It is not always raining in Cherrapunjee!
A few weeks ago I was in Cherrapunjee in Meghalaya (North Eastern State in India). A pristine place originally inhabited by the happy and welcoming Khasis (the local tribe). In fact, Cherrapunjee is located in the Khasi Hills. Cherrapunjee is also known as Sohra — the local name. Sohra (so-har-a), which was pronounced “Churra” by the British. This name eventually evolved into the current name, Cherrapunjee. Tourists from other parts of India first used the name “Cherrapunjee” which means ‘land of oranges’ (cited from Wikipedia).
The world’s rainiest place interestingly had an insight on branding for me. Seemingly simple at the outset, as the questions kept coming at me, I realized that Cherrapunjee would hold some lessons on branding for me! Questions from my friends and all those who had not visited Cherrapunjee in the past helped me get to share these thoughts with you.
Allow me to explain….
“ Is it raining”, “Have you been able to go out?” “Did you carry an umbrella?” On the face of it they seem to be innocent questions, which were, based on what they had read or known about Cherrapunjee.
Not what was actually the reality? November month has the lowest rainfall- just about 58 mm on an average. With June possibly reaching 1600mm plus. That has been the pattern. And for the benefit of my friends and other Cherrapunjee lovers, I had to tell them- ‘no rain, there is just fresh air and I don’t think the place always has rains. Pristine through the year, in November sometimes if you are lucky you can have the clouds touch you too’.
This is really different from the everyday perception — rather the legacy perception of the place as being — always with rain, wet and maybe not a good holiday spot. My focus here is more on understanding how a place is perceived historically without the facts being fully known to the interested publics. You just go by what is there. No triggers to check it out or examine further.
Brands too can be faced with a similar situation. Legacy perceptions, which are not always good inheritances. Things I hear or read about a corporation or an entity may not always be the fact. But the opinion gets formed and slowly yet surely becomes part of the larger memory structures of the audiences. Brand planners know that memory structures are difficult to create and one needs to invest in them — in terms of ideas and pathways to create an assortment of branding elements which then become part of the brand’s continuing story. When this happens over a period of time the perceptions can be governed and possibly channeled in the way it best works for the brand. If you leave it like Cherrapunjee did, then you may be having an un-informed and skewed perception of the brand. Not a good thing.
Places are brands. Visitors are the audiences for the ‘place brand.’ These audiences are composed of both the ones who go to the place, and the ones who hear and share the perceptions about the place. All of them are important. It is perhaps a question of how well we can thread all of the messaging and audiences together by creating a perception that keeps the brand narrative real, consistent and inviting. Which when done smartly will give publics a much more expansive perception of the brand.
Now I don’t intend this to be a tourism story or a holiday anecdote.
To me, my visit to Cherrapunjee came across as a classic case of legacy perception, which needs to be handled in a way, that more people know that it is not always raining in Cherrapunjee.