x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Brand names can carry persuasive powers

At a recent conference, Rakesh Kumar of Firefly, an consumer behaviour and insight agency, spoke about the importance and value of building brands.

Rakesh Kumar is the group chairman of Firefly, which says it used universal human truths to offer insights on branding. Pawan Singh / The National
Rakesh Kumar is the group chairman of Firefly, which says it used universal human truths to offer insights on branding. Pawan Singh / The National

We all know what a brand is, don’t we? It’s a name that you immediately associate with a product or service – usually something we want or desire. But brands aren’t necessarily all-pervading giants that crush all others in their wake like Levi’s, Microsoft or McDonald’s.

At its most basic, a brand is the tipping point between making a sale and not making a sale, so no matter what business you are in or what size your company is, you should be in the business of building a brand.

That was the main message delivered at a conference hosted by Rakesh Kumar, the group chairman of Firefly, which bills itself as the world’s largest insight agency. An Indian national who calls Dubai home, Mr Kumar is a global nomad with more than 30 years’ experience in advertising and marketing, having travelled the world with his mantra of building brands.

He says he deals in universal human truths which he then articulates to a particular region, culture or race to boost a company’s business.

“If you make glass sugar bowls, for example, that one can buy in Ikea very cheaply, how do you position your company so that profits increase?” he asks.

“We understand the fundamentals of how the glass is made, what the perception of the glass is, what is the kind of disruption it’s causing in my life and what enhancement it offers in my life. We understand everything from a 360 perspective starting from the human truth, the application of it in the context of brands and marketing. And we add value to your product; that is what we do. It’s a matter of positioning – and the way you position your product is the way you command a premium.”

That sounds all well and good if you have a global machine behind you. But what about if you are a mom-and-pop company without that resource, is it that important?

“People respond to everything emotionally,” says Meredith Bourgery, a global client partner at Firefly. “Whether it be a red chair or a white shirt, every interaction that we come into and every point of contact that we make evokes an emotional response.”

So what can an insight agency do to boost a product or service?

“What we do is we fundamentally have a passion for understanding and uncovering why people behave in the way that they do; and [explore] provocative, disruptive insights which lead to big brand ideas” says Ms Bourgery.

So it’s a marketing firm that uses psychology?

“It is a combination of psychology and marketing,” she says. “A lot of our key practitioners come from a sociology, psychology, psychiatry background. Mixed with – and this is where it’s a unique blend – strategic planners, marketing professionals. So it’s that dual role which allows us to bring the two together.”

Jean Traboulsi, the managing director of Leo Burnett in the UAE, emphasises the importance of brand value – a timely subject given the headlines generated by Apple’s recent dislocation of Coca-Cola as the world’s most valuable brand.

The value is based on the fact that people will actively seek these company’s products over and above others because of their pre-eminence in their field. It is that identifying with a product that enhances the experience. It is unlikely people would buy a phone made by Coca-Cola or a soft drink made by Apple.

“One of the few exceptions is Virgin as it is in entertainment, airlines, trains, mobile phones and now space “ says Mr Traboulsi. “But people are associating themselves with the boss, Sir Richard Branson, and buying into his maverick, adventurer spirit which allows the brand to move between products and services.”

With the internet’s biggest businesses – Facebook, Google, YouTube – all financed by increasingly targeted advertising, the building of brands is increasingly being achieved over the internet. Just Falafel, the UAE’s home-grown fast-food chain, recently announced a US$9 million return on an outlay of $400,000 on Facebook ads. It built its brand on social media that knows what you like, when you like it and where you want it. It seems we are all branded.