In brands do we trust

Updated: Aug 20 2014, 07:01am hrs
I havent always been a believer in brand surveys especially those done in India. We tend to have skewed databases owing to lazy researchers and then again, there is very little information given by the brands under the survey to the research agency. But thankfully, all of that is changing. These surveys tend to help the research agencies more than the brands they assess. They make money from selling these reports both on the strength of substance and vanity.

The Millward Brown-WPP Brandz 50 Report has very few surprises but what is interesting is that it is more a thesis on the quintessential Indian consumer than any path-breaking insights that would have us startled. Consider this: banks are unusually high in the top-five. One would have thought an FMCG brand like Coca Cola or Cadbury would have been there right at the top, but the reality of such surveys is that they take mass ambiguity into account rather than minority consumer user groups. For instance, in the top-10, we have four banks: nowhere in the world would banks occupy such high positions in a brands top-table survey. So, one would wonder if India, unlike other nations, still trusts its financial institutions Please also note that none of these banks is as high an advertising and marketing spender as some of the FMCG brands; so recall is certainly not the issue. Maybe their brick-and-mortar avatars add to their recall. Could these banks have superlative consumer experience and would this not add or detract from the overall consumer trust in these brands I would imagine there would be some traction on this account but the survey doesnt seem to suggest that.

For the survey to base its insights on the following premise is a bit rich:

Being meaningful and different builds valueIndias most valuable brands are highly relevant to consumers and differentiate themselves through service, new offerings and brand experiences. One such example is personal care brand Colgate (No.28)even after 70 years in India the brand has successfully remained relevant and continues to differentiate itself from the competition

This seems to suggest that Colgate, which is a daily-use brand in cross-segmented consumer homes, is at number 28 but then banks and generic brands such as Bajaj are way up. What is strange is that the survey has no linkages to profit and performance (or for that matter sales and scale) or else how would you explain Hero being below Bajaj

Private sector players and multinational corporations dominatetogether these contribute around 85% of total brand value. They have succeeded by nurturing a strong relationship with Indian consumers.

While the talk of consumer relationships is very divine, the reality is that there must be an overhang of some kind of fallout of brand extensions on the brands listed here: Kingfisher being a case in point. Or are we to assume there is no fallout of the extensive bad press and consumer anger that Kingfisher Airlines has faced on Brand Kingfisher And then lets address the point of Indian versus multinational brands and my question again is that why does Coca Cola not feature and if the argument is that this is only for Indian brands, then is Nestle an Indian brand, or for that matter, Gillette Once again, a contradiction, which is not fathomable.

Megabrands lead the gamelike other fast growing economies, India is dominated by a handful of big brands or companies that own stables of brands: the top-5 account for 45% of the rankings total value. Their tremendous scale and ability to cater to a wide spectrum of the population has translated into financial gains

Once again this is very slippery ground. If megabrands is what the survey points to, then how are brands like Mahindra and Tata not given their rightful place in this constellation of valuable brands

Hence you will observe that this survey and its results suffer from some serious paradoxes but then again, surveys like these are lighthouses for marketers. What does this survey tell us about the future of brands qua the Indian consumer is of greater pertinence

I believe that, like in the West, gradually here in India too, technology brands will rise to the top of any such survey. We will see the meteoric rise of Google, Facebook and Instagram as we will also see the entry of Amazon. While on Amazon, I am a bit surprised that Flipkart doesnt make it to the top-50.

There is also the matter of the evolution of the Indian consumer. We have, for far too long, been a peer-influenced consumer society. What our neighbour tells us of the brand is of great consequence. We are not, by nature risk-takers in either brand selection or category adoption. The fact that the best used technique in our mobile telephony is the missed call should tell us who we really are when it comes to actual consumption. It is also a fact that, like the Romans, we have short memories: we tend to forgive bad service owing to our general karmic nature and do not allow it to influence our brand trust profile. But all of this will change with time.

So, what are my predictions for the future of brands in India

n Brands will have to become easier to experience and easier to access: they will need to use media to engage rather than inform, move from broadcast to dialogue. Brands which do this will do welleven in surveys such as these.

n Brands will need to obliterate as far as possible the class divide: perceptions will need to be mitigatedfrom cost to value, and this migration is essential. I am flummoxed that Tanishq gets a mention whilst Titan doesnt.

n Technology brands will rise to the top table only because of their inherent experiential capability as also their problem-solving nature. With mobile technology becoming more intrusive and less expensive, there will be a lot we will do with the humble mobile phone in addition to the missed call.

n We will see financial institutions set up more pegs in their brand-offering which allow for quicker and more humane consumer redressal than we are seeing today.

n We will see more global brands (also in India) rather than just the Made-in-India brands occupy positions in such surveys as the Indian consumer continues to globalise.

The best part of this survey is that it is a chronicler of our times as consumers and says a lot about the kind of consumers that are evolving in India. I doubt, if in the near future, you will see Indian Oil in the top-15, not because it isnt a great brand but only because commoditisation will no longer be welcome. I also believe groups like the Mahindras and Tatas will see greater consumer traction as they make their business verticals even more consumer responsive than ever before. At times, the spread is the problem and not the solution. So, perhaps some re-branding may be required where the generic name is not all critical. So, expect some changes in 2015. It is indeed acche din both for the Indian consumer and brands per se. I will refrain from giving brands a nationality as the survey has done.

Suhel Seth

The author is managing partner of Counselage.