Brand Definition: the process of giving brands their distinct identity

A brand is not a mere symbol. It is an identity. It is something that resonates so well with the thought processes of millions of customers. This article is an attempt to discuss the process of brands being given their identity, with conceptual ideas from the book "Marketing Ideas" by Peter Fisk, with several successful examples in the Indian context.


In his informative book on "Marketing Genius", Peter Fisk, has talked about the process of giving a good shape to the brand definition process. The six steps as described by him ( page 151) are sought to be discussed in the Indian context in this article. Appropriate anchoring of the Indian context, with specific reference to each step, has also been explained in some detail.

Map the stakeholders

Decades ago, Tata Steel came out with a memorable advertisement that read "We also make steel". Tata Steel was then in the era of the license-raj, permit-raj, but its quality and commitment to the customer were too good. Most manufacturers of cars, for example, used only their steel. The brand was firmly entrenched in the minds of millions of customers, and this included even the common man. Let us consider the issues, needs, and motivations of the customer, employees, and shareholders. At that stage, the public sector SAIL was in the doldrums. It never had enlightened leadership. It was only in the early eighties that there was a smart turnaround of SAIL under the dynamic leadership of Mr. V.Krishnamurthy, who became its CEO. Tata Steel had taken care of its customers so well. Their employees were more than taken care of and earned good salaries.

Tata Steel was one of the most promising shares traded in the public even in those days when the Indian share market had not developed a distinct identity that it has now. There were other examples too. For example, the public sector company, BHEL has had its chemistry right from the day it was listed on the stock exchanges. Today, it is still a public sector company with a private sector culture. Its welfare amenities in each of its townships at Bhopal, Tiruchirapalli, Haridwar, and other places are unique.

Functional components

This step requires that the organization "define functionally what the brand would do for customers"( page 151). Take the famous Lux toilet soap. Right from day one, the brand had its unique selling proposition (USP) and brand identity, like a soap that would preserve and increase the beauty of ladies.

It had the then beauty queen of Bollywood, Hemamalini as the brand ambassador for several years. It has had several other female actors too. But its core brand identity has been the same. Hamam has always addressed the Indian family as its target and is quite famous in this respect. Of late, it has used women empowerment as another USP to add value to the brand. The Aachi brand of masala powders has its USP of making matters simple and healthy for the families of customers. It is now aiming to become a pan-India company.

If we take another totally different product category with a good functional component firmly embedded in it, Harpic is another brand with a large customer base. Its USP of the cleanest toilets has been clearly explained through a number of advertisements featuring famous film stars.

Differentiated components

This step involves the important task of examining the position of competitors. In the light of whatever data a company has about competitors, it becomes essential that the organization has differentiation as a key component of its brand definition. In other words, the organization builds a brand that is different in terms of some functional aspects. Customers buy the brand based on the differentiators pointed out in advertisements of the brand.

Take the brand Pril that comes from Jyothi Laboratories. It is one brand that has intelligently positioned itself as an addition to Vim, the famous dishwasher brand that is a premium product. However, housewives and servant maids tend to ask for Pril, which is okay for ordinary vessel cleaning. However, a mixture of Pril and Vim is commonly used to wipe away stains caused in vessels used for deep frying with oil. The manufacturers of Pril brand have understood this reality and have kept advertising the brand for its own differentiating points. But any product that is a mass product always has a utility in the minds of housewives and that makes a big difference.

In fact, several years ago, Nirma stormed the Surf bastion with a similar proposition. Even today, housewives use both, particularly in North India. In South India, the mass players like the Power brand have sort of substituted Nirma in the minds of housewives and this detergent powder is often mixed with smaller sachet packets of brands like Ariel or Surf Excel, both MNC brands of P&G and Hindustan Unilever respectively.

Every single player across industries understands the competition and goes on occupying the slots in terms of market shares in the minds of millions of customers. For example, Indigo Airlines had its on-time schedules as its USP and has stuck to it; the customer service in the airports also made a big difference.

Emotional components

The author Peter Fisk talks about the emotional connection that the brand should have with its customers. Take the same example of Harpic, the toilet cleaner. The advertisement goes right into the toilets to reinforce the message of a neat toilet and the fact that the germs are gone. Hence, the functionality is mixed generously with the emotions that go along with the brand value as well.

The emotional component of the care of the health of her daughter is intelligently shown in the body language of the mother in the Hamam advertisement. The emotional component is superbly captured with a bit of humor in the Asian Paints advertisement which proudly claims, "lamination for the entire house". The advertisements for the dairy milk chocolate that had the daughter-in-law and the mother-in-law dancing together, is another example of what the brand seeks to do to customers.

Years ago, an advertisement in Tamil featured a quite famous comedian called Usilamani who would sparingly act in some Tamil movies. He would go on record saying "besh, besh, romba nalla irukku" ( well, well, the taste is very good) for a famous brand of coffee called Narasu's coffee, that is still around. Decades after the actor is dead and gone, the advertisement emotionally retraces the value of the brand to the then brand ambassador. It is nothing but a coffee powder brand. But the emotional component was done well. The image of Mr. Murthy is now fresh in the minds of millions of customers of the Voltas brand of air-conditioners.

Match to stakeholders

The author says that the brand proposition should be relevant and compelling to all stakeholders". This can happen in large organizations too. The entire cement business of Larsen&Toubro was purchased by the Aditya Birla group. The latter built the brand called Ultratech in the minds of the customers and is one of the largest selling brands of cement in the market. To be sure, the employees will be safe in their jobs; the stock prices will shoot up and the investors will be rewarded well. Even after the present COVID-19 scare is gone, brands like Ultratech will stay relevant and add substantial value to all stakeholders.

Articulate the brand purpose

The author says that the brand should capture the core purpose of the brand in a statement that builds on the three attributes of Customer needs and motivations, Brand purpose and identity and Employee needs and motivations".

It will be obvious that we have already discussed the details of the three attributes in the aforesaid paragraphs in some detail. However, we should note that customer experience is connected to brand image and reputation. Strong brands like Surf Excel have such a reputation. The brand Pepsodent enjoys such a reputation, intelligently positioned in the minds of children, who are the main purchase decision-makers in most shopping places. It should be noted that Pepsodent is also used by adults.

Employee experience also adds to the brand image and reputation. If the experience of employees is not positive, the brand cannot stay relevant for a long time. This is the exact reason why Future Retail and Reliance Fresh have employee development programs that continuously motivate employees. Note that the employee needs and motivations are always captured and mapped by organizations like the TVS group, which has formidable strength as a global player. Such examples abound in India.


The field of marketing is incomplete without a discussion on brands and their identity. The conceptual ideas from the book, "Marketing Genius" by Peter Fisk, has been explained in the Indian context with a good number of examples. However, the new brands will also come into the market and the customers will obviously get to experience the values attached to such brands, in several businesses, in the years to come in India.


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