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24 Mar

Thinking of brands as perfumes

Perfumes can be quite unique but also difficult to recollect when you’re in a large group. Most times, people prefer specific perfumes over others. It’s personal, as one would say.

Perfume is typically the most salient accessory one wears. It signifies your brand in a way. And the quality of salience is a by-product of rich associations formed between you and the number of occasions where others can sense you’re wearing the perfume.

But salience as a quality is quite important to brands, in general. At the end of the day, brands rely on the kind of mental associations a customer forms in their head.

For instance, if you buy a pair of slippers from DMart, you perceive the slippers to be of a certain quality. They will reflect a certain detail about you to others. Instead, if you bought slippers from Hush Puppies, then it will reflect something else about you.

The former is perceived as a mass consumer brand and the latter, a premium one. We use these mental shortcuts constantly when we think of any products we use or are making purchase decisions.

How mass or premium a brand is depends on the salience, aka the form of associations the customer (you) form with the brand. Of course, as a brand marketer, you may go ahead trying to create a specific association for your brand, but ultimately the customer decides.

But most brands usually build a perceptual map to locate on which side of the quadrant their product lies. Take a look:

Now, this is a rather simplistic perceptual map. But based on this, you get an idea about what different chocolate brands are perceived as. If you’re thinking of starting a chocolate business, such a map would come in handy to determine which quadrant you’d like to fit your product in.

It gives you an easier way to make relative comparisons. These comparisons help you study how the brand is positioned in the market and what kind of communication they use, based on which you can gauge which audience they are going after and so forth.

Yeah, everyone likes chocolates, but as a brand marketer, you can’t simply address everyone while convincing them to buy your product. Remember salience?

A brand marketer is usually tasked with making the brand centrally known for its category and yet stand out enough to be remembered. For example, Coca-cola and McDonald's are central to their respective categories. JumboKing (a vada-pav QSR) and Jeeru soda, on the other hand, are distinctive. They are known for being unique in their category.

But perceptual maps can be limiting in how helpful they are. Linking the brand’s market perception to business metrics like pricing or sales is difficult.

One of Harvard’s 2015 paper recommends that determining a brands position based on Centrality(C) and Distinctiveness (D) could be better in the following way:

  • Connect a brand’s position on a perceptual map with business outcomes (sales, price)
  • Determine a desirable market position, allocate resources, and derive a brand strategy.

It is different from a perpetual map because it adds details of the brand’s market performance (the volume of sales, pricing) on the map itself.

The paper suggests to create a C-D Map in the following way:

  • Identifying a geographic market of interest (an entire country, a region, a single city)
  • Narrowing customer segments to be surveyed.
  • Collecting data on consumers’ perceptions of the brand’s centrality and distinctiveness (scored on a 0–10 scale).
  • Collating unique coordinates for each brand’s position on a 2×2 matrix.
  • Capturing the unit sales volume and pricing, represented by a bubble in the image.

Using the C-D Map, you could also gauge how crowded the aspirational market is.

Let’s take the case of shoe brands and attempt to plot them on the C-D Map roughly. (For accuracy, sales volume would be required.)

Aspirational brands are those which are highly differentiated but also have a wide appeal. They command a higher price than mainstream or peripheral brands. A Jimmy Choo, an Onitsuka Tiger or Yeezys might feature here.

Unconventional brands would be those with unique characteristics. Neemans would feature in this category, for it would boast of a feature like shoes made from recycled plastic.

Mainstream brands are usually that are first-to-mind when you think of a product. Bata, for example, would be a mainstream brand. It is not their distinctiveness but, at times, their pricing or general appeal that makes them popular.

Peripheral brands would be those which are difficult to distinguish from the traditional product category. Shoes from, say, Metro could feature here.

And a general understanding that can be deduced from the map is:

Brands that score higher on centrality enjoy higher sales volume. If you manage to boost centrality for your product’s brand, the outcome you need to measure for it would be the sales volume. Increasing distinctiveness would refer to the opposite — lower sales volume.

From a price perspective, the C-D map helps establish the relationship between volume and prices. If the volume sold is higher, the prices for the brand are lower, and if prices are higher, the volume might be lower.

An easier way to remember the price-volume relation would be to think what you make up for in volume, you lose in price, and vice versa.

A caveat to recollect as you read this piece would be to understand that a lot of buying eventually takes place because of the customer’s context at the time, but deriving this map might be a useful pre-campaign exercise to determine narrow and focused campaign goals.

The data for the maps you create will vary from region to region, so considering all those externalities would be crucial for accuracy.

In fact, think of the C-D map as a way to ascertain if your brand strategy is achieving the goals you have in mind for the brand. Here’s how:

Using the C-D map, you can also move away from the labelling of any brand as premium or cheap because that is usually a value you don’t want to attribute to any of your products.

Moreover, consumers don’t want to feel they bought a cheaper version or be perceived as such when they buy a product (remember the Tata Nano fiasco?). Maybe “value for money” or “strictly utilitarian” or even “a cost-conscious and pragmatic person's choice” would be better framings.

Other than helping you assess your brand’s strategy, the C-D model could also help check its effectiveness.

Perceptual Maps may position a brand in too narrow a way so as to be useful. For example, chocolates could be evaluated based on the price and quantity offered in each bar. This would give an idea of what price point works best for chocolates but wouldn’t inform what changes to make if they are desired.

You could also use the C-D map to assess the brand position of products you offer across different price ranges.

Ultimately, as a brand marketer, your goal is to achieve salience and help form rich associations between the products you sell and what customers think of them.

You’re seeding ideas in the consumers' heads about how to view your brand. Like with perfume, you’re trying to evoke a special memory every time your brand is thought about.

And defining your brand’s position based on how central and distinctive the brand is could be much useful in crafting that salient memory.

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