Brand New Brand
By Harish Bijoor
Everything all around us is a brand. You are. I am. India is.
You, India and I are all in the marketplace seeking our place in the sun. The only reality of significance for the moment is the Buyer-Seller Dyad, made famous by Henri Tosi many, many years ago. Everybody is a buyer and a seller. And buying and selling is an image-driven issue. What starts with utility, moves on to price and what lingers on price moves on higher up in the hierarchy to the brand and its unique image. The brand is IT!
India is a brand then. And brand India is seeking to establish itself a unique identity. An identity that makes it stand apart from the rest. An identity that will create a craving among sets of consumers who will choose India over all else in the great ‘Swayamvar’ of country-brands that decides the future of many a business.
How does one put the India brand in the top rung of image-recall among sets of consumers globally? How does one leverage what is unique to India’s distinct credit?
In this discussion, we must traverse some key issues.
First of all, what is a brand? Do we really understand it? I redefine the brand altogether differently. And then, who is the consumer? What focus do we take? What really are the Unique Selling Propositions of brand India? How do we leverage that? What are the hurdles around? What is the competition? What are the India negatives? What have we done in the past? And have we been wrong? What must we do in the future? And who will do it?
Many questions to discuss. Let’s go!
What is a brand?
Many years of swimming with definitions that say this and that have tired me. I have kept moving on in my quest for a definition that embraces the real nature of the brand. I have seen every definition there is, and have felt an inadequacy and emptiness that has been plaguing my need for a truly definitive definition!
Nirvana dawns on me and my research years. The year is 2003!
My definition of the brand is simple: “The brand is a thought!”
Peel that definition further. The brand is a thought. A thought that rests in a consumer mind. The brand is not owned by the Corporate or brand manager or advertising agency or whoever the brand intermediary. The brand is owned in the mind of a consumer! One consumer!
This definition is tricky in its offering. It throws the brand as an entity that is an ephemeral thought that sits in the head of a consumer. As many consumers (and indeed non-consumers) in a market, that many thoughts…..in that many heads! A difficult proposition to manage. Brand Management is indeed the art, science and philosophy of managing brands in consumer/non-consumer heads!
Managing a brand is therefore an extrinsic concept rather than intrinsic. Brands are managed in the heads of consumers and not in the Board Rooms of Corporates or the cubicles of advertising agencies. Many thinkers of the past have gone awry in their understanding of the brand. My years of research simplify the brand and its definition. At the same time, it complicates. How in tarnation does one manage the minds of a million consumers? A million consumers who are individuals and not clones. A million consumers who go through unique family lives, social conditioning, life-experiences, economic upheavals of different kinds and political exposures which are as varied as they come!
Let’s leave the definition aside for the moment. Let’s agree to accept a simple definition. The brand is a thought in a consumer head!
Who is the Consumer for Brand India?
Everyone is. At the beginning and indeed at the end of the marketing game, everyone is a consumer in some way or the other. However, let’s add some focus to this exercise of honing in on the consumer for Brand India.
While at the macro-level, everyone who comes across the name India is a consumer (either existing or potential), at the micro-level, the market cane divided into two simple sets. The B2B (Business to business) market and the B2C (Business to consumer) market. Both are important to the India brand at large.
While the B2B interface is necessary as we build a robust India brand amongst countries, organizations that fund countries, NGOs that support country causes, corporates we supply to, intermediaries who source for markets globally, bankers who put out image reports and market diagnostics, and a whole host of others, B2C image is an equal necessity to address.
B2C is a necessary image for a country to leverage as its brands enter consumer markets. As products and services from India hit global markets with a greater degree of regularity, the India brand image is a vital necessity. India needs to have for itself a positive imagery that is socially, economically, religiously and even politically correct.
The world looks keenly at the product that emerges from a social system that is right in its eyes. When South Africa had social sanction against it, a South African product was shunned by many a country that was careful to distance the social outcast of a country that believed in apartheid! The brand must have and build positive Brand Social Equity (BSE)!
The world looks equally with keen eyes at Economic equity. Brand Economic Equity (BEE) is a key term I would coin to describe the process at play. The world seeks a basic level of quality from those that supply it. The India brand must establish and sustain these basic quality levels which have become a basic entry parameter into global markets. Brand Economic Equity is also about costs. It is about the low-cost high quality product that can compete in the global market as it adds to the bottom-lines of all those who handle the product as intermediaries. Look keenly at China. China has done to the manufacturing sector what India is attempting to do to the Services sector with its BPO and ITES sectors. Driving down costs to the bare minimum and offering the product and service of high quality!
Brand Religious Equity (BRE) is really a niche today. It is indeed a term that describes a country brand as a bigot brand or a secular freethinking brand. Every country that adopts the norms of the secular and every country that embraces with debate, dissent and much turmoil (as we saw at Cancun) the offering of the WTO is normally on safe ground here.
Brand Religious Equity is also about which part of the world you belong to. The brand from Iran is a suspect brand here! Syria is a rogue state. Both Syria and its brand-offerings in consumer space will suffer here. The India brand will need to represent itself with the cloak of secularism that will make it stand apart in a region that is a suspect-geography for the biggest global players in the Marketing game of the world!
The final frontier is that of the Brand Political Equity (BPE). This is all about the politically correct being in the market. The Indian product that adheres to the norms of hygiene, quality, hazard control and most importantly political correctness will find a place in the global sun. The Kashmiri carpet woven by kids will hurt the BPE of the India brand just as much as patent-infringed roses will affect our image on Valentine’s day all across the world.
The India brand needs to cater to each of these B2B and B2C segments offering the best of brand equity to markets and its sets of discerning consumers across the gamut of the social, the economic, the religious and political equities that are becoming more and more important in the world at large today.
India shining then! 18 great monsoons (with an aberration in one year) that has caused for continued rural prosperity in an economy that depends on the rain! A services sector that is growing at a robust clip! Self-sufficiency in the food sector. A young population that contrasts itself from a geriatric world at large! A burgeoning rate of tele-density that rivals the rate of population growth, which was hitherto our claim to fame in the past. Better infrastructure across the realms of need. India is shining really!
India has USPs that are distinct, some of which we will discuss as we enter the realm of what we must do to re-orient the branding of the image that is India in the mind of the global consumer. Let us for the moment focus on the Goldman Sach’s BRIC Report on the BRIC economies of Brazil, Russia, India and China!
India’s economy could be larger than all but the US and China in 30 years! India’s economy can be larger than Japan’s by 2032! India shows the potential to grow the fastest over the next 30 years! Growth rate could be more than 5 per cent over the next sustained 30 years! India is likely to raise its US dollar income per capita in 2050 to 35 times the current level! In 2050 India’s GDP per capita could be $17,366!
India is unique in many ways. A population size that is large, heterogeneous, largely English speaking, educated, and boasts of a deep culture that runs into thousands of years. India is young. India is vibrant. India is just about on the verge of shaking off the image of sloth and bundled bureaucracy that has haunted it for many decades. India is happening!
Just as India happens, we need to very quickly make an analysis of all the things we have done wrong thus far in the branding of India. Time to recap and take account of the many mistakes we have made. The image of India is what it is today because of all that we have done thus far. Done wrong!
The new Way Forward
I strongly believe that India has done wrong in projecting itself as a brand of significance in the world tapestry of understanding. India has been done injustice to.
India has touted for long many years the “Made In India’ line. A line that came into prominence during the Nehruvian era. Pandit Nehru was besotted with production and productivity. In many ways he hijacked the nation that is India onto the road of production and productivity.
Nehru’s vision encapsulated an India that would compete with the rest of the world on the same parameters that the rest of the world progressed with. The Nehruvian plan for the country was but a me-too approach paper that had us setting up manufacturing facilities all over and focusing on agricultural productivity that was higher than what was being achieved. We copied the model that was at play in the rest of the developed world in those early days of our Independence.
I think we did wrong.
The manufacturing sector which was the focus of attention produced more. The agricultural sector focused on producing more as well, from the same landmass. Inputs of agricultural pesticides and fertilizers spurred on the process even further!
Peek keenly at the agri sector of the economy. India, which was once a dominant organic producer of the vegetable and the grain alike, adopted fertilizer and pesticide in a large industrial manner of adoption. The unique proposition of an organic nature of cultivation was sacrificed at the altar of productivity and self-sufficiency! Indian agriculture thus lost its cutting edge! Blunted by aping the West and its practices in a frenzy!
And then came the “Made In India” line. The Indian product, manufactured in our factories and on our farms hit the global market with the “Made In India” line! This line was faulty. The Indian product was not able to live up to the highest standards of quality that the International customer expected. The product failed. The “Made in India” label became a liability for product recognition. Made in India meant low quality and inferior performance in many a category. And then came a time when the Indian product would hit the global shore, but the made in India label had to be removed. Walk into Harrods and you will find moiré than eighty made in India products. Not more than five of them actually have the made in India label. The rest pass-off as superior imports from a more reliable destination!
The “Made In India Label” has been flogged for far too long. Time to revisit this line. Time to focus on our other two key areas of strength.
I believe we have a strong agricultural heritage. We could get organic. Back to the old ways of doing things. We pluck our crops by hand. No machine threshing here. Our cultivation process is not mass cultivation. Our crops are the output of small farms. Our agriculture is still labour intensive, compared to many a Western nation that is highly mechanized. Our cropping is non-Corporatised!
Our crops are shade-grown. Handpicked. The output of small micro-farming effort. Indian agriculture is politically correct in many ways. Use it to advantage. Let’s focus on the “Grown In India” line!
One other USP that is uniquely Indian is in the services sector. India has a heritage of being a service-oriented culture. The guest is still God in our homes. Indian hospitality is cherished. The Indian serves well. The translation of this is seen in the many ITES and the BPO sector initiatives that have taken off! Time to use the “Served Out Of India” proposition as well! Remember, manya credit card transaction in the US and in Europe and in Japan is run out of a Koramangala in Bangalore or a Gurgaon near Delhi!
Dump the “Made In India” focus then. Focus on “Grown In India”! Focus on “Served Out Of India”!
Let’s create the new India brand! Alisha time to sing two new songs then!!!!!
The author is a Brand-domain specialist and CEO, Harish Bijoor Consults Inc., a private-label consulting outfit with a presence in the markets of London, Hong Kong and the Indian sub-continent.