Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

Machiavellian or Messiah? Which nattier brand narrative should marketers adopt?

As brands invent, re-invent, and create new avatars, it is imperative to form lasting consumer-brand relationships. Here are a few approaches marketers should look into to forge that bond

Published: Jun 28, 2024 04:19:31 PM IST
Updated: Jun 28, 2024 04:25:37 PM IST

Brands invent, re-invent, and create new avatars, it is imperative to form lasting consumer-brand relationships. 
Image: ShutterstockBrands invent, re-invent, and create new avatars, it is imperative to form lasting consumer-brand relationships. Image: Shutterstock

Temperatures are scorching, and the heat is on, be it the summer heat at 40+ degrees, the recently concluded Lok Sabha Elections or the upcoming ICC Men's T20 World Cup final. Interestingly, in all three related/unrelated 'hot' events, marketing strategies and campaigns revolve around the adage that people choose brands—be it animate (politicians to cricketers to celebrities) or inanimate (from IPL teams to colas, to mutual funds to MBA schools)—and not products. However, as John Tantillo posited in his book People Buy Brands Not Companies, "People will rarely tell you what they don't like about your brand, so you have to listen carefully to what they are saying and are not saying."

Thus, as brands invent, re-invent, and create new avatars, it is imperative to form lasting consumer-brand relationships. So, let's examine the possibilities.

The Communique

Though diverse in their storyline, brands created across domains appear on a continuum ranging from the redeemers or the solution providers to the contrasting tormentors or teasers. On the two ends, these brands could be:

Mindful Messiahs: Brands in this group are like saviours (Li et al., 2024), offering functional and emotional support to their users. Thus, brands like FedEx, Mastercard, Fevicol, Microsoft, and Asian Paints are the 'solution providers' who portray themselves as no-frills troubleshooters. This cohort's second set of brands are the 'honest' brands and usually stand for a noble cause like the global brands, e.g., Patagonia, Toms, Starbucks, and Body Shop. Then there are our desi brands like Tata Tea, which stands for building awareness on corruption, voting rights, climate change, and so on. Even young startups like Plated Project craft the essence of Annapurna (Goddess of food and nourishment) into their brand narrative as they feed the hungry when you buy a 'Plate.' The list of the Messiahs expands as they focus on 'being good and doing good'.      

Mesmerising Machiavellians: On the other side of the continuum are the Brands, much like the mysterious Delilah's, that revel in being Moriarty and Cruella Devil as they fuel FOMO, hedonism and materialistic happiness that is linked to ownership of the brand's offering. For luxury brands, be it Serpenti (Bulgari), Panthere (Cartier), or Sweet Alhambra (Van Cleef), it is at the core of their crux of rarity and exclusivity. And natural to the indulgence categories like the tongue-in-cheek liquor brands that proclaim 'men will be men' (Seagram) and chocolates like Silk by Cadbury. There are also Machiavellis who mentor you to shop-till-you-drop and fuel avarice. The case in point is FWD (Fashion Forward) by Myntra and their #SpotItGetIt campaign. Focussed on Gen Z, the brand recommends instant gratification, as the Ma(y)ntra (pun intended). Myntra users can take a picture of any outfit/look/accessory they like and explore and purchase any ensemble they want based on that. YOLO!

Then there are the Machiavelli Avatar-3—brands that make you feel small and insecure and then sidle up to you with the perfect solution, whether for your dark skin (Glow & Lovely), acne (Clean & Clear), cracked heels (Krack), or yellow teeth (Close-Up). Thus, even though the brands offer solutions, the motivation is not to reassure with a Messiah like Mein Hoon Na (I am there to help) but to ridicule and reiterate Main Hi Hoon (Only I am there to help).  

Also read: Why your brand needs to focus on customer experience

The Consumers

The consumer is central to the brand plot. The director of the brand saga (read brand managers) needs to be cognizant that consumers seek congruence with brands that match their personality in terms of 'who they are' or 'who they want to be.' These consumers could be segmented as follows:

The Goody-Two-Shoes: The ones whose superegos are paramount. They are the boss' favourite. They never put a step wrong. They are selfless, noble, nerdy, and conscientious. Though a trifle boring, these holier-than-thou souls are committed consumers of the Messiah brands. Stickiness is guaranteed with this Mr & Mrs Reliable, so the Messiah prevails.

The Nahmads: Materialistic and narcissistic collectors, these consumers, like the Nahmad brothers, seek delight in amassing tangible, envied, and limited editions. They delight a marketer as they experiment and choose; they never have enough of anything and love the chase of acquiring the 'branded objects of desire.' So, like the bumblebee, this segment will always pursue fantastic brands.

The Two-Faced: This set is unpredictable, like Phoebe from Friends, who oscillates between noble and criminal (she allegedly stabbed a cop), crazy and sensible. These two-faced consumers have bucketed choices in categories and seek both Messiah and Machiavelli brands. On the flip side, they defy staid and number-driven loyalty predictions; thus, though endearing Phoebes, they cannot be relied upon by either brand.

The Takeaway

Forbes advises that 'consumers are four to six times more likely to purchase, protect, and champion purpose-driven companies'. The other school of thought posits that the eternal consumer strategy is to 'torment the customer; they'll love it' (Harvard Business Review, 2001). So, your brand needs to make the customer uncomfortable, yearning, and forever in pursuit because the thrill of the hunt is visceral.   

So, what are the lessons learned? Which one is the correct narrative that will resonate with your target consumers? It's very simple. Just be a Kaleidoscope.

K - Keep your ear to the ground and listen to the Kahi (spoken) and Unkahi (unspoken) consumer's heart's desire.
A - Adaptability and evolution is the key.
L - Leverage your strength rather than countering the competition.
E - Engage on all fronts and platforms.
D - Deliver on your core brand promise.
O - Originality of form, story, and appeal gives you the power to be the category leader.
S - Scintillate, surprise, serenade your consumers and make the brand the spice of their lives.
C - Constancy in evolution is the trick, so stay true to the brand essence.
O - Oomph, or brand charisma, is critical; remember that no one remembers the wallflowers.
P - Precision in the brand articulation so your consumer soulmate can seek you from the clutter.
E - Build an Eternal brand by creating an emotional connection with your forever partner—your consumer.  

Author is Neena Sondhi, Dean-Research & Accreditations, International Management Institute New Delhi

[This article was published with permission from <a href="" target="_blank">International Management Institute.</a>]