INDIAN MARKETERS HAVE FAILED INDIA
By SHUBHRANSHU SINGH
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.