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The Future of Influence PR Conference 2017

How to communicate a change in the brand’s DNA

20th November 2015


In the world of brands, the DNA of the brand is sacrosanct. Many brand leaders tried to change the brand properties in order to garner more market share but failed miserably. An unsympathetic market has repeatedly reminded them of the reason for the brand’s existence in the first place.

On the other hand, history is replete with instances of brands being forced to change. That and market forces have constantly forced brands to rethink their strategy. The journey to occupy another slot in the consumer’s mind-set is long and arduous, often without sympathy. If done right, it is this transformational journey that transforms the boys among brands, to men.

Yet, few companies have dared to take the plunge. Most recent instance on a global scale has been Pepsi. In the fallout of carbonated drinks being viewed as the devil in a healthy lifestyle, Pepsi quickly built and occupied the ‘healthy snacking’ mind space. In the past decade, with the growing concern in childhood obesity and unhealthy lifestyle, Pepsi perhaps saw the wisdom in repositioning the brand with an eye on the future.

Today a decade later, the market has approved Pepsi’s positioning and while still occupying a 1-2 position in the carbonated drinks marketspace, it has built an enviable portfolio of health snacks.

Changing brand DNA: Sify

Closer home is the example of Sify Technologies. Old timers will recall the brand as the one that disrupted the world of Internet in India, giving Indians their first access to the Internet. A muddle of bureaucratic tangles ensured that Indians did not benefit at least until a decade later.

But being a business, Sify could not wait around until conditions were favourable. So, with a subtle extension of the DNA, the brand began initially by offering connectivity to enterprise customers. In time, the product portfolio expanded to the full plethora of ICT services.

Using existing brand goodwill to communicate change

Today, two decades into its life, Sify is an acknowledged leader in the ICT space, with  both telecom and IT players as clients. The key aspect of the communication was to use the goodwill that the company had garnered with their businesses. Being one of the first Internet companies came with its challenges. ‘Digital’ was unchartered territory and Sify had to make the right moves. Continuous understanding of the changing sphere of innovation helped. This was aided by clarity in the communication language to the public.

The PR language was clear that it wanted to steer off the hype surrounding the dot com craze enveloping India around the time. In time, the actions were rewarded with Sify being one of the few internet brand surviving the dot com meltdown.

Lesson learnt was that it was critical for a brand that is going through change to create a positive public image and establish a relationship with the target audience and media.

Overcoming brand reluctance to speak to media

Traditionally, seen as a media reluctant company, Sify chose to let the facts do the talking. A good part of the communication language relied on customer testimonial starting with a consumer discovering the benefits of the internet to Enterprises discovering how they could reach the remotest corners of the country with Sify’s access points. This was complimented with 3rd party accreditation of the ‘Data Centre’ and network on the ground. A third angle, was of satisfied customers speaking on record. Net result, the impression created in the public mind set was devoid of any hyperbole.

Why Sify and other disruptive businesses need PR

Sify’s mindshare has a lot to do with being a disruptor in the technology landscape. It enabled business more seamlessly and quickly. And that was two decades back. We have witnessed a drastic change in the internet landscape over the last 10 years.

The challenge today is not just the language, but the tools too. Consumption of information has moved from newspapers, radio and TV to social media.

Today, the world is overrun with companies like Uber and Paytm who are disrupting the way of doing business. Both Uber and Paytm have discovered niches not governed by the government and moved quickly to offer an alternate to the norm. For a public that has been fed on a staple diet of anarchist auto and taxi drivers, Uber and its brethren like Ola and Meeru were god-send. Both of these and several others have learnt to harness the power of the internet and offer path breaking services to the public. But that’s just half the story.

What is undeniable is that these companies have also been quick to build a massive repository of good and clean PR for their efforts. In these cases, the positive experience of the first customers. Quite often posted on the new tools of communications, bulletin boards and apps. That has stood them in good stead. The communication has for most parts been incisive and immediate and has been constantly evolving. They understand that the communication focus for today will not be the same in six months, 12 months, or two years down the line. It is directly proportional to the advancements in technology and industry. They understand that ‘Disruption’ was yesterday and now it’s the status quo.

Praveen Krishna heads at corporate communication, investor and public relations, Sify Technologies Limited and played a key role during Sify’s recent transformation, managing strategic communication for various stakeholders.


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