What is common to Himesh Reshammiya, Harry Potter, the Wimbledon and the Taj Mahal? An odd collection, isn't it?
Himesh Reshammiya -- the man with the cap and the nasal voice. He has been the butt of jokes for many music connoisseurs but his film Aap Ka Saroor, released a few weeks ago, has been one of the few box office hits of the year.
His music plays over and over again across radio channels -- a quiet acceptance that there is an audience for him -- and that's beyond 'rickshaw' drivers. His hits have come from singing for stars and in movies that are not top notch in the industry.
While the debate may rage on whether he will survive the test of time -- the fact remains for the last two years he has been the star in the industry. His presence at talent hunts, as a judge, on television and his latest invitation to a chat show that boasts of only 'A' grade stars are further affirmation of this status.
The Taj was recently voted as one of the seven wonders of the world. It is a fact that we are a country of one billion people, where English is widely spoken and awareness of issues is high. The media played an active role in garnering the required votes.
However it cannot be denied there is something enigmatic about the Taj. Besides it's marble splendour, it has its own look in different light -- which makes it an architectural wonder. And add to it, centuries ago, it was a monument built to a universal emotion -- love -- making it even more enigmatic.
Not surprisingly, even as the image of India has changed from one of "elephants and snake charmers" to "infotech and knowledge", the Taj as a symbol of India stood the test of time. No foreign tourist's visit to India is complete without a "darshan" of the Taj!
Is the game bigger or the players bigger? Who makes whom? It remains a chicken and egg question. While golfer, tennis stars and cricketers rebelled in the 60s and 70s to get their pound of flesh, the fact remains that today it is stars that draw audiences and the money.
However, the Wimbledon has managed to be different. The finals in the first week of July -- an annual event -- the only one staged at the Wimbledon courts every year -- continues to be the Mecca of tennis.
Tickets are still sold for the day -- for a court -- and people throng to it hoping to see the top seeds but satisfied with watching a final even if a lesser player reaches the final. The Venus Williams-Bartoli final was in true competitive spirit a shadow of a fight, but the match has not diminished the charm of the tournament. Next year, there will be the same crowds, the same wait, the same premium pricing and same energy -- not to forget the strawberries and creams.
Potter mania seized the world in July. And this is particularly fascinating. The world has moved to the Internet and people are already talking about the third screen -- TV, computer and now the mobile. Kids and technology go hand in hand -- and in this context the printed word seems archaic.
Yet writer J K Rowling could create such hysteria with her character Harry Potter (and his friend Ron and Hermione) that across continents her seven edition of story generated such excitement that kids booked their copies in advance, stood in queues to be the first to get their copy and sat and read it religiously without demanding a Net version or a film production! During this period, one began to wonder whether reading was dead or dying.
So what's common to these four phenomena besides the fact that they were in the news in July? Deep down they manage to find connects with specific target groups, which makes them newsworthy.
Whether it is Himesh Reshammiya with the youth or Potter with kids or the Taj with foreign tourists or the Wimbledon with tennis fans, these are brands in their own right. The Taj's reputation has been built over centuries, the Wimbledon's over the last 125 years, Potter's over the last decade and Himesh's over the last couple of years.
There is something about them that can be inspiration or learning for "product" brand builders -- because none have been overtly advertised. Consciously built, maybe! They are "unbranded" brands.
What interesting lessons can we draw from these for branding?
First, there is a need to be different and stand out -- especially in a cluttered market. Like him or hate him, Himesh Reshammiya has a voice distinctly different -- add to it his look and small town roots, these make him a "character."
Harry Potter is a school kid with a difference -- it's about spirits and ghosts and a mystical dark era that makes him vulnerable and daring together -- a character so different from what one has seen in kid stories to date.
Second, there is a need to build myths and stories to create enigma. The Taj has its myth in its origins and it has been guarded. Yet over the years new stories have developed -- some true and some not so true -- "Was it a Rajput creation?" -- these have added to its mystique and charm.
Third, the need to invest time: strong brands don't happen overnight. The Taj and the Wimbledon have gone through the test, the jury is perhaps still out on Potter and Reshammiya. Even the story of Potter began to emerge post Rowling's third novel and seems to have reached a crescendo in the seventh.
Fourth, brand custodians need to hold something dear and inseparable to a brand. The Wimbledon is what it is today because some champion has decided quite doggedly to safeguard some rituals -- while evolving in others -- no coloured clothing, play on grass, the timing in June/July, calling the fairer sex "ladies" not women and of course the strawberries and cream -- that keeps it special for tennis. Retaining the purity is critical.
Finally, the biggest creator of a brand is its consumers. Not so much in their consumption of the brand but in valuing the intangibles of it and keeping the "legend" going. The challenge is to uncover and understand what those intangibles are to fuel it to keep it going.
The Taj and Wimbledon are prime examples of this -- expectation of "consumers" year after year are met and often exceeded that get them to become spokespersons and champions.
Something worth thinking about.