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Two Minute Recipe For Resilience

IN THE MIDDLE of last week, my immediate team had pulled out a couple of big rabbits. So we went down to this favourite little Bengali snack joint in Domlur for a chhota celebration. They have a menu which is plastered on the wall. What caught my eye was the status of the much-maligned Maggi on that menu. It didn’t have a cross against it, nor an apology for non-availability. It just said, “Back Soon.”   

Personally, I dislike the stuff, and I couldn’t care less whether it was banned or banished. But that menu did provoke my working instincts. In the many years I have been involved with, or taught brands, I have seldom seen more powerful but quiet evidence of resilience.   

One of the most underrated elements of strong brands is their ability to bounce back. The owner of that shack was no Philip Kotler, I’m certain. But he knew two important things: first, the faithful who gathered every evening at his shop would not accept the absolute demise of their favourite snack, and second, it is too early to write off equity of this history and geography. Imagine walking into a mobile store and finding a notice about Apple phones being banned for high radiation or some such thing. The shop will be boycotted. People don’t want to hear that.   

I’m not a fan of Cadbury’s either. But most of the faithful will not even remember the last crisis it went through. However, when the worm controversy broke a few years ago, surely the management and staff of the company must have had a bad scare. Finally, they roped in the mighty Bachhan to let people know that they are basically good guys who would never mess with your favourite chocolate. Did they need to? 

Singapore Airlines experienced one of their worst nightmares in October 2000 when a 747-400 crashed soon after take off killing almost a 100 people. According to reports, it was a clear case of flouting weather safety norms. But most regular global travelers will not be able to recall an SQ crash. Singapore Airlines crash? Really?    

One of the brands that would stick out of any CV I could write would be ABB. After having worked on that brand for many years we were suddenly faced with a public interest litigation accusing the company of having worked the system to get a big government order. My view even then was to avoid a prolonged battle with the press. Soon enough, the centre of gravity of that crisis shifted to the folk who were managing the deal, veering away from a company with a spotless reputation for cutting-edge capability in electrical engineering.  

 Tata Finance (TFL) faced and conquered a similar crisis in 2002. TFL was accused of a cover-up job with the active collusion of their very reputed audit firm. The public just refused to swallow it.   

Here’s the deal: these are names that have earned a special place in people’s consciousness over a long time. It is then inconceivable to them that these entities are fallible. Why would Maggi deliberately put lead in my snack? How can SQ ever crash? Tata and financial impropriety? Now, I am not arguing the veracity of any of these possibilities. Just pointing out their incredulity to the vote banks.    

Unfortunately, it is only in a crisis that we really recognize this invaluable dimension of brand strength. And that too only after it has blown over. With a sigh of relief we recall the depth of that reputation. For my money, brand resilience is one dimension of a business that truly reflects its long-term value. It is something that deserves our ongoing attention in terms of nurturing and measurement.   

Like a good insurance policy, it not only pays off when required, it also reminds us with every premium that this is something really precious we are protecting.    

The author is president and CKO, EQUiTOR Value Advisory  and can be reached at ramesh@equitor.com

 (This story was published in BW | Businessworld Issue Dated 27-07-2015)