Impact - - IMPACT | OPINION -

Across the lead­ing economies of the world, eco­nomic na­tion­al­ism is be­ing res­ur­rected and glob­al­iza­tion is be­ing looked at askance. The sov­er­eign right of a na­tion state to act and its con­flict with the obli­ga­tions of var­i­ous mul­ti­lat­eral agree­ments is at the top of the agenda for po­lit­i­cal ac­tion. From Brexit to ‘Trump Tar­iffs’, the world is in fer­ment.

The top most eco­nomic en­ti­ties of the world are as many cor­po­ra­tions as na­tions. These are large busi­nesses that can with­stand shocks across mul­ti­ple na­tional re­ver­sals and tide over down­turns be­cause of brand strength. Multi­na­tional, Transna­tional, Mul­tilo­cal, Global – call them by any name, but they are dom­i­nant in world eco­nomic flows. They rule con­sumer minds and lever­age their pref­er­ence.

In­dia, given its emer­gent sta­tus as a Top 5 world econ­omy with one of the high­est growth rates in the world is an aber­ra­tion. We have no global brands of any con­se­quence. Le­gions of much feted mar­keters who are amongst the best in the world have not made one global Indian brand pos­si­ble. Cer­tainly none with any im­me­di­ate re­call or recog­ni­tion.

Think­ing Indian? Think of the Taj Ma­hal, snake charm­ers and yoga!

Why is this the case?

Indian tal­ent has al­ways served West­ern brands. Our do­mes­tic mar­ket didn’t have strength enough to give sus­te­nance to any in­ter­na­tional ex­pan­sion for busi­nesses and brands. Prior to 1991, we lived in a mori­bund econ­omy where pri­vate busi­nesses were fet­tered and starved for cap­i­tal. But I will come back to that later.

De­spite Indian tal­ent ‘get­ting it’ and our ca­pac­ity to ex­port soft power, on the brands re­port card, a big ci­pher. Will we ever break away from the west­ern brand build­ing norm? Will our con­tent, cre­ativ­ity, de­sign, mar­ket­ing ser­vices evolve enough to sup­port an ‘In­dia Out­ward’ brand build­ing? Will our ‘en­gi­neer-MBA’ mar­ket­ing armies sur­prise the world with flair, in­tu­ition, charm, cre­ativ­ity, style, taste and savoir faire?

At this point, let me ad­dress a con­trar­ian point of view. In a global world should ‘Indian’ be im­por­tant? For that mat­ter, why wouldn’t a Range Rover or Tet­ley be deemed Indian? Why is prove­nance rel­e­vant? Is it not a mid-20th cen­tury han­gover? Does be­ing “made any­where” or “made as per global specs” not do the job? Why does a quin­tes­sen­tial global brand like Ap­ple have to say “De­signed by Ap­ple in Cal­i­for­nia. As­sem­bled in China”? Does Ital­ian flam­boy­ance, French fi­nesse, Ger­man engi­neer­ing, Ja­panese tech­nol­ogy and Amer­i­can in­no­va­tion re­ally mat­ter?

Yes, it does. The irony is that the more we glob­al­ize, the more the root­ed­ness and urge to be­long be­comes stronger. Sadly ‘West is best’ has meant sti­fled creative in­no­va­tion and stan­dard­ized prod­uct– cen­tric or claim-cen­tric com­mu­ni­ca­tions steam rolled by West­ern brands into

In­dia just as in 100 other mar­kets. Scale is in­im­i­cal to cus­tomiza­tion. Same­ness is a blight upon au­then­tic­ity.

West­ern brands and the Em­pire came hand in hand. They were the prod­ucts of a mass pro­duc­tion world en­abled by the In­dus­trial Revo­lu­tion and fos­tered through the rise of af­flu­ence, me­dia and lit­er­acy in Europe and Amer­ica. Unilever, Col­gate, P&G, Henkel, Nes­tle, Nabisco, Coca-Cola, Pepsi, BAT – these were the creators of brands and brand cul­tures, flag bear­ers of the West­ern way of life. Brands en­hanced its de­sir­abil­ity. When you opened a bot­tle of Coca-Cola or wore Levi’s Jeans – you lived a bit of Amer­ica.

It will not be an ex­ag­ger­a­tion to say that even In­dia doesn’t have many strong branded as­so­ci­a­tions or at­tri­bu­tions. Tourism, in­vest­ment desti­na­tion, qual­ity of in­dus­trial out­put – we have done lit­tle to build them. A bit of Goa–Ker­alaRa­jasthan and the Taj is not In­dia. A bit of Bol­ly­wood is not Indian cul­ture. In­for­ma­tion Tech­nol­ogy built wealth but not brands that could re­sist west­ern in­flux. Lit­tle to noth­ing in tex­tiles or fash­ion, noth­ing in foods or bev­er­ages, noth­ing in art or de­sign; al­though they all are large and flour­ish­ing.

There are sev­eral global Indian busi­nesses but no global Indian brands. Op­por­tunis­tic ex­pan­sion or be­ing net eco­nomic buy­ers is not the same as brand cre­ation, creative fo­cus and do­main ex­cel­lence.

Com­ing back – Why are we not a brand build­ing peo­ple?

We want im­me­di­acy of Profit: Brand stature or equity is not about im­me­di­ate mar­gin en­hance­ment or jump in near term sales.

We lack a Brand sen­si­bil­ity: It’s the con­cern of the en­tire or­ga­ni­za­tion, even so­ci­ety. In­stead it’s left to mar­ket­ing man­age­ment alone.

It de­mands dis­ci­pline and per­sis­tence: In­stead we are whim­si­cal, ad hoc and short-termed.

In­ad­e­quate knowl­edge and sup­port sys­tem: There is no re­source pool for cre­ation of Indian brands.

Ig­no­rance about In­dia amongst global con­sumers: There is low aware­ness and lack of trust be­cause of be­ing un­known.

Maybe, we ought to fo­cus on one city, two in­dus­tries and three brand cat­e­gories – Maybe if we sharpen the nail, we can make do with even a light ham­mer. Maybe, within our sub­cul­tures are the re­sources for brands to build a myth of ori­gin that claims au­then­tic­ity. Maybe one day we will get to a gen­uine “In­dia mys­tique.”

To para­phrase Nehru - Maybe, one mid­night hour, an Indian brand will also make a tryst with its des­tiny and to In­dia, the an­cient, the eter­nal and the ever-new; it shall pay its rev­er­ent homage and bind it­self afresh to her ser­vice.

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