Key ingredients for going global

Branding is all about discipline. Discipline in business-related decisions is important

In our last edition, we looked at how global brands create value over time, even over hundreds of years. In this edition, let’s find out whether India can produce such global brands.

What are the ingredients of the recipe for global brands? To my mind, there are three ingredients—two external, one internal.

If you studied the export of brands from various nations over the centuries, you would spot the first two easily. One, brands follow the cyclical nature of the rise and fall of the economic prowess of nations. Check out to experience this graphically.

So, we had English and German brands till World War II got over. I remember lusting for an old BSA bicycle from England when I was a kid. Then, in 1944, with the US controlling two-thirds of the world’s gold, the dollar became the world’s currency and triggered the Americanization of the globe. The IBMs and Cokes entered the minds and hearts of the rest of the world intravenously through another great export called Hollywood movies.

Tiny Japan hit back by curtailing military spending and becoming a giant in electronics with Sony and Mitsubishi and the like. The Trinitron TV that lasted in my house for 25 years was from there. Then came Samsung and LG from South Korea; and Haier from China. Shouldn’t India follow?

Two, most brands dominate their domestic markets before they do global markets. Rolls Royce in the UK; Siemens in Germany; Sony in Japan; LG in South Korea; Haier in China, you get the drift. And yet, despite the first two ingredients now favouring Indian brands, I am not sure India can consistently produce global brands.

Why? I believe the third is the crucial internal ingredient—brand discipline. I believe, in India, we have a racial or cultural or social problem—lack of discipline. Personal, social, cultural, governmental, organizational, national discipline—all of them are needed for the creation of brands.

Germans and Japanese have discipline tattooed into their DNA. The US’ discipline stems from its adherence to the constitution. India has neither. We would rather change our beautifully written Constitution (100 amendments since 1951; 33 since 1789 in the US) than change ourselves.

Branding is all about discipline. Discipline in business-related decisions is important. When Pond’s launches a toothpaste or Colgate launches Kitchen Entrees, the business decision is probably violating brand discipline.

Discipline in the actual day-to-day management of the brand’s expression. When chlorophyll worked on a car dealer brand managing marquee German automobile brands, we discovered the ruthless discipline prescribed—the showroom must have only straight lines; must have a glass table 3x3 feet with a square glass vase 6x6 inches with 3ft-tall white flowers.

Discipline in behaviour of customer-facing executives is equally important. “Smile, but don’t show your teeth in the US" and “Smile and show your teeth while in India" is the diktat for a US pizza retailer.

Some critics believe it’s not about discipline, it’s an attitude to business that not just India, but Asia has. The Economist Intelligence Unit report in 2010 said, “Emerging Asia’s (ex-Japan, Korea) share of world GDP (gross domestic product) will be 25% in 2014; Asia’s share of top 500 brands will be 6%". The reason? Asians haven’t made the transition from promoter-mentality to corporate governance and from cash-generation to valuation.

Then we look at the exceptions, and ask, how were they created, against all odds? For an insight, I look at the most disciplined workforce on earth: the army. The army is the way it is because every soldier believes in a higher cause and behaves so as to never compromise that cause. He is proud to be part of the team and proud to undergo the rigour of the training.

When you look at some of the global brands Indians have created, I suspect you will discover the same principle at work. Whether it is Brand Tata embedded in compassion or Brand Oberoi embedded in a ruthless commitment to quality in product and service, or Brand Taj or Jet Airways or Infosys, you will discover a steel spine—discipline that emerges from internalizing a higher cause and a willing submission to undergo training to protect that cause.

Without that secret ingredient, it would be difficult for a brand to cross boundaries, be assaulted by different cultures, locations, markets, and still thrive. If you were one of those who loved to understand concepts by understanding the root meaning of words, you would also be glad to know that the root meaning of the word discipline is learning.

Right. Hope this helped, dear brand owner.

Kiran Khalap co-founded the chlorophyll brand and communications consultancy in 1999 ( He claims his night job is writing fiction (his two published books are Halfway Up the Mountain and Two Pronouns and a Verb) and his weekend job is rock climbing. In this monthly column, he will share his insights on all things related to brands and branding that brand owners can act upon, rather than create a forum for intellectual entertainment.