Today on Business LoungeLK's journey to bring you the voices of business professionals in Sri Lanka, we are immensely honored to have Prashan Costa, Head of Marketing at CEAT Kelani Holdings (Pvt) Limited, on our brand builder’s segment. Prashan is also the founder of Pick a Course—a platform dedicated to education. Throughout the past decade, he has built a unique brand name and today shares key insights experienced through competitive marketing and brand-building.
How did your journey in brand building commence?
My brand-building journey began by chance over a decade ago. After studying biology for A/Ls, I pursued molecular biology and biochemistry for my undergraduate studies. However, I diverted from that path after completing both CIMA and CIM and embarked on my career as a brand executive at a pharmaceutical company. That is when I first began to handle brands. From there onwards, the journey continued, entering FMCGs, the lubricant and tyres industries. I am proud to say that I have been involved in a few award-winning brand campaigns.
Furthermore, I received the opportunity to disseminate my brand management knowledge by teaching for qualifications offered by the Chartered Institute of Marketing (UK) in addition to a few undergraduate and postgraduate programs. These activities keep me updated in knowledge and application. I commenced my venture, Pick a Course in 2022, and that has been a great experience developing my own brand.
How can a brand connect with the people in tough times?
We are indeed in unprecedented times where everything is chaotic. While the pandemic has not fully ended, we are now facing a recession and political instability. These tough times are generally inevitable and uncontrollable. We need to understand how to control the controllable. At the same time, we also need to understand that typical old-school marketing will not work during these challenging times. At any time, when connecting with people, you must first understand the brand's purpose; the brands that will thrive in the future have a true purpose that can connect with society. Next, is to know your customer; understand consumer insights, and continuously be in touch with consumers. During these tough times, consumer needs are changing and the competitive landscape is also changing. Understanding the changes, knowing your strengths, being resilient, adapting where required, and optimizing is the key to connecting with the consumers during these times. For example, big brands such as WhatsApp and Airbnb were born during the 2008 economic crisis. Therefore, it is not impossible to create and build brands during these times and stay connected.
What are the key facets of a brand that people look for?
While products solve small problems, the best brands beat down the enemy that torments their consumers every day. Brands need to wear their consumers' shoes and understand their most significant frustrations and pain points. Think about a few brands that have successfully beaten down the enemies in consumers' minds. Facebook reminds you of the fear of losing touch with your friends. Disney reiterated the fear of growing up. Similar to the brand, individuals too are forever young whenever they watch Disney cartoons or visit a theme park. Consumers look for brands that relieve their pain points and bring some happiness to their lives. Secondly, consumers look for brands that are unique and aspirational. They aspire to use certain brands as they are status symbols, which indicate a sense of achievement. Moreover, with some brands, we even have fond memories as they have journeyed with us during important times in our lives. It is also human nature to associate with people with similar traits – as consumers, we want to use brands with similar personalities. Therefore, it is essential to know your consumer personas and create brand personalities that connect with them.
What does it mean to keep a brand alive during tough times?
The worst thing to do is not communicate or not be active during tough times. As I said before, control the controllable. Keep your teams motivated by demonstrating the long-term vision. Your brand's purpose should be inspiring to keep them engaged. A motivated team is the number one ingredient in keeping the brand alive. Secondly, being always connected to your consumers and understanding the pain points they encounter. If you think about it, a brand can be a lifelong partner for every consumer. Currently, I am employed in the tyre industry. It is a relatively low-involvement category where the purchase frequency is generally 2–3 years. However, we must always stay connected to consumers through social media, engage in customer relationship management, and through all possible touchpoints. By doing so, we can ensure top-of-mind recall and create the desired affinity. Keeping a brand alive during these times is similar to a tree that survives during a drought - shedding its leaves. Its survival depends on how deep the roots have extended in the soil. Likewise, a brand's survival depends on how well they are connected to their consumers.
What do you think are the key mistakes in brand building that should be avoided?
Sometimes brand marketers get carried away with the success of their campaigns due to a possible groundbreaking innovation or an advertisement that would have broken the clutter. While this is what every marketer aspires to, it can deviate from your brand's core purpose. You can avoid this mistake by consistently questioning yourself on the purpose of your brand - what we stand for and evaluating the brand fit. Another common mistake is focusing too much on delivering functional attributes without attempting to connect with the consumer emotionally. Even if you are the first mover, functional attributes of your brand can be imitated by your competitors quickly. You need to deliver emotional benefits to create that affinity. For example, Starbucks is a powerful brand not only because of the coffee but because of the emotional comfort and experience it provides. Finally, you need to understand that your brand is not what you say it is; it is what they say it is. Brand building is indeed a journey. At any point, forgetting this will surely begin the brand’s decline. You need to be continuously authentic and consistent. Missing these cues can invariably bring down even a strong player overnight.
Why do you think more Sri Lankan brands are not going global? How can this change take place?
Firstly, I think it is the mindset, whether we genuinely want to create strong brands to conquer the globe. As long as we are happy exporting commodities or manufacturing private labels, we will not be able to develop strong global brands. Therefore, the No. 1 point is to understand the importance of building a global brand. Secondly, not changing your marketing mix according to the market you serve. What is done in Sri Lanka might not work well overseas. It is extremely important to understand the culture, product preferences, and applicability of brand claims and communications in trying to conquer a foreign market. In certain categories, investment is also a limiting factor. However, Sri Lanka has brands that have been able to successfully optimize their mix and shine in the global context. For example, brands such as Dilmah and Spa Ceylon showcase Sri Lanka.
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