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)

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