Brand India

An extensive special feature has been published here about India’s nation branding:

Think India. Now think the future. When we think about the India which will be, we see glorious times ahead, a golden age in the making. However, to reach that state of success or nirvana, we need to take a few giant leaps. Now.

Intellectual India must play the lead. To harness our collective skills and regain the pride of our nation. To make up for lost time. If we know better, and we know whatâ??s good for us, we must steer our country to that destination. Tiny Japan has a few hundred global brands, and Chinaâ??s manufacturing expertise ensures itâ??s the worldâ??s Mecca for Outsource.

There’s a wonderful sentence in the third vision of Dr Abdul Kalam’s Vision 2020 statement: “India must stand up to the world. If you ask me, the first thing Indian brands need to become global is audacity. Audacity, ambition and can-do is the starting point. This requires a mindset shift.

As Simon Anholt says, Fifteen years ago, who would have believed that we Europeans could be happily consuming Chinese Tsingtao beer or Malaysian Proton cars? That one of the hottest selling perfumes in Paris is Urvashi, manufactured in India by a company that previously specialised in hydraulic brake fluid

Whether it is our demographic age profile, our larger numbers or our new-found confidence, the message that is hitting all Indian manufacturers or service providers clearly is that it is possible, and that it is now or never. So what works and what’s standing in the way?

1) We must work from our own unique DNA: There are plenty of lessons to learn from global (read western) brands. We must do that too. However, blindly replicating their templates, really will not work for us. Differentiation, will capture the imagination of many consumers and relevance in a changed world has new meaning.

Indian brands that have become successful have picked an essential Indian truth: Gandhi â?? alternative to violence; Deepak Chopra â?? alternative mental health; Kerala â?? de-stress as an alternative tourist idea; Bollywood â?? extravaganza, Indian fantasy; Indian IT â?? cost, willingness to work round-the-clock. Indiaâ??s famed intellectual talent abounds, and is already global.

Who would have thought that we could run the worldâ??s finest global corporations, be it banking, airlines, telephony or foods? Itâ??s the hunger to succeed that must be harnessed, and the astuteness of our businessmen that will prevail â?? and must be allowed to.

2) Industries need to get together: Say Davos and the rallying cry was â??India Everywhereâ??. Say Bangalore, say Nasscom… What springs to mind? Collective wisdom to power our ideas, as India. One. United. Team. More Indian industries need to come together with a larger purpose, think long term, learn to manage collective money, to share the risk and develop the opportunity. Look at Diamonds, Platinum, Woolmark, New Zealand Lamb.

We have to think labels, quality standards, stamps, a badge. Ten yearâ??s ago Leather Blitz USA was an idea to improve our share of the world market, with Indiaâ??s image central to an upgraded value proposition. Did we succeed? Was it too early in the day and should ideas like that be resurrected? Timing is everything. Think of the day when LVMH bags have a small tag proudly strutting our stuff: â??Made with Indian leather.â??

3) Evangelists: Indian IT is the best example, our best success story that we can do it… A few people became heroes, global icons, but thousands of smaller companies benefited. However, dig deep and understand what was it that made them the successes they are.

The Azim Premjis, Narayana Murthys, Ratan Tatas of this world have deep-rooted greatness, be it humility, integrity or quality. It serves our nation well as it epitomises our quest, so while industry may judge them on profits alone, their genuine philanthropy and compassion is equally legendary. So donâ??t grudge your evangelists, back them to the hilt.

4) Take global gatherings/trade fairs and presence in other countries seriously: How big can we think? How big is big enough? â??We had a stall,â?? is not enough. â??We export to 13 countries,â?? is not enough. Are we making our presence felt in the countries that we operate in? Think spectacular. Shock and awe. Itâ??s the new way to battle and it needs a plan.

5) Don’t imitate products of western design; we must make R&D fashionable: Indian companies do not invest enough in design or product planning based on consumer behaviour and trend forecasting. Thereâ??s lack of â??finishâ?? in our manufacturing. Take a lesson from Apple.

Each and every consumer interface is designed to a look, a finish. Doesnâ??t matter where itâ??s sourced from. They have a plan and the execution is flawless. Letâ??s learn from the Koreans â?? they have managed stunning design and technology. The Japanese.

And then throw away the book and write the new rules. Kurkure, a totally Indian brand, designed and conceptualised in India, is the masala we need to spice up our campaign. So, letâ??s give design and R&D its space in the sun. Treat your R&D chiefs the same way gastronomes treat celebrity chefs â?? with respect and awe for the feast they can put out.

6) We need a better understanding of value propositions: Again a Korean lesson. Earlier, most Europeans and Americans may have bought Japanese products because they were significantly cheaper; now, they consistently pay more for it. So too, for some Korean products.

So, it is possible to shed the â??cheapâ?? image if we can get our act together on the design-technology-value combination. This is what has been the defense strategy of most Indian brands that have given MNCs a run for their money. They found a differentiation, innovated, tapped into a native habit, sensed a trend, cracked a value equation. From shampoo sachets to SUVs. Value is just that.

If you can put it in, your consumer will decipher it and take it out, while paying for it. And itâ??s no different for the numerous brands that offer a service dimension, that donâ??t deliver and expect to be paid for it. Give this some thought when you look at western shores, because the discerning consumer lives there and is experienced enough to know the difference.

7) Execution, execution, execution: We are not detail-oriented enough. Our expectations of our own service standards itself is very low. Of quality. Of finish. Of value. Of pricing. Of experience. Of competition… Today, you can order a suit on the net, delivered from Italy â?? a tailor flies down to fit it for you! Forget customer delight, we feel â??we are like this onlyâ?? and itâ??s okay.

We donâ??t demand our rights. A corollary to this is, we donâ??t know how to train large numbers of people to behave to a certain norm. Our understanding of consumer rights and protection is also low. Crucial if we want to make it big abroad. Strip your business down to its basics, do that for your key competitor as well, then understand the difference. We need to be ruthlessly honest if we are to succeed in a global marketplace.

8) Hear the distant signals and take serious action: â?? Child labour, animal welfare, environment, human rights. Our bottom of the pyramid is poor, and could turn around, leaving in its wake an unstable revolution. India can and must build future products and services around ideas in this area.

In an interview, Martin Lindstrom commented: â??Far too few corporates seem prepared to go out on a limb, take a position and voice an opinion. They just want to mind their own business. But as national reputation awareness climbs, and consumers increasingly factor nationality and more particular, national attitudes and actions into their consideration sets, companies may find they have little option but to think through and articulate where in the world they stand on a whole range of issues. Itâ??s a whole new take on globalisation.â?

9) Documentation, sharing : Give back to society. Any one in McKinsey is taught the global rule that they must give back. Or contempt is in store, as knowledge is whatâ??s transferred to the next generation. Where are the case studies? We sit up only after Harvard Business Review writes it. We are still reluctant to share details for mutual benefit. Think of all the learnings out there and think of how we can monetise the opportunity.

10) Messaging: Serious investment in market research and no balking at communication costs. But more than conventional messaging, India, in the early stages, will need offbeat ideas to â??implantâ?? the Indian story everywhere â?? whether it is connections in high places, talks in colleges, unique distribution ideas, or extravagant shows and brand ambassadors.

â??Like an international traveller, at any given time a global brand is simply a combination of two things: where it is from and where it is going. There is no doubt that consumers are increasingly asking brands where they come from. And many brands might just find that whilst theyâ??re thinking about the answer, the consumer has gone away,â? said Elliot Polak.

We know where we are from. We just have to decide where we want to go. And how fast. No power on earth can stop us… an idea whose time has come. Like we said, Ooh Aah India, Aaya India!