Mumbai: Head of strategy for Interbrand, the London-based global branding consultancy, Iain Ellwood, talks to Mint about their plans to set up an office in India, and their experience on working with one of India’s oldest brands, Godrej. Edited excerpts:
What are your India plans?
We have worked with a couple of partners in the last five years, and we are now trying to establish, over the next six-eight months, a more permanent presence here in India. It will either be in Mumbai or Delhi. Whether we will come into this market as a start-up, through a merger or acquisition, or partnership, is yet to be decided. It could be any of those options…but there are a couple of Omnicom Group friends we could be partnering as well looking at the market in general.
Brand stamp: Ellwood says Interbrand is trying to establish a more permanent presence in India.
There is always a balance to be struck between having great international experience and expertise from our London office with some local flavour and cultural nuances. With any local markets, it’s very important to understand those detailed cultural nuances, to work with consumer brands. So, we would ideally want a combination of that. We are interested in brands that are interested in long-term strategic brand management, people who treat brands as serious business assets.
Will the rapid emergence of certain economies and the fading significance of others cause any change in the global league tables of brands?
When you look at the Interbrand and global brands league table, we already see that shift. Ten years ago, it was largely American companies. We expect some strong Indian brands and Chinese brands to be on that list in the next two- three years. To have a strong brand, you also need a large global business. That, I think, is the key challenge for Indian brands, to spread their presence beyond Indian shores as well as garnering best of the growth within India. You can use a strong brand then to drive that growth, by making sure that there are very appealing differentiators in each market.
Going international puts you up against the best. It’s like the Olympics. The second thing is that there is a lot of learning to be had from other markets and you can bring that to your organization in terms of research and development, channel management.
The third thing is that being international has a positive reflection on local employees, as we’ve seen with Godrej; employees had a great sense of pride seeing their company go international.
How was the experience of working on a brand as old as Godrej?
It was fantastic. 370 million Indians use a Godrej product every day, so you need to be very sensitive to how you deal with that brand. I think it’s always rewarding to work with a family-owned business, because you have direct relationship between the ownership and management decisions, so decisions can be taken very quickly.
Obviously, it’s a diversified conglomerate, everything from space rockets to chickens to chemicals to soaps, it’s quite hard to get your head around to start with, but it’s a very Indian understanding of a brand. One of the challenges is how to create a universal idea that spans the company, yet, is still very relevant and specific to each of the different businesses.
We did a proprietary piece of research last year that covered every SEC (socio-economic) group in every region in India. It proved that the foundation of trust and integrity that Godrej has across India provides a greater springboard for innovation. Indians were more likely to trust Godrej to make an innovative leap, because they had a foundation of trust. They were more likely to give a new service or product a go, because it had the name Godrej on it. And, that is the power of having a great, strong heritage brand.
What does it take to build a strong brand?
The best brands are a combination, again, of international insight and expertise with a local flavour. Nokia is certainly a good example in India where they combined their international buying power and presence in technology with a product specification that fits with India.
I love those Nokia ads about the phone tied to the front of the truck. It just demonstrates that they understand Indians and their way of life. From an Indian brand perspective, what they need to do is recognize the customer insight they get around their target audience. It needs to be very specific. You can’t build a great brand without a great insight. And, that means avoiding being too bland or too broad. So, focusing on the right kind of attitudinal slice of the population rather than SEC or slice of the demographic.
I think Hutch was a fantastic brand. Before it was taken over by Vodafone, they had a sharp positioning, a distinctive presence and offering.