While India is an undeniably formidable market for branded products and services, not a single brand from India has acquired the stature of a genuine global consumer brand in terms of enjoying a reasonable position of leadership across multiple geographies, be it in FMCG, durables, automotive, hospitality, consumer electronics or technology-enabled services. B2B IT is not under the purview of this discussion. While giving a fillip to manufacturing industries, the Make in India movement has actually not helped this cause, preferring to leverage our engineering credentials as opposed to building home-grown brands. It is thus necessary for the best minds in business to actively partake in Mission 2525, the quest to create 25 global consumer brands from India by 2025.
In case you seek evidence why this is a worthwhile exercise, look no farther than the South-East Asian giants like Korea and Taiwan in recent decades or Japan in the post-war era, scientifically moving forward towards brand creation from simply being factories. The best case actually is the old foe China whose transition in this arena has been both recent and remarkable, most visible through handset brands such as Oppo and Vivo while the COMAC series of passenger jets occupies the impressive top end of this spectrum. Building a credo of global brands leads to extraordinary leaps in valuation for corporations and also inspires others to follow suit, thus building a culture of economic growth that the finest back-end operations can never hope to achieve. There are actually many reasons why India is brilliantly poised to be a genuine international achiever in consumer brands if only we focus our energies appropriately.
First and foremost is our world-class pool of managerial talent, both resident and non-resident, trained with the finest global corporations in the craft of brand development and thus having risen to exceptional positions of leadership. For too long, this cadre has been busy creating overseas frontiers for the foreigner or developing extraordinary businesses in the market of India, often building value for the employers but nor for the nation. Then certainly is the quality of R&D talent across industries available in India, with a natural flair for innovation derived both from high-class education as well as the practice of ‘jugaad’ we know so well. Finally, the Indian customer with her myriad diversities is an outstanding training ground representing every possible customer archetype existing in global markets, in terms of appetite, hunger and specificity of expectations. In sum, the country of India has a versatile culture of branding that is a better base than originally enjoyed by the Asian tigers or European giants when they emerged on their global conquests, a learning curve that is waiting to be exploited.
What exactly needs to be done in order to fulfil our potential in building genuine global consumer brands? It must start with a commitment to global conquest as opposed to simply being delighted with ruling India and for this the vision of the management becomes crucial. With the exception of the Tata Group and the Pharma sector in spurts, no other Indian corporation has consistently demonstrated the desire to be a serious player globally, not even the Birlas, ITC, Godrej, Reliance or anybody else you could wish to name. The ‘exports’ division is just a token representation, for reasons statutory and emotional as opposed to real territorial ambition, which must now change to a concerted action plan designed to be genuinely competitive. For this, a demonstration of financial and strategic investment is necessary, which does require a great deal of shareholder concurrence, given the extended time-frame for results.
The first arena for such investments is market focus, designated for the global user and not just for the Indian customer broken down into multiple segments. An under-rated but genuine barrier for global ambitions is the potential of our home market which acts as a sufficient playground for even the most accomplished corporation, fulfilling boardroom and shareholder objectives adequately by a continuous depth in penetration. If the management focuses on using local credentials to target overseas, like Indigo Airlines systematically taking over Air India’s routes, then a well-advised portfolio strategy can help balance national and regional objectives. Air India in the 1950s-1970s was a truly global Indian brand commanding the highest premium in the New York-London sector and respected as a global leader, a key factor being the inevitable global focus as a key flag-bearer of the new nation.
In close tandem with the above is the design of product and services intended for the genuine global user and thus scaling up a global insight based on proof-of-concept in India. A valuable possibility is Paper Boat, based on a concept of accessible nostalgia that can be adapted globally, or perhaps Kingfisher Beer, a genuinely world-class product loved by foreigners, or even a luxury brand like Good Earth, which is not rooted to ethnicity as an abiding design inspiration. What I have deliberately avoided are concepts which are intrinsically Indian unless they can be given a universal sheen, which disqualifies Ayurveda or even Fabindia in spite of well-defined antecedents. In the arena of personal care and durables, this becomes an exceedingly prominent opportunity, given that everybody everywhere is accessing from the same sources and the brand is the source of discerning value over and above all else.
In my further assessment, both luxury and technology, physical and virtual, can well be the pioneers in this Mission 2525, given certain unique advantages India has in this area. Our lengthy and well-regarded culture of princely living has already been monetised by the luxury travel industry with palace properties in Rajasthan, especially globally unmatched, and this can well extend to many other facets of lifestyle, including clothes, travel accessories and many other areas. In technology, the opportunity exists for mobile handsets armed by sufficiently expressive branding as well as for a genuinely innovative mobile application or e-transaction offering, easy to imagine considering our proven back-end abilities in both these areas. Quite contrarian to the Make-in-India ethos, originality in manufacturing actually remains a major weakness, which makes the prospect of a competitive bike or car from India most unlikely as proven by the well-meaning but modest efforts of Tata Motors.
When one follows the successful march of leading global brands, be it the American pioneers or the European and Asian followers, distribution or easy access to consumers have always played a key part, usually through powerful partnerships. Indian brands venturing overseas very seriously must choose the acquisition or alliance route to accelerate consumer access, easily possible today as a level-playing field, especially through e-commerce. This of course will come into play when all the other parts of the mix are well sorted, from product to packaging to innovation, and will be most effective when the brand engagement programme is truly world-class, definitely the final and most significant challenge in the game for global dominance. For this the highest levels of customer insight mining, state-of-art techniques and commitment of budgets are vital as is the intuitive vision for creating greatness and not just being followers of templates. Creativity is a proven strength in India and this when paired with intellectual acumen can make us sustainable market leaders and not just staccato thought leaders.
For professionals in the magical world of brands, curating truly-global consumer brands made in India can become our most abiding legacy, like the pioneers from Japan who built a first-world economy powered by this ethos. It is certainly time to embrace Mission 2525 on an organised footing, under the auspices of an appropriate industry body, to give birth to 25 cross-national brands by 2025. Our proven software and hardware when combined with depth of vision and investment can lead to a brave new chapter in our corporate history.
(Shivaji Dasgupta is the Founder of INEXGRO Brand Advisory and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org)
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