Sunday, November 4, 2012

Brand India and Indian Brands

I participated in a panel discussion about “Establishing India as a Global Brand” at ConneXion2012 at IIM-Ahmedabad this week. Professor Sinha, the chairperson of the marketing area at IIMA was our moderator and he asked a very interesting question about why India has not been able to create any luxury brands despite the fact that Indian culture and craftmanship has inspired designers world over in launching “ethnic” collections. He asked whether we can ever move beyond our “low cost, back office” brand association given these will soon not be differentiators.

I had a flashback to the conversation I had with the sales lady at the Etro boutique in Paris last week when I had a few hours to spare after the Paris CMO-CIO Leadership Exchange hosted by IBM Europe. The lady was showing me bags and scarves made in Italy using very typical Indian paisley prints. I told her that paisley was a very common print used in India and you see it everywhere and that I was looking for something more “special” and “unique”.  I also didn’t want to pay Rue St Germain designer prices when I could get something similar back in India for a fraction of the price. I was impressed how the sales lady was able to quickly absorb all the information I had given her about my taste, interest etc and she pulled out a number of things that appealed to me. Aside from showing me something special, she also made me feel special. She treated me as an individual, not as a segment (woman, tourist, south asian, medium build, professional) When I walked out, she gave me a catalog and her card and also showed me the list of stores they have in Asia because she remembered that I told her that I traveled around Asia (created value at every touchpoint during and after the sale).  She also smiled and said “I hope to visit India soon!” (made me feel like she appreciated my culture - who would think two women would bond over paisley?)

My shopping experience in Paris leads me to the conclusion that building a premium brand is more than just about the product. It’s about the entire shopping experience. Which means 3 things:
1. Knowing each customer as an individual (and therefore recommending products accordingly)
2. Creating value at every touch (from when I walk into the door to following up with me later)
3. Designing your company’s culture and ethic and the brand as authentically one (so that every employee, from the shop floor to the design studio, lives and breathes it in how they interact with each other and with your clients).

As long as we Indians (brands and clients alike) are focused on price and not on understanding customers deeply, delivering exceptional service throughout their experience and infuse a consistent value system into every employee, no matter how high quality or innovative our products are, we won’t see any globally recognizable premium brands with “Made in India” attributed to them. 

Next week in Gurgaon, we will be exploring these 3 imperatives with the CMOs and CIOs group of leading Indian brands from around the country at the CMO-CIO Leadership Symposium. They will engage in peer to peer exchanges and I hope we come away with some clear POVs on what these brands will do to help put India on the map for creating and nurturing global brands!  We will also continue the dialogue starting this week about the role of technology in marketing on a new blog we are launching: You can also follow the event live on Twitter #SmarterMarketing. 

Brand India will be built on the back of strong Indian Brands and DesiCMOs have a critical role to play in this journey. What do you think it will take to build an iconic Indian brand (outside IT)?


  1. True. It is not luxury because we spend that extra amount. Its in the attitude. Its how we feel about the whole experience.

  2. Partly true. It does require a right blend and healthy portions of customer intimacy, value -creation and a unified message from every entity in the system to the market place to create a luxury brand.

    And haven't The Oberois in India (Ritz Carlton, would you be so kind as to make some way for us please?) built an iconic brand outside IT for the world to drop their jaws and drool till they need bibs, to show what premium hospitality ought to be?

    But then why position a "Luxury brand" at the pinnacle or the end to our means. Isn't it all about the money / economy? Some countries are oh-so disadvantaged to deliver low cost, that they can struggle for the next century, keep asking similar questions and wont make a dent on that kind of branding. Ultra low-cost in that sense is premium to them since it gives its stakeholders more returns than does Hermes or Harrods.

    Luxury or Low-cost branding - why cant these be seen just as different currencies to receive value in any form? A better question would be what's required to deliver more sustainable value to the choice of branding a continent / country / company or for that matter a CMO adopts?

  3. I was reading somewhere that Customer experience represents the single most exciting opportunity for businesses this year, according to our 2014 Digital Trends Briefing.True indeed.