What is our version of ‘selling hope’?

Salil Godika, co-founder and chief strategy & marketing officer, Happiest Minds, is an industrial and manufacturing engineer by education. Over the last 16 years he has worked in the IT services industry, he has held a variety of roles across functions including P&L ownership, marketing, vertical markets development, product management, M&A and alliances. However, if one heard him speak at the Brand Owners’ Summit in Bangalore (co-organised by The Smart CEO and afaqs!), he/she could easily mistake him for a veteran marketer. Words like Brand Fuel and Brand Rituals came naturally to him, and very evidently, Godika has fit into the shoes of a chief marketing officer with ease.

SALIL GODIKA, CO-FOUNDER AND CHIEF STRATEGY & MARKETING OFFICER, HAPPIEST MINDS

Godika introduced the Happiest Minds’ brand journey by narrating various anecdotes from the company’s early days. He began his talk with a quote from Charles Revson, the founder of the cosmetic brand Revlon. It read: “In the factory we make cosmetics; in the drug store we sell hope.” Godika elaborated on why every brand building strategy should result in helping a stakeholder – an employee, customer or anyone else – understand a company that much better. “In essence, we’re working towards identifying our version of selling hope,” he says.


When you work towards a higher purpose, speaking about it allows you to not only build your own brand but also encourage other entities to do more good.


One of Happiest Minds’ biggest challenges in the early days was to explain to various investors, prospective employees and customers why there was a need for yet another IT Services company. The founders were very clearly focused on two aspects – services that used disruptive technologies and embedding ‘happiness’ into the business process.

Services revolving around adopting mobile, analytics, cloud, security, social and unified computing were just beginning to take shape when the company was founded and Happiest Minds wanted to specialise in this area. The founders, led by IT industry veteran Ashok Soota, believed that it was a level playing field as far as these technologies were concerned. Additionally, the company deeply wanted to enable and lay down processes to inculcate happiness into the business process. Over time, the goal was to penetrate the feeling of ‘happiest employees, happiest customers’ across the entire organisation. For starters, the company hired a Happiness Evangelist (Sharon Andrew, someone we’ve interviewed in-depth in the past) to work with the Chief People Officer and his organisation to lay down the happiness framework.

Godika acknowledges that the world of branding has drastically changed over the years. “Gone are the days when a bunch of people can assemble in a room, conceptualise messages and taglines and let advertising dollars do the trick,” he says. He’s right. Today, just one disgruntled customer can narrate a bad experience well enough so it goes viral on social media. Of course, the opposite is true as well. Brands need to understand, at a very fundamental level, that both the rise and fall of a brand can happen very quickly. So, any strategy adopted for building a brand – and more importantly sustaining it – must keep this in mind. Godika uses one word to describe this. “Authenticity,” he says, “is crucial in this day and age”.

At Happiest Minds, a reasonable amount of time and effort goes into making sure its “Happiness elements” are just not lip service. Even before the company was formally launched, the core group of founders worked with Great Places to Work (GPTW) to understand what it takes to build a happy workplace. This resulted in the 7Cs framework – collaboration, contribution, communication, culture, community, credibility, and choice. Each of these was elaborated for various teams across the organisation to understand. Structured processes were added to measure the happiness quotient of employees, through formal programs called Happiness Pulse and Touchstone.

Godika emphasises that the disruptive technology side of the brand wasn’t forgotten. “We are still striving to find what should be ‘our version of hope’ that we can offer our clients,” he says. For now, this hope translates into making a clients’ organisation “secure, smart and give them a connected experience through innovative solutions”. How does the company do this? One of the key approaches it adopts is creation of content in the form of whitepapers, articles, blogs, videos and success stories. He calls this part the Brand Fuel – one that’ll showcase the expertise of Happiest Minds in helping its clients solve its problems through the use of disruptive technologies. Employees are encouraged to create content that’ll feed into blogs or whitepapers, that’ll then be amplified further on social media, through industry analysts/influencers and traditional media.

As he wrapped up, Godika laid out six key aspects of brand building that he’s picked up from his stint at Happiest Minds and through observation. These include:

Brand Rituals

In his talk, Godika culled out three brands that are fondly remembered for a particular ritual that are now completely associated with the brand. The classic example was how a lemon is inserted into a bottle of Corona Beer, which has now become a worldwide standard. It is a ritual associated with Corona, which enhances the power of the brand and conversations around it. Oreo Cookies pioneered the concept of Twist, Lick and Dunk, which refers to how the Oreo cream-filled cookies are eaten. Kids love it and the process they adopt to eat it is somewhat of a standard!

Godika says, “At our company, a ritual that has sort of come up is asking people assembled in a meeting to talk about ‘what they are grateful for today’. Of course, this is not enforced, but it has sparked conversations even among select clients.” A team lead tried it out and it caught on. One client’s wife actually loved the concept so much that she implemented it at home. The key aspect about Brand Rituals is that, these just happen. It cannot be enforced upon anyone, but if it catches on, one needs to carefully spread the word around.

Booster Shots

Booster Shots are essentially creative ideas that have the potential to spread rapidly. However, these cannot be predicted or planned with accuracy, but brands often jump in and take advantage when something goes viral. In his talk, Godika spoke about how a small public library in the town of Troy in Michigan saved its closure through a “Book Burning” campaign. The library was facing closure and the town had to approve a small tax increase to prevent it from happening. The people running the public library didn’t have the voice to reach the right set of people in the government. A team member came up with the idea of a “book burning” campaign and put out a few small boards in the neighborhood and created a Facebook page (www.facebook.com/bookburningparty). The vote passed and closure was prevented. It was essentially the “shock value” of burning books that led people to lead a campaign against library closure. One small creative idea became the booster shot to prevent something major.

Be a story teller

Godika urges marketers to become storytellers. The idea essentially revolves around how stories and anecdotes are easily remembered and can spark conversations. Often, one feeds into another. The Corona-Lemon brand ritual started because the brand narrated stories around how the beer tasted great with lemon. As Godika says, the key here is to “help your customers narrate your story to others”.

Brand Fuel

For Happiest Minds, its Brand Fuel comes from the various white papers, blogs and through leadership content it generates around disruptive technologies and how it can help solve client problems. Godika also pointed us to an example. Chobani, the yogurt brand, manages a Pinterest page where it shares awesome recipes with beautiful pictures. The page hardly talks about Chobani or Yogurts, but the recipes fit into its brand philosophy of “nothing but good”.  This approach – that of not talking directly about the brand but being subtle – played a crucial role in uplifting the brand.

Work towards a higher purpose

Often, when a brand works towards a higher purpose, there are two schools of thought. One, they should do it silently without speaking about it or, on the other hand, they need to use it to build the brand further. Godika says simply, “I believe in the latter. When you work towards a higher purpose, speaking about it allows you to not only build your own brand but also encourage other entities to do more good.” At Happiest Minds, the higher purpose is clear – creation of business processes to enable happiness of its employees, customers and stakeholders. If other companies want to learn from it and mimic it, it is certainly good.

Worldwide, there are several brands that have enhanced their brand value tremendously by working (and often talking about) towards a higher purpose. Ben & Jerry’s, the ice cream brand, started its CSR efforts way before the word social responsibility became a regular part of corporate lingo.

Levi’s pioneered the concept of “the green jean” – the one made from cotton and recycled water bottles. Now, this required several changes at the backend including changes to the manufacturing process, raw material sourcing and even educating consumers (the colour of jeans will be random on the inside, which consumers had to be educated about). Yet, this green jean helped the Levi’s brand reach new highs. The key is to talk about it, maybe even run ad campaigns around it.

The company name

One very interesting observation that Godika mentioned during his talk was that majority of the top 50 brand names do not describe what the company does. However, for him and his co-founders, the brand name Happiest Minds has triggered several wonderful conversations. “We’ve had cold calls getting converted into meetings only because of our name,” says Godika. The name and its logo, even without a tagline, could result in enhancing your brand with customers. Of course, as is often repeated by marketers, it is crucial that the back-end of a brand name lives up to its expectation in terms of product offering, quality, service, customer experience and everything else it promises.


KEY HIGHLIGHTS:

Understand what is your version of hope. Don’t sell your features; sell what you can do for a client

Marketers have to master the art of creative story telling

Your brand’s fuel can include the content you create on social media, thought leadership content and the ability to identify “rituals” around your brand

Identify that underlying remarkability and uniqueness about your brand. For Happiest Minds, it was the founders’ thought process of inculcating happiness into the company’s business process