From THE HINDU group of publications
Thursday, November 08, 2001


Forging brand identity

Shunu Sen

There are quite a few brands whose names have become synonymous with the category of product they represent, such as Xerox, Dalda, Godrej (almirahs) and now, even Tetra Pak. What are the advantages and disadvantages of this phenomenon? Does this work to the advantage of the brand or not? Is your brand name becoming generic an impediment to a brand or does it help the brands cause? I was told that having a brand name becoming generic is disadvantageous for a brand, as nobody will know that youre the real thing. What can companies do to protect their brand names? -- Gina David, on e-mail

A brand name is a valued corporate possession, which has a measurable value - a value, I believe, that should be placed on the balance sheet as a corporate asset. Interbrand, a well-known branding agency, publishes every year a valuation of the best-known brands in the world.

Indeed, in the 21st century, I predict that most of the assets of a business which has brands would be the brand value and the intellectual capital inherent in the business rather than factories, offices, storage locations and things you can feel and touch. The reason why Gina has raised this question is to ask what happens when a brand becomes so successful that the name becomes synonymous with the category the brand is a part of.

First, let me disabuse you of the idea that the names mentioned here are commodities. There is no other Tetra Pak. Indeed, the company that owns the brand name has ensured that by renaming itself after the product, there is no way this product can be made similar to the category. There is a lot of work done by the company in ensuring product differentiation and the brand is supported by communication on the pack itself.

In addition, in the trade press, Tetra Pak ensures that its customers (who market fruit juice, drinks and milk) clearly understand and differentiate Tetra Pak from other forms of packaging.

Xerox, on the other hand, was considered to be the category name of copiers, or, so it was thought in the 80s. While it is true that the brand had a dominant share in the market, it was not without any competition. It was Canon which redefined the market by having a range of personal copiers and Xerox is no longer identical with business copying.

Coming to the Indian example, both Dalda and Godrej are strong brands and often identified with the product category. However, this was so when both brands stopped differentiating themselves in comparison to their competitors. In the case of Dalda, the product had little choice during a period of price control, while in the case of Godrej, there was actually little competition from organised brands during the first half of the 20th century.

As a footnote, it is interesting that Dalda is no longer a major category in which there is the interest of the brand owner. However, if that continues, Dalda would even stop being the generic name for the category.

Hence, let me put down my own views on the question that has been raised. It is very important to be a strong brand, that is, to be a name with associations and benefits, which are unique, relevant and differentiated from other brands in that category. This is important because the brand will not motivate its potential users to purchase the brand in preference to others. On the other hand, the brand should not be generic to the category, otherwise it will not remain a strong brand. In fact, it can never be a strong brand and yet be generic because the two are in contradiction with each other.

Finally, companies can protect their brand names through legal means such as trademark registration and by communicating to its consumers that the brand in question is different and differentiated from others.

(The author is CEO, Quadra Advisory,a strategic marketing consultancy. Readers may send in their questions on marketing issues to The Editor, Business Line, 859, Anna Salai, Chennai x 600002 or

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