Home / Opinion / Columns /  Mass to luxury: Brands do the balancing act

For the past couple of years, a friend has been intending to buy a car. He drives a Mercedes-Benz E 350 in the city and used to own a Toyota Fortuner for his frequent weekend road trips. He sold the Fortuner (diesel) as soon as it turned 10 years old, fearing that it will no longer be allowed to ply in Delhi-NCR. He considered a few new car brands in India, which are selling like hot cakes, but could not make up his mind. Reason? The price for a particular car brand ranged from 10 lakh to 20 lakh. Though he would have picked the top-end model, his worry was how will people know his car cost 20 lakh when the same brand is also available for 10 lakh?

His dilemma raises real concerns around brands that straddle mass market to luxury products. The consumer is in a quandary when he is keen to let the world know that his purchase is an expensive one.

A similar concern was raised by brand experts recently when Titan Co. Ltd announced the launch of its most pricey watch in the non-gold category at 1.95 lakh. They offered thought-provoking takes on how brands can traverse the mass to premium journey. In an earlier interview to Mint, communications strategy consultant Karthik Srinivasan had said he definitely did not associate Titan with a premium price tag for a watch, howsoever technologically superior it may be.

“It is not that kind of a brand name at all. Because, when you buy a 2 lakh watch, you want people to notice and realize that you can afford a 2 lakh watch brand. They could have done with using a different brand name," Srinivasan said.

Titan retails premium watches under Nebula and Raga, but it also has a clutch of other brands including Titan, Fastrack and Sonata. In an interview with Mint, Suparna Mitra, chief executive, watches and wearables, Titan, said that the company has been on a premiumization journey over the past few years, and Titan Edge was the result of five years of work.

Sanjay Sarma, founder of SSARMA Consults, a boutique branding and communication advisory, said Titan, at best, is a premium mass brand and Titan Edge doesn’t really have that aspirational brand value. It’s not jewel-studded, nor does it have a design language that is unique. “Pandemic or no pandemic, there are connoisseurs who still spend big bucks on acquisitions that reflect their tastes for finer things, and become a part of a lasting legacy. But this does not fit into that slot. It’s a slightly misguided missile in my opinion," he said.

Ashish Mishra, managing director, Interbrand India, however, said that with growing customer expectations for customization and personalization, it is getting tougher for brands to straddle the entire spectrum of prospects. Within that, extending a mass market brand to more premium segments will be even more tricky.

“Simultaneously, there is a counter force that’s at play, the need for efficient brand building given the growing clutter and the cost of building brands. Within this school of thought, following a simple rule of ‘monolithic by default’ necessitates organizations to build business cases for adding on new brands to their portfolio," said Mishra.

Mishra points to categories, especially in the realm of fashion and lifestyle, that warrant frequent infusions of novelty and variety. To resolve this, global brands adopt a hybrid architecture and create short-term labels or collection brands. This way the master brand remains primary to all brand building, thus aligning with the efficiency principles. “Yet, there is a provision to play out to the transient topical needs of the customers," he said.

What Titan seems to be doing is a bit of a mix, in his view. They have collection brands and sub brands coexisting.

“The need to add an extremely high price point may be an effort to move the segment upstream and create a ‘hero’. Yet, the coexistence of multiple sub brands with their collection brands does indicate a hybrid architecture strategy," said Mishra.

His advises a customer-out approach that works backwards from the choice drivers and accommodates the offerings rather than an inside-out style that works with the product attributes and features.

Shuchi Bansal is Mint’s media, marketing and advertising editor. Ordinary Post will look at pressing issues related to all three. Or just fun stuff.

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