Brands keep time in so many interesting ways

I recently began using a Mont Blanc Meisterstück fountain pen. It is a pleasure to write with, and its overall look and feel is so beautiful. Whenever I write with this pen, I feel that the hectic pace of my life slows down, and time comes to a standstill. That is perhaps the exact emotion that Mont Blanc wants its users to feel – an escape from the mad pace of our modern lives.

Watch that airline

This experience led me to think about the relationship between brands and the concept of time. Are there brands which have leveraged time, and, if so, how? There are some direct relationships. For instance, all reputed brands of watches, including Rolex, Seiko and Titan assure their users that they tell the time accurately. Tracking time is why watches were created in the first place, though they have now also become accessories of health and personal style. Having said that, no one will want to buy a watch that loses track of time.

Similarly, airlines have inescapable links with time. Most of us choose airlines based on the time of departure or arrival that is most convenient to us. In addition, timeliness is one of the key factors based on which we decide which airline to fly. Once we are seated within an aircraft, we are somehow more conscious of time, perhaps because we are being constantly told why there has been a delay in the time of take-off or what is the time left to land. However, this may not be the case with long international flights, where we may lose track of time because we are pampered with food, drink and movies, and also because we cross multiple time zones. Airline brands can leverage each of these timelinks in their marketing.

Ten, twenty, thirty

Some categories which do not have natural links with punctuality or timekeeping have also built a defining relationship with the concept of time. Consider Domino’s pizza and its iconic “thirty minutes or less promise” – if the pizza was not delivered within this time, the customer would get it free. This soon became a defining idea of the brand, and helped it gain huge marketshare. Domino’s consumer insight was sharp and one that I fully resonate with – when people are hungry, they hate waiting. Domino’s has since moved away from this promise in many locations worldwide. Interestingly, however, they announced the launch of 20-minute delivery in 14 cities across India, just a couple of years ago.

Then there are brands which have reset consumers’ expectations of what duration of time is really quick. Brands such as Zepto, Blinkit and BB Now promise delivery of grocery within ten to twenty minutes. Before these brands came into our time obsessed world, many of us were happy to wait for at least a few hours to get our groceries home.

Two minutes of heaven

If there is one brand of food which has made time its constant companion in India, it is Maggi. The first thing we learnt about this brand when it was launched in our country in 1982 is that these delicious noodles could be cooked within just two minutes. In those early days of Maggi, this was a dramatic redefinition of convenience, though we now take “2-minute instant noodles” for granted. Many other brands of ready-to-cook and ready-to-eat foods offer similar time linked propositions today.

Slow is beautiful

In contrast to all these products and services that offer us ever shorter times for completion of various activities, there are brands and categories which do just the opposite. Brands of scotch whiskies proudly speak about the number of years they have been aged for. A16 or 18 year old single malt is positioned as distinctly superior to a 12 year old. Similarly, if you are craving for the finest dal with your meal, then you should know that Dal Bukhara cannot be prepared within a few minutes. The lentils have to be simmered on a slow flame for several hours at a stretch, to create the rich smoky taste of this delicious dal. Indeed, this is one of the unique selling points of this iconic brand.

Generally speaking, luxury goods have tended to emphasise that slow is beautiful, while many mass market products have been happy to highlight that fast is convenient. However, what is clear is that when time is used insightfully by brands, this works very well, because time is one of the most important variables that govern our lives. Marketers should take the time to think about this for their own products and services.

(Harish Bhat is an avid marketer and bestselling author. He was formerly Brand Custodian at Tata Sons. These are his personal views.)

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