Why do Brands focus more on what they should say, than what they should do?

Dhaval Shah


I never paid much of an attention to marketing, specifically branding during my MBA – in fact I deliberately stayed away from the electives. A romantic by heart, with a belief that may sound utopian in today’s world of hyper-marketing, I always thought and still do, that if a product or service truly solves an unmet need, it will sell for itself. Marketing propaganda has to be secondary to the design and functionality of the product or service – not the other way around.

But that’s not what I learnt during my time at DY.

This blog is by no means a scientific survey of brands across India to justify the generalized click-bait title I came up with, but is an analysis of brands I got a chance to work closely with at DY.

Is it the chicken or culture?

The first project I took charge of at DY involved a major conglomerate of India not able to capture the market for packaged chicken. The brief was to come up with a marketing campaign to influence people’s behavior such that they prefer supposedly hygienic frozen packaged chicken and not the unhygienic but freshly cut chicken available at butcher shops. We deep dived into the world of chicken trying to understand the centuries old tradition of butcher shops, the new market for packaged chicken, and people’s behaviors. What came out strongly in the research was clear problem with the supply chain of frozen packaged chicken, which made the product rather inferior by the time it was consumed in people’s kitchens. However, the client was fixated on finding a magic bullet that would somehow make people accept their inferior product. Yes we managed to do, as we always do at DY, what the client asked for – but a question lingered in my mind since then, can marketing by itself work if the product is not living up to the expectations?

Is it the taste of beer or how it is branded?

Metros like Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Pune etc. are flush with more and more beer gardens, and more and more Indian craft beers – rarely unique in their recipe, and mostly reverse engineered in their taste profiles to mimic popular foreign beers to gain an advantage with lower prices. The brief was to create a brand – positioning, name and visual identity – for a new craft wheat beer in Indian market. We quickly came across a challenge – the taste profile was so similar to what is already available widely in the market – how can you differentiate a product that has no clear differentiation? Nevertheless, we did what we needed to do – but the question remained in my mind – instead of reverse engineering a popular foreign beer’s recipe, would it have helped to uncover what do people crave, what is not available, and how to innovate on truly differentiated taste profile for the market in India?

Is it the design of the service or naming of the service?

A major home cleaning equipment vendor of India came to DY to create a brand for a new home cleaning service. In order to create the brand, we first needed to understand what it would offer and to whom. After uncovering true insights into the market dominated by “bai”s and “naukar”s, we designed a truly differentiated service experience that was holistic in its delivery of delight and joy across minutely identified customer touch-points. We wanted to deliver beauty while cleaning dirty. That was not it, we even designed the functionality of the service in terms of SOPs, backend and front-end staff interactions and all other supporting processes and functions, so that the new brand would truly deliver what it promises. However, instead of focusing on the experience design, the entire client conversation was hijacked by questions like – what to call it – what to name it – what should it say to customers – what should it “look” like. Yes as always, the team at DY did its job and deliver what the client asked for, but I was left wondering why there was no debate, or discussion on the actual design of the service – to make it even more robust?

Is it the design of the jewelry or designs of the display trays?

We had a very open ended brief for a jewelry brand – with a key objective of improving their sales. Our multi-faceted approach touched all aspects of their consumer facing interactions – branding, design of all customer-facing collaterals like packaging, display trays, window displays etc., a revamp of their retail environment, new signage, new uniforms etc. – however, we also focused from the beginning on improving their store inventory management system and increasing their stock turns. There was robust participation, debate and discussion with client when it came to the look and feel of the brand and related collaterals. However, the discussion around merchandizing and product mix strategy did not seem to go anywhere. Months would go by and we will not receive the data we needed to help them arrive at an optimal product mix. There was rarely any collaboration or feedback on our approach on inventory management. As we always do at DY, we managed to give them what they needed, but like before, I was left wondering with the same question – why the focus on jewelry design/product mix was so less compared with the robust debates on designs of display trays and packaging?

There is a pattern emerging across these four very different clients. Strategy is intangible whereas visual look of a brand is very tangible. People have harder times wrapping their heads around something that exists merely on paper – in thin ether. It is far easier to comment on the colors, looks and designs of a beer bottle, a jewelry-packaging box, the backlit outdoor sign, fabric of retail furniture, name of a cleaning service, decals of a van transport etc. Though both merchandizing and packaged chicken supply chain are dealing with real, tangible products, they are after all harder to grasp, or to act upon?

Why do brands look for an easy solution to their problems – of revamping their design language and marketing messaging – instead of focusing on where the true problem lies – in the design of their offering itself?

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