How to build a ‘zero-budget brand'

By Pratik Seal|22nd May 2017
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Here are five steps that can be applied from real examples of brands that have engaged with their audience easily at minimum spends

The world of marketing and business is flooded with stories about startup funding, overnight fame and millennial millionaires. So much so, that an entire website had to be dedicated to share this colossal inflow of data. But does success really have anything to do with funds? Nay, our predecessors built strong and sustainable businesses without worrying about the moolah. And so can the future generation. After nursing brands of all sizes and kinds over the course of time, to my mind only five steps can build a successful brand on a shoestring budget.

STEP 1: Define your target group (especially the early adopters)

Most of us define our target audience, but don’t get into the specifics. And that’s where the entire marketing premise takes a beating. Having a clear picture of whom you are targeting can salvage a company from falling into the pitfalls of trial and error blunders, be it in time, money or effort. Let’s suppose you start a cosmetic brand. Needless to say, you will enlist women as the broad category on paper. Most will also go to specifics like geographies they belong to and purchasing power of the potential customers. Maybe even age-group. But is that the best one can do? Going a little deeper is when the magic begins. You may want to study store purchase preferences, whether these women prefer shopping alone or with company, whether they are beef-eaters, vegans or wine aficionados and so on and on. Speaking of wine, the cosmetic brand Chatteau Labiotte disrupted the cluttered market when they launched wine-infused lipsticks to offer ‘wine-stained lips’. The quirky packaging in wine bottles further made it an instant talk point and hit amongst their niche ‘party enthusiastic’ consumers.

Studying the target audience in depth may be an exhaustive process, but the implications will soon be seen on every vertical of the business, be it product packaging, form factor, sales, marketing, operations, logistics or even customer service. A more specific job is to identify the early adopters. These are the folks who trusted your product and bought it without any influence of marketing or collective popularity, and these are the people who are likely to stay loyal to the brand forever. Usually on a need purchase, the early adopters give a glimpse of the void in the market or the platform for building the overall brand strategy. So, work on this small army with all you have, maybe more diligently than the overall TG, and understand them like they are ‘you’.

STEP 2: Define and build differentiation for your product:

Defining the product is possibly the most difficult part for any entrepreneur. One may have a clear idea of the offering and how it solves a problem, but everything beyond that is a vague mumble. It doesn’t have to be a novel or ingenious innovation, a great improvisation on existing competitors can also be a strong product. Most try to create a differentiator at the marketing and advertising level but that will eventually be a gimmick. It’s best to work on it at the product development stage. When Hippo launched baked chips in the fried chips market, they built an instant differentiator. They were clear about how their product would be different and what it stood for (healthy snack for the hungry). While the advertising did a great job, it wouldn’t have been possible if the product itself was just another me-too.

STEP 3: Define your brand (tangible/non-tangible):

No, it doesn’t suffice with creating a tagline. Brands are years of dedicated and channelised efforts towards the desired result. Sit down and define the mission, vision and brand promise, and by that I don’t mean just some fancy lines for the website. The core brand definition must be felt on every tangible and non-tangible element. Your tangibles include price, packaging, technology, features, quality, offer etc., while intangibles encompass positioning, reputation, perception, emotional connect, benefits and the likes.

Zomato is a brand that has got its brand definition on game so far. It was intended to simplify the ‘restaurant search and choose’ process for consumers and they seem to have gotten it right. Having a unique name, they also opted to keep the tagline as simple and direct as ‘Discover great places to eat around you’. By keeping their core brand promise out in the open, (and as a constant reminder for them internally), the brand has managed to create a community of food lovers over time. Constant tech upgrades also seem to enhance this ‘discovery’ experience. Although it did have some hiccups initially on the logo front (as most startups often do), the changes haven’t been damaging for the brand perception. Today, the brand enjoys top recall in this space and has pretty much become the lifeline of urban dwellers.

Defining the brand is an extension of defining the product. However, most companies still never get the combination right. One brand that has successfully gotten Step 2 and 3 perfectly synched is Forest Essentials. By using the same ingredients, they redefined the century-old Ayurveda cosmetic market and introduced a contemporary product of sorts. As a ‘Luxurious Ayurveda’, brand, they source organic and premium ingredients, while the stylish packaging, pretty gift wrapping and enchanting stores further reinforces the promise of luxury. But what’s interesting to note is that they sell at a premium and flaunt an international clientele without having spent on advertising for a good many years. For me, this one is a great example of product and brand definition done right with zero spends.

STEP 4: Get people talking

Perhaps the single most cost spiraling exercise is the awareness creation using media. But before you burn away truckloads of money over advertising and marketing, try to go a little creative. The key here is to make ‘low noise and high bass’. Getting people to talk about the brand need not necessarily mean releasing a TV commercial on prime time. The brand Paper Boat not only came out with creative products and packaging, their marketing strategy to tie up with Indigo Airlines before getting into advertising was a seller move. Being the in-flight juice brand available, there made room for experience, sales and conversations.

For brands today, conversations are important. Take a lesson from stock market and apply the ‘compounding effect’ to work for you using tools like PR, evangelists, social media and [rosumers (producers and consumers of media). When smartphone maker OnePlus created a digital forum of serious techs-savvy nerds much before its launch and implemented a ‘by-invitation only’ theme during its launch, the brand created enough curiosity and buzz. Backed by this community, they broadened the consumer base again using creative methods like a tie-up with Ola and Air Asia, where consumers could feel the product and spend ‘exclusive’ time with the phone before deciding to buy. Using such ingenious and cost effective methods, the brand was the most talked about phone amongst tech and non tech consumers. Not only did they employ the notion of PR differently, making it a brand worth noting in the marketing industry, it managed to erode the consumer base of industry giants like Apple, Samsung and Nexus.

STEP 5: Sit back and sip on some wine. (You’ve earned it.)

Building a zero budget brand is not too difficult when one applies their mind to it. Thankfully, we live in an age where it is getting easier to reach and retain a consumer. Some of the self-created brands on YouTube like TVF, ChuChu TV and BB Ki Vine are great instances of revenue models based on negligible costs and a well-defined purpose. Product brands like Old Monk today enjoy a cult status without ever resorting to advertising (or even surrogate advertising).

To all the future entrepreneurs who get disheartened and disillusioned on not receiving funding support, my message to you is ‘relax’! Follow the basics and voila, you have a brand that is ready to take on the world.

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)