Brands 2004: my list of winners

Written by Suhel Seth | Updated: Dec 30 2004, 05:30am hrs
2004 was a defining year for Indian industry: because when the earlier regime fell, it fell because it promised an India that was apparently shining: but then that was certainly not the case as was evidenced by the win of the Congress and its allies. Their arrival was greeted with a crash of the stock market, but the inherent competence and resilience of Indian brands shone through and how!

The House of Tatas: 2004 is perhaps the year when Ratan Tata could lay claim to the house he built. The Tatas celebrated a century of trust but, more important, Ratan celebrated the increased respect with which the Tatas are held. There was no better testimony to this than the listing of TCS as also the various joint ventures which the Tata companies got into: be it with Daewoo or Nat Steel. Brand Tata, to my mind, was the dominant brand for 2004: it is likely to remain so in 2005 as well.

ITC: While a lot may be said about the slow and steady growth of its lifestyle and foods business, there is no doubt that ITC today has risen up the investor value-chain like never before and Yogi Deveshwar is unarguably the tallest leader it has ever had. Under him, the e-choupal initiative has now become a byword for creating wealth in developing economies while in its core businesses, ITC continues to perform very well. The fact that the hotels business is doing exceedingly well is a measure of how this company has diversified: consolidating at every step.

Mahindra & Mahindra: It continues to be the leitmotif of the automobile business and has taught existing players a lesson or two. Scorpio is a hit and so is the service provided by M&M. The fact that M&M is today seriously investing in research and development as well as employing scientific marketing tools in its allied business is an indicator of things to come. And when you have the energised Anand Mahindra at the helm, things cant go very wrong. They almost never will. What gladdened me even more was that M&M showed it has its heart in the right place by sponsoring a theatre festival: a first for any auto major in our country. Ever!

Coca-Cola: The public acclaim by the newly appointed global chairman of Coca-Cola, Neville Isdell, of the Indian operations was appropriate since at both the marketing level and the overall corporate strategy level, Coke played its cards right: their affordability strategy worked in expanding the CSD (carbonated soft drinks) market as also their effective usage of advertising and communication helped them become Indias favourite soft drink. 2004 also saw the effective demise of the vicious campaign that has now become the hallmark of shrill activists. With the company growing at 20%, the real thing is having a real good time in the market!

Reliance Infocomm: There is no question that apart from all that may have happened in the media in terms of the two brothers, Mukesh Ambani has created a brand that every aam aadmi in this country loves. So much so that when Reliance went 10-digit, it was part of national headlines on many news channels. This is only an indicator of how many people this brand has ensnared and perhaps, once again, using price as the effective weapon.

The real Mittal: I am not talking about Lakshmi Mittal, who is more well known as Indias richest man in the United Kingdom. I am referring to the homegrown Sunil Bharti Mittal, who showed great resilience and, if I may add, enormous courage to stand up to competition, both national and international and create value for the Airtel brand like perhaps no one has or ever will. The fact that today Bhartis market cap is higher than that of HLL is another story by itself. But one which Sunil Mittal has not stopped writing. What I am keenly looking forward to, is his foray into foods. Because if he can do to our farm produce what he has done to telecom, our farmers will earn and live a lot better!

Indian Airlines: I must have taken over a hundred Indian Airlines flights in 2004: not one, yes, not one of them was delayed by more than 15 minutes. I never had to wait for my luggage, because it got there before I reached the terminal building. I never had to worry about calories while flying with them because they carried diet food. And then they ran what was unarguably one of the finest advertising campaigns. If there was a dark horse of 2004. it was Indian Airlines: they have also proved to the world and beyond, that ultimately the game is not about public sector undertakings and private companies: it is about the people that corporations employ and the management depth they have. Indian Airlines, to my mind, was the best service brand in 2004. And what an amazing turnaround that is!

NDTV: While Stars supremacy will remain for a long long time, as will its enduring charm and high success rate (now with Star One also recording great achievements), the media stock of 2004 was certainly NDTV. It is the news channel that I watch everytime I want a dose of reality with a difference. Their programming was top rate; their election coverage was outstanding and they proved the skeptics wrong about their prowess in starting and sustaining a Hindi channel.

Today NDTV India outperforms even Aaj Tak on a good day. And the Roys are unstoppable: their business channel will be something to look forward to!

What can we look forward to in 2005 Plenty. If the frenetic surge of the Sensex is any measure, then 2005 will be as delightful for brands to live in as 2004.

The writer is CEO,Equus Redcell