Series: Decoding Branding Vis-à-Vis Advertising—Part 1

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In Latin, ad vertere means "to turn toward". In business terms, advertising has the ability to persuade for or against something. It has an instant effect on the viewer's mind, which can sometimes lead to image formation and impulsive actions. Depending on the level of acceptance of a brand in a viewer's mind, effective advertisement can achieve one of the following outcomes:

1. Make a viewer aware about something valuable
2. Generate interest to consider buying or associating
3. Trigger an action, like a visit to the store or an online purchase

Out of the above, the first outcome is most likely, but least useful and strangely the most celebrated one. I am tired of hearing of brand managers, who claim their brand as the most powerful one based on research that claims the highest awareness or recall for their brand. Interestingly, most brand managers consider one or more of the above three outcomes as a measure of the brand's success.

If branding was as simple as advertising, everyone could create a brand and be merry. True branding starts much before advertising begins, and goes much beyond advertising as its effects last. Without the real experience of a product or service and experiences that support them, the brand is a myth in the mind of the consumer. The gap between perceived reality and reality is usually so large that it becomes unbridgeable with each passing advertisement, eventually hurting the equity of the brand as 'real experiences' continue to disappoint.

Branding is about getting the house in order, and advertising is about inviting people to it. Unfortunately, more time, money and resources are spent inviting people to the house than getting the house in order. Advertising is cool and becoming famous gives a gullible satisfaction that you have arrived. It is self-fulfilling, but doesn't necessary imply success and, therefore, can be self-destructing. With advertising, you may succeed in convincing a buyer to try or buy your product, but in order to sustain and survive you will need a brand that performs and transfers value to the buyer that exceeds the cost she paid for it.

Branding is the process of adding real value to the product or service and subsequently transferring it to its buyer with each passing action, interaction, presentation and performance of the brand. Advertising has an integral role to play in this process, provided the advertisement exactly and clearly communicates what the real experience is likely to be. Any deviation to this rule can be costly in the long run and even debilitating for some of the brands. The deviances, however, are commonplace, as the advertiser often confuses advertising goals with expected outcomes (as described earlier). Part of the reason for this is the advertiser's poor understanding of their own brand and the value it carries.

Let's take the example of smartphones. Good advertising can make users interested in a new smartphone. However, when you are operating in a customer segment where a significant part of the brand value is derived from what others think about the buyer's purchase decision, it rubs off on her personal brand value. If the buyer after using it, begins to believe the smartphone isn't really as good as she thought it to be, it will hurt the buyer's self-esteem and personal brand equity, making him really bitter about the brand. It could mean an unstoppable downward spiral for the brand as the word spreads, which can be very difficult to reverse as a trend. This very fact makes the smartphone market highly volatile in which a new brand emerges in the top 5 every year.

It is, thus, really important for an advertiser to understand his brand well, because only then he would be able to build and sustain brand momentum. In the next article of this series, we will discuss what path he should follow. Stay tuned!

(Saurabh Uboweja is a Branding Expert and CEO of Brands of Desire.)
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