India: great product, bad positioning

Written by Suhel Seth | Updated: Oct 7 2004, 05:30am hrs
Have you ever wondered why government advertising almost always manages to beat the clutter Not because it is creatively challenging, but only because it is painfully boring. Have you asked yourself when was the last time India marketed itself as a destination, which was more than just about being incredible Have you thought of the plight of such Indian advantages as tea and ayurveda, not to mention yoga, that we have so easily frittered away I guess we as a nation are very poor marketers. Poor because we so easily confuse marketing with advertising. We so readily accept that Manmohan Singhs photograph on every advertisement will help the department of labour position itself as a caring agency.

I guess that is why the Manmohan Singh regime is still grappling with defining a positioning for itself. The tragedy is that the essential product is very good. They have a fine team running India and its finances, they have a government with some very smart ministers and some of them are ready to brave the world. But then pause for a moment and ask yourself what is it of this government that you remember the most. The possible answer will be succumbing to blackmail. To extortionist behaviour of the Left and the Left is not hankering for your or my approval. Whenever Sitaram Yechury takes to the streets, he is satisfying someone in his cadres. It is this understanding that must drive the government to create a governance positioning and a political positioning. Just like they have done for the twin centres of power, for Manmohan and Sonia. But then marketing is some kind of a demon for anyone in power.

Look at the way the BJP used it. India Shining was a typical manufacturers claim (just like Incredible India is) and slogans, thankfully, are different from positioning. Incredible India as an advertising campaign may have excited a few people, but not necessarily owing to the power of the idea, but to the fact that after being so silent for so many years, Brand India finally found a voice. But look at the tragedy of Incredible India. The Taj, which just completed 350 years was left to shimmer in moonlight which none of us could experience. Only because once again the government thought of an idea and not of creating a comprehensive marketing plan. Just like their predecessors did with an India that wasnt shining as brightly in the pockets they advertised in!

The marketing of nations is about building advantages for a country which will endure and provide sustainable brand benefits
For years, we as a nation have either relied on the statesman of the day to define who we are, or trends to denote what we have become. So during some time or the other we alternate between being Nehrus India or Vajpayees India and only in a moment of extreme reality do we accept we are also Narayanamurthys India. But look at the way nations actually market themselves: their positioning is thought out. Dubai is more destination, less desert. Malaysia is more Asia and less island. Colombia is about coffee and not just the mafia. These countries have put out one clear positioning for themselves and it would be incorrect to believe they dont have their share of politicians such as the Yechurys. But the fact is that marketing rises above the demands of the short-term and instead builds for the tomorrows. It is this time that must seize us as a nation. When we are happy to be addressing the world of global investors for Merrill Lynch, or even preparing for a show of strength at Davos, we cannot be worried about what the Surjeets and the Yechurys will tell us, because marketing rises above intermediaries of this kind. Most brands have to suffer the pangs of dissension and acceptance, but it is when you see the greater majority warming up to you, that the marketing battle is won.

The time has come for a collective effort to begin the marketing of India. A process which clearly defines us as a nation and not as the offshoot of any political ideology. Because the marketing of nations, as the venerable strategy guru, Michael Porter, said is his seminal work, is about building advantages for a country which will endure and provide sustainable brand benefits. It is in this context that the national brand equity fund, which has been languishing, needs to be kick-started.

The time to protect our teas and herbs, our yoga and our brainware, has come and it is imperative we begin to build the marketing pyramid. India must be known for more than just the Taj or, for that matter, Bangalore. Because even these we have begun to treat with grave disrespect.

The writer is CEO, Equus Redcell