Thursday, October 24, 2013


Indian youth is an interesting mishmash of global and local culture, someone who’s being nurtured under the shadow of a culture in transition. The sooner the marketers realise this, the better

Sholay, one of the most iconic brands in Indian cinema, will soon be launched in 3D. The proposal to incorporate an item number featuring the flavour of the day was shot down promptly as was killed the idea to trim its length (162 minutes) for the contemporary audience. Why? Because such brands need no remodelling. In fact, one of the charges levied against the epic Indian television series Mahabharat launched by Balaji Telefilms was that it flopped because it tried to modernise the story. When Star Group premiered Devon Ke Dev... Mahadev on Life OK it tasted runaway success, even among youth. Shiva is being projected in the serial as a cool dude (excuse the expression) whose story offers simple parallels to modern life. Son-in-law versus father-in-law, conflicts with wife, problems with son for an alpha male. He is the heroic outsider to the society (like a Superman) who rescues it in times of peril. Like today’s youth, he personifies rebellion, with matted hair, on drugs, and is a brilliant dancer. Yet he is imbued with contemporary values like treating his wife as equal. He warns Ganga, while she is descending to earth, that people will exploit her precipitating water wars and environmental problems. Again, a modern twist to an epochal tail. So, while Lord Rama is too perfect and divine for today’s youth to emulate, Lord Krishna’s stories have a complicated narrative he being simultaneously a lover (of Radha and gopis) and a master strategist (to Pandavas). The simple takeaway is that although the cultural values are still deeply ingrained, they are in transition.

For the goldfish generation (a goldfish has a very short attention span) short-term relationships are proliferating while long-term commitments are being postponed, yet surely not shunned altogether. Live-ins and premarital conjugal relations are no longer big deals even in small towns. In a survey done in 40 small cities by makers of the recent Bollywood film Shuddh Desi Romance, 50% respondents believed that an adult virgin girl is too old fashioned. Yet 55% wanted a virgin wife notwithstanding the fact that 51% would not mind premarital sex. So even if 80% parents paint live-ins with a stroke of immorality, 52% youngsters would not mind trying a hand at it in small towns. For they believe that live-ins are more democratic whereas marriages are afflicted with the malaise of domestic violence. Yet they accept marriages as a long-term institution, are caste oriented, very religious, and still believe in traditional norms and values, such as patriarchy. Indian youth is an interesting mishmash of global and local culture, someone who’s being nurtured under the shadow of a culture in transition.

After the unexpectedly huge success of Mahadev, the television serial, among youngsters Star channel got emboldened to launch Mahabharat. But it consciously decided to refrain from modernising it beyond some cosmetic twists. Instead it opted to use technology to appeal to the ‘tradition bound’ society. It has constructed Mahabharat museums in major malls to showcase select weaponry, jewellery, finery used in the serial. In some colleges it provides virtual wardrobes allowing youngsters to dress up like the characters in the serial and upload these images on social networks.

Indian youth supports modernisation (a combination of westernisation, secularisation, and industrialisation) so long as the traditional value system is not affected negatively. He welcomes McDonald’s in India but rejects the westernised system of course by course meal, retaining his preference for a Thali. He wishes to break free yet wants to remain anchored to his heritage. So live-ins also mostly culminate into a marriage. Indipop sells well. There exists a deep-seated core culture; away from it, however, is a spectrum of variation. Instant noodles, pizzas, or momos gain currency as long as they are offered as occasional indulgence but not part of the main menu.

Veronica of Cocktail, the Bollywood movie, was rather unsure about settling down in a relationship. Saif, a great flirt, eventually opts for her more traditional friend for marriage. And surely you noticed that Saif had the prerogative to make the choice – Betty or Veronica. Similarly, Bunny in Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani has a flawed character, is commitment phobic, but in the end unites with Deepika. While we are reflexively trained to keep the opposite sex at arm’s length, now the modern dance forms – which extend invitation to get close and stimulate passion – are also being practised. Close coupling is not so much frowned upon. Shava Shava is giving way to steamy Salsa, crossing social barriers. No doubt the salwar kameezes are being replaced by evening gowns, hip huggers and heels. But marriages still have to be solemnised in bridel lehngas and traditional jewellery! 

In July this year Thrill, a mobile dating app, debuted in India based on two simple premises. One, that youngsters here are not looking for immediate marriages and are searching for friendship and intimacy across their screens (mobiles). And, two, while these youngsters are a lot more comfortable with the idea of dating they feel the need to be extra careful. And soon Thrill felt the need to customise features according to typical Indian demands, such as providing match making (between potential dating partners) based on their horoscopes compatibility! In Kerala where earlier marriages used to be a spartan affair, now the consumerist culture has set deep; marriages have become very lavish, as it was always in North. And yet, ironically, there is an accompanying growing obsession with the performance of rituals with utmost purity. So there is an increasing demand for both a wedding planner as well as priests to chant vedic mantras.

Navratras in North are no more about having traditional fare including Kuttu atta puris, saltless potato chips, or vrat wale aaloos. Instead food chains, including five-star restaurants, offer rösti potato and spinach ragout, Spanish patatas, bravas, French cottage cheese crepes, calzone pizza, and cheese risotto. But ingredients have to be buckwheat, pumpkin and other veggies, and of course saindha namak! Contemporary twist to traditionality.

The dusky beauty, Nina Davuluri, the Miss America 2013, stands no chance of winning the Miss India contest unless she lightens her skin a fair bit, since in India, if comparison with the last 10 winners are any guidance, beauty is all about being fair. What’s more? Now for even men ‘fair is handsome.’ Black is hardly beautiful. So a whitening underarm cream, and, horror of horrors, a fairness cream for even the most intimate feminine anatomy is being pedaled by intrepid marketers.

Culture has to be perceived as a dynamic succession of overlapping ideologies rather than being a static unity. It is a flow, having three stages – residual, dominant, and emergent. Juxtaposing these labels onto various market segments explains their true behaviour. The liberalisation generation stands for an emergent culture, but with an amalgamating effect of residual and dominant culture. So, you may listen to pop music and sink your teeth into junk western food, but you can’t lose Indian touch. Honey Singh will any day outscore Justin Bieber, and pizzas will have Indian toppings. No doubt, the external appearance and duties of an Indian woman may have changed, but she still has to be a homemaker.

Marketers, are you listening carefully? Sinoccents, the generation Yers, may not be a confused lot; surely, however, they are being pulled by opposing culture forces in different directions. Titan Industry has to hawk both the Fastrack and the Raga range of watches. Double Tree of Hilton chain has to customize pizzas in its Italian restaurant according to religious sensibilities of fast observing youngsters during Navratras. An Audi has to come with a remote controlled music system since the owner likes to be driven around by his driver in a feudalistic society. Evolution, as against revolution, rules the market.


Monday, July 22, 2013


Position yourself at a unique but relevant point in the customer’s mind map; else your brand will merely resemble a blip, hanging like an albatross around the marketer’s neck

Zara arrived in India in 2009. By 2012-13 it was making Rs.45 crore per store, the highest among all the retailers. It of course follows the same formula in India as in the rest of the world: offer affordable, copycat versions of the latest fashion and make them available to the shoppers in double quick time. A true USP does help, though sometimes quirkiness itself may work too. At Ka Tron restaurant in Thailand customers are treated to the bizarre sight of loading cooked chickens into a catapult and firing them across a stage where they are caught on a spike by a waiter riding a unicycle. Cabbage & Condoms, another one at Bangkok, serves noodles alongside sexual health and family planning advice. Once the customer has paid he gets the change back with a complimentary condom.

The idea is simple. The marketer seeks to provide a unique experience either by offering something the target customer has not partaken earlier, or by enacting an unusual performance, or by even a quirky – bordering on bizzare – but eye catching mock up. Else you adapt. The mother of all romance books (Mills and Boon) has decided to go desi, even vernacular, with titles like ‘Punar Milan’ and ‘Raaste Pyar Ke’. The new titles are customised for Indian readers to cater to their psyche. And in India since romance cannot be separated from Bollywood, Lootera film characters are being featured on the cover of a special edition besides being part of two stories. Virtually all international luxury suiting brands offer made-to-measure option since readymades don’t necessarily fit the pot-bellied Indians.

In case you still haven’t caught the drift what we are trying to spot light it is: how a brand can deliver value through market differentiation.

A brand acts like a clutch for the customer in the sea of myriad offerings. As competitive claims assail his senses the buyer uses a complicated decision making process to assess the alternatives available before finally voting for one. More clearly the brands are associated with a particular set of attributes – in terms of deliverable credible benefits – the quicker becomes his search process. Instead of having to compare every variable about one product with other competitive offers, he uses his personal Gestalt of each rivaling brand to compare them. The challenge for the marketer, therefore, is to use the tools of branding at his disposal to ensure that the most superior bundle of benefits – from customer’s perspective – is embedded in his brand (see figure 1). For that the seller must position the brand in the customer’s mind in a distinctive slot – far removed from rival brands to stand apart yet be close enough to meaningful benefits to provide unmatched value. And as we mentioned earlier this benefit package need not necessarily be served on a functional platform; rather it can come alive through an unusual performance or quirky experience. And of course, since customer is not merely benefit seeker but a value hunter, the benefit package must be delivered at an appropriate price point. Through this process the marketer must create expectations of particular level of value from his brand- and exceed these expectations. The road to customer value lies, therefore, in positioning the brand uniquely on the customer’s mindmap.

How do you then add value through positioning? Well, this can be accomplished by following the process outlined in the figure 2.

Thus one way is to extend existing value dimensions. Among other things this can be done through more authentic delivery of attributes and benefits. Priyanka Chopra is getting into the skin of the Olympian boxer Mary Kom’s character by living with her and learning boxing. Deepika Padukone delivers her lines in heavy duty South Indian accent in Chennai Express. Then there was immortal characterisation of Amitabh Bachchan as a progeria ridden child in Paa. The characters acquire appropriate physique, wardrobe, hairstyle, and the accent. Earlier masala movies always customised their characters according to the star essaying the role. But now Farhan Akhtar, for his screen avatar of Milkha Singh, trained extensively on race tracks, underwent high altitude training, developed the same body structure, stance, and running style as that of the athlete. He worked out to acquire a ripped body with less than 5% body fat. Kai Po Che, Chashme Baddoor, Jolly LLB, Ashiqui 2, all small budget films did well at the box office due to quality content. Lootera characters being 1950s vintage wear clothes that were fashioned after rummaging through old Calcuttan zamindar families’ albums, portraits, or ever the actual costumes of those times. To give the clothes naturally aged and home washed look they were repeatedly washed at a dhobi ghaat (and not in a laundry) but not ironed so as to give them a naturally crumpled look.

Alternatively, you can create new value dimensions. Instead of simple love stories now cinema goers prefer romance laced with other undercurrents. Lootera is positioned as a crime thriller, while Shudh Desi Romance tries to understand how modern lifestyle is seeping into the simplistic small town set up and violating time-tested values like love, trust, and commitment. Old hits are being remixed with new sounds and English lyrics so as to suit the younger audience since a major utility of a Bollywood song nowadays is to serve well as a track for dance floor. Since the movies are getting real, more and more gray characters, appearing as anti heroes, are able to connect better with the audience who is looking for something unique, something different. Manoj Bajpai in Gangs of Wasseypur, the average looking Dhanush in Raanjhanaa, Akshaya Kumar as an unassuming trickster, wearing spectacles, moustache, and oiled hair in Special 26 all break away from stereotypes, yet have been embraced by the audience. You have to connect well with the customers. In Punjab now Heer wears Swaroski studded bangles while Ranjha sports a Rolex. Mika drives an Orange hued Hummer and Honey Singh expounds virtues of a Gucci handbag, simultaneously zipping in a Bugati announcing his preference for a desi over a gori girl. Sharry Maan waeves in Armani in his songs. All these songs extol the aspirational Punjabi lifestyle which itself seeks to imitate Western way of living. What if a Pajero is driven in the fields ideally suited for tractor! Desi beats do the trick for firangi brands.

And yet you have to bow to the customer’s sensitivities and sensibilities. In Chennai Express Deepika is playing a traditional Tamil girl. But she is being criticised for using a Malyali and not Tamil accent. Being born in Copenhagen and bred in Bengaluru setting apart the two twangs in spoken Hindi must be tough of course for Deepika. Anyway in Rohit Shetty’s films detailing is hardly cared for; so an accent coach might not be available perhaps on the sets. But the audience is unforgiving; brand authenticity cannot be allowed to be compromised.

So remember unique must be relevant too. Poor Emraan Hashmi is not allowed to shift to artsy and edgy cinema (Ek Thi Daayan, Shanghai, Ghanchakkar – all flops) since his fans like and expect him to be the lovable bad boy who sings Aatif Aslam songs preferably in Vishesh Films productions. Dharmendra (Yamla Pagla Deewana 2) forgot that film stars need to reinvent themselves with advancing age – like Brand Bachchan has done by doing solid character roles among a young star cast (Mohabatein, Kabhi Khushi, Kaante, Baghban).

Success mantra therefore remains: position yourself at a unique but relevant point in the customer’s mind map; else your brand will merely resemble a blip, hanging like an albatross around the marketer’s neck (Agent Vinod, Matroo, et al). Brands are for making moolah, not just for winning accolades, after all!


Tuesday, May 21, 2013



To those familiar with the craft of managing successful brands it came as perhaps a surprise that Anna Hazare found no place in India Today’s 2013 compilation of the most powerful people in India, even though the social activist had topped the list for 2012. A careful analysis would throw up many factors that could be responsible for this. In the first place, those who promoted the brand (media, corporates, et al) and crafted a halo around him had their own agenda which did not match the philosophy of brand Anna.

Incidentally, before brand Anna was catapulted into the national market he had very limited regional aspirations confined to the constituency of Maharashtra. Yet, suddenly he was elevated as a pan-India brand with mass appeal. While his commitment to the cause cannot be doubted, one needs to admit that he exhibited individual situational appeal. The brand could gain mindspace of the target audience, even if for a while, because the need gap did exist; the moment was opportune, providing an apt backdrop to the launch of the brand. The need – sounding a bugle against corruption and steering a movement against it – was manifested in national frustration, particularly among the middle class, the most eager consumer. In its desperation to pin responsibilities on to someone for his globally induced economic miseries aam aadmi was willing to trust the unbelievable promise from the brand Anna: A Jan Lokpal will make all the corruption go away (as if by a magic wand), and this would mean an end to his miseries.

The Anna campaign was never a long term movement; it was perhaps not meant to be. Those who fanned the fire included media personalities on one hand whose limited agenda was to get a TRP booster shot for their channels and the corporate bigwigs providing advertising support on the other – not withstanding the fact that many of them were themselves embroiled in various issues, or was it precisely because of this reason – who too wanted a limited jugalbandi. So it was not very long before some of those who had responded to brand Anna’s call shifted away. The Hazare sales pitch was predicated on the target audience’s weakness for seeking magic potions for a terminal disease, something that had proved to be the undoing of even a wise man like Steve Jobs.

To be sure the energy and frustration that sustained brand Anna and all that was linked with him has not disappeared, but the sober thinking of the high involvement purchase kind has returned; the customer is no more an impulsive buyer and wants more mettle behind the strategy that promoted brand Anna.

In the beginning, brand Anna worked because it was perceived to be a solution based offering. Indeed, building brands and communicating with the public at large needs this singular trait most of all. He was and is still very largely seen as a simple, honest, old, frail man who owns nothing and has only asked for public support. He was fire, light, hope. Most importantly he was “me”. He inspired the target audience.

Moreover, the brand focussed on a single issue – corruption. If a brand hypes ten good things about itself, the target buyer remembers none. But if it talks about only one thing that satisfies people’s need, it is etched in buyer’s memory. Of course, this was also ensured, at least partly due to influence on public emotions and mass hysteria, through media support. In the first half of August 2011, the Jan Lokpal Bill hogged 77% coverage on the top 10 TV news shows. In the beginning, Anna built a good team by taking in people whose skills complemented what he required. The brand was imbued with passion and purpose. It even used social media networks very effectively to reach out to the younger generation. And the brand was authentic.

The brand managers for Anna also used Gandhi – our national sacred symbol for all things puritanical – to market his movement. The strategy is somewhat akin to the one used to market Bollywood sequels, wherein an initial successful brand (say, Golmaal) is used as a springboard to attain success for the subsequent launch. At the same time, although he tried to rebuild and reenergize the Gandhi brand, while building and strengthening himself, the Indian civil society overall could not perhaps reason out his thoughts and word, nor were they devoid of a feeling of animosity towards those who would not subscribe to their cause or disagree with their perspectives. His campaign managers started calling his campaign as the second freedom movement. It built a large amount of expectation around the movement, something his followers might have been hugely disappointed in when the Jan Lokpal did not actually fructify.

This is a classic case study of branding where a purpose instead of a proposition was sought to be marketed. The campaign was enormously successful too, since it was based on a larger cause, a purpose that was both current and real; it promised attainment of an immediate milestone – the Jan Lokpal; it was woven around distinct symbols, role models, and rituals; it was an integrated campaign, online and on ground; and it chose media as the target audience too. And yet, the brand seems to have faded into oblivion because the campaign was made around an unsustainable model, a fact that was revealed before the target audience not before long. The cause is not to be doubted, but the fact is that the Indian civil society is not alien to rising up one day to fight for a cause and sleeping the next; one big reason for the whole movement slowing down in speed.

Three things make a great brand: a compelling idea, a need gap, and convincing communication about brand’s capabilities to bridge the gap. Anna was and definitely remains a compelling idea as projected by the media. He represents something – angst and anger against corruption and economic misery – that the whole of India was and is up in arms against. With no resources and nothing to lose, he remains an antihero. And he promises along with Arvind Kejriwal to fill a need gap – rooting out corruption. He was supposed to be an enabler. But this is where perhaps Arvind Kejriwal, with his eyes on mastering the system – by taking part in elections – is gaining mileage and brownie points.

From brand promise to brand action, from what a brand says to what it actually does (because it has the capability), Anna Hazare gave a call for action. Alas, he failed to convert his promise into action not because of anything else but because the time duration in which the change was promised was too less, something the team could not manage. The brand failed to deliver what it promised. As a brand, Anna was packaged to perfection. As a sustainable movement, perhaps it will be the Aam Aadmi Party that will achieve much more.


Tuesday, March 19, 2013



Recently UK based pizzeria Metro Pizza landed in Mumbai with its trademark meter-long pizza. The menu retains similarities to that of its principal counterparts, yet some items have been added on to suit the Indian palate and product mix. When Lavazza entered India in 2007 it decided to reflect its Italian origin by drawing inspiration from all things Italian, including art, culture, fashion, etc. To establish a unique identity it decided to go beyond merely retailing food and coffee. But, at Starbucks in India each store takes inspiration from local culture. The chain has retained certain Starbucks iconic offerings like chocolate muffins and cakes, but has introduced other food items that would please the local palate. Since the brand counts India among the top five global markets, it is willing to make locally relevant innovations in product and processes. In fact, the latest store at Delhi showcases examples of Indian craft of weaving and sports handicrafts made by local artistes.

So there are no universal guideposts for food chains. But are there any rules to break? Let’s examine if we become wiser by reading what follows now as ‘A morons’s guide to hospitality marketing 1.0’.

The first poser, should you, a foreign brand, enter India? This is a clear no brainer. India is the biggest consumption market in the world. Urban Indians spend 11% of their income on eating out. Nuclear households, rising affluence, more and more working women, food shows on TV and social media, increasing international travel, a very large young population – all these factors have ensured that by 2015 the Indian restaurant industry is likely to become Rs.62,500 crore plus, up from Rs.43,000 crore currently. If Indian restaurants industry hits the same percentage of GDP as in US, then this figure would be a stupendous Rs.1,80,000 crore. The untapped potential is really mouthwatering. Average bill per person in a quick service restaurant (QSR) ranges between Rs.70 and Rs.300, while for casual/ fine dining it is between Rs.750 and Rs.3,000. QSR business returns 15-25% margin while the other segment enriches the owner at 20%-40%. One dampener, however: High rentals.

Second, have you studied your market in terms of its occupants and their profile? It must be realised that nearly 45-48% of Indian population is vegetarian. More importantly, the remaining population too is non-vegetarian only occasionally. Hardcore carnivores are very few in India. Prudently, therefore, Yauatcha, a London based Cantonese cuisine chain included vegetarian dishes in its menu at Bandra- Kurla complex, Mumbai, since the area is a hub of the business community, dominated by Jains and Marwaris. Hakkasan did the same, using not even onion, garlic, or root vegetables. In Gujarat, which has majority population being vegetarian, KFC, Pizza Hut, Domino’s, McDonald’s, and Subway have some pure vegetarian outlets with special Jain counters. Not only this, regional variations in taste abound. While Satrbucks offers ‘Mutton Seekh in Roomali Roti’ in Delhi, it sells ‘Elaichi Mawa Croissant’ in Mumbai. Even celebrity fine dining spaces succumb to the dictates of local taste buds. Le Cirque at Leela Delhi, bowing to Indian predilection, offers both French and Italian dishes. Starbucks also hawks tea at its outlets. Due to dominance of youngsters all the coffee chains are positioning themselves as a ‘fun place to be at’, a hangout spot. And since most Indians like to munch with their beverages, Dunkin’ Donuts has positioned itself as a food café, the sweet spot between routine cafes and QSRs. Besides, it offers salty donuts in India. Costa Coffee too uses brighter colours and lights, tailoring to Indian preferences in its properties, along with a lot many ‘coolers’ on its menu due to tropical Indian climes. While the usual European style is maintained, alterations have been made in terms of tastes. All Domino’s outlets have ‘dine in’ facility now, which bring in nearly half the total cash.

Third, so should you be stubbornly authentic, adapt, or Indianise completely? The simple answer would be: While you stick to your expertise, you also need to strike a fine balance adapting to local taste and flavour. Rara Avis, a single cuisine restaurant, offers authentic home-cooked rustic French food having (like original) even rabbit and escargot on the menu. So does Chez Mariannick at Banglore. But Rara Avis offers 18 vegetarian options too, absent in the original menu. Sufiserves authentic Persian cuisine but with some north Indian dishes to appeal to a larger customer base. When Bagels Café opened its doors in 2008 it decided to serve bagels in authentic European style, but was soon forced to include options like ‘paneer tikka’ and ‘masala omlette’ variants. So you can only hope that gradually the customer will move to the ‘original stuff;’ but initially she will not be very adventurous. Remember, food consumption is dictated by cultural norms too which are rather inflexible.

Fourth, what should you adopt – hands off approach or personalisation? Now, since the chefs themselves are redefining the concepts and restaurants (at least at fine dining properties), many of them are hired not merely for their cuisine based skills but also for their marketing acumen. They are expected to design and innovate menus, come out of the kitchen and sell their food to the customer, explaining their signature dishes. At Kunafa, Delhi, Naseer Barakat, the proprietor, personally acquaints customers with the many varieties of confections available. In 2002, lebua offered even a limousine pick up for the customer from his home to the hotel.

Fifth, local sourcing, or global? Worldwide all luxury hotels are following the localisation mantra. At Intercontinental, a brand manager brings in local culture by hiring 10-15 designers who prepare alternatives. Feedbacks then are taken from local partners, and then only the final nod. Not so necessarily when it comes to sourcing talent, or ingredients, though. Quality issue then is the guidepost. So Kunafa imports ‘halwais,’ celebrity chefs are hired from abroad on fancy salaries, and ingredients may be partly/fully imported if not available locally or do not meet quality standards. While QSRs, which have to be necessarily cost conscious, increasingly work towards indigenisation, speciality restaurants in star properties offering international cuisine often import heavily.

Finally, the process of delivery. Mc- Donald’s keeps track of the products it sources from 40 different suppliers across India. Tracing the movement of 8,500- 9,000 buns, 3,000-3,500 kgs of tomatoes, 2,000 kgs of iceberg lettuce, and 5,500 slices of cheese constantly (on a daily basis) ensures consistency in taste of food and observance of international levels of safety standards. Each burger undergoes 40 separate tests throughout the chain. Similarly, many expat chefs while procuring locally, personally visit markets to buy vegetables. Another important fact is that in India, a QSR is expected to serve fast, but the customer is likely to hang around. So, turnover is likely to be relatively lower. And people prefer combos because they are akin to ‘thali style’, besides sounding ‘economical’.

In short, Indian market is exceedingly complex, varied, yet enticing. Nurturing the food brands here is even more taxing than rearing a cranky baby. Neither initial setbacks nor early endorsements of a brand should be read as a thumbs up sign from the market. Most importantly, constant innovation and adapting to local needs sure will help. For instance, Pullman, a luxury hotel in Gurgaon from Accor Group, gets its crockery from Auroville in South India just to cement French connections. Even Hyatt at Delhi has a full floor for Japanese where electric controls are at relatively lower heights keeping in mind the shorter heights of the Japanese.

There are some cardinal rules that must be followed, but others can be reinterpreted. reed.


Thursday, February 21, 2013


The U.S. coffee chain Starbucks opened its 7th store in the country on 6th February this year. It said that the brand counted India among the top five global Starbucks market in time to come. For this it was willing to make investments in aggressive expansion and locally relevant innovations (in its products and processes). Thus the store at Delhi showcased examples of Indian craft of weaving and sported handicrafts made by local artists. For its menu also the company has kept the Indian palette in mind; it includes items like Murg Makhni pie and mutton seekh roll, besides also offering Tata Tazo Tea ,a rarity at Starbucks worldwide. Will it do well? Well, sure it can provided the marketer does not try to sell frame as painting. In which case the warrior may not emerge the winner; the devil will devour the hindmost.

Way back in 1999 use of Barista brand name, an Italian word for a cafe, in India was rather an adventurous christening. Barista had opened its first outlet at Basant Lok, Vasant Vihar, one of the most happening places for test marketing youth hang outs. Barista, meaning brewmastersomeone who prepares and serves coffee-was chosen since all smart evolved coffee lovers are expected to know that Italy is the cradle of coffee. The brand wanted to recreate an authentic Italian coffee experience. Indeed, it wanted to present them a true blue coffee culture evoking a feeling, mood, and ambience symbolizing ‘brio’ (energy) reflecting ‘verismo’ (truth) adding to a matchless ‘virtuoso’ (a mastery touch) performance befitting a real cognoscenti.

Barista had a simple and focused vision of “offering consumers a never before experience while they sipped coffee of the highest intangible quality in an ambience powered by innovation and designed to offer heightened experience levels at every turn as they go along….experience that is not stagnant or likely to erode with time but ever rejuvenated and enriched by creativity, imagination taste, and style.” To deliver this experience the brand opted for serving limited but diverse and exotic range of coffee, food, music, games, decor, indeed the overall ambience of an authentic coffee bar. By year 2010 (they began in early 2000) Barista wanted to become top of the line global player with a minimum of a thousand outlets in India.

Café Coffee Day was dismissed as a competitor for ‘the highly experiential and premium’ brand. Barista wanted to position itself within the competitive arc of starred restaurants, snazzy upmarket coffee and other outlets, cine-multiplexes, malls, and plazas-any place inhabited by cool, sophisticated, and young at heart people doing time out.

Barista’s USP then was being customer driven, connecting with two specific moods that would largely colour the drinker as he steps inside, relaxation and recharge. The experience inside was expected to serve the customer well, additionally because the coffee served was hundred percent ARABICA served through Italian coffee machines. Porcelence (no styrofoam cups, please) was the serveware since it retains the heat, flavour, and aroma of coffee, as no other material does. The brew masters were trained to decipher and connect with their customer’s preference and choices. Little wonder, in absence of effective competition, the brand recorded a healthy 25% annual increase in footfalls, that too through only word of mouth publicity and viral marketing. Not a paisa spent on mainline advertising.

Further, sound of Barista (the customized music tracks played during different times of the day in sync with the mood and sensibilities of different set of customers), loyalty programs, special games, diverse food items in league with the season and customers preferences, and then some more wowing techniques went a long way to deliver the real, true blue Barista experience.

Barista had been mighty successful in introducing a defining coffee culture, in a warm and friendly ambience. It opened out a ‘whole new world of coffee drinking experience by offering Capuccino, Latte, Caramel, Mocha, you name it, alongwith fusion meals, so as to transform a commodity into a culture by creating value that refreshed the body while stimulating the entire being and enriching the soul.’

Alas, the experiment started floundering after a very promising start even though the experience was still nothing to complain about. Some where the brand lost its script. So what went wrong? Well, we hardly have the space here to unfold the subsequent chain of events. Suffice to say nurturing the brand is more taxing than rearing a baby. Starbucks needs to keep this in mind; it should not take early endorsement of a brand by a limited set of coffee afficianados as being a sign of thumbs up by the entire market.

P.S: We at Theory i are of firm conviction that management cases don’t admit of one single ideal solution. Depending on the context multiple-and equally potent-approaches may be perfectly justified. Hence your magazine does not append ‘solutions’ to these cases.