Global brands have been successful in making a significant mark in overseas, especially in emerging markets, as a result of their relentless marketing mobilisation and deep pockets. A key ingredient of the success is certainly the localisation of communication inputs to capture customer empathy and also subsequently the strategy to design products sensitive to regional tastes and thus securing a sustainable foothold. And all this creates an entire array of GLOCAL brands that are successful in making the local customer feel sufficiently excited yet adequately comfortable about a product or service that originated in a foreign land. While this was sufficient in an earlier era of marketing, modern brands must swiftly graduate from just localising communication and product to actually customising the entire consumption in tune with the sensibilities of the new-age user.
Welcome to the world of ‘Unified Unique Experiences’ where a common thread of brand architecture is common across the globe but individual geographies adopt genuine customisation way beyond the current levels.
For understanding the existing approach of GLOCAL brands, a quick flashback of the aerated drinks and packaged snacks industry is certainly very sufficient evidence. When Pepsi was launched in India, the original attempt at building a bridge was through domestic television advertising and the usage of successful local celebrities, thus uniting connectivity and desire. This was of course built on a larger global template of TV campaigns and an endorsement strategy that had been proven successful everywhere in the world. Over time, the next step of association emerged successfully in the form of product development, with spicy and tangy tastes followed by entry into snacking formats that were more aligned with the Indian habit. In fact, for snacks, that pattern of innovation continues till this day while for the signature beverage, a rigorous adherence to global sameness is the considered mandate.
As an extreme example, the hotel industry is a valid case of a very stringent global format which includes communication, local models being the only allowable exception to a rigid policy. Any traveller visiting a newly-built Courtyard Marriott, Hyatt or Crowne Plaza property in India will find photocopy similarities in design of both architectural as well as customer relationship management practices, regional cuisines being the only exception to a staid protocol.
When we craft ‘Unified Unique Experiences’, the approach is fundamentally different as it is focused on the genuine customer experience, as opposed to starting with inputs which add up to that outcome. The case of Starbucks Coffee would be a fine illustration of how this model can meaningfully re-shape the experience while staying true to the global brand mandate of being in the people business of serving coffee, as well as being the pioneer of the ‘Third Place’ concept in real life where work and play intertwine effortlessly to build a happy space for stimulating the imagination. Now if this was to be the starting point of designing the India experience, the story could well being with the seating strategy – with traditional mattress seating done stylishly occupying sections of and in certain family locations – becoming the approach for entire stores as well.
In a country where the first-name culture is limited, the simple infusion of a Mr. or Miss prefix, of even the ‘Ji’ suffix, on the coffee cup may well become a sign of appropriate endearment. A table order system will equally be not just a source of comfort but also incremental revenues in a culture where evaluating the menu as opposed to physical demonstration is preferred as an evaluation format. The simple point I make is that all of the above deviates merely from the brand manual and not the brand architecture – the latter invaluable in terms of integrity but the former often a self-imposed hindrance to crafting meaningful experiences.
It will take very little for Zara with its global expertise to do with Indian fashion what it has done globally, capitalising on scalable time-to-market process from ramp to shelf and re-shaping the way we look at traditional clothes. M&S has moved forward to being stylishly formal from Pure Brit and thus the avenues for a meaningful, not staccato, approach on Indian formal wear for ladies are certainly not inappropriate. When Uber moved to the auto-rickshaw business, it was a fine example of this idea as it defined its brand in terms of experience and not format, based on universal transaction principles. A Ritz-Carlton in Bangalore is remarkably luxurious but if luxurious physicality and service are the governing principles, then there surely can be no barrier in creating the most abundant new-age palace property in India as opposed to a Western template. While Mothercare and Chicco thrives in India, their ensemble is just a copy-paste of the global array with little attempt to create local manifestations that are so valuable in our culture. The ‘Jhula’ as a magical moment between grandmother and grandchild animated fables in a digital format or even certain toys unique to our culture.
In the liquor trade, global brands come to India and simply replicate imagery while bottling a feeble version locally, thus eroding their perception considerably instead of forging powerful alliances with Specialty Restaurants or their peers and building a brand through pairing with suitable allies as is the consumption habit for the Indian customer. Domino’s Pizza, KFC and their peers spend considerable time in re-designing menu cards but miss the plot in approaching the customer from an overall experience perspective. Stores with cushioned seating, pizza-on-a-plate to add gravity to an often-undesirable paper base, local tea to add legs to breakfast will certainly not be inconsistent with the mandated global template. The automobile sector does wonders with communication customisation but the experience design is totally Western, begging the question whether luxurious Indianised décor can actually be a unique but unified innovation.
For technology-enabled services the opportunity is even more stark and to be fair, as demonstrated by Uber, they are serious early adopters. Services offered by Urban Clap, which includes assistance for e-filing, can actually be replicated by global players hungry to offer higher-order specificity for driving growth. In the world of media and entertainment, programming strategies can be insightful as opposed to just communication or Hindi sub-titles and dubbing. As in offering content that is skewed to regional viewing patterns, historical during national days and festive or family during Diwali. While Uber has done a lot to make even more sense, the next step may well be revolutionising mid-distance luxury bus travel with dynamic pricing and multi-point transits, on spontaneous demand and not prior planning as per current practice.
‘Unique Unified Experiences’ can be created very simply on the basis of a few simple principles. Firstly, we must define the elements of unification, aspects of the identity and delivery that are non-negotiable for ensuring consistency and imagery. These will include logo, colours, key elements of the architecture, product vision, service rituals and anything else that is appropriate – to be strictly considered as a foundation and a springboard as opposed to being a limitation or a manual of constraints. Then we must assess the potential for uniqueness, the crafting of experiences in a particular geography inspired by valuable and scalable consumer insights. It will imbibe our offering with sufficient elements of sameness and professionalism while enabling a leap of faith through innovation. In tandem, the two will create the brand experience that will be brought to life by the outcome design, product strategy and of course, the marketing and communication plan.
The IPL is truly an unconventional but successful case of ‘Unified Unique Experiences’ crafted by an intelligent blend of commonness and imagination. While it stays true to the unified principles of traditional GLOCAL Cricket, it blends the values of the entertainment industry and consumer appetite to craft a formidable and profitable experience. Armed with sufficient imagination, necessary flexibility and rigorous implementation, global brands in every category can create their own encores leading to exceptional customer and shareholder delight.
(Shivaji Dasgupta is the Founder of INEXGRO Brand Advisory and can be reached at: email@example.com)
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