Monday, December 18, 2006

A Brand New Brand India

Brand New Brand India!

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… 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 USPs!

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 moirĂ© 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.


Mobile: +91 98440 83491

Sunday, December 17, 2006

India and its People Exports

Our People Count!

By Harish Bijoor

India has exported brawn and brain alike for hundreds of years. Our numbers, in many ways have been our biggest assets. We failed to realize it for many, many years though. We lived within a paradigm of our own creation. A paradigm that got besotted with the short-term issues that plagued our nation at large in the early decades of independence.

The paradigm was a simple and straight-forward one. A paradigm drawn and dictated by the immediate. Our population numbers to begin with were large. Our resources to cater to the needs of this large population were just not enough. What’s more, year after year, the population growth rates that stared back at us were worrisome indeed. We were short in terms of everything but water. There was a shortage of food. A shortage of medicines and a shortage of everything that a growing population would clamor for.

The times have changed. Time to re-draw and stretch the lines of the paradigm we work with. Time to raise a toast and cheer to the growing numbers in our population. Time to explore the wealth represented by the large numbers of people we boast of.

Time to crunch world numbers as well. Time to peek into the crystal ball and look at people-wealth across the nations that will dominate the years and decades ahead of us. Let me start by taking a peek at what our renowned demographer Mr. AR Nanda has to say about it.

According to Mr.Nanda, India is all set to become the world’s youngest nation with the largest workforce in the world by 2020! India will boast of a working population between the age group of 15 and 59 numbering 820 million (up from the current 402 million) by 2020.

Let’s take this number for a start. This simply means that India would boast a surplus working manpower by 2020. Current plans on the anvil within the Indian context will however not have enough jobs to offer within the country. A point to worry?

Not really! Look around at the people-wealth prognosis across the commercial world that beckons us. The US will be very, very short on this count. There will be a shortage of 17 million working people out there! China will be short by 10 million and Japan will scream for 9 million more! Even Soviet Russia will be short by 6 million folk required to run the commerce of the country.

In this prognosis built on the current rate of growth of populations as per country trends, India emerges the only one with the big surplus. This surplus manpower will therefore very reasonably gravitate to these people-short countries, running the enterprise of business and commerce all around. A ready market for 42 million people of working age in just these 4 countries listed as an example!

A History of people export

India has indeed a history of people export. We started with brawn and have moved on to brain. Look keenly at our early years of people export. We have fortunately always had enough people. So many people around that there were not enough jobs for everyone to handle. In the very early years our first people exports started at the end of sending labour out to the plantations of the East and West alike. Look at the populations that moved base into Sri Lanka. Into the terrains of the African continent and into the gut of the plantations of Singapore and Malaysia.

This was the early export of labour form a labour (people) surplus country to a people-short geography like the ones represented by the hostile territory of plantation life in rubber and timber and coffee alike.

The times changed. We still had lots of people to export. In came the need from newer rich economies such as the Middle East and so also the clamor for cheap labour from the thriving economies of Hong Kong and Singapore alike. We exported our skilled labour now. We had climbed a notch higher. The skills we exported were those of the mason, the carpenter and the butcher alike.

The times kept changing. We kept evolving in our response to the people needs all around. The higher skill was in demand. We were just about moving from brawn power to brain power. The doctor was in demand. We educated them out here and exported them. Not at the will and volition of the government as much as at the will and volition of the individual seeking prospects that were monetarily enticing. We exported our doctors to the UK, just as we sent our engineers to the US. The architect and the scientist of many a hue came from India and found herself populating the commercial enterprise of many a nation.

We kept evolving. We kept climbing the ladder till we reached the top. The doctor, the engineer and the teacher (academic gurus of every kind) occupied pedestals in every market we sent them to.

Today, we come a full circle. We still export our folk, but the trend seems to have taken a wee bit of a reverse. What we export today is possibly climbing down the hierarchy. Up the down staircase in many, many ways! These people we ‘export’ actually live in the country but work for the enterprise of many a nation outside the territorial boundaries of India. The BPO revolution as we call it today is an articulation of this trend at large that we live with and thrive in today.

The year is 2005. The year of the BPO challenge at large!

In this piece, I explore the key challenges and issues that face the country at large as we enter the world of the ITEs. An era in which India continues to dominate the space of people surplus solutions. The BPO is one such space. A space progressively getting occupied by the Indian at large, leveraging on the sheer numbers of our people and their educational levels, which are looking all the more exciting a reserve than we ever imagined it to be.

The BPO Revolution

The BPO revolution that has hit the shores of India is throwing up its own set of challenges. Internal and external. The buzz in the metros of Delhi-Noida-Gurgaon (should we not fuse the three?), Bangalore, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Chennai, Pune and a Kolkata in that order, is palpable. It cuts through thick. These early adopter BPO towns are islands of early prosperity that stand out like sore thumbs in the Indian landscape.

In an economy that has seen the services sector as the fastest growing of them all in recent times, the ITES segment contributes a brisk number. An interesting number of new jobs being created all the time and with it an interesting set of issues that stare back at us.

Even as the hue and cry on Outsourcing is dying out in the US and UK, there are interesting challenges that stare back at the industry and the people it employs. I peek at a few of these challenges. Only a few!

1. This completely foreign and alien business of BPO:

The BPO industry is completely extrinsic to country in its focus. Literally all of the business that is catered to out of the hubs of a Domlur or a Gurgaon or whatever, is all about businesses that seek the foreign accent at play. India is not a point of focus at all. ITES is all about servicing the outsider out of a cheaper-labor location. Enter any BPO outfit. The English is accented. The dress is getting more and more accented as well. The BPO outfit in the country might as well be territorial outposts of the foreign land being serviced.

Business is tough. A business that focuses completely on the export market is a business that is at the mercy of the volatile international environment in this commodity space of low-tech BPO! The barriers to entry in this business are going lower and lower and the success of the early settlers is creating a whole mass of salivating folks who are just wanting to do the same. BPO is commodity!

2. Price goes down and cost goes up:

Right at the start of the first trickle in of business in this segment, the early business development folk of the BPO start-ups procured business at prices that were exciting. As the days went by, and as competition within India itself increased, the price pressures started. Add to this the emerging competition from countries such as Vietnam, which wants to clone the Indian BPO experience, and China, Mauritius, Sri Lanka and Namibia, if you please! The price pressures are apparent. Businesses are flowing in at a lower unit price than what the early birds in the game were used to.

At the other end of servicing the business that has been procured, there are cost pressures at play as well. In the early days, the first sets of folk to wear the headset and sit in front of the monitor came in at salaries that were even as low as Rs.4,000 a month. Today, the same job goes at 12,000! There is a heady upswing in salaries in the segment.

There is certainly margin pressure at play. Peek keenly at the financials of many an enterprise in the game, and there seems to be a yen to look at the volume of business and ignore the margin-trends at play. Many a player seems to be around waiting to be picked up by the big MNC interest at a valuation that will go higher and higher with the brand name at play and the number of seats that accommodate the tired butts of call center operators.

Is there a bust ahead?

Sykes has just cut jobs 50%. Is this the beginning? Is this a bubble?

3. The social tumult:

Now this is something business seldom cares about. Not in India for sure.

Wealth must be created. Money must be made. Economic prosperity must be aimed at. And all this needs to be done keeping in mind the medium and long-term social good in mind.

Watch BPO space. This is space of tumult on that score for sure.

BPO space is completely western space. In India of yore, the son and daughter of an educated man aspired to study. Education has always occupied prime status in the Indian home for boy and girl alike in urban areas, and certainly for the boy child in semi-urban clusters. Saraswathi, the patron goddess of education is a point of worship.

Today, things are a wee bit different. Young folk, all of 18-19 aspire to get a BPO job. Youngsters under the stress of hormonal pressures are keen to get going with the business of making their own money. Truncating education at the Pre-university level is an option today. The BPO provides an option to earn good money at a young age, even without the degrees in hand.

I believe young India is going to get less and less educated. We are going to clone the US model here. Urban young education is on a decline. When the opportunity to earn without the requisite degrees in hand were not there, by default, education happened. Today, it will not.

The BPO enterprise is a specialist skill of low value. India is building an army of inadequately educated telephone operators. Till the business flows in, this is fine. God forbid! If and when it stops, there will be tumult. What will we do with two million, single-skilled, highly accented and inadequately educated telephone operators in this country? And that too folk used to an aberrantly high monthly income!

Add to this dilemma of the years ahead, a dilemma of today itself. Young folk are following an exciting lifestyle at a very very young age. This is fast-tracked by money in the hands and the freedom of a working person. Add to it night-time work, the ennui of a boring job and the proximity of the two sexes in a happening fun environment!

Sexual harassment at the workplace is old hat. Today no one is harassed. Today, everything is consensual. Sex is discovered earlier than before and promiscuity happens young! A Surya Ramamurthy is a Sue and a Sampath Krishnan from Adyar is an easy Sam!

The roads that lead to the BPO hubs of the day are a hell to traverse physically. The Toyota Qualis revolution is also here. Drivers are in big demand as well. Most drivers work 18 hour driving days and nights. And no one bothers. There is prosperity all around.

People living outside of the BPO island smirk at the sector. BPO is today a sub-culture in itself! Spot a BPO-type, and you will recognize him and her instantly!

The societal challenge remains as well!

Many more challenges ahead….but this time round, there is space for just this much! Till then, let prosperity prevail!

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 Hong Kong, UK, and the Indian sub-continent.