One of the key differences between small and big businesses pertains to the approach to brand and brand building. This probably explains why only a few brands have recall value despite the economy being overwhelmingly inhabited by small businesses.The MSME sector is home to over 6.33 crore businesses, of which 99.4% are micro-enterprises, according to the MSME Ministry’s FY19 annual report. Though the coronavirus pandemic has had a debilitating effect on the economy and most businesses, it has been a boon for many small and micro-enterprises that were born out of its disruptive effects. Overall, this sector is important from a macroeconomic perspective because of its contribution to GDP and employment. But it is marred by a paradox: a larger number of enterprises but a smaller number of strong brands. Brands of big companies dominate our mental space.The important question is why do small enterprises generally fail to become big brands? The important word here is “generally”. Many businesses have achieved multi-crore turnovers. For example, MDH, which was started by Mahashay Dharampal Gulati, who bore the brunt of Partition but managed to start a small shop at Karol Bagh in Delhi; Nirma, for which Karsanbhai Patel laid the foundation from the backyard of his modest house; Havells, which now rules the electrical space, was started from the modest gullies of Bhagirath Palace electrical market in Old Delhi. Then there are startups that leveraged the ICT wave to become big brands — Ola and Nykaa.
What can be culled from these stories? What is common in these success stories? The most defining aspect is the deep connection the creators or entrepreneurs have with the company or the brand. This is also true for the brands that are now ubiquitous; they bear the name of their creators. Consider this: Adidas comes from the name of the founder, Adolf “Adi” Dassler; Hilton Hotels from Conrad Hilton; HP from Bill Hewlett and David Packard; Levi’s from Levi Strauss and Walt Disney from brothers Walt and Roy Disney.This does not suggest that the product or service should carry the name of the person behind its creation. The suggestion is that these brands have had a very close and intimate connection with the human force behind them. These brands and businesses are tangible forms of the founders’ visions, the actualised reality of something unique and unseen. The fatal flaw of MSMEs is that they often suffer from a lack of sight and vision.Sight drives small entrepreneurs to start businesses that are profitable and adopt a prevalent business model by copying an existing product. We can see this in the large number of small entrepreneurs who host their products on Amazon or stuff retailers with their products using a push approach. These products, made to look like prevalent brands, seek to win consumers on the power of push or price or information gap. The absence of vision is one reason for small businesses to remain small and the presence of vision is the reason why many small brands have become big. Vision is an uncanny ability to see things that ought to be there, but is not there.Thousands of enterprises are created, but most vanish without a trace. The reason lies in the force of desire to make money without understanding that it is a consequence of doing something that others have failed to recognise. It is the absence of vision but presence of sight.McDonald’s founder saw hungry people travelling long distances and Fred Smith of FedEx visualised the importance of speedy and certain delivery of posts. Patel of Nirma saw the middle class’s longing for a detergent powder and Gulati of MDH heard the call for quality and affordability of spices. BTW or Bittoo Tikki Wala — who started by selling tikkis from a cart in North West Delhi and went on to set up a chain of restaurants — resisted the impulse to be like other chat vendors. He recognised customers’ wish to have hygienically prepared and standardised tikkis. Vision is the ability to see the current state of people or consumers and the state they would like to be in, and seeing it before anyone else sees it. Nokia, which ruled the mobile phone market, suffered from the inability to visualise the shift from ear to eye. People wanted a phone to be much more than a connecting device; they wanted a tool of enablement and empowerment. In the same vein, HMT lost because it continued to see a watch as a time-keeping machine, whereas Titan’s vision took into account customers’ silence about a watch’s looks and appeal.The primary questions that must be addressed in brand building are: Can I hear the silent whispers that others cannot? Can I picture my consumer in the state they would like to be in but are not?Small businesses must start their branding by answering two simple and obvious questions. What is the business of the product I am selling? What is the business of my brand?It is important to understand that a brand is a double-layered entity. It is product-plus. Consider a men’s vest. The business of a vest is to provide insulation and absorb sweat. This is what all vests do, but Rupa became a big brand on the strength of the second question. This brand defined its business as comfort — remember the slogan “yeh aaram ka mamla hai”? Red Chief went on to become a multi-crore brand in a similar way. The shoe market is filled with hundreds of brands, but Red Chief found its glory in defining the business of its brand — to give customers assurance and trust of pure leather. Consider deodorants. What is the business of a deodorant? It is no rocket science that a deodorant’s job is to prevent body odour. This is common to all deos but Fogg’s take was the promise to give customers deo and not gas. These brand creators heard customers’ murmurs.Small businesses often fall victims to a misplaced understanding of brands and brand naming. Although brand building requires brand naming, brand naming is not branding. We cannot create a brand on the strength of a brand name. The name only acts as a signifier. What it signifies is more important. The business needs to find its mojo, its proposition that is both relevant for customers and different from competitors.Avoid a name that bears either physical or phonetic similarity to an established brand. Brands such as Fair and Lovely or Coldante evoke comparison with giants and this has a dwarfing effect. This so-called clever strategy renders you as duplicate or fake. Ghari,
, Action, Priya Gold, Fena, Duckback, Babool, Color Bar, Nykaa, Chik, Bagh Bakri — all these Indian brands stand on their own without drawing any similarity. If possible, the brand name should connect with the product category or benefits. It is likely to enhance discoverability on the internet and improve brand recall.Customers don’t think in terms of products or brands; they look at what is important to them — the benefit. We are not interested in ointment but “fast relief” (Fast Relief is a brand); we want to remove cracks on the heel (Krack cream), we want to have odour-free bathrooms (Odonil), and we want to save ourselves from the coronavirus (Coronil).Formulating a strategy is the first essential step to brand building, but the real challenge lies in execution. It is an “outside-in process”. In the absence of substantive efforts and investment in production, quality, consistency, distribution, communication and after-sales care, all branding can fall flat on its face. Branding is done to win trust. It opens up a gateway to relationships and revenue streams. Branding is successful if your customers become unyielding to the temptations thrown up by competitors. The secret is to lower anchors far deeper, beyond the surface of reason into the recesses of emotions, so that he or she says, “I don’t give a damn”.Harsh Verma is a Marketing Professor at FMS Delhi, and this article is a part of ETRise Top MSMEs program. To participate, click here.