Metaverse could turn out to be the future of branding: Samit Sinha

NEW DELHI : The prolonged pandemic has thrown new challenges for brands, including consumers’ shorter attention span, social media’s fleeting nature, and new technologies such as the metaverse. Samit Sinha, the founder of Alchemist Brand Consulting, spoke of the constantly changing marketing landscape in the country. In an interview, the advertising veteran, who has worked with clients such as Capital Foods, Cremica Food Industries, Godfrey Phillips, Samsung, RPG and Lava, said that the pandemic also changed the creative formats of the messages with a greater emphasis on click baits and calls-to-action. Edited excerpts:

What are the immediate challenges marketers and brand experts face today?

While clutter, shorter attention spans and the fleeting nature of social media all play a part in posing new challenges for marketers, the biggest problem at the moment, which will only get more severe, is the lessening of control with the marketer in establishing a clear and singular brand image. Earlier, brand owners had a much greater degree of control over the brand narrative, especially when print and television were the dominant advertising media. They worked as a one-way, one-to-many communication means by which marketers could incept a brand idea in people’s minds through clever storytelling and repetition. Simply put, the marketer could count on a captive consumer audience whom the brand could directly influence. However, that is changing rapidly in the era of many-to-many communication fostered by the internet and rapidly evolving sophisticated digital technologies. Today, the consumer is neither captive, as they have the option of blocking out what they don’t wish to see or hear, nor are they largely influenced directly by the brand, as curators, peer reviews and other credible sources of information and opinions are beginning to matter more.

Has the branding playbook changed post covid? Have any new elements been added to classical branding?

The covid-19 pandemic definitely negatively impacted consumer demand across several categories, which were hitherto enjoying uninterrupted growth. This made marketers understandably circumspect with regard to their marketing spending. While traditional retail suffered, e-commerce saw an acceleration, followed by significant chunks of marketing budgets shifting to digital marketing—SEO/SEM, social media, email and SMS marketing, etc. This shift also changed the creative formats of the messages, with a greater emphasis on click baits and calls-to-action, from the earlier paradigm of story-led brand-building.

Is storytelling in branding still important?

I would argue that storytelling in branding continues to be important and will remain so, at least in the foreseeable future. After all, a brand is not just a cumulation of its functional attributes. Its real power lies in establishing an association in the minds of its consumers that are above and beyond its material value. These associations are in the form of emotions, memories, aspirations and meanings, which form the brand’s narrative. The way brands communicate stories may change. The stories may come from several sources and not just directly from the brand. Therefore, ensuring compelling brand experiences across all its touch-points, including the use of AR and VR, will become even more important.

Why are brands latching on to new technologies like metaverse?

Brands have to get tech-savvy. There is no alternative, and as technology evolves faster and faster, it will no doubt be extremely challenging for brands to keep up with the latest technology trends. But not doing it will be tantamount to brand hara-kiri. Of course, not every aspect of technology will be relevant to all brands.

For instance, while e-commerce will continue to grow rapidly and increase its share of the market in virtually every category, not all brick and mortar businesses will disappear anytime soon, even with a shrinking slice of the overall market pie.

But no brand can afford to not adopt available technologies such as deep data mining to gain consumer insights and track purchase behaviour, as well as AI, social media, VR and AR. However, with more marketing money shifting to digital, it is bound to increase customer acquisition costs.

To my mind, the metaverse could well become the future of branding, as it will increasingly substitute real-world brand experiences without any geographical constraints.

Don’t you feel the absence of memorable advertising lately?

I would agree that at the moment, we are perhaps not seeing very many powerful campaigns, at least judging by sheer creativity. But this could well be a passing phase while the marketing fraternity adapts to the new realities of a digitally interconnected world.

A reason why we are not witnessing memorable brand campaigns is because of increased real-time measurability and performance marketing metrics being readily available; there is a greater demand from brand owners for quicker results. Generally speaking, I feel that they also seem to have a lower risk appetite for path-breaking creativity in their communication campaigns. This often leads to the campaigns being reduced to their lowest common denominators.

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