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Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Culture & Branding

What is culture?
For a particular company on the campus last year there was an employee recruiter who was aged 23 & joined a year earlier!!!! What would he know about the company culture? Very little, you will say & I agree. Culture is very easy to put in words with afew snazzy punchlines but very difficult to feel & imbibe ? Which companies have a culture which is synonymous with it's name? You say McDonalds & you connect it with hamburgers in a decent place with very efficient service. That's it just 3 things - hamburgers, decent place & great service. Is it a surprise that McD sells 10 bn $ of hamburgers worldwide.

Ok, let's play a game. I will write down the names of some non-typical brands & you think of the first 3 things that come to your mind. If my list matches with yours then it proves .........nothing but let's try anyway. My list is given way down after a lot of blank space. Don't cheat :-).
Indian Railways
Common Admission Test(CAT)
Amitabh Bachan
Indian Politician

Tata - Around for a long time, Honest folks, Great place to work
Indian Railways- Dirty toilets, cheap, corrupt
Bengalis-mostly intelligent folks, quirky, West Bengal
Rajasthan-deserts, palaces, camels
Ambassador-been around for a long time, reliable , outdated
Amitabh Bachan-awesome actor, longevity, unique style
Indian Politician-hopelessly corrupt, obstacle to development, elections

Though no great insights are possible with such a short sample - one thing struck me as odd. Except Rajasthan none of the brands has all attributes as neutral. Why? Split-second decisions are said to be crucial in many situations yet careful perusal shows most of my opinions about these brands is superfluous? How did I not mention business for Tata or transportation for Railways or car for Ambassador or superstar for AB? It's almost criminal on my part. Indeed. What could be the reason? Although I am no neuroscientist with PhD ambitionsI think it it fair to say that my brain has pre-judged the brand & deliberately ommitted the most obvious attribute in most of the cases? If true this has some serious implications ......like , let's say I place an Indian amidst Americans & repeat the above exercise. After the exercise is over , the surrounding Americans would know the Ambassador has - been around for a long time, reliable , outdated - but won't know that' it's an automobile. Ironic or what. That is exactly what could happen in high pressure telephonic interviews where I use a local idiom & the admissions committee on the other end totally misinterpret it.
There's a company called Interbrand which does something really cool like calculating what is value of a brand. According to them, Coke had a brand value of ......... 68 bn $ last year. Then again it's not surprising considering the money Coke has invested in brand buidling over the years. I wonder if a brand can have -ve value? Is so what would it mean? I don't know if Interbrand answers thess questions.


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