatic. And we love to take sides. Even if it is polarizing. There are a lot of examples of highly opinionated brands doing remarkably well in the past - Virgin, Apple, Benneton, Harley Davidson, Red Bull, Old Navy, Tata Tea, Tesla, Dove, RyanAir and many more. Most of them never budged from the belief of having a unique Point of View and taking a stance. These brands were consistently built over a period of time and not an overnight success. Good branding requires unshakeable belief, consistent action, organisational alignment around that idea and dogged coherence. Branding is unapologetically and consistently speaking out your Point Of View.


A brand without opinions is a commodity. Because a 'brand' by definition itself is to be different and to have a unique Point Of View. A plain vapid brand that has no opinion is like your new smartphone's keyboard, but with no emoticons. Über uncool in a socially expressive era !  

So to be or not to be? 

Choose either of the two perspectives and you can still build a powerful and a winning brand if you truly believe in it. And if you disagree with both, I am happy. Your disagreement simply represents the light at the end of this dichotomous tunnel- 'the third path'. Nothing is lost. 

In fact, like Mr Arnab Goswami likes to say- the game begins now.

How small fishes eat bigger sharks

This story starts some years back. Maybe it was serendipity, or just some plain coincidences that I kept hearing about this one masterpiece documentary from a lot of people. People who weren't connected to each other. And all this happened in a span of 10 days. So watching this documentary entered my long list of to-dos. Somehow I didn’t watch it. And for days it kept on lingering.

But I am glad, I finally did! Some days back. 

It turned out to be awesome. Arguably, one of the greatest brand stories that I have heard. While this story is soaked in human truths about mastery, focus and daily routines, it is also the smartest class on running family business and telling your story well.

Mastery is a disH BEST served cold:

Jiro Ono- the man who just cannot do anything else. (A still from the documentary)

Jiro Ono- the man who just cannot do anything else. (A still from the documentary)

This is the story of a master and his craft. It is also a story of one man waging a war on mediocrity through relentless pursuit of perfection. His practice is no less than a meditation on his craft. His workplace- no less than a temple of perfection. And his team-like hopeful disciples of a revered monk.  

In a tiny Sushi bar in Japan, lives the world’s greatest, oldest and the first- 3 Michelin star holding Sushi chef. His name is Jiro Ono. He is a legend in Japan and many consider him as their national treasure. His restaurant is called 'Sukiyabashi Jiro'. The must-watch documentary I was referring to is the critically acclaimed masterpiece Jiro Dreams of Sushi

Watching David Gelb’s- ‘Jiro dreams of Sushi’, is like embarking on a journey of authentic brand storytelling.  

Jiro, a 90 year old chef has been making, arguably, the best Sushis in the world for almost 80 years now. Day in, day out, doing exactly the same thing with a small but significant difference. “It has to be better than last time” proudly says Jiro. He has almost perfected his recipe by spending decades mastering his craft. And he is not finished yet.

No wonder he is considered to be an artist and world’s leading authority on Sushi. Everyone that knows him says he is a perfectionist. Jiro pursues perfection through small incremental repetitive gains. He is not disrupting stuff, but making continuous improvements so that the next bite of Sushi tastes better. Jiro is a living embodiment of the Japanese ‘Kaizen philosophy which means continuous improvement. 

Every element of his restaurant is meticulously placed. There is symmetry in his design philosophy. Everything has a purpose. And his people are the embodiment of the human spirit of excellence and mastery.

People talk about the intensity and stern looks on Jiro’s face when he is serving you his Sushi. In a way that intense focus on his face shows you how important your next bite is for Jiro.

And when you immerse into the feast of the senses, you connect on a spiritual level with him. In the movie they talk about the perfect  ‘Umami’ effect or the ‘aha moment’. 

Even today, Jiro keeps making Sushis. Some of his celebrity fans include names like Barack Obama, Hugh Jackman, Drew Barrymore, Anne Hathaway and many more. 

Jiro Ono serving his masterpiece to US President Barack Obama and Japanese PM Shinzō Abe. Photo courtesy : Pete Souza

Jiro Ono serving his masterpiece to US President Barack Obama and Japanese PM Shinzō Abe. Photo courtesy : Pete Souza

But Jiro knows that it is not one man’s job. So over the years, he has worked hard to build the best team- a tribe of like minded Sushi craftsmen whom he refers to as “shokunin”. He trains them hard. Unsurprisingly, he is the hardest taskmaster  to his sons. True to Japanese tradition, the elder son will pass on his legacy, the younger has opened up his own Sushi bar (designed to be symmetrically opposite to that of Jiro’s. Jiro is left handed, his son right handed)
Jiro’s shokunins are like those young disciples learning to meditate from their Zen Master in the Himalayas knowing fully well that they may never reach that state of nirvana like their Master. And yet they spend years and years immersing in their daily practice. And all this for that one approving nod from their master. 

After all, the master knows when you are ready. 

It takes ten years of relentless practice to become a Shokunin, that is if you have the talent to become one in the first place. But that is just the start.  

Jiro, for 80 odd years of his life, has spent every waking hour of the day practicing the same ritual with ever increasing passion.
Not for one day did he find his job boring.
Not for one day did he ever complain!
Even while he is asleep, he dreams about Sushi.

At 90 years, Jiro still feels he has not reached perfection in his practice. The world disagrees. But Jiro has his own internal benchmarks. He is hard on himself. The world may not even want or be able to judge that perfect Sushi. For Jiro, to be able to serve just that, is the purpose of his life. 

'Jiro Dreams about Sushi' is about the man who just cannot do anything else. Anything else would be like death for this master.

Lessons from Jiro

Apart from important lessons on mastery, the importance of daily rituals and nurturing business relationships, through this documentary we can witness- how a tiny business in one corner of the world run by a 90 year old Japanese could become one of the greatest business stories of recent times.

My key takeaways from this masterpiece documentary from a branding and business storytelling perspective

1) Paradoxes and Beauty in constraints: 

 Sushi-making techniques are well known. There are a lot of Sushi bars sprouting around the world, many backed by larger deep pocketed corporates. There are no coveted secret techniques as such, everything is in public domain. The only differentiation for Jiro is his years of relentless practice and his passion and a team of passionate Shokunins.

Sukiyabashi Jiro is a tiny place. And it is not lavish by any luxury restaurant standards. Yet, it has been the most expensive Sushi bar on the planet and one of the most sought after fine dine restaurants in the world.

But guess what. It serves only Sushi, has only 10 seats & no internal restrooms! 

- Average dining time at high end restaurants normally spans between 3-5 hours. 

- Average dining time at Jiro’s sushi bar is 20 minutes. And you will get no appetizers, no drinks! Just Sushi. 

Yet, to be able to experience Jiro’s Sushi, you will have to wait 30 days.

Jiro's Sushi is simple. Yet it is profound with depth of flavors and the effect it leaves behind. A smart brand will leverage these paradoxes and find beauty in constraints.

2) Customer delight? Forget about that. Instead, make them nervous !

We have all heard about the cliched concepts of customer delight and customer service. (A concept that is more spoken about than experienced in real life). 

But not all brands delight. Some make their customers nervous. And that is a good thing. The customer may be the King but even the King learns from a Master.

Jiro has mastered Sushi making. He knows that most people will be overwhelmed and delighted with his Sushi. But he doesn’t rest there. He strives for continuous improvement. Being his own benchmark, he is setting new standards everyday. 

Few brands reach a place where they actually make their customers nervous- not because they feel at risk on consuming a shoddy product or because of lack of trust but because the brand has attained mastery.

The movie talks about how “His customers feel the tension when Jiro is serving them”. This is again reflected when a prominent Japanese food writer, Yamamoto, talks about how he ‘feels nervous’ every time he eats at Jiro’s Sushi bar. And then a young apprentice who talks about how tensed he was while trying out Sushi served by the master. 

While serving Sushi, there is a stern look on Jiro’s face. What you are about to have is not just Sushi, it is one man’s entire life distilled into his magnum opus- now in your hands.
The question is not whether Jiro is good enough to receive your praise.

The question is are you worthy of his masterpiece?

3) The Art of Detailing: 

The phrase ‘God is in the details’ may have very well been crafted watching Jiro going about his daily routine.

To make his masterpiece, Jiro plans out everything in detail. Right from sourcing the best fishes from the right vendors, to applying specially devised techniques and rituals to maintaining the right temperature, the right texture and perfect depth and balance of flavors.

Special attention is given to the art of serving. He even mentally rehearses each dining experience, right from alternating male-female seating arrangements, to gender specific serving guidelines. Jiro even remembers whether the customer is left handed or right handed and will serve on the appropriate side. 

Watching him in action is compared to a symphony where everything comes about beautifully. The ebb and flow, the sequence, it all enhances the overall dining experience. It is an intense and poetic 25 minute performance by a master.

A true brand will pay attention to detail, especially in the back room that the customer never gets to see. 

4) A Passionate Tribe:

Jiro through his passion and relentless pursuit of perfection has attracted similar Shokunins. 
Some end up opening their own Sushi bars having trained under him.

Some become his trusted partner from whom, he sources fish and rice. Like Hiromichi, the rice dealer, who knows everything about rice. He takes pride in selling a particular quality of rice only to Jiro because nobody else can cook it like the master. 

The invisible common thread that holds this tribe together is a hate for mediocrity, love for perfection, and relentless daily practice. Their work has almost meditation like quality.

A brand is always meaningful for a particular tribe. It may mean nothing to the outside world. But the tribe swears by the creed.

5) An Authentic Human Story:

Ironically, even though Jiro has invested his life in pursuit of perfection, as a person he may be far from being perfect.

Jiro is a perfectionist and a workaholic. He seldom takes vacations. He is obsessed with Sushis. His tough childhood may be one of the reasons, he never quits working. Even today at 90. Like any father, he wants the best for his kids. So he trains them hard, being tough on them so that they are capable to carry on his legacy after he is gone. 

Jiro is a highly opinionated person when it comes to his craft. Some may even perceive him as arrogant and fussy. He appears to be an autocratic leader who micromanages. And doesn't seem like a great collaborator. He has set a high standard and it is going to be really difficult for others around him to live upto those standards.

Of course, like all successful brands, he has his share of critics and rumours doing the rounds. Some people perceive his restaurant to be too exclusive, some may perceive it to be over hyped. Some say foreigners who do not speak Japanese are not entertained. Some say they are being sexist by not allowing female chefs. There are stories that they even dare to discipline their customers if they are not dressed well.

The fact remains a true brand cannot be a crowd pleaser. It has to be lopsided and focussed. Perfect and awesome at one thing, terrible at almost everything else. 

A brand is never flawless. And that makes it even more Human.  

 A lesson for all family run businesses

Jiro’s story is a good example of how small family run businesses can compete with bigger rivals through the power of authentic human storytelling

The advantages that a family run business has over its larger, shinier and mightier counterpart is its authentic philosophy, the belief system and its story. The story of its origin, its passion, its culture and its craftsmanship. Most of these businesses have fantastic stories inherent, but have been lost in the annals of history or lost in their confused efforts to compete with giant, sophisticated corporations. Rather than becoming more of themselves, they become ambiguous and lose the authenticity and credibility that they enjoyed over their larger rivals. Some do understand this but are unable to tell their stories.

And there are a few businesses like Jiro's Sukiyabashi that tell beautiful stories. And that's how small fishes eat bigger sharks.

I’ll conclude my thoughts with this profound quote from the movie:

You are consuming Jiro’s philosophy with each bite.”

Makes sense. Only stories and philosophies transcend time. Products don’t. 

Photo Courtesy: Benedicto de Jesus

Photo Courtesy: Benedicto de Jesus

How to profit a 100 times more using an ancient powerful secret?

In 2009, two men conducted an interesting experiment. They bought cheap, everyday, ordinary objects and asked deft storytellers to use their wild imagination to craft stories around them. Then they listed these objects to be sold on eBay. Each object had its own deeply moving story or a personalized account. Each story evoked strong emotions.

The Result: Many of these objects got sold for a whopping markup of over 1000%. Something that couldn't be explained through logic. Stories enhanced the perceived value of these ordinary objects. Well crafted myths infused life into these inanimate things. You can read more about this experiment here.

I am enough of the artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.
— Albert Einstein

First of all, 'our Calling'  to tell remarkable stories is not something new. It is, in fact, something really old. And that is a good thing. 

Storytelling- An ancient practice and an eternal human need.

Storytelling- An ancient practice and an eternal human need.

Stories- An Eternal Need And The Most Important Tool For Mankind :

Humans are wired to make sense of the world through stories. But a less well known fact is that it is our storytelling abilities that helped us survive and thrive on this planet, even against stronger and swifter species.

One on one, man never stood a chance against the powerful apex predators. We should have failed Darwin's theory of survival. Clearly we were not the fittest. Not in sheer strength nor in our hunting capabilities. But not only we survived, we have thrived like no other species on this planet. We leveraged on a special skill set that is unique to Humans- our Storytelling capabilities.

We used myths, stories and the power of imagination to create mass cooperation. Even insects can communicate. But no other species can get strangers to cooperate on a mass scale. Only Humans can do that. Through storytelling. It turns out we are the only ones to be able to spin a story. It helped us beat bigger and stronger animals. It helped us become civilized and form societies and nations. Now it helps us to sell products and ideas.

Imagined reality > Objective Reality

Imagined reality often outweighs objective reality because it provides us something larger than life to believe in. Most of our institutions and systems are nothing but imagined reality, a fiction, a story. And because a large number of people believe in these stories we have companies, religious and educational institutes, legal systems and even central banks working efficiently. This is why marketing exists. This is why cult brands are formed. This explains why some brands defy market and economic realities. And why some political leaders win big. This is why it is difficult to beat market leaders. And why some products despite being stronger in terms of features, configuration or prices, still struggle.

'A story to believe in' is a deep human need. It existed even when brands, marketing and advertising did not exist. It has prevailed for centuries right from the time our ancestors drew pictures on cave walls. Maybe even before that.

Not surprisingly, even today, political outfits, religious institutions and companies that are good storytellers do well.

Business, Marketing and Brands:

As businesses, we want people to buy more and more of our products at higher prices. We want them to remain loyal. We want them to trust us.

Weirdly, we as consumers, also want the same things. We want to buy things, find meaning in objects and to believe in something or someone larger than life. And we are waiting for someone to come in and let us do these things willingly so. 

All marketing is a sincere exercise in storytelling. Storytelling because people have an urge for a good story. Sincere because consumers are not morons and you as a creator believe in your product. Marketing/ Branding is like a placebo. It enhances the consumption experience for people. Examples - Apple, Riedel wine glasses, Dove, Red Bull and many more. Brand stories enhance the perceived value of objects.  Placebos work well. Not because what they are but because what they do or how they make us feel.

Haiku Branding Agency Mumbai

brand = product + aura

A brand is an aura that we create around the product. An aura that causes functional, emotional and psychological euphoria. It means brands should make consumers feel good. It is our job as product creators, marketers and brand agencies to make them feel good. Words, visuals, designs and symbolism have a significant role to play in how we experience products. 

The story creates the aura. The story changes how we experience products.  

And everyone profits. 

A Caveat: When we say 'Profit from Stories', we don't mean a zero sum game. Of course monetary profits are the goals for most businesses. But it doesn't have to come at the expense of consumers. Businesses exist because consumers exist. And consumers deserve great value. While the product will serve and satisfy their functional needs (and we truly believe it should),  the story around the product should satisfy their emotional and psychological needs. It is our responsibility as brand creators, business storytellers or branding agencies to provide functional, emotional and psychological delights. So that everyone truly profits.

The question one needs to ask as a brand creator is this:

 Is this story true? And are you living that story?

If you truly believe in your product value, all your actions and decisions are in sync with that story and the story you tell is also the story you, your wife or your friend wanted to hear, then, the answer is a resounding yes.

Those who tell the stories rule society.
— Plato

Who is your brand’s Darth Vader, Joker or Ravana ?

Who is your brand's Darth Vader, Joker or Ravana? Have you identified your brand villain yet?

Who is your brand's Darth Vader, Joker or Ravana? Have you identified your brand villain yet?

BATMAN: Then why do you want to kill me?

The Joker starts laughing. He laughs so profusely, it almost sounds like a sob.

JOKER: Kill you? I don't wanna kill you. What would I do without you? Go back to ripping off mob dealers ? No. No. No! No you- you complete me.”

- The Dark Knight- Interrogation Scene

“The Joker is Batman’s most implacable foe, a mad criminal genius whose bizarre rampages baffle even the world’s greatest detective.”- Alan Moore writes about the clowned prince of crime in the ‘The Killing Joke’.

Sometimes, your most implacable foe defines you. And no better place to experience this than the world of iconic brands. And if you are on the verge of creating one, I would strongly recommend to identify that foe.

Identifying the Villain

If you are creating or transforming a brand, ask what enemy are you fighting? And then wage a relentless war until you win!

But before you give in to the immediate urge to name your competitors, let me stop you. Don’t! Don’t name your competitors. Because we are not talking about market players here. That is the conventional way of looking at it. And you won't get much from the market these days being just the bigger, better and faster ‘me too’. Especially, when you are the zillionth brand in an over exposed category. 

We are talking about a more magnificent villain. An epic bad. 

We will get to that, but first let’s understand why brand villains are important ?

All brands are stories. Stories that change how we experience products. All good stories have powerful villains. The more nasty or evil the villain is, the more we enjoy our heroes thrashing them and march ahead to a glorious triumph. 

Think about this.

- Lord Rama wouldn’t serve as a guiding beacon of truth, goodness, and morality if not for his victory over Ravana.

- Neo would still be a socially awkward invisible techie operating from his claustrophobic den if not for Agent Smith.

- Luke Skywalker would not exist if not for Darth Vader (Quite literally in this case)

- The Flash’s raisen’detre was the Reverse Flash.

- The Starks would not be so battle driven if not for the conniving Lannisters. And Jon Snow would indeed ‘know nothing’ without the white walkers. 

Villains in stories have stood the test of time:

Kauravas and Pandavas..
Moriarty and Sherlock..
Gabbar Singh and Jai Veeru
Voldemort and Harry Potter
and now the Evil Corp and Mr Robot..

I can go on and on. But you get the point. It is like Jerry Maguire says “ You complete me” but in a Jokerish weird way. Magnificent villains provide a contrast that makes the story more interesting and our heroes more loveable. 

Taking Sides

The essence of any powerful story is the confrontation between the hero and the villain. The pressure cooker tension that builds up right until the climax. Results don’t matter. It is the making of a duel (that of thermonuclear potential) brewing on a slow simmer that keeps us glued. 

Then there is the big clash. And we take sides.

It is a clash between two different perspectives, two different ideologies, two different belief or value systems. Two highly opinionated individuals who believe in an alternate future of the world. You know there is change at the end of this road. One of them will win, but both of them will shape the change. And we, as audiences, take sides. That is the thing with a good story. It enables us to choose sides. So true about great brands too.

The above paragraph is quite revealing in a way. Think about this-

- What did Gandhi do with the concept of colonization?

- What did Martin Luther King Jr do with the concept of inequality based on the color of skin?

- And Steve Jobs to the Orwellian big brother status quo of computer industry in 1984 ? And then to mediocrity - products created without any taste and culture? 

- What kind of statement Beetle make against the prevailing perception of car sizes in an era marked by monstrous gas guzzlers? 

- And remember Saturn - the ‘different kind of car company’ that questioned the way automobile companies behaved? And how Nano questioned the notion of car affordability. 

- Or how Space X aims to knock off fiction from science fiction by waging a war on impossibility.

- How a musician, Amanda Palmer, collapsed the wall built by a music industry that separates the artist and her fan? 

- How Uber disrupted the way we hail a cab and the inconveniences that go along with it ?

- How Lifebuoy waged a war on germs all these years positively impacting so many lives ?

- Or how MUJI questioned consumerism and hedonism in favour of simplicity ?

These are but just a few examples of iconic and revolutionary disruptive brands who picked up a fight. But make no mistake. These weren’t your petty backstreet alley fights. Each of them waged a war on something deeply entrenched or something ubiquitous.

A magnificent villain. An epic bad:

They waged a war on threats on truth, principles or peace, on injustice, on social evils or on pressing real world problems. They waged a war on the expected way things are done. On compromises and mediocrity, on bad customer service, on authorities and false ceilings, on invisible shackles, on obsolescence, on boredom, on rules, on chaos and fear, on lack of meaning, on herd mentality, on false symbolism and hedonism, on snootiness, on lop sided power equations, on inaction,  on blasphemy or on prolonged silences.

But none of this was trivial. It was massive yet people were oblivious to it because it just stood there. Like a gargantuan sky hovering over us. No one questioned a world without it. And by waging a relentless war against these villains, the heroes changed the world as we know it. 

Brands who chose to wage a war against these villains on a consistent basis are also the remarkable ones that defy market economics and logic. Consistency is important. They never forgot their enemy. Not even for a single day. And they never stopped fighting. Despite short term bleak looking business cycles that made them question the whole purpose of this war. The ones that had fuelled their self doubts perished. The ones that stood up to the task were not only rewarded with market-shares but also share of hearts.

How to create your remarkable brand?

Early up in your brand creation/ transformation process, identify the villain. And don’t plunge into the sea of sameness by obsessing over your competitors.

So who could be your brand’s Darth Vader, Joker or Ravana ?

Haiku Branding-Brand's Darth Vader

Your brand’s magnificent villain could be a social evil, a pressing problem or the way things are done or just are. It could be the status quo, lower expectations, conformity or traditions. It could be puffery or the blinded sheep, it could be the frustrations or mediocrity that make us experience hell on earth.It could be lack of sense of humour or human warmth in a straitjacketed stiff category. It could be the expected eccentricity or showmanship of a category that needs to be countered by sincerity and reliability. It could be exclusive snootiness of a category that needs a rethink. Or it could be compromised experiences that should not exist in the marketplace at all. As a remarkable brand, you could be bringing profound meaning against the gibberish of the world or introducing little dose of healthy craziness when everyone else is sounding like Buddha in Blazers. You could be calming in a super fast stressed out world. Or unwired in the messy tangle of connections. There are so many villains. Choose the one that you think the world would be better off without. But don't just pick up a fight for the heck of it. Pick up a fight with a villain having deeply entrenched roots in your category or Industry. Pick up a fight so that your consumers are pleasantly surprised to discover you. So that they can take sides. So that they don't have to live with compromises. 

And don’t just pick up a fight. Wage a war. A relentless, sustainable and consistent war. Remember when you win, your consumer also wins. And together you shape the much needed change.

Remember, it is a long term war. And winter is coming. But a brand must fight. A villain must die. 

Haiku Branding Agency in Mumbai

Why Haiku exists?

Haiku- Strategic Branding Agency

Maybe the world does not need another agency. What it does need, though, are passionate storytellers and change makers who make it happen. 

The Why of it:

1. The world is a graveyard of great products with bad stories. These great products and companies deserved to win. Product obsession is good but bad storytelling cannot be justified. We want to see you succeed. Everyone can profit from a good story.

2. It is David versus Goliath all over again. No better time than now. The rules have changed. There is no magic in cookie cutter solutions. Brands are not made in factories. Assembly lines don't work anymore.

3. Creativity is not a substitute for innovation. Design cannot be just graphic. It is the way we think.

4. Look around. No, seriously, look around. We see a lot of people who want to create awesome stuff and change things for the better. What they need is some kind of 'awesomeness unleasher'. We strive to be that.

Let's make it happen!