Saturday, July 26, 2008


IIM's and Poor students

The Sky and the Marketplace

By Harish Bijoor

Q: There are brands that have a good recall but low purchase by consumers. For instance, Amul Chocolate is well know and well recalled brand of chocolates but that recall is not being converted into purchase even though AMUL has launched several chocolate variants like ChocoZoo & SugerFree chocolate. Similar situation is seen with Britannia's MilkMan Dairy Whitener, Anchor Tooth Paste etc.

How do you explain this strange phenomenon?

Muralidhar, Chennai

A: Murali, at the outset, there are two aspects in the realm of selling and marketing. One is the realm of brand image. The other is the realm of sales. The two are twains that meet sometime. And sometime they do not. Or apparently not.

Brand image and recall is one subject. Sales volume and the strategies that fall into place to get that going, is another. In many ways, branding and brand image is not about sales really.

And whenever I say this, the quick question that comes back is a simple one. If branding has little to do with the subject of selling, what’s the use of branding at all?

The answer is a simple one as well. Branding is all about the short-term, medium-term and long-term image of the brand in question. Sales is really the short-term approach to garner market volume. And short-term could mean the sale volume of the monthly cycle even. And sometimes it could mean sales strategy, which could cover a relatively longer period of time.

Brand image therefore does not ensure and assure sale volume. Your brand image could be very positive, and your sales volume could be very, very negative.

Conversion of brand-image into sale volume and value is a very slow process. It is so slow a process that at times it is not visible at all. At times it takes decades for it to happen.

Brand image in many ways is like the sky above us. Everyone knows it is there. Everyone is happy about the way it looks. Everybody looks at it in awe at times. Everyone is comfortable with its presence. Everyone will talk of it in awe. Write poetry on it even.

But no one wants a piece of it. No one wants to own a piece of it. It is just there.

Brand image is therefore not about sales. It is the facilitating environment that creates the positive image that in turn drives interest in the product and its offering. This interest could get converted into an avid desire to own the product or service.

It is there that sales with its allure comes in. Sales tactics offered by clever sellers will help swing the sale in.

Therefore, don’t worry if an Amul chocolate is yet to take off or Britannia image is yet to create that robust sale in the marketplace. Remember, if the sky didn’t exist, the marketplace wouldn’t be there at all.

Q: With the recent fee hikes at IIMs there seems to be a shake-up with students having to cough up more moneys. Is there equity here? The fee seems to come first. What about the poor students around?

-Sheela Ramani, Hyderabad

A: Sheela, I do believe the fee comes last.

The fee structure at an IIM is the last of the issues at hand. The first issue is merit. The first issue is the ability of a student to study for the CAT and get through the CAT. Some students spend a whole year on this and some spend a crash-course of three months and others spend no time at all and get through it.

The preparation process for the CAT costs money. This is the first hurdle that weeds out the economically empowered from those not empowered. I do believe this is wrong. Not the fee structure at all. The first unfair hurdle to achievement is here. Intelligent students who wish to go through a thorough coaching process at times are unable to afford the same, and hence fall out of the race. This is unfair. And not the eventual fee structure of an IIM.

Once a student has made it through the CAT, comes the issue of the fee. At this stage the ROI works very favorably towards the student. Banks are willing to extend those loans and there are enough number of angel investors willing to seed-fund a student who has merit on his admission list.

The brand value of an IIM is undeniable. Particularly the IIM's of the A, B and C kind! This brand value has been built assiduously by these Institutes of Management education excellence. Every batch has helped this image. Every professor has helped in this process, as has every high value recruitment with a big price tag!

This brand value helps extract the fee for the brand from the prospective student. The IIM brand is a rainbow with a pot of gold at one end of the rainbow. This is the allure of the brand.

The positive aspect of this brand however is the fact that this brand value has been cobbled with hard work of several decades. Bricks of hard fact have built this brand. The brand has been built bottom up through hard work. The brand is not one which has been built with full page advertisements claiming merit. Instead, it is a quiet brand that has been built bottom up. This is why the brand value is that much more alluring. This unlocks purses and value.

Youngsters are therefore more than willing to cough up big moneys to be part of this allure brand called IIM.

Harish Bijoor is a business strategy specialist and CEO, Harish Bijoor Consults Inc. Email:

Monday, July 07, 2008


Financial sector Brand Overhaul

Shock And Awe Ubiquity

By Harish Bijoor

Q: There is a lot of brand over-haul action in the Financial Services sector in recent times. Why?
-J.S.Gill, New Delhi

A: Gill-‘saab’, the Financial Services sector is just at the take-off stage in India. Gone are the days when this sector operated at the realm of lowest common denominator products such as necessity based bank loans, basic broad spectrum Insurance and products of the kind.

Today, India is on the boom mode. The market is definitely much younger than it was ever before. The demand for financial products and solutions is very different. In this era, the young investor is looking at brands he can trust. These brands could be brand offerings that come from the traditional banking sector, the traditional insurance sector or even from the new and emerging entrants coming in from overseas markets after enjoying deep equity there.

The brand is very important here. I define the brand as a thought. A thought that lives in people's minds. This "thought" is what is being re-jigged and leveraged today by most players in financial space.

Older players such as LIC of India, RBI, Canara Bank, Syndicate Bank and indeed a plethora of old banks are all looking at re-jigging image to ensure that they stay contemporary for the young investor. At the same time, they have plenty to leverage from their heritage which is a crucial factor to count.

These brands surely want to stand out from the clutter all around. Also, when you have a Bank of Baroda re-branded, all other banks of the same vintage will start looking older and more fuddy- duddy than BOB if they don't quickly do something.

I do believe all banks will go in for an overhaul. Later than sooner.

Q: ITC Foods is getting into everything all at once. Do you think it is a good idea to enter into so many segments such as foods, personal care, snack foods and household products all together?

-Dhriti Kapoor, Mumbai

A: Dhriti, good question.

A company can typically enter different verticals over a period of time, or all of a sudden, all together. One is the traditional approach and the other new.

I think the ITC foods idea is a great idea. This piece of marketing strategy from the house of ITC is all about "Shock and Awe". Shock the market with your bluster. Shock the market with your range. Shock it with wide distribution. Shock it with a status that speaks not of a new launch, but of an aggressive player with deep pockets who can outdo the best guy in the market.

The market is shocked first. So is the market leader. The consumer is put into a state of awe. Every piece of advertising and market promotion makes the ITC product look larger than life. This helps.

The bottom line for ITC will bleed in the short run for sure. Brand break-even cycles will be very elongated, but short term consumer interest will be high. Converting these early customers and early adopters of the brand into loyal customers is yet another task. A task that requires a different set of inputs.

More the segments the company enters, more mega the feel. More the ubiquity of its brands in the kitchens, bedrooms, drawing rooms and bathrooms of consumers.

Q: What is the true value of the tag fo a heritage brand? Does it count?
-Rohit Surana, Bangalore

A: Rohit, the tag of heritage brand is a valuable one to possess. This tag is time-centric. The more time that passes, the richer the heritage strokes.

The heritage tag becomes part of the brand identity kit. And like Amul, it can be used in macro advertising stances such as Amul's "The taste of India" campaign and Red Label Tea's "Desh ka pyaala"!

One more valuable point is the fact that we must remember that the world will come round to retro thinking sooner or later. It is already happening in the realm of cars. People want to own cars that look different and old. This movement is going to spread. People will want to be seen eating and drinking and using brands that have a retro feel in the future. At this point of time, the heritage brand tag is a valuable one to monetize. Either right now, or sometime in the near to medium term future.

Q: What is the difference between business ethics and philosophy of business?
-Pankaja D, Trichy

A: Pankaja, philosophy of business is the macro. Business ethics are a sub-set of this.

Business philosophy is the vision of the organization at large. Business ethics are part of the mission. Both seamlessly fit into one another.
Both play a role in defining an organization, its culture and its consumer-articulation processes.

Harish Bijoor is a business strategy specialist and CEO, Harish Bijoor Consults Inc.

Saturday, July 05, 2008


PR and Brands

Little Drops of Profit

By Harish Bijoor

Q: Coca Cola is now “Little drops of Joy”! What’s this all about? Does it have to do anything with all the pesticide controversy the brand has been through in India?

-Rohit P Gupta, Mumbai

A: Rohit, let’s look at it positively and away from the 'pesticidal' past. “Little drops of joy’ has the seed of making a lovely campaign. A big idea. A very campaignable macro idea at large as well.

This is a nice tweak of “little drops of water make a mighty ocean”. In Coke’s ocean, this is but yet another mega campaign that seeks to involve the Indian consumer and emote with him and her and it (I don’t know if dogs and cats drink Coke as well).

I do believe this campaign is about connect. Consumer connect.

Consumers are simple people. Simple and uncomplicated statements make us that much more happy. "Little drops of joy" is that kind of a phrase. As it gets set to music and mood, expect a lot of action on the front of building a platform that is truly big for Coke in India.

"Little drops of joy" is also about mother-branding the offering from the house of Coke. In many ways the campaign is a company campaign. I will not call it a corporate campaign, but it certainly is about all the brands that Coke has to offer in India. In some ways, it subliminally establishes a wee bit of distance from being painted into the corner of a Cola image alone. There is more to Coca Cola than Coke alone. Or is there?

Coca Cola sure wants that.

In many ways, the little drops of joy could be a Kinley mineral water today and a vitamin-enriched offering in water tomorrow. It is certainly about all the other drinks in its portfolio of the carbonated kind, orange, lime and everything else included. It is about its latest offering Minute Maid, just as it is about any other beverage it will offer in the future. Coffee is but one. There could be others.

The campaign is therefore pregnant with possibilities. Watch it unwind closely as it knits its consumer profile tightly together. Slowly but surely.

Q: With the rise in commercial property prices, what is the impact on modern retail?

John Kuruvilla, New Delhi

A: John, a lot of action is slated in this space. Retail and realty is a relationship that will impact one another all the while. The retail-realty nexus is a formula on its own. In many ways Darwin said it all. Only the fittest will survive. And the one metric of fitness in the retail business is profitability at the end of it all. Therefore, only the most profitable survive.

The bigger and more profitable retailers will be able to survive on the High streets of our cities and towns. The smaller and possibly less profitable retailers will be pushed into the by-lanes. At times into the by-lanes of residential areas.

Similarly, the more profitable retailers will find themselves within Malls. The lesser profitable ones will have to sweat it out on the streets.

Watch out then for a continuous state of flux in the face of your High streets and certainly the profile of shops within a brand new Mall. As the months pass, it is profits that will define durability of these modern retail formats and names.

Let me exemplify. On Bangalore's Brigade Road, in the beginning, you had grocers as well. The grocer shop gave way to the Wine shop (more profitable retail). The wine shop gave way to the unbranded shoe shop. The un-branded shoe shop then gave way to a Nike showroom. Who knows, tomorrow the Nike shop may give way to a 'Swarovksi' showroom instead!

This is retail-Darwinism (as I call it) at play!

The economy and its state of flux will govern the state of flux of the retail space on offer. This very metric of modern retail that involves realty prices, will make businesses more efficient. There will be corrections of course as we move on and the economy of retail moves from a boom in purchase habit to a recessionary mode at times.

Q: What is the role and scope of PR in brand-building?

-P R Shylaja, Trichy

A: Shylaja, I do believe PR has a potent role to play in the process of building
brands. The point is simply this; advertising is getting trusted less and
less. The advertising medium is a medium that is accepted with some degree
of cynicism, even in new-gen. advertising markets such as India.

Advertising is therefore working best at the level of creating awareness
among consumers. Other marketing roles such as the need to get consumers
interested in the offering, desirous of possessing the offering, the actual
physical action of sale and indeed managing post-sales dissonance, often
requires other tools to help out with. PR is one such useful tool to date.
Till of course it is overdone, just as advertising got overdone!

PR done with subliminal respect for the consumer at large always works. PR
needs to however take care not to repeat the mistakes of mass advertising at
large. This is golden goose that must not be squeezed dry with insensitive

Consumers emote with “Apparel” brands differently than the way they relate to FMCG Brands. What is the reason

-Jyothi R Prasad, Bangalore

A: Jyothi, FMCG brands are largely of a functional orientation. Apparel brands are both functional and cosmetic. Apparel brands are fashion-oriented. And fashions are fickle and change more often than not.

Branding for the apparel market is challenging for this one sake that the component of fashion is rather large here. This is a space where branding needs to be sensitive to change in a big way. Static-state branding will not do here. Dynamic rapid-change branding is the need in the apparel segment.

Apparel branding is an exciting space to be in.

Harish Bijoor is a business strategy specialist and CEO, Harish Bijoor Consults Inc.


Thursday, July 03, 2008


Brand Recalls

Of Calls and re-calls

By Harish Bijoor

Q: The recent Nokia battery recall exercise has hurt brand Nokia. Am I right?

-Vinay Prasad, Chennai

A: Vinay, there are product advisories and then there are product recalls. Product advisories are softer options marketers use to pull out erring products from the market. At times they use the product advisory as a cautionary mechanism in markets. The Product recall exercise on the other hand is a more serious issue.

The recent issue with the Nokia battery (I wonder whether we should call it the Matsushita battery issue, as the manufacturer is Matsushita) has had several opinions floating around.

Let’s take this case point by point.

Firstly, I do believe the company has done right. Nokia has acted in the best traditions of responsible corporate behavior. When in doubt, go ahead and clear the entire issue. Clear out every battery of the default batch and purge the headache, or even the potential of a headache in the future.

Having done that, do I believe that brand Nokia has taken a bit of a beating in the Indian market because of this exercise?

Well, while from the manufacturers point of view, while everyone is going to town saying that brand Nokia is not hurt at all, particularly as customers respect responsible behavior in markets, I personally do not subscribe to this view.

Let me explain. The brand is a thought. Brand Nokia is a thought. A thought that at once brings forth images of a good product, an efficient product and a truly world-class offering. A market-leader in its space. This thought, I am afraid, is sullied. Soiled if not sullied. Shaken if not stirred.

Consumers in the developed markets of the world sure do appreciate responsible corporate behavior from marketers. I am however not sure if the same prevails in less developed consumer markets such as India.

Let’s remember that in the Indian market there are disctinct layers. The top creamy layer comprises of consumers who are as connected to the world as any. They are consumers who are self-actualizing consumers who appreciate the Nokia pull out and appreciate preventive actions that could cost the company lots in terms of money(an estimated Rs.8 Crore in this case for Nokia). All in the interest of public safety. And company liability of course.

The next layer is the middle layer of consumers. This layer is functionality oriented, and is happy that the battery is getting replaced. This layer will harbor a bit of a doubt on the brand name Nokia in future. This segment will want to investigate more than the phone alone in future. Dealerships where these people buy phones from will be inundated with queries regarding battery safety in the near future for sure.

The third layer is the bottom end of the market. This is a more suspicious layer of the market. This is not such a well-informed segment as well. It is here that rumors will abound. It is here that competitors will make hay of the issue at hand. Acts of responsible corporate behavior will not get the kind of appreciation in this segment of the market as they do get in the other two layers. Out here, if you have done wrong, you will be punished. Punished unfairly even.

Brand Nokia sells to each of these segments. Brand Nokia needs to manage its image at each of these layers with a different and segmented approach. The task has just begun. The residue of discontent will remain for a while, I am afraid.

Q: How does a heritage brand happen? What are the qualities that a brand requires to be a heritage brand?

-Vani Shottam, Coimbatore

Vani, heritage brands need to essentially be mass brands. Brands that are accessible to the largest numbers of people. To that extent, in the pyramid of brands, heritage brands are brands that fall in the middle and lower end of the pyramid rather than the top end. Therefore a Hugo Boss will not be a heritage brand. Instead, it is the MTR pickle and the Liv 52 from Himalaya and the Woodward's Gripe water that will qualify better for the status.

The heritage brand is one that stands the test of time, generations of use, generations of utility, and a rather intrinsic relationship with consumers, never mind their age. A Cadbury Dairy Milk would figure in this list as well...on this count.

To stand the test of time, a brand needs to maintain an impeccable line of quality. The brand needs to have had no major incidents of any kind that could plant a scar on its image, must be reasonably ubiquitous in its utility, must be solution oriented and not image-oriented alone (a biscuit versus Swarovski crystals), must be a basic item and not a fad that comes and goes (like a Covo chocolate spread or the Tazo), must be wholesome in its goodness appeal, and preferably taste-driven. This taste could be real taste as that of the tongue, or otherwise.

Q: How important is the physical shopping experience at a store to increase sales volume? Or is this a myth of organized retail?

-J J Pinto, Mumbai

A: Dear Pinto-ji, shopping is a hugely sensorial experience at large. The sensorial experience happens at the level of the visual, the audio, the sense of smell, and more.

Offering a sensorial shopping experience provides the space and environment for the consumer to relax and let loose his/her shopping-lust.

There is data that we have on hand that says that the actual shopping experience that is positive helps push up top line revenue at the outlet by as much as 65%. And that’s big!


Harish Bijoor is a business strategy specialist and CEO, Harish Bijoor Consults

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