Guest Post: Has Incredible India missed the global brand bus?

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This is a guest post by Anand Narasimha. Anand is Dean & Professor of Marketing at IFIM Business School, Bangalore.With over 25 years of experience in Brand Marketing, Advertising and Consulting.

Recently, in my Global Brand Strategy class, I was sharing the Interbrand rankings of the ‘Top 100 Global Brands’. Some of my students raised an important and interesting question, “Why was there not a single Indian brand in the list?” (After all, we are there nowadays on most other global lists). This got me thinking and raised more questions than answers.

Starting trouble

The Interbrand list is populated with the usual suspects from the US, Europe and Japan, but not surprisingly, there are also brands from Korea and Taiwan.  The impressive India growth story and predictions of India emerging as an economic superpower in the near future seem incomplete, without Indian brands having a significant play in the global arena. One may argue that India has given the world Yoga, Chicken Tikka Masala, Software, BPO Services, Bollywood, but these are ‘generics’. Brands such as Titan Watches, did dabble in going global, but possibly not with the conviction and consistency that was necessary to succeed.

Where are the made in India global brands? Are we content being the world’s back-office?

On the waiting list

We’ve had our opportunities to get on the bus, but somehow missed them. Here are some that come to mind. Those who could have been-there-done-that:

  • Indian Herbal and Ayurvedic brands had the potential to be the next Body Shop.
  • We could have done to Goan Fenny what the Mexicans did to Tequila.
  • There was no reason why India Kings from ITC could not have been the ‘Indian Marlboro’.
  • Why can’t the TATA Nano become as iconic as the Volkswagen Beetle?
  • What’s stopping Infosys or Wipro from creating brands like SAP or Oracle?

I am sure each one can add their own entries to this waiting list of lost opportunities.

This begs the question, why are Indian corporations suffering from global branding myopia?

Do they lack the hunger and the appetite to build brands globally, even when the opportunities are right under their nose?

The speed breakers

Protagonists may argue that India liberalized itself from the Hindu rate of growth and the mindset of ‘Brahminical’ restraint, only in the early 90’s and that it’s early days for creating global Indian brands.

This does not hold water, if we look at the exponential and disruptive growth in several sectors like telecom, automobiles, ITES to name a few. India and several developing BRIC economies have short circuited conventional rates of market evolution and growth. So, why not follow the same pace in creating and building global brands. After all, many Indian business houses have built strong Indian brands in the domestic market, in a relatively short span of time.

The answer perhaps lies in the mental DNA, more than anything else, (and please let us not pass the buck on to the Government of India, for a change).

We certainly have the knowledge and the skills, but do we have the attitude and vision?

Do Indian businesses focus too much on the short term, to have the patience and perseverance required for nurturing a global brand?

Are we still suffering from a post-colonial hangover, where we shy away from taking on the best in the world? And underestimating our own capabilities and national pride?

David Ogilvy had famously said, “Anyone can make a product, but it takes patience, perseverance, vision and genius to create a brand.”

The road to the Global village runs through Indian cities

The huge domestic Indian market and growth in demand and consumption is paradoxically a boon as well as a bane, in catalyzing Indian companies to create global brands.

On the one hand, it provides captive economies of scale, for Indian businesses to leverage and create a global footprint. While on the other hand, it makes them contented and complacent in developing a ‘frog in the well’ attitude.

In fact, necessity is the mother of invention, which is why brands from smaller countries like Korea, Taiwan, Switzerland and Japan had no option, but to tap overseas markets to fuel growth.

In India, we are blessed with a fast growing and consuming market and that should be our biggest opportunity (rather than a mental block) to unlock overseas markets with our own brands.

The trick lies in understanding and leveraging our competencies and resources, while identifying the high potential areas, where India can create and build powerful global brands.

Our ticket to ride

There is a lot more going for India, in addition to the massive domestic market.

We have some of the most qualified, experienced and capable technologists, scientists, managers, business leaders and thinkers, contributing unparalleled brain power. A lot of them indeed are the brains behind some of the best global brands and corporations. Given the heterogeneity of consumers and the geographical spread of the market, Indian brands have an inherent understanding of handling cross-cultural diversity and scale- essentials in ‘glocalizing’ brands in today’s world. We have greater expertise than most countries, in serving and competing at the ‘bottom of the pyramid’ with value engineering and low-cost business models. The great Indian Jugaad (or ingenuity),our homegrown approach to innovation, gives us immense flexibility and adaptability in finding solutions    to complex business problems.

The ingredients of taking our homegrown brands global are certainly there. What’s required is the will, and the way.

The road beckons

 A new generation of business leaders and businesses, born in the post-liberalization era, is our best bet to create truly global Indian brands. Hopefully they have it in them to see the world as their playground, with a will to go for it and win. Let us now examine the ways in which they could go about it. What could be the blueprint for India’s global brand journey?

New Market Opportunities

With demand and economic power shifting to developing and emerging countries, with large and aspiring middle class populations, the traditional markets of America and Europe are no longer necessary to build global brands. Indian brands can focus on these emerging, high growth markets before targeting the developed world. These markets will provide better return on investments and the leverage to become more competitive. Samsung, Hyundai and Acer successfully adopted this route and  are now names to reckon with across the globe.

Wealth at the Bottom-of-the-Pyramid (BOP)

Indian brands are best poised to tap the ‘bottom of the pyramid’ markets in the developing economies. Having already done this in the domestic market, they have the formula to succeed by adapting and expanding their low-cost business models and price-value based ‘fighter’ brands. Chik form Cavinkare, which opened up the shampoo market with its single serve 50 paise sachet, is one such example. Indian brands can take the lead in being the world’s top BOP brands.

Globalizing the Indian Myth

India’s rich cultural legacy is another global opportunity.

We have ‘generically’ exported our food, customs and heritage.

It’s time to now build global brands on this platform. Ayurvedic and herbal personal care, ethnic fashion, Indian cuisine and India’s royal heritage are premium branding opportunities.

ITC’s Kitchen’s of India can easily become a global ethnic gourmet brand and Amul can take the ‘Taste of India’ across the world on a more mass scale. India Kings can symbolize ‘Indian Royalty’, like Marlboro symbolizes ‘American Machismo’. According to a Harvard Business Review study ‘On How Global Brands Compete’, the American myth is on the decline across the world.

Why can’t Bheem (the mighty Pandava Prince) replace Ironman, as the next comic book superhero?

Heineken’s new global commercial has a Mohammed Rafi track set to a Shammi Kapoor like jive, a clear case of Bollywood’s growing world influence. How about packaging and marketing the ‘Indian Myth’ more aggressively.

Knowledge is Power

The time has come for the Indian knowledge economy, which contributes extensively to build intellectual capital across the world, to create its own power brands. These idea based brands can be the mantras to showcase our thought leadership. The services sector, biotechnology, ITES, hospitality and education need to break free from their back-office mindset and harness their creativity and imagination to create and market global brands from India.

The Evangelists

India’s spiritual wisdom is the light at the end of the tunnel for a world in increasing political, economic and cultural turmoil. While many gurus and maharishis have propagated this (at times, mired in controversy), Indian brands based on strong values that uplift the ‘human spirit’ are ripe for the picking.

These brands can become evangelists for a new world order based on compassion, kindness, peace and harmony. ‘Being Human’ (from Salmaan Khan) can become a lifestyle brand in the genre of  True Religion or Muji representing a ‘big ideal’- a lethal marketing cocktail of Bollywood glamour with a dose of human values.

The road ahead promises a lot. The journey would be as exciting and challenging as the destination.

Ladies and Gentlemen of India, the bus is still waiting.  So are my students and Interbrand.

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  1. It's a strange thing actually. A very small instance which makes me think of the manifestation of your points comes from my shopping experience in Bahrain malls.

    Jamie Oliver, a celebrity chef from Britain/Australia has launched a line of seasonings available commercially in "crusher-style" bottles. Amongst his product line I spotted offerings like 'Himalayan Rock Salt' and 'Basil seasoning', which are items found in the Indian subcontinent and are very intrinsic to our cuisine and habits.

    I was surprised and mildly irritated that such offerings were on shelves courtesy a product line which is run by a chap sitting in Australia. As a people, we have enough and more to offer, but as you have rightly pointed out, we lack, possibly most, in the vision required to see this produce through to markets that yearn for it!!

    Once we can complete this chain of providing what the world might clamour for from our stables, we can then set about building our "brand's" repute, block by painful block.

    • Thanks Siddhi Prada. Even with 'yoga' we've not been able to stop so many people from patenting various things in the US.

  2. Stumbled upon this post on Linkedin. Very true of many "developing" countries in not being able to market their inherent strengths which are unique, to the global marketplace. China being the other big name. But, in India's case, brand owners are happy with the huge scale India provides, so many don't tend to go overseas to become a global brand. An approach quite different from the Chinese brands now trying to brand themselves in the global market and become more competitive even though they still have the stigma of cheap quality – the effort is evident. But everything pegs on, what is "brand india"? and what it embodies. Maybe that's the starting point? In generating a favourable mindset towards indian products in the global market place. I don't think its just via products/brands alone.

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