Nike’s new Colin Kaepernick campaign has won more likes than boycotts and its share price and sales are swooshing up and about again. But why would Nike do a campaign calculated to alienate some of its customers? For that we have to look at the core-surround brand model that I wrote about in my book. Core attributes are those that directly impact the functional benefit of the brand – say durability and athletic performance. Surround attributes are those that give it the brand narrative – what it stands for, where it’s made, who uses it, and so on. In categories like shoes and athletic apparel, it is getting increasingly harder to show visible, measurable-by-a-casual-sportsperson benefits of expensive innovations, and hence sustain brand differentiation over numerous rivals. So they have to move away from core attribute based branding and look at surround attributes like what they stand for. Colin Kaepernick is a great shorthand to establish their values and define a new narrative. As for alienating a few, well, one of the quotes I love is, “The middle of the road is a great place to get run over.”

The core-surround model was useful in my days at Infosys, an IT brand that at the time was building its narrative on corporate governance, employee benefits, and superb infrastructure. Competitors talked tech, we talked culture. It worked!

Patanjali is a brand built on the halo effect of “Ayurveda” and the values embodied by Ramdev. (Read one of my most popular articles on how Patanjali is a successful Brand Extension.)Ayurveda as a platform was unique in the marketplace (at that price point) and has fueled their stupendous growth. Now, however, others have also launched products based on the same theme – google Ayurvedic toothpaste and you will see results from Colgate, Levers, Dabur, and Himalaya. That seems to be stemming their growth – down to 7% from 50%. More so as these other players have great reach and distribution. Hence their expansion into newer categories like dairy, messaging, and the long awaited jeans. In their case, the “surround” is being duplicated by others.

Core or surround as your brand narrative needs to be a conscious choice. For example, Indigo Airlines is an example of a clear core positioning – they talk about “on time arrivals”. And they have to deliver on that one parameter come fog or flood. Domino’s is a surround positioning – 30 minutes or free – rather than the actual pizza. So if they miss the deadline they have a brand problem. A brand like Swiggy could look at a similar positioning based on whether their customers are looking for variety (range of restaurants) or speed of delivery.

This week has been a bit short given the bandh on Monday and Ganesh Chaturthi yesterday, but we still got some work done 🙂

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