Anthony Lopez speaks to Anshrica Dewan, Himalayan Times about branding for the times

AD: Let’s talk about Lopez Design.

AL: We are a firm working in the field of design for more than 20 years now. We are based out of Delhi. We started as a graphic design firm and today we are a multi-disciplinary firm. We believe that design is a cross-functional exercise; it’s never in ‘isolation’. Because there are so-called vertical divisions in the market, people tend to go to various specialists depending on the task. We are willing to work with anything that is strategy-oriented, system-design oriented, long-term vision. We do branding, addressing the entire brand strategy for a company/firm, based on which we design the identity system – following that, we develop the entire communications system for a particular brand. Like in the case of Bihar Museum we created the identity system and followed it up with a website and social media, communication collaterals, signage design et cetera.

Basically, every client has different requirements and we fulfill those requirements. We focus on creating the soul of a brand; for instance, we are all different from each other and we are very different people and knowing this we help our clients articulate, put things into action and deliver. We handle the entire process from design to delivery.

AD: What are the similarities in the branding scene in Nepal and India? How can brands in Nepal become relevant?

AL: The biggest similarity is that we are culturally aligned and if we talk about the two cultures, Nepal still holds on to its culture strongly while India has already gone through that phase. One sees that the culture and character of Nepal is very strong but what is happens is because the country has an issue with itself, it does not see itself as a confident nation. It is always looking up to India, to London, to America feeling that they are ‘better than us and we are not good enough’.

I think that each brand wherever it is situated has to know who it is: that each individual/company/brand has the power within itself.  Brand experts can help Nepali businesses to articulate that and rekindle their own confidence. So, rather than saying that you need to be like somebody else you take pride in being your self. For instance, take the telecom industry here, it looks at Airtel and wants to be like Airtel but I don’t think that’s necessary — you need to create your own identity rather that wanting to be someone else. Brands in Nepal today need to be talking to young people and the millennial generation. It is people here that they are talking to – once we are confident as a nation, as a people then can we sell who we are to anybody else. Brands need to be confident of who they are and what they do and thereby seek a sense of purpose. If a brand knows why it’s doing what it’s doing, then it becomes very powerful and hence relevant.

AD: There are so many international brands in Nepal but why does it so happen that their charisma doesn’t translate to the Nepali market. What is missing?

AL: The cultural fit. Most brands think that they can import who they are into another culture. India has already been through that cycle; take Mc Donald’s for instance, when they came to India they introduced the same menu and got a beating. Same with KFC – they had to reinvent their menu and cater to Indian taste. If you want to be a mass brand you have to be sensitive towards the requirements of the people thereby becoming culturally sensitive. Irrespective of the fact that the world is getting flat, more and more people are realizing that maintaining your essence is equally important. International brands will have to realize that they have to cater to Nepali culture, taste and the mass in order to be successful here.

AD: What behavioral patterns/ changes do you suggest for brands in Nepal?

AL: Brands in Nepal and outside must focus on discovering that unique characteristic which sets them apart. We’ve been working for so long with different types of clients and we don’t work in any single vertical. Our expertise doesn’t lie in the vertical expertise business; our expertise lies in finding what the business is really about and bringing that unique characteristic of the business out. People want to choose between X, Y and Z and if they choose X and you ask them why they are likely to give the practical, non-emotional aspect like the quality and price. But the other aspect is the ‘connect’ and you connect because of the unique factor of a particular brand. This is the pattern that brands should focus on — creating the ‘connect’. Undoubtedly the product has to deliver. There is no shortcut to that but if there are two products of the same quality and you want consumers to choose one product over the other then you need to know how to create that differentiation. You have to be able to create differentiation in the minds of the consumers.

AD: Although there are many international brands in Nepal, very few make the effort to cater to the Nepali audience. Is this statement true?

AL: Yes – so, when a large brand wants to work in a market it always looks at its size and the return. In a market like India it’s extremely lucrative because of the sheer population. Compared to a market that size, Nepal is a small market. However, this is an advantage for Nepali businesses in that not too many people will succeed when they come here because the market is small.

So, local brands have a greater chance of succeeding. There are many local brands that have the ability to sell themselves off shore. That’s where the potential lies.

Nepal is a brand in itself; you have a fantastic story. But it has to be unique. And, you have to be confident. That said, international brands have potential to create unique markets for themselves irrespective of where they are based.

AD: We talk about brand essence and its intrinsic values but these aspects still remain unexplored in the industry here. What are your thoughts?

AL: I feel that few people are looking at the long-term perspective; they are only looking at tactical advantage, not just here but everywhere. Advertising agencies must focus away from just selling; just because you’ve put a pretty girl on the face of your product doesn’t mean your job is done. That is not a true differentiator; these are idea- based tactics. If you look at building a brand for the long-term then you are reaching somewhere at the end of the day. Irrespective of all that, because of technology it becomes challenging to not get lost in the crowd. But, if you as a brand know who you are and you let the agency do its job it’s a challenge that can be easily overcome. You have to know how to speak the language of the mass and your target audience. That language, of course, is constantly changing so you have to adapt. In a world where people’s fatigue level is increasing, how do you create content, which is authentic and relatable? Also, you have to take budget into consideration. Most people spend their entire budget on tactical approach. Very few people will put it into strategic purposes. Investment in a brand in the long-term perspective is very poor. People spend money to bring an actor on board to endorse their brands and the money they spend is a lot. It’s an expensive proposition. If you do not have a strong foundation, this is all going to waste. People will forget about the actor and your products; so you have to know how to stay relevant. Knowing and being ‘who you are’ is the foundation that needs to be laid in the first place. If you have a limited budget do it in a limited manner but at least make every penny count.

AD: Nepal is a land of linguistic diversity and cultural vitality. How best can brands in Nepal use this to their advantage? And what role can digital marketing play?

AL: It’s about sensitizing; it’s about a diverse group of people. Brands will have to use digital media. So I could have 20 different types of communications and use that to my advantage. Brands must narrow down their audience and feed them what you think is best for them, what interests them. To stay relevant, all media of communication should be used. Again, you must know who you are and to whom you’re selling. The future is digital so, in context to, for instance Internet connections, it’s only going to get better. The nation has no choice but to progress in technology. I see bandwidth only increasing. Digital marketing is the next big thing if it isn’t already.

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