Brands! We humans allow a product with a certain label and a logo to become a part of our life very easily. Once the product provides the functional benefit, we make it a part of our daily lives.
How often do you change your toothpaste brand?
Such a (fan) following a brand is linked to brand love in consumer behaviour literature by many academic scholars. The early stages of getting acquainted with the brand elicits positive emotions when functional benefits are met. This stage of warmth between user and a brand deepens into love when the consumer maintains a long-term relationship with repeat purchases. Many global brands spend billions in advertising and promotion to build this brand love. Established brands in Nepal, too, experience brand love as consumers become resistant to switch to an alternate offer and continue to purchase them despite brands demanding a higher share of the wallet with price increments.
Apart from renowned brands, startup ventures with very small advertising and promotion budgets are also demanding a share of the wallet of the Nepali consumer. Till 2010 or even a few years after, a handful of new ventures had begun to trickle into the Nepali market. Ideas of entrepreneurship and new business creations were not encouraged. However, the scenario changed drastically over the years. Success stories from startup ventures seemed to spur others to take similar paths and achieve the lifelong dream of working independently while chasing a passion.
The buzz across social media channels with sponsored advertisements that can be carried out with minimal reach of an audience of 250 or more for a minimum of USD 1 (or Rs 118 approximately) is quite prevalent now. A product shot using a smartphone, and/ or a video produced with Tik-Tok is aired across digital media by many ventures to excite a buyer to engage with the advertisement and make a purchase.
Very little attention is paid to the brand’s aesthetics and related elements. With an abundance of brands offered by the start-up ventures across Nepal, their brand management condition is dire. Some of the ventures that are financially sound invest to produce quality brand assets, while working on coordinating colour and fonts among other aspects of the asset; however, many ventures do not.
As of July 21, 2021, statistics show that there are more than 550 startups in Nepal. Nonetheless, an estimated 25 percent of startups packed up their ventures as they were not resilient enough to make it through the pandemic as recorded before the 550 number was locked in. The surviving ventures are some established companies with sound brand strategies
Strengthening Consumer Brand Relationships
What about the remaining ventures? Will they make it through the pandemic? These are some tough questions. However, having correct brand management strategies may help their survival or support during the revival after the pandemic.
Consumer brand relationship literature is rich with studies carried out across different generational cohorts to support the idea that a consumer may develop a relationship when they see the brand as a partner. Such relationships are not episodic emotions, that are short-term only. Rather these brand relationships are a long-term commitment which allows for trust to foster and love to take shape.
The concept of brand love surprises the doubters within the academic and marketing fraternity. Conversely, the number of research studies that contribute to the existing literature and the managerial implications that draw global companies like Facebook and Coca-Cola to track their brand love statistics are indicators that seem to reflect the reality.
Research supports various antecedents to brand love. A brand name, logo, and tagline are inevitable. Following that, various cost-effective positioning strategies can be put into place with sensorial appeal via strategies that resonate with consumers, which could include human like characteristics. A startup venture in Nepal is yet to cross the many thresholds in strategic branding, but the need to instigate brand management practices is now. Apart from the unavoidable assets, various other antecedents to drive brand love can be capitalized on, while depending on digital media that allows for low spending in promotion.
A great story telling tool since the birth of television commercials has been mystery. Mystery allows a consumer’s cognitive experiences to link with the brand experience creating a vision that fosters feelings towards the brand. Along with that the brand must promise great quality, functionality, and hedonic features. The fun and pleasurable experiences bring forth a positive consumer brand relationship. The vital force needed for this strong relationship base is a congruency of self-concept and brand image.
The information consumers receive about a brand across diverse medias generates usage intentions. Once the trial happens, the drivers for repeat purchase intentions should follow, which are found when consumers see themselves as equal or like the brand. The significance of purpose such as green and sustainable has proven to be effective for many ventures. Other effective ways to create the congruence can be found by tie-ups with celebrity endorsers or social media influencers with proven para social stimulus on the target demography.
Winning with Brand Love
Brand love is an evolving concept that was noted in consumer behaviour literature during the late 1980s while citing its equivalence to theories of interpersonal love from psychology. Over the years, the concept has received attention from marketing scholars. In 2004, Kevin Robert’s book Lovemarks pointed its practicality to the world where he recalls some great world brands that are leading in brand love as experienced during his CEO days at an advertising agency.
The steps such giants took could be cloned by many ventures in Nepal as well. As startup ventures wonder how to survive tough challenges, they must aspire to build a strong brand. The beginning could happen from a box of savings and a business plan to get hold of a bank loan, but it is time for ventures to now think of the experience they want to provide to their consumers. As a researcher in brand management, I look around social media platforms for new start-ups in Nepal and ask myself why there isn’t any benchmark for a venture to promote itself?
Due to the need of the hour, many delivery companies are increasing the number of startups in Nepal, but they have a logo copied off from the internet and are unsure of what consistency related to a social media post is. Many other companies in fashion, gadgets, jewellery, and food are operating in the same manner.
As many companies fall prey to the same approaches during launch, they must realise that the functional differences between brands have reduced as me-too’s are all over the market. The need to differentiate with branding is necessary. It might seem like a huge challenge for the startups but a small financial commitment in the beginning could make them strong for the future. Consumers will not only recognise the brand easily, recall the brand when visible to them on shelves or in the market, but a great outcome of brand management in the long run is brand love.
Consequently, a brand could become resilient in the long run with committed consumers who will miss the brand in its absence. Revival and bouncing back after challenging times like the pandemic would not be tough as brand love’s proven outcome is resistance to switch, missing the brand during absence and to negative information as well. Therefore, the benefits of brand management will be plentiful for any brand that is made in Nepal.
(Lamichhane is Assistant Professor of Marketing at Kathmandu University School of Management.)