How MSMEs can go beyond branding to emotionally connect with consumers through ‘lovemark’

By Prerna M

Ease of Doing Business for MSMEs: In a country with 63 million micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs), consumers remain flooded with choices between a multitude of commodities with no unique differentiation and sold in common price buckets. This makes it difficult for businesses to retain customers. MSMEs can solve this problem by going beyond branding and creating a lovemark for their brand, according to Dr Rajendra Prasad Sharma, Professor of Marketing, Indian Institute of Foreign Trade (IIFT).

In a masterclass session on “How creating a Lovemark for Your MSME Products Cost Less Than Traditional Branding” at FE MSME Business Conclave last week, Sharma emphasized the importance of lovemark in the Indian market as consumers are unable to connect with brands emotionally. This arises due to a lack of differentiation in the value proposition of the commodities sold.

Lovemark is essentially a marketing concept introduced by Kevin Roberts, who headed a prominent advertising firm Saatchi & Saatchi based in the UK, in his book Lovemarks: The Future Beyond Brands. The concept focuses on developing an emotional connection between the brand and the consumer.

Sharma described commodities as “products with low respect and love, for example, cement.” While cement in itself does not represent a unique emotion to the consumer, ‘Ambuja Cement’ as a brand symbolizes strength. It has a high level of love and respect as it gives consumers a promise of safety.

Consumer respect and love can be monetized through a premium charged on products and services because consumers want to pay for the product as well as the brand. Hence the “commodity business” of selling products and services must transform into a lovemark by establishing an emotional connection with consumers, Sharma explained.

Providing Value to Consumers

Branding is a skill essential to every entrepreneur and every business must brand itself to avoid being a part of the “surplus society” filled with interchangeable commodities, Sharma noted. Entrepreneurs must brand themselves as knowledgeable and problem-solving individuals with sound knowledge of their industry and brand their businesses as a value system with a principle.

Sharma said, “It’s a differentiation or die world,” with value propositions like ‘best price’ and ‘best quality’ becoming over-used. Sharma recommended newer value propositions such as socially conscious, contactless, virtual, and tech-enabled to increase the quality of their consumers’ lives through brands.

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Furthermore, businesses must not function with a profit motive alone. It must be purpose-driven. This is reflected in numbers as well, given that during the pandemic purpose-driven brands outperformed profit-oriented brands.

Brand Positioning

“Differentiation is what you do to a product and positioning is what you do to the minds of consumers,” said Sharma, citing the example of aerated soft drinks. Although most soft drinks taste similar, each brand’s positioning gives its consumers a different value. “In India, people believe Thumbs Up tastes better as the tagline suggests ‘Taste the Thunder’ to represent a macho and youthful image,” he noted.

Rather than getting into the competitive landscape and becoming a ‘me-too’, businesses should create a value proposition that addresses consumer problems, Sharma added. “The perfect combination of positioning and differentiation is at the intersection of what a business can provide and what consumers want. This intersection provides a high customer value proposition.”

Establishing Lovemark

Importantly, lovemark cannot be created through market share or mind share but heart share with creation, communication, and delivery of value, Sharma said. The brand must shift from self-centricity to customer-centricity. It must think of consumers first and products second.

Sharing the example of Nestle’s Milkmaid Condensed Milk, which publishes recipes from their consumers on the packaging of their product, Sharma said although this does not cost an extra penny, it makes consumers feel special.

Tools for Promotion

Citing the book ‘The Fall of Advertising and the Rise of PR’ by Al Ries and Laura Ries, Sharma said advertising for business is no longer relevant. The way forward is to establish an emotional connection through public relations (PR). Brands must tap into direct marketing by maintaining a database of their customers and creating D2C channels to interact with their consumers regularly. These channels can evolve into brand communities to create a loyal brand following leading to referrals from consumers to their friends and family.

“For example, if consumers think of a well-fitted suit for men, they connect it to Raymond. They believe that it is the product for ‘A Complete Man’,” said Sharma. This brand recognition creates word-of-mouth marketing and optimizes consumers as unpaid marketers for the brand.


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