Branding lessons, from the heart

Branding lessons, from the heart

A peek into some wonderful anecdotes on branding from Brand Owners’ Summit Bangalore, co-organized by afaqs! and The Smart CEO


On the 25th and 26th of June 2014, we, at The Smart CEO, partnered with afaqs!, an advertising, media and marketing news portal, and organised the Brand Owners Summit in Bengaluru. The summit brought together close to 15 CEOs and over 200 attendees from the startup and marketing ecosystem, to discuss, debate and learn about the best brand building practices that companies can adopt today.

Since we are in the early phase of launching our events business, to our editorial team, it was heart-warming to hear back from the audience about the quality of the content and knowledge sharing that happened at the event.

Why I’m saying this here is, as we reflected more and more about the event, we came to realise that in most of the CEO events we’ve attended (and some that we’ve organized), the focus was on networking amongst the audience and ensuring that the event works for sponsors. The most surprising piece of insight for us was that even the audience was hardly interested in the content, at such conferences. It was generating leads and possibly closing deals that often took the cake.

Now, the question is: why should this be the case? I think the classic example of a conference that is extremely focused on content and knowledge sharing is TED, and the organisers have certainly made sure the audience is there for the content and nothing else. How did that happen? Of course, year after year, TED has marquee speakers and topics that are deep and differentiated, but, so do our summits and several other CEO-level events we’ve been media partners at. I believe the answer lies somewhere in the DNA of the conference and how a particular summit’s brand has been shaped over the years.

That’s why, we’re thrilled that the two Brand Owner’s Summits that we’ve co-organised with afaqs! until now have had the audience drawn towards the quality of content. Of course, the credit for this largely goes to the speakers, but we’re excited to note that, maybe, we have it in our DNA to create great content in live events as well.

Without further ado, before we give you a summary of the insights shared by our speakers, at the summit, I’m going to share five lessons on branding that stole the show. These five are quite simply a list of my favourite highlights from the conference, which I thought the larger Smart CEO audience would be happy to read about. Here we go:

As all of us, fairly obviously, realise, branding as a concept is something very intangible. It is something that cannot be calculated from a mathematical formula or for that matter pulled off from a company’s financials. Yet, there is no doubt that it is crucial to build a great company. The core belief behind the Brand Owners’ Summit is that we’d gather anecdotes and lessons on branding from several brand owners across the country and this would lead us to some sort of collection of short stories that’d be stored in the back of our heads, as we make decisions on marketing and branding. So, here is a list of five such anecdotes.

On day one of the event, Krishnakumar Natarajan, founder, CEO and managing director of Mindtree, an IT Services company, spoke about how, as a global company, one needs to work closely with the local community and build a brand across the various geographies it operates in. To explain this better, he went on to narrate the story of how Brand Mindtree is recognised in the university town of Gainesville, Florida. When setting up its US delivery center there, the Mindtree officials closely engaged with the local government, chambers of commerce, the university and the overall fabric of society in the region. As a result, today, for the locals, the global brand as relevant to them locally, as it is at a global level.

2Krishnan Ganesh, the serial entrepreneur, investor and the man behind TutorVista, BigBasket, Marketics, and now Portea Medical, spoke about how the digital world has allowed us to build brands very quickly. He quoted the example of how redBus built a brand in less than two years, primarily because of the unique value it offered to its customers. Product quality and uniqueness of offering allowed the company to build a brand with minimal spends and Ganesh believes brands like are going the same route.

Madan Padaki, also a serial entrepreneur (who sold his previous venture, MeritTrac, a skill assessment company, to Manipal Group), now runs a social entrepreneurship venture called Head Held High. He takes promising but under-privileged kids from rural India, trains them in management and communication skills, and transforms them into a team leader. In his talk, he narrated the story of how a young boy from a village, who earned Rs. 10 a day, was transformed after undergoing training, and now leads at team at a BPO. It had the audience silent for a while, before they realised how an offering like this, with scale, could completely transform India. Padaki’s talk also included information about how and why he has coined terms like ‘Rubans’ and ‘Rubanomics’ to help people understand the sheer seriousness and potential that India’s rural youth possesses. Padaki also went on narrate the reasoning behind his venture’s name (based on a popular poem, of course) and how simple decisions can play a crucial role in the overall branding of a company.

In the first half of Day 2, we began with two wonderful talks by leading healthcare professionals – Swaminathan Dandapani, chairman, Manipal Health Enterprises and Dr. Ashutosh Raghuvanshi, group CEO, Narayana Health. Now, in healthcare, concepts like branding are certainly a second priority. It is often a matter of life and death, and medical operations take centerstage. Yet, the biggest takeaway for the audience from both these sessions was simple – How do we ensure that the overall operations of the hospital keeps everyone, from doctors and medical professionals, to lift operators and patients, happy. It was heart-warming to see two leading hospitals chains look at the concept of end-to-end stakeholder satisfaction so intricately. In both these talks there was a hidden lesson for branding experts and marketers – Branding is about the performance of a corporate at all levels and across stakeholders.

5 In the closing session on Day-2, fairly aptly for us, we had a series of talks that I’d loosely put under the umbrella of happiness. Salil Godika, co-founder and chief strategy and marketing officer, Happiest Minds, spoke about the company’s seriousness of inculcating happiness into its overall business process. And, Rajiv Srivatsa, founder and COO, of Urban Ladder, spoke about brand building for early adopter customers through transparency and how the company took that word very seriously.

In short, Brand Owners’ Summit was a wonderful collage of various stories on branding – narrated by brand custodians – the leaders of companies and brands. The biggest take away, if we were to pick one, came from brand expert Ramanujam Sridhar, who summarised what all the speakers said in his own inimitable style. “There is very little differentiation in this world. If Unilever India has a brand manager from IIM-Bangalore, P&G has one from IIM-Ahmedabad. The world is filled with more and more sameness. Is there a way to differentiate ourselves, not only in our branding campaigns but across the entire operations of our company?”

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