Tuesday, December 20, 2011

From Rock paintings to Rickshaw banners- Taking your Brand to India’s heartland

Over the last month, I visited several of our "geo expansion" locations, ranging from Colombo, where we have been for 50 years, and most recently Vizag, where we opened a branch just this week. It got me thinking about what it takes build a long standing and effective presence in a geo city location.

I recently heard about a leading beverage brand that dared to brand, wait for it...the Kumbh Mela in Haridwar. It painted rocks and boulders along the highway leading up to the Bathing Ghats, pasted banners on colorful auto rickshaws and offered a hot cup of the beverage to its travelers. Audacious for sure.

I admit technology brand outreach may not be as complex as Rural Marketing (that leaves some of the best FMCG Brand Managers tearing their hair out). But it’s different cup of tea, right? Several tech brands are trying there hand at it with varying degrees of success. They need to be methodical and deliberate, yet innovative. And we began that journey about 2 years ago.It starts with building credibility and purpose of its presence in that market- what we call “Conditioning” (at the risk of offending the sachet mafia). The deeper the conditioning, the smoother is the brand’s ability to create conversation starters for its sales people.Conditioning starts much before market entry and goes on long after the brand enters the market. Here are some of our practical tips for CMOs who are considering taking the leap:
Conditions of Conditioning:
  1. It takes all shapes and forms to condition a new market. From rolling into your customer’s location in a fully branded bus to inviting them for a thought leadership session in its plush interiors! Literally, taking the brand to your customer’s door step.
  2. Partnering with local academia and anchor business houses is even more rewarding, because they are the conscience of the city and its people and are synonymous with trust and credibility.
  3. Working with local communities on socio-health care and relevant citizen services projects will go a long way in building resilience for the brand. Because it’s all about giving and not just taking.
  4. How can one ignore the power of digital in outreach? Your customers are keen to be heard and seen as opinion leaders. If Kolavari Di has been downloaded by 14 million people (and still counting), marketers should now look at actively creating peer groups, discussion forums and communities in expansion markets.
  5. Connect and share best practices with CMOs in those cities. I was recently moderating a panel discussion of CMOs in Chennai, Whether it was the CMO of a Bank, or a leading bicycle manufacturer or even a B2B engineering products and services company, they all love talking about social media. Some even hate it but agreed that they can’t live without it!
  6. Tee times at a private golf course never hurt.
Many thanks to Kiran Rao, our Geo Expansion Marketing Leader, for contributing to this post and for all his passion and focus on taking IBM where no woman or man has gone before! Keep going!


  1. very insightful ! ashish uchil

  2. Love this post.. and Kiran i really like your writing voice.. keep the Geo Expansion insights coming! BRAVO!

  3. Kumbh Mela example reminds me of a leading technology brand several years ago participated in the great Hampi Utsav organised by the Govt. of Karnataka - and guess what they sponsored - something so basic - "water". They branded the water dispensers & cups & thereby touched several thousand tourists visiting. Simple yet impactful idea five years ago. In my opinion marketers today should not feel restricted & must be bold in exploring new ideas if they have to make an impact - we have to be able to touch people's lives to build that connect and bond - professionally or personally.