Thursday, June 16, 2011



Lady Gaga has become the flashiest and most ubiquitous pop queen of the 21st century. By her own admission she is a ‘show without an intermission’. The Fame, The Fame Monster, and Burn This Way, her albums have sold millions of copies in the US alone. Of course, she was not an overnight sensation; she had her quota of early rejections. But she never lost her ambition and drive; being always ‘in the boxing ring’ she is now at the pinnacle of success. She rehearses too in full make up – dark lipstick, elaborately lined and lashed eyes, blood red fingernails, and a jacket that barely covers her thighs. Even if initially people did not think anything of her talent, she is presently a goddess, a counsellor, and a cheerleader to hordes of her fans. The venerated magazine The Economist says that she is a leader in the same league as Mother Teresa and a role model for the corporate world.

Such is the stuff iconic brands are made of. Every marketer has a dream to develop and sustain powerful brands. Baba Ramdev to Rolex, Lux to Lady Gaga are other marketers’ envy. Brand equity – consisting of the differential attributes underpinning a brand which give added value to the firm’s balance sheet – has to be carefully built and nurtured for attaining this status.


Saif, Shahrukh, and Salman share one common trait in their recent flicks (Agent Vinod, Ra.One, and Bodyguard): They herald the comeback of stereotypical hero of yore. Post 1991 upper middle class and NRI audience, coupled with the advent of multiplex phenomenon, prompted the producers to release movies like Hum Aapke Hain Kaun (HAHK) and Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (DDLJ), films which had romance and family drama as dominant themes. However, the burgeoning lower and middle class, patronising less expensive single screens, forms the lucrative “bottom of the pyramid” market. They demanded and have got back their larger than life iconic heroes. Even if later the trend may move in some other direction, right now Bodyguard, Ready or Singham are likely to top the box office collection charts. The marketer has to listen to the customers.

When a new brand is developed initially it can be described only through its physical characteristics. A marketer must get his product right. Multinationals, with their ignorance and arrogance towards Indian market, often get it wrong be it Reebok (no coloured uppers in their casual shoes, initially), Tang (no mango flavour!), or Kellogg (cold milk, routinely?). And pay a price for this complacency.


To convert a product (undifferentiated offering) into a brand (product with a distinct identity), its identity needs to be created and a positioning strategy has to be decided. First of all, the name of the brand has to carefully chosen.

Sam Gimignano, the Italian restaurant at the Imperial Hotel, is named after a pretty medieval hill town in Tuscany, Italy. Dakshin is appropriately named because it offers authentic coastal specialities (at Welcome Sheraton Hotel, Delhi) from the four southern states. However, the Zest had to change itself to SET’Z within a year. And need we tell you what happened to a lipstick brand which required PYTs (Pretty Young Thing) to ask for Kiss & Tell (the brand name!) from the shopkeeper?

Along with the name positioning plays a critical role in introducing the brand and carving out a distinct identity. DIVA by chef Ritu Dalmia refuses to serve ‘Indo-Italian’ aberration, while the menu is changed every three months. At Bukhara (ITC Maurya), serving the likes of Clintons, Obamas, and Karzais, however, the short and simple menu has consciously not been changed since its opening 33 years ago; the USP lies in being the same old place. Cocoberry has positioned its unique frozen flavoured yoghurt as a healthy lifestyle brand. This has helped it etch out a unique identity quite different from other FMCG players like Baskin Robbins, which has a pure indulgence orientation.


When a brand is launched three objectives need to be achieved: attainment of brand awareness (through recognition and/or recall), the development of favourable associations, and involving the customers to the level of purchase and trial. At times a brand is already known and tried by the target customers at another physical location. When it is introduced in a new more convenient location to such customers, acceptance should come relatively easily. Hakkasan, the originally London based top-end restaurant, has been witnessing packed tables since it opened in Mumbai this June. This, despite complete absence of advertising or preopening publicity. Indian visitors to London are already enamoured of its reputation and popularity. But the issue of right timing for the launch is crucial too. Currently Indian market seems to be ready for international dining experience. But Nobu, another chain for gourmet dining, made three attempts – all in vain – in past to register its presence in India, encouraged by the fact that it has branches in nearly all of the world’s great cities, barring India. The effort yielded no result because till now India had been immune to the cult of the up market restaurants. ‘Such fancy prices’ and ‘advance reservation’ were the reactions that came with exclamation marks from the targeted Indians.

At other times repackaging and repositioning might help. Traditional Indian treatments are being reformulated as luxury exotic experiences so that they find more takers than traditional Ayurveda can hope to. Smelly oils used in traditional massage at Ananda, a luxury destination spa in Himalayas, have been replaced by specially developed deodorised ones. Kaya Kalpa at ITC Mughal, Agra has successfully repositioned the Mughal hammam into a voyage in luxury. Bridal ubtans, post childbirth massages, and the likes are being repackaged to appeal to the deep pocketed patrons.

Brand awareness (through visual recognition and/or verbal recall) depends on effective brand communication. “2-minute” promise of Maggi, Nirma jingle, and the sign off line “I love you Rasna” are the stuff legendary communication are made of. The distinct packaging of Johnson & Johnson baby products, Cadbury Dairy Milk, Kit Kat likewise call out for customer’s attention. Additionally, the customer has to be incentivised to prefer and try a marketer’s brand. The 24x7 Bar at Hotel Lalit hosts a high heel night every Thursday when female patrons get 10% off on their drinks for every inch of the heel on their shoes. Result: Instead of an average of 20 guests, the number has been swelling to 75-90. The Chalchitra Café at GK-II (in New Delhi) assures a 10% discount if you are on café’s Blackberry messenger list.

Despite all this, however, distribution sometime can prove to be the nemesis of a brand. While Bharti and Hutch both entered Indian mobile services market at the same time, Bharti quickly took the lead in subscriber numbers since Hutch made the mistake of focusing only on the large and lucrative circles and positioned itself as a premium brand. Café Coffee Day (CCD) has nearly 1,100 cafés now. Maruti has a 45% market share, partly because with 100 dealers in 643 cities its reach is thrice that of Hyundai, the number 2 in the passenger automobiles. Baba Ramdev reaches 30 million people daily through his daily yoga telecast on 27 channels. In addition, he attracts commoners and leaders alike through yoga shivirs, books, and CDs.

Finally, price plays an important factor in inducing trial. Pepsico’s Lays is facing tough competition from Johnniescome- lately, the smaller players like Balaji, and Prakash snacks. To counter it, it has recently introduced another brand Lehar at Rs.5 for a 20 gm pack, the idea being to make inroads into the “bottom of the pyramid” market. Most of these small players have been low on advertising; but at the same time, on one hand are competitively priced and on the other have been penetrating the smallest of towns through direct sales force and substockists.


The long term success of the brand, however, is influenced by the consumer’s perception of its true value. This perception is often based on functional and psychological attributes. Unique performance attributes that appeal to customers make them buy a brand. MacYoga of Ramdev – promising instant, on demand gratification – appeals to both hoi polloi and high profiled.

The core of Dhoni’s brand is a cool determination to win against all odds; this gives him fantastic brand equity. In the high-end apartments builders are now differentiating their offers through technology, sports academies, golf courses, and so on. At Dakshin, each dish on the menu is cooked in the spices that are traditionally used for it. At Bukhara quality checks are so stringent that each prawn used for Tandoori Jhinga dish has to weigh between 80-120 gms, not even a gram less. ‘And no forks and knives please, we are serving you finger food’. Kebabs are cooked twice so as to keep them succulent. The chefs go through rigorous training to be able to gauge spices, mix marinades, and even judge the heat. Result: Even with a cover price of about Rs.20,000 for a table for four, you have to either make advance reservation or wait for at least 45 minutes, even a couple of hours, on busy days.

A customer also uses the subjective criteria (past experience, associated cues, etc) for evaluation. Ai (meaning love in Japanese language) partly owes its success to the name of the owner A. D. Singh, a well known restaurateur. China Kitchen (Hyatt Regency, Delhi) roasts Peking Duck in an old fashioned wooden oven. The magic of Magique (owned by famed Marut Sikka) is known for elegant presentation of dishes which are served by hospitable and attentive staff. The intimate aura is created around twilight when the sitting place is lit up with lamps making for a romantic evening.


Eventually the brand becomes a part of the consumer’s brand repertoire. At this stage he stops comparing it with competing brands, choosing it over them habitually, routinely. Such brand loyalty of course is a function of several factors like the perceived quality of the brand (Dum- Pukht at ITC Maurya), the perceived value image (Forest Essentials range of personal care products), the trust placed in the brand (Nokia), and the commitment the customer feels towards a brand (Tata Salt). A committed consumer guarantees future income streams as well as facilitating brand extensions by transferring any positive associations to new brands. In the past six years or so Ramdev has created a loyal customer base through enviable communication and wide distribution network; this parallels that of many big market led consumer brands in India.

Indipop, ruling between 1995-2000, on the other hand died because the myopic music companies, blinded by big buck earnings, started introducing cheaper but very mediocre stuff. International sensations like Kate Perry, Shakira, and Lady Gaga easily dethroned the likes of Alisha, Biddu or Lucky Ali.


The last stage in the evolution and development of brand equity enables a marketer to strategically exploit any equity the parent brand has built up, into newer areas of promise. Brand loyalty allows companies to further grow the brand equity by gaining commitments towards related brands from existing consumers and existing channels. Baba Ramdev, the savvy marketer that he is, is trying to use his phenomenal success as a yoga guru to extend his brand to social activism and politics. His Facebook page has now 61,000 fans. 3.2 million people have already joined his anti-corruption campaign online. His pan India presence and popularity cannot be surpassed by any politician. His image of a true yogi (selfless, pure, and do gooder) has rubbed off on his activist avatar. The audience grants him a lot of credibility while his bhaktas are willing to lap up whatever he offers in verticals other than his core ones (yoga & ayurveda). Kissan (HUL), Dove, and umpteen other brands try for attractive bottomlines through the same route of brand extension.

So, unless you are in the business of selling lip tattoos or stick on stones for the pout, you have to have a long term strategy aiming at creating, nurturing and then harvesting the brand. More importantly, you must have the correct route map.