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National Brand Summit: Brands need to adapt to consumer needs and break myths

By Biprorshee Das , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Marketing | October 12, 2009
At the 4th National Brand Summit, Harish Bijoor, chief executive officer, Harish Bijoor Consults discussed the various myths of branding in a panel discussion

On the first day of the 4th National Brand Summit organised by the All India Management Association, Harish Bijoor, chief executive officer, Harish Bijoor Consults moderated a panel discussion titled Breaking the Myths of India-centric Branding. The panel featured Prabhat Pani, chief executive officer, Roots Corporation; Karunesh Bajaj, head, brands, Bharti Retail; and Arun Mehra, chief marketing officer, Zapak Digital Entertainment.

Bijoor opened the discussion by talking about the difference between what he called 'old branding' and 'new branding'. He said that old branding is bound by various paradigms, is restrictive and jingoistic as opposed to new branding, which facilitates more open mindedness and is less jingoistic.

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"I am India. I am proud but I know that China is equally important. Every neighbour and market is important," Bijoor said, explaining his concept of new branding.

Pani spoke of the myths in branding pertaining to the hospitality industry. Roots Corporation operates the Ginger brand of budget hotels, whose parent company is The Indian Hotels.

He said that three myths in the hospitality industry are that 'A good product needs to be an expensive product', 'Indian brands work where international brands don't work', and 'Low cost models do not work in India'.

"What we have done so far (with the Ginger brand) is reflective of taking the myths and turning them around," he said.

He added that while designing the hotels, providing value to the ever changing needs of customers at low operational costs was kept in mind.

"Our designers went abroad but resisted the temptation of copying international practices. Just because you are at one particular end of the market must not limit you. The key is to provide value to the customer," he said.

Pani summarised his speech, saying that the Indian market is extremely exciting and is a fantastic place to learn and experiment. He added that Indian brands would not only do well locally but abroad as well.

Bajaj followed Pant and spoke of the various misconceptions that an international brand has about India while starting operations in the country. His talk was confined to the modern retail space.

Bharti Retail operates its retail stores in collaboration with the international retail chain, Wal-Mart.

"Expanding into new geographies (by a global brand) is not about adapting their international strategies," Bajaj said, citing examples of food chains McDonalds and Pizza Hut and how their international menus failed to strike a chord with the Indian customers.

Bajaj noted that the chains failed to succeed until they introduced food more suited to the Indian taste and culture.

"One needs to understand local preferences and drivers," he said.

Bajaj listed what he called the 'Brand India Myths' ,including 'India is very large', 'India is hot', 'India is spiritual', 'Water in India will kill you', 'India is grand', 'Indians speak funny English', 'India is cheap' and 'India is a poor and rural country'.

He cited examples to challenge each of the listed preconceived notions and said that Wal-Mart, too, believed in these myths about the country when it decided to come to India. He added that one of the primary reasons Indian retailers are not successful is because of the myths they believe about the Indian housewife. To battle these problems, he said that Easyday, the Bharti retail store, employs people from the society who understand the housewives who shop in their stores.

He also attacked the high-low pricing and the heavy discounts and offers strategies of modern retailers. He said that the discounts and offers do not work because while shoppers throng the store when the offer is on, the same shoppers are disappointed when the offers expire.

"We follow the EDLP (Every Day Low Price) strategy. We can do it because of EDLC - Every Day Low Cost (operational). If you can't offer value, you lose your customer. Value is not about providing low price and compromising on quality," Bajaj said.

Mehra, the final speaker of the session, drew parallels between international brands adopting to the 'desiness' of India in their marketing strategies and brands that stick to their international methods.

He recalled his days with MTV and how the channel had little to show as business in its balance sheets till it decided to adopt the 'Desi is cool' strategy.

To further this statement, Mehra cited the examples of Pepsi, Cadbury and Coca-Cola, which have adapted to the Indian sentiments in their brand positioning.

He stressed on the importance of adapting to local scenarios, saying, "If we need to get business, we need to adapt to the local market. When you are in India, you have to 'Indianise' your brand."

However, at the same time, Mehra also used examples of brands such as Nokia and Procter & Gamble that 'lift' their international advertisements while advertising in India.

Summing up the discussion, Bijoor picked up the point made by Pani and said that the myth that a good product has to be an expensive one was busted by the Tata Nano. "At the end of the day, every consumer is a human being with similar needs. Every brand has the potential to be a Nano. Ginger is the Tata Nano of hotels," Bijoor said.