Friday, May 18, 2007

Brands: Is it possible to have multiple brand identities for the same brand?

One idea that has consistently fascinated me is the possibility of Multiple Brand Identities associated with the same brand. Can the same brand mean different things to different people? A quick search on the Internet threw up quite a few articles on the topic. Seems this is quite a hot debate in Branding circles, with no consensus among different experts. I may not have gotten a definite answer but I really liked some of the arguments put forward, in particular here , here and here .

Can a brand mean different things to different people?

The most thought-provoking argument was the one put forward by Faris Yakob in his blog where he says that “a brand is a collective perception in the minds of consumers”. In other words, a Brand only comes into being when consumers collectively start thinking of it in similar terms. By its very definition then, a brand which means different things to different people is not a brand at all. One may disagree or have different perceptions about the brand but all of that will be with regard to this single collective perception.

To me, this argument is brilliantly developed and looks very convincing. Man is a social animal and certainly does not form these constructs of brand identity solely in his own mind. At any point of time, there is always a process of social give and take where individuals, marketers and the media all add to, amend and reform the brand identity in a continuous negotiation of what that brand stands for. And it is this collective understanding that makes it a Brand.

By definition a social construct

True enough and yet not quite.

Consider the opposing argument put forward by Mr. Martin Lindstrom at this site . He points out the fact that even so- called ‘global’ brands will be perceived differently and associated with different values in New York, New Delhi and Lima. Thus, the same brand might need to tweak or adapt its messages to the local cultures in which it operates. Thus, the same brand needs to have different identities and messages to appeal to and to fit in with different groups of consumers.

To someone like myself who has seen McDonalds or MTV operating in both India and the US, this argument is absolutely understandable. To be sure, they share the same logo and there is a certain commonality in terms of the look and feel and yet, I can’t help feeling that an American walking into a McDonalds in India will be shocked. I remember reading that it is the same way with Wal-Mart in China. It is just not the same.

Mc Donalds in India: No Beef burgers served here.

Again, true enough and yet, not quite.

I believe the truth lies somewhere in between. Like the glass that is half-empty and at the same time half-full, I believe both viewpoints are right to some extent. There is no doubt that there needs to be a uniform underlying strand that permeates a brand whether it is being sold in Japan or in the US. At the same time, different people are different and to appeal to different groups marketers need to tweak aspects of the Brand identity so as to make it acceptable and attractive to different sets of people. I believe the trick here is to achieve the fine balance at which the brand messages to different groups are different enough to make the brand relevant to the different groups and yet not so different as to create confusion and dissonance as to what the brand really stands for.

How to achieve this fine balance? I have no clue. This is extremely slippery ground and my own thoughts are not very well thought through yet. In fact, my main thought in writing this entry was not to solve this debate but to see what role technology might have to play in it. (Technology and Marketing, my two favorite topics. As you can probably guess I lead an absolutely rocking life.)
To be continued in the next post.......


MP said...

Brand identity is something which a marketer aspires how his brand should be perceived by its customers.Basically, how a brand should be.A brand is not supposed to have different BRAND IDENTITIES. Branding is concept based on singularity. Image of a brand may be subjective but not the identity. So there is no question for a brand to have different identities.

Rahul said...

Thanks for your comment. Perhaps we are getting too hung up on definitions. Yes, till now the theory does say that Brand Identity is a singular thing.

What I am curious about is whether it is possible to create different identities for different segments of the population. Basically, can a situation exist in which you have your singularity but different segments have different singular ideas about the brand.

Why not, if it helps you sell more? Why not try and build Mc Donalds identity around fast food in the US and as a hip happening place to be in India?

Whether it is possible to actually create such multiple brand identities I don't know for there are both arguments for and against it. Given the fact that man is a social animal, trying to go for multiple brand identities might just ending up diluting the brand leaving the consumer confused as to what the brand really stands for.

However,in cases where segments do not typically observe the brand in a different environment or interact with each other it might be possible. I am not passing a judgement either way, I just wanted to conjecture and explore, that was the intent of writing this post.

Faris said...


nice. the middle way makes sense.

i think - as i was trying to get across in my post - that you're right.

So there is always a collective idea of a brand, and then you have a personal reaction to that collective perception.

So let's take a brand like porsche. It has premium assocations, high performance, luxury and cool.

Everyone is aware of these associations, but people may well have negative perceptions of the brand regardless. I think Jon Steel talks about that in Perfect Pitch a bit.

Cinamon said...

Brand, like most of the things, is in the mind. When the people who should be buying the product more or less have the same perception the brand is formed.

But, a brand can also signify two different meanings to two diff types of buyers. Raymond's if you notice has very strategically become a brand with 2 personalities. there is one for the older men which is conservative and then there is this new persona which is about the metrosexual male or the alpha male. even their ad campagins also range from old men with conservative styles to the ultrasuccessfull picking up puppies. they have done a good job there.

If you get a chance you should visit their exlcusive outlest like the one in Phoenix mills mumbai and you can see the difference clearly. Fortunately they have maanged this without creating any confusion.

Rahul said...

Hi Daalchini,

Thanks for your comment. I totally agree with you that the same brand can mean two different things to different people and that was exactly the question I wanted to explore with this post as to whether it is possible for a company to pull this off successfully or not. I believe that it is possible, but only to an extent. I believe that when convergence comes this might become much more of a possibility.

Any way, I am still not very sure and the only way to find out is for companies to try this. According to what you say, Raymonds has been able to do this successfully. More power to them I say.

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