was asked to answer what is the key issue before the Indian consumer today, and that too in one word, the chances are that she would be stumped. According to Raghu Vishwanath, CEO, Vertebrand India, the word, unquestionably, is "choices".
At the Indian Consumer Mindscapes conference organised by Technopak in Mumbai recently, Vishwanath spoke on the topic, 'The Brand-ready Indian Consumer'. He began with the fact that today, Indian consumers are being flooded with a plethora of brands.
According to TAM, in the last 12 months alone, some 20 new brands have been launched in the toilet soaps category, apart from eight new face packs, 40 new kitchen appliances, 55 new car/motorcycle brands, and 72 new models of cell phones. India's ad spends account for 0.48 per cent of its GDP, which is still less than the global average of 0.96 per cent.
By the end of 2007, it is estimated that there will be 50 hypermarkets, 305 departmental stores, 1,500 supermarkets and 10,000 exclusive retail showrooms. The media scene isn't too different: The size of the entertainment industry is Rs 40,230 crore and this is expected to grow 20 per cent in the next four years. Plus, today, we have 300 television channels.
"Hard-pressed for time, an Indian consumer generally chooses one particular brand and sticks to it," said Vishwanath. "If Lux works for them, they pick it up - there isn't too much science in the decision."
This is because today's consumer cannot process the totality of a brand/product; she doesn't have the ability, time or the desire to absorb even a fraction of the advertising/communication avenues being thrown up at her. To add to that, advertising is becoming homogeneous across categories. "Every car has a product shot towards the end, for instance," he said.
Getting into the heart of the topic assigned to him, Vishwanath said that the Indian customer is not just brand-ready, he is brand-hungry. "He is ready, but marketers are not," Vishwanath iterated, as marketers are not differentiating enough, and trying the same routes to woo consumers. Perhaps the question to be asked is whether a unique selling proposition or even a unique emotional proposition exists at all today. For that matter, do brands have anything unique to offer?
"A brand is the most used, misused and abused word in the marketing dictionary today," continued Vishwanath. "There is a crying need for scientific, process-driven branding… a method to the madness of branding, so to speak."
A customer-brand relationship, said Vishwanath, goes beyond looks and packaging. There are two dimensions to a strategic brand identity - brand intelligence and brand personality.
Vishwanath defined brand intelligence as the understanding by the company of what a brand can and cannot do. This is inextricably linked to the lineage of the parent brand/company. "For example, if HUL launches a soap brand, it will have a very different identity from any Marico or ITC soap," said Vishwanath. This is because the parent brand's beliefs and values are inculcated in the new brand.
If brand intelligence is the 'what' part, brand personality is the 'how'. It is essentially an expression of how a brand behaves in a marketplace and interacts with its consumers. "When brand intelligence meets brand personality, we get a brand identity," he explained. Only when these two elements meet successfully, does brand identity go beyond becoming just another branding tool. Ad hoc logo/packaging changes, without any thought to the process, cannot solve problems.
"This is as much a science as it is an art," concluded Vishwanath.