Of Pappadom and Cosmetics

By Aida Abdul Razak

Have you ever had a brand that “spoke” to you and touched your heart? So much so that in that one moment, you immediately made a life decision to follow the brand and become a loyal customer no matter what? Sounds far-fetched?

I was once that customer. I had watched a documentary about an organisation that was helping poor women in villages across India who were united in making pappadom. Every day they would walk miles and miles to the organisation’s centre in their village and bring home a kilo of pappadom dough. They then would roll it into round pieces and dry them out in the hot sun. Every evening, the women would go back to the centre with their pappadom pieces and get paid in coins. These coins put dinner on the table and kept their children in school.

A global make-up brand used this same ‘village industry’ concept to produce their products. Poor women from all over the world were kept busy (and paid) making base products for this cosmetic brand. I loved it! Threw out all my other ‘branded’ cosmetics that never did anything for poor women and reverently went to buy these new cosmetic products. I believed that I was helping these women too.

I am still that customer, even though I didn’t get much prettier and their product prices have really sky-rocketed in recent years. I still believe that I am helping a mother put dinner on the table somewhere.

That’s the power of a brand. It wasn’t so much about the product benefits, price, availability, or promotion, but rather how it made me feel about myself.

Every consumer has a soft spot for something that he believes in. Find that and it will become your sweet spot. Many big brands are doing this – extending their brand beyond their products, taking on a whole new persona online.

You needn’t be a large corporation with a bottomless budget, and you needn’t feel that a small budget is not good enough. There are so many honest-to-goodness ways your business can help a group of people face a challenge and involve your customers in helping them too.

For one thing, this type of branding and marketing is not a flash in the pan during the festive seasons, nor is it a public relations exercise during national catastrophe. Customers see right through this, and your brand equity takes a dip.

This is a social realm where your business, your customers and your brand work together to benefit someone else. It is a sustainable and viable business model that has many working parts to make your brand stronger, creates loyal customers who keep sales coming in, and get more and more people sharing all your great stories… not about your business but about how your brand gets everyone to help someone else.