MullenLowe Lintas Group's 'Brands to Stands' Endorses Distinctive Advantage

The book provides the future direction of brand strategy in creating inspiring brands that take a stand. It also helps leaders unlock their brand’s true potential by reminding them of who they really are

MullenLowe Lintas Group recently introduced 'Brands to Stands' – its brand-building philosophy aimed at providing a distinctive niche and advantage for its clients’ brands in the marketplace.

In a world awash with brands, most of them are either unable to chart a clear course in today’s uncertain marketplace or are drowning in a sea of sameness. The Group posits that the solution to this problem is in ‘distinctive advantage’, and not ‘competitive advantage’. Something that is exclusively derived from a point of view, not a point of difference.

Speaking with the author of this book, S. Subramanyeswar, Chief Strategy Officer – Asia Pacific & Head of Global Planning Council, MullenLowe Group shares how 'Brands to Stands' is a brand's definitive declaration of what it believes in and fights for; a brand taking a stand to fulfil a higher-order purpose, and in the process, transforming itself into a catalyst for social change. 


Q1. Why do you think it was a relevant time to release this book now?

Being a mere brand is not good enough anymore today. Brands are bland. In their desperation to be different from the competition, brands orchestrate ostensibly unique propositions to shore up their positioning, whether it is their technological superiority, magic ingredients, incredible service or even exclusive associations with audiences.

But these are nothing more than transient, tactical fixes, especially with the quick parity brought on by technology, where anything can be matched in a short time. Eventually, and inevitably, the positioning of one brand is replicated by another, exposing the superficiality of the whole exercise.

This clutter has made it extremely difficult for brands with a genuine competitive advantage to stand out and resonate with the audience. Besides, with most brands content to merely stay afloat in this sea of sameness, they often slip into induced inertia, unless forced to respond to external forces such as the market and the competition. A nightmare situation for classical marketing.

Our book ‘Brands to Stands,’ a path-breaking compendium, based more on proven empirical insights rather than theoretical constructs, gives you the inside story on how, by having a distinct point of view, taking a stand and spearheading purposeful action, 25 of India’s top brands, have turned convention on its head to impact how society at large thinks and behaves. And in doing so, we want to provide important lessons for the future direction of brand strategy in creating inspiring brands that take a stand. Help leaders unlock their brand’s true potential by reminding them of who they really are. I believe, there is no better time to do that than now.

Q2. What is the key message that you hope to disseminate through this book?

People, particularly millennials and Gen Z, in the hyperconnected and information-overloaded world, were increasingly looking for authenticity and transparency in what they did and what they were associated with. They were no longer content with successful, lucrative careers. They were willing to quit their jobs to follow their passion. In a new social order governed by democracy and open source culture, they were desperately seeking vocations that would bring out their true potential.

Experience, meaning and purpose were what they sought. Not just lifestyle, power and status. This was in a way a return to compelling eastern philosophies like the Indian Swadharma or the Japanese Ikigai. And if brands had to find a way into this evolved existence, it had to be by following a similar path to empowerment and enlightenment.

The anthropomorphic connection was all the more pertinent as brands were usually taken to be the human face of companies, infused with personality traits and physical characteristics. So it seemed worthwhile to explore whether brands could tread the same path that human journeys were taking.

Over the years, brand stories too had transitioned from the rational to the emotional. We felt it was perhaps time to take it to the next level, into the realm of the spiritual. We firmly believed that brands had to be endowed with an inspiring, timeless, and higher-order PURPOSE.

This was the genesis of our initiative to make brands more real and what they can be, for our unique way of enhancing or going beyond the concept of brand positioning, which we identified as ‘The Brand Point of View’ or ‘The Brand Stand’. It is a brand’s definitive declaration of what it believes in and fights for, a distinct standpoint on why and for whom it exists, influencing everything a brand does and does not do.

This way brands don’t just create value but add value to people’s lives.

Q3. What have been some of the initial reactions to his book?

The responses so far are very heart-warming. While quite a few said that the book is truly thought-provoking, stimulating, a must-read for all marketing or business leaders etc., what was truly gratifying to me were some of the responses like – it’s not about getting ahead but having a heart in business, brands have to transform and not just transact, profit must be the servant of purpose etc.

This book belongs to all our client partners as much as it belongs to us. It wouldn’t have happened without them. The book is an ode to those brands that went well beyond the call of duty. To become the identity of individuals. The soul of a society. The conscience of a nation.

Q4. How is this book expected to amplify MLLG’s philosophy further? How is it going to help the overall ecosystem?

Likening a brand to a real person, engaging with people, understanding their concerns and exploring ways to contribute meaningfully to their lives, helped move brands out of the debilitating restrictions of the category influence, making them a genuine part of people’s lives, thereby wonderfully placing what they care about, at the heart of what they do.

It transformed brands from being agents that facilitated commercial transactions to catalysts for social change.

Brands could now function with purpose and intent to create platforms or portals of meaning to bring people together and help conduct and participate in debates and actions that have a wider impact on society.

This idea of making brands real and purposeful has become the centrepiece of our strategic and creative process in the last few years. And it has conclusively changed our point of view on how branding and advertising need to be carried out.

The success that we have achieved with this perspective can be gauged by the testimony of clients who believe we have changed their fortunes by looking at society as the primary or only client, by the legions of customers or brand fans who are proud to buy into the brand (not just buy) and become its advocates, by the internal teams who now feel more motivated (or buoyed like volunteers for a cause than just employees working for salaries) with a new degree of clarity, guidance and purpose, by the energised investors and share-owners who acknowledge greater humanitarian returns than just financial, and by the prestigious recognition, this approach has garnered, both in domestic and international forums of repute.

The 25 brand stories, across diverse product categories, that have been captured in this book have all turned conventions on their heads and gone on to become conversation leaders beyond selling stuff, not just in their respective categories, but beyond that in the society at large, giving the audiences the cause of action and not just the course of action.

These are tales that are truly inspiring in the way they stood up for an issue, stood out from the competition and stood firm in challenging the norms and fulfilling our primal desires in either mitigating problems, righting the wrongs, promoting public health, advocating rights, enabling connections, evoking pride, supporting self-worth, stimulating pleasure, or whatever else the unique purpose had led us to inimitably champion.

And they could well be the rousing prototypes in the next stage of brand evolution. Just as human aspirations have moved on, it is imperative for brand ambitions to keep pace.

Q5. It is a book that showcases your purpose-led brand-building philosophy. How has ‘purpose’ taken centerstage across companies, especially during these turbulent times?

Whether you are a new brand or an established one, whether you are a product or a service, whether you are a junior manager or a decision-maker, finding an inspiring stand for a brand, prospectively or retrospectively, and keeping it at the heart of your business not only creates sustained profitable growth, builds relevance in a rapidly changing world and deepens loyalty beyond reason with all stakeholders but also changes the lives of individuals across the communities it serves, for the better.

Many brands still operate at the surface level. Even the ones that have a purpose or have taken some sort of stance are limited to mere advertising slogans. They haven’t really explored the full power of the idea of taking a stand and how it can transform businesses.

As every business recasts itself in a post-COVID-19 world, there will be an increased expectation from people, and consequently, a heightened focus from the companies on the larger societal, economic and environmental impact for good. COVID-19 has created a common ground for all of us on purpose and thereby elevated the very idea of ‘purpose’.

What the brand stands for and how well it addresses each customer’s beliefs and values post the pandemic, will be a big brand differentiator. Brand purpose matters now more than ever before, as it will be made visible through experiences in an authentic way.

In fact, during the pandemic, the role of the private sector on the frontlines was more evident as governments, central banks and the WHO realised that they cannot overcome any crisis on their own.

The extent to which companies direct their resources, such as people, processes and technologies, towards solving problems over selling products and services, will demonstrate to customers and employees what they truly stand for.

Purposeful actions from brands can enable people to see a positive future, even if it is different from what they’ve always known. It can definitely provide a reason to adapt to the new normal.

It is time now for brands to rise and take a stand to serve the biggest client of all - humanity.