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Case Analysis: Is Vinayak Posturing?

There are multiple dimensions to this situation and one which has not been mentioned. It could very well be that Vinayak Morro is uneasy/ uncertain about the loyalty of the team and has a strong suspicion that their loyalties still lie with the earlier owner, Nandalal

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There are multiple dimensions to this situation and one which has not been mentioned. It could very well be that Vinayak Morro is uneasy/ uncertain about the loyalty of the team and has a strong suspicion that their loyalties still lie with the earlier owner, Nandalal. This could be the simple reason why he makes a comment about beginners luck to gauge how the old timer Kaavya would respond. She did rise to the bait and defended Nandalal’s decisions and that too quite vehemently.

Continuing on the same vein, the whole exercise might be targeted more at internal customers such as Kaavya, Devang, Dorab, Jaywant, Amir, etc. Let me elaborate on this aspect first.

There is a term called ‘Posturing’. The Cambridge Dictionary defines posturing as “behaviour or speech that is intended to attract attention and interest, or to make people believe something that is not true”. We should keep in mind that Vinayak is not a new entrant into retail and already has Morre Markets under his belt. His comment, “In retail it’s the other way round. The actual branding happens inside the store. As long as the basic store operations, range and pricing is not changed, the consumer will just continue to come back to the store,” clearly shows his understanding of the retail sector as also shopper behaviour.
So, if a person who understands retail and the role of retail branding as also the logo so well is asking his team to develop options, there must be more to it than what meets the eye.

It is actually this comment as also his parting shot that of course, it is about him and his having taken over the chain, which reveals his thinking. Having taken over a well established chain, which has a strong shopper base, the priority for Vinayak would be to do a reality check with regard to the senior team he has inherited. The questions that must have been on his mind are:

–Where do their loyalties lie?
–How objective can they be with regard to the business?
–How possessive will they be of what has been created?
–Will they be open and ready for change if required?

Obviously the team has invested a very high level of emotional capital in Farm-O-Maid (FoM). Therefore the logo and branding is not only about the brand identity and customer connect but is also something that they have worked upon and created over a period of time.

One can argue that Vinayak could have called the team and asked them about their loyalty, trust levels, etc., with the new owner instead of posturing. However, in a practical scenario, this might not have yielded any credible response. If you were asked by a new boss whether you are still loyal to the old boss, what would your answer be?

Instead Vinayak seems to have hit upon this simple idea of indirectly challenging their emotional ownership of the business and brand by asking for new logo options. After all, the cost of getting any agency to develop such options would be relatively low in the overall scheme of things. The various reactions and arguments by the team members gives Vinayak a clear idea about their thinking, approach to FoM’s business, openness to change and a whole host of other insights.
For all you know, Vinayak might just shelve the entire idea after getting these perspectives. From a practical management perspective, this is a highly probable scenario and posturing by managers is quite common.

Having been at the receiving end as also having to do posturing, let me assure the reader that this is not hypothetical and it happens all the time. A simple and fairly common occurrence is with regard to target setting. In most cases, the parties involved in the exercise are usually posturing. The front line is posturing that the targets are impossible and highlights all the issues. The managers are posturing that the target is achievable as these issues don’t exists or can easily be managed.

Let me now move away from the conspiracy theory approach of second guessing Vinayak’s intention and evaluate this from a pure retail as also shopper behaviour perspective.

Brand building in product is very different from retail. In the case of a product, the brand triggers purchase. In the case of retail, the shopper comes into a store and only if there is some modicum of trust do they buy. It is only after the experience of shopping does an imagery (Or Brand) of the store get created in one’s mind. Therefore the core to any brand is trust. In case of a product, this trust leads to purchase, in case of retail, the purchase experience leads to trust.

Vishal’s comment about relevance is very relevant here (pun intended). Very simply put, a person would trust a household help and even leave their house under the care of the help. However, no one would be able to extend that trust and ask the household help to suggest medicines when one is unwell. Trust has its boundaries and is limited by our perception of the expertise being offered. That is the main reason why a consumer’s trust in a brand need not transcend product categories. Similar is the case with retail. Trust drives the shopping behaviour till it becomes a habit.

A few decades ago when the population was not mobile and any person would spend their entire life in a city or even the same locality, the buying behaviour was largely limited to known shops. The shopping habit was defined by the trust created on a personal level, which could sometimes be even passed on through generations. In this context, the comment by Vinayak I quoted above about basic store operations, price, etc., is slightly incorrect. In most cases, the shoppers tend to believe that they are getting the best price and quality from the shop they frequently purchase from. This is driven by their trust in the shop owner and reinforced strongly by the personal rapport and service that such shop owners provide. As such, any marginal changes in these aspects are usually not noticed by the shoppers unless and until someone else highlights these or the change is impossible to miss.

With the liberalisation and economic growth in the mid-1990s the static nature of jobs has changed. Today the norm is mobility. A large percentage of people move across cities for even their education as also jobs. Coupled with a hectic lifestyle the shoppers do not have the time or inclination to develop personal rapport and relationships with shop owners. The trend is more towards transactional relationships in such cases. However, the basic need for trust in shopping and that being an important aspect of any brand remains.

This is where the any chain store’s name, logo and even the store atmospherics comes into play. The layout, look and feel, etc., all feeds into the shopper experience. This very same experience is the core factor that would make or break the trust in their mind. Once a shopper trusts a retail brand they stick to the same and in the case of a mobile work force, they look for this familiar, trusted retail brand.

In this context, the logo change for a retail chain might have a role to play but it is not a dominant one. The new logo might communicate something different to potential shoppers especially if it is a part of several other initiatives. My view is that the existing, regular shoppers might even miss such subtle changes if the stores continue to be as it has always been.

However, the introduction of non-vegetarian pastes might have a far more profound impact on the shopper’s psyche because it communicates a significant shift. The simple fact is that a non-vegetarian paste or masala is essentially a composition of spices. However, the majority of vegetarians would never, ever purchase a chicken masala and use it to make any vegetarian dish because of the association involved. This is about shopper behaviour and a different as also a vast topic. Hence I am not delving into that too much.

Going back to the argument that Vinayak seems to know about retail and shopper behaviour, it is logical to assume that he knows the extent of impact or influence that a logo change will have on the shopper’s perception. He would know that the change in the assortment and even something small like bring in non-vegetarian pastes would have a bigger impact than a twirl being included in the logo.

In light of this fact, I can’t help but state very confidently that this is more about posturing and has very little to do with retail or even branding.


This article was published in BW Businessworld issue dated 'Dec. 12, 2016' with cover story titled 'India's Super Rich 2016'

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.



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