Houzify controversy: What brands & entrepreneurs can learn?
Facebook (FB), Houzz stirring the controversy with Houzify led to an epiphany of sorts for me regarding branding and entrepreneurs in the Indian start-up ecosystem so I’m putting down my thoughts.
I don’t have an expert opinion on the controversy but as an Indian entrepreneur, the incident is a bit disconcerting of how this matter was handled by Facebook.
– If Houzz does have a concern regarding houzify trademark etc. then they are fighting it out with Houzify separately, so where was the need to pull Facebook in this? Wouldn’t it be better for them to continue that path as other Indian startup leaders have quoted?
– If Houzz is/ was serious about making an entry to the Indian market, did they not think about the consequences of such an act? They should have at least assessed the ramifications of such actions in terms of PR, brand and Indian customer perception.
– Importantly, why didn’t Facebook HQ consult with FB India office in this matter? Is there no de-centralized approach in consultation when such matters are taken up by FB with Indian context
– Should other Indian start-ups be also wary of FB policies and strategies which are inconsistent or biased across geographies?
From a contextual angle, many Indian start-ups like other start-up ecosystems around the world do follow a “copycat” format of replicating few US based business models and customizing it for Indian customers. This is a well-known fact and does not insinuate the infringement of copyrights claimed by Houzz. Houzz need to make this claim in India, if they had an entity in India, which isn’t the case. Houzify is trademarked, operating within the country and governed by Indian laws.
However, it was interesting that there was back and forth between Houzify and Houzz regarding the logo font and the font was changed/ tweaked after negotiation.
So, what can entrepreneurs and brands learn from this experience?
– Brand naming process is warped in India
In my consulting experience, I have found the brand naming process a headless chicken game with majority entrepreneurs. They don’t want to follow a process, they think of a brand name based on “hunch” or pure market research. Brand naming is an insightful process and needs to be tweaked according to the company, branding project brief and the founding team’s mindset. About brand naming process, this article is a good quick read , a more detailed version can be this document and few quick tips for the brand naming process. There are many more valuable processes documented online but you need to get a trustworthy brand consultant or agency to help entrepreneurs steer through the process.
Brand naming can be a great starting point to not just differentiate your company, product or services but also help the start-up team to imagine and develop great ideas for marketing activities leveraging just the brand name.
Example of a diagnosis of Houzify brand naming approach:
Houzify is a “hinglish” version of Houzz in a simplistic interpretation (a common phenomena for entrepreneurs taking up brand naming process internally). Why Houzify? Isn’t it too close to Houzz as a name? Why not something with interiors & home (not house)?
Houzify or Houz is not a commonly spelt name that people use, Houzify could have used “S” instead of “z” or changed spellings.
Hypothetically if Houzify was called “INTERIO”, would Houzz even get a chance to complain?
– Brand identity is a starting point but needs a solid foundation of design
The brand logo of Houzify had a type font similar to Houzz which could have been clearly avoided. I don’t know what the branding process internally for houzify was but if they hired a consultant/ in-house designer or hired a brand agency, they should have done some background checks like these. This is “hygiene” check which start-ups are bound to overlook. Type font of the logo will be used for all brand and marketing activities, UI design and communication so picking a relevant type font, not just for the logo “ fit” but how it will be extended to all formats/ mediums for brand activities need to be considered.
The process doesn’t just end here, Houzify like other start-ups need to strategically think how to create a “distinct” design language for the brand, irrespective of competitors. A strong foundation of design can seamlessly trickle down to the product, marketing, brand activities, UI and UX approach.
It is easy said than done, execution of brand building activities has to be razor sharp for startups in India. Gear up for it!
– Build the momentum around your brand by pushing the controversy aside and leveraging the customer’s attention you have got
This controversy was unnecessary but now that this a PR activity, brand and start-up team should leverage this chance to create a charismatic brand, maybe a new design language, engaging marketing activities and shifting the focus on communicating customer experiences of the quality services offered by the start-up.
Delight the customer, ramp up your offering, highlight your successful projects or sales and stand out until you have limited time period of attention from the market. This can lead to word of mouth (a powerful marketing tool) about your product/ service and, in turn, lead to business growth.
Houzify team can certainly take this opportunity to build their brand.
I do hope this particular matter gets resolved but in the meantime, entrepreneurs can take some hints about their brand building efforts and focus on creating a charismatic, authentic brand engaging the Indian consumers.