When K Pandiarajan created Ma Foi Strategy Consulting along with his wife Latha in 1992, it wasn't with the intention of creating a brand or leading a company dealing with human resources. In fact, Ma Foi was not a brand that was carefully, consciously cultivated. It was only when the company opened up to venture capital a decade later that the focus on the brand became clear to him, Pandiarajan humbly confessed. The Hindu was the growth partner for the event and WATConsult was the social media partner.
What Pandiarajan revealed about not giving much thought to his brand in the initial days resonated with other speakers when they spoke about building their businesses and brands. Even H R Srinivasan, founder, Take Solutions (a B2B company focusing on life science, R&D and supply chain), admitted that when his company was started, the brand was undervalued. "The first five years, we did not recognise or focus on building the brand. Little did we realise that building brands is important to sustain your business," he said.
However, Pandiarajan pointed out that it was very difficult to distinguish brand from business. His advice: if you need to build the business keep the two separate. "Brands which have far more value than the business need to recognise that. Also, it is essential that you park your brand in the right place," Pandiarajan said. He added that if a company wants to rework on its brand, it should have the four components namely, reframing, reshaping, repositioning and reinventing.
Murugavel Janakiraman, founder and CEO, Bharat Matrimony, said that although they had various portals and options catering to a wide community and personal requirements of customers, value added services always helped in getting better revenues from the customers. While the company expanded in the matrimonial space online, it decided to create competition by launching Community Matrimony, a site that provided community, religion and even exclusive communities of people such as divorcees and people from the defence services. "People usually register on more than one website. So, we thought why not give them the alternative. Every businessman should ask how to insulate for alternate and vertical segments," Janakiraman stated.
Although the company started online, to cash in on people who weren't tech savvy, it set up Bharat Matrimony centres in brick and mortar form. It has also expanded its business to provide services in wedding arrangements and wedding gifts. Speaking about his strategy, Janakiraman said, "All we have done is just slice and dice. We also leveraged on PR and online marketing to create awareness about the brand."
Hanif Sattar, who founded Basics Life, a men's fashion wear brand, along with his younger brother Sohail, recounted his business's brand journey much like Take Solutions, where survival of the business was the objective during the initial years. Sattar started the business from his savings of Rs 25,000. However, the money didn't last even for a year. His uncle chipped in by giving the brothers money and that, Sattar said, was his experience in venture capitalism. "For us, relevance is the most important thing," he said.
Sattar added that for him, Tier 2 and small cities were easier to penetrate and create aspiration as compared to metro cities where competition was high and his brand had to battle with international brands. Interestingly, Sattar said his brand had a lot of traction online, initiating high engagement levels with its potential customers.
WATConsult's CEO Rajiv Dingra explained how to build a brand on social and digital media. Educating the audience of the possibilities that the digital space offered, Dingra said that unlike conventional media, consumers on the social platform had equal power to communicate and air their opinion with the brand. And, that was also a challenge. "It's is no longer the message but about the person you are engaging with," he pointed out, adding that to understand social engagement, brands and marketers had to understand the four 'C's - connect, converse, collaborate and co-create. Besides explaining in detail about the usage purpose of each social medium available today, he spoke about creating engaging conversations.
Finally, the day concluded with an entertaining talk from P C Balasubramanian of Matrix Business Services India and Ram N Ramakrishnan of Quantum Leap Consulting, who co authored Grand Brand Rajini. The authors compared Tamil actor Rajinikant, who has a cult following, with established brands to emphasise how the actor had become a brand. Through various case studies and attributes that were defined by marketers for well known brands, Balasubramanian and Ramakrishnan said Rajinikant emulated similar characteristics and, therefore, his brand appeal was equally if not more strong.