WHO IS THE CONSUMER? (Part 3 of 4)


The Importance of Culture for Brands

Individual behaviour stems from three encoded, inherited and learned, platforms:
  1. Universal Human Hardwiring
    This is the lowest common denominator of universal human truths where jealousy, love, maternal instinct etc are common to ALL humans. This is what tells brands that we all want to be admired or desired or envied.
  1. Cultural Context
    While the above tells us that there is a need to be admired, it is the cultural context that tells us that fairness is desired to ensure a ‘good’ groom or that we Indians perceive well ordered, great ambience supermarkets to be expensive and prefer the chaos of Big Bazar that gives us more value’ 
  2. Individual
    Individuals in the same family can turn out to have very different beliefs and value systems. While this is the most important of all for psycho-analysis, it is of very little use to the marketer. It is very difficult to engineer brands for individuals – and usually tend to be very niche boutique services.
In this context – for creating successful brands, it is important to learn how culture shapes behaviour. Culture is what helps us understand why processed ready foods fail in the Indian market. The Indian mother/ wife has to ‘perform an act of input’ in whatever she is serving. So, even the most successful processed food brand – Maggi – has to have vegetables added to it and has to be ‘made’ by her. It is culture that helps us understand why Margo with neem – with its bitter smell is largely successful in the south but neem’s more palatable face wash avatar as Himalaya, is the largest selling face wash nationally.
The Consumer Belief System
Studying Culture through Semiotics

How then do we study culture? There are many models used by sociologists and anthropologists – the Hofsted being among the more popular in recent time. We are the pioneers in the use of semiotics in the county. Semiotics is quite simply Semiotics is the study of visual and cultural signs to decode behavior.

The signs can be
  • Linguistic
  • Visual
  • Behavioural
These signs have to be moored in the context of a brand or a category. Let us take the Amul example and deconstruct that.

The Amul story is a rich tapestry of semiotic significance at many levels. The foremost Amul discourse is to do with nature of its business itself. Milk, Ghee and Butter have stood for abundance and goodness in the Indian context. Cows have been a symbol of wealth and have been and are revered in almost all parts of India since the Vedic times. I grew up on stories of my grandmother’s wedding where all the bulls in the groom’s party (they travelled in bullock carts) were fed ghee. This was proof of her family’s wealth and status as surely as the number of tolas of gold she received.

Milk and milk products have been akin to ambrosia. Being a provider of milk, therefore, is akin to divinity in the cultural context. Amul, as the primary provider of dairy products did not have to fight any battles of acceptance. The symbolism of milk and milk products is deep. Layered on it, the extraordinarily inspiring story of the formation of a co-operative that gave livelihoods to entire villages and raised standards of living across districts, and the ensuing self-governance of a complex supply chain led organization that increased yields and productivity dramatically,  of a commitment to values before profit (even today, in the event of a milk shortage – Amul diverts its supplies to milk at much lower margins, at the cost of high margin, value added and processed dairy foods), the vision of Dr. Kurien and his steering of Amul towards contributing to a white revolution in the country; the brand has won hearts and minds for many, many reasons to become the Taste of India.

Amul Butter is the product that epitomises the brand. B utter is the result of unadulterated milk and is by nature, pure. Bal Krishna’s love for butter was mythic, and is still celebrated. Krishna, as a child, has epitomised mother-child relationships. The natkhat  Krishna has become the iconic persona that all mothers seek in their child when they say with great pride that their son is “very naughty”.

In that context, the Amul girl is Bal Krishna! No wonder then, that the brand is among India’s most loved.

Whether deconstructing existing brands to ensure retention of key values or creation of new brands – semiotic study gives us deeper insights to ensure that we are able to craft brands which resonate with consumers.

Contributed by Alpana Parida - President, DY Works
PART 1: Conventional consumer segments are no longer valid
PART 2: Need for a new consumer classification method
PART 3: The importance of Culture for Brands

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