What it takes:The challenges

The challenges Best Indian Brands face in the journey to being the Best Global Brands and our challenges in navigating them

“We checked at various stores and online too. This Best Indian Brands book is not available. We want to buy it”

“We had a board meeting after you published your ranking. We have many companies. The chairman wanted to know which one is contributing to valuation”

“We did very well in all the surveys so far. We are the biggest company in this sector. How come we aren’t there in your list?”

“How much do you charge for including companies in the list?”

From innocent entrepreneurs to aggressive banks to monolithic PSUs to street smart companies – post the last year’s inaugural league table of Best Indian Brands; we had a number of interesting and interested queries.

Perhaps the last one went on to prove the provoking statement made by Michael Porter when he exlained why Indian or Asian companies were still far from being globally respected businesses or brands. “These companies don’t have strategies, they do deals.” Indeed, this mentality often leads to a short-term sales focus where results are expected next month” – said Mr. Porter wisely of the region’s businesses.

This deal-led myopia only got aggravated in the recent years of slowdown. Ironically the ambitions for a global stature simultaneously grew, creating perhaps the deepest singular challenge for us all.

Not surprisingly the rather out of place question that haunted us in the inaugural year of 2013 of Best Indian Brands where the focus was meant to be the local league table was – “Is there an Indian Brand in Interbrand’s Best Global Brands?” The fact that there isn’t any yet made the question more about why and the theme for this year had chosen itself.

Not just Indian but very few Asian companies have managed to build valuable international brands. In Interbrand’s “Best Global Brands” rankings, only a handful of brands come from Asia. In fact, before 2001

Japanese brands were the only Asian brands listed. And it was only about a decade ago that Samsung entered from South Korea – and another four years before LG and Hyundai joined it on the list.

So why aren’t Indian or broadly speaking, Asian brands outside of Japan and South Korea ranked on Interbrand’s “Best Global Brands”? In my mind, it has to do with a prevalent business belief that brand is a cost, rather than a strategic and long-term investment. Here businesses clearly lead the brand with the latter mostly relegated to an expression tool. The Economist, which published an article few years back about why there are so few world-class companies from the region, seems to agree as well.

Many of our experiences as we moved from the introduction of Best Indian Brands last year to a more refined version this year, were around some fundamental challenges. Challenges that go beyond the anecdotal ones listed at the beginning:

  1. The challenge of benchmarking:

With the increasing globalization, we now have many global brands as the primary competition for Indian Brands in the domestic market itself. So if an Indian brand has to do well, it has to win against the global brands in India. And if that needs to be done anyways, why should these Indian brands not replicate their success outside?

There’s an even more compelling reason for Indian brands to do so. Consider the examples of the familiar global brands in the auto sector that have taken the market by storm over the recent years. And what have they done?

They have simply brought in their global best sellers in segments relevant to India, and with the cushion of success in the global markets, they have disrupted the market by offering aspirational vehicles at a price lower than the segment benchmarks. Situations like these will continue to happen with increasing frequency across segments.

We have been reasoning out with our partners that it makes sense for the Indian brands to not just fight a tough battle in the Indian market against the global brands propelled by their global strengths, but to get competitively offensive, flanking these brands in their global turfs too.

  1. The challenge of Self-Belief to take the center stage globally:

As we come to terms with the inevitability of competing globally, the next question that presents itself is which global markets should the Indian companies target. There is a significant shift we need to undergo here as well.

Since most Indian companies developed their portfolio of products and services in accordance with the immediate drivers of choice that fuel growth, taking the same line globally works only in value driven emerging and underdeveloped markets.

Conveying that this may be fine for creating global businesses but is certainly not good enough for becoming a global Brand has been a regular subject for us in the recent year.

  1. The challenge of an ‘inside out’ perspective:

As the central global turfs get chosen with confidence, the imperative to build the portfolio on globally relevant drivers of choice sets in. For the chosen turfs, understanding their demand drivers and committing investments for real innovations to evolve the current portfolio has been a necessary area of clarity in our consultations.

  1. The challenge of housing the Brand within marketing or worse still with the ad agency:

Many companies in India believe that brand building is a short-term and tactical advertising campaign, or a quick exercise to refresh their logo. We have had to constantly educate and encourage senior managers to see their brands as long-term investments, rather than short-term projects to boost sales numbers next month.

For the chosen turfs, brands must understand the drivers of choice and commit investments for real innovations to evolve their current portfolio.

  1. The challenge of not understanding the internal role of a brand and rushing to express it to the external world:

With the expression primacy of modern India, advocating a culture that leverages the global brand definition internally for behavioural change has been a significant challenge. Beyond the intent, embedding the global brand imperatives on business behaviour, and managing the change by way of internal engagement are tasks we believe as central to the challenges as any.

So, how can we persuade Indian businesses to think about brands di erently? Perhaps, the best way is to o er more examples of brands close to home that have seen successful.

Toyota, which is ranked number six on the Best Global Brands, has built a successful brand based on three key factors. First, Toyota has understood that brand building is a strategic investment that requires long-term planning. Second, they have understood what customers want and have managed to develop and launch products that meets these needs. Third, they have created an internal culture that focuses on teamwork and an understanding of how each employee contributes to the success of the brand.

Samsung, which entered Interbrand’s “Best Global Brands” ranking in 2001, and is now ranked at number 8, can also o er important insights. First, Samsung invested heavily in R&D to improve its product. Second, they developed a brand platform and brand architecture that laid the foundation for all marketing activities. This meant that they could shape people’s perceptions in a coordinated and consistent manner, and create greater impact and operational efficiencies at the same time.

Both of these brands effectively invested in a long-term brand strategy and saw it pay o . If Indian brands were willing to do the same, they could potentially see the same kind of success as Toyota and Samsung.

As a leading brand consultant in the region, I see the need to continue to educate senior managers, using examples like these to show that brand is an asset that requires long-term management and planning. If Indian companies begin to change their brand mindset, the opportunities are limitless.

Indeed, opportunities are a positive way of looking at the challenges. And there can’t be a stronger motivation for us than to act as a bridge of sorts in the Indian corporate world – between the two league tables we bring to the market – Best Indian Brands and Best Indian Brands.


Managing Director, India