There is the on-going debate about the two India that exist. When it suits our politicians they suddenly remember Brand Bharat and then talk about inclusive growth and equality and all the banal terms that one would associate with politics and its own machinations. The critical question about any brand revolves on two hinges. What are the benefits that are unique to the brand? And which is the target consumer it addresses or makes itself relevant?
But then these hinges can often come unhinged as it were especially when the brand has more than one custodian and that to my mind is India’s problem. We have too many masters attempting to guide the destiny of the brand. Normally, country brands are driven either by individuals (if it’s a dictatorship) or governments (if it’s a democracy) but here we are in a strange position: the brand is being driven by people who actually have no stake in the system: they are neither part of the government nor is there any over-powering individual whose voice must be heeded either because of associated wisdom or associated power. Which is why there is so much confusion.
But confusion is a dangerous attribute for any developing brand especially the kind India is. Because while we remain confused there is enough competitive activity which is seeking out the same pool of investors or customers and providing opportunities that seem more attractive and enduring and this is what my worry is. I do not wish to go into the merits and demerits of the nuclear deal except that we today cut a very sorry figure internationally. Not because whether we will or will not harness nuclear energy but only because sovereign governments cannot go back on their word. Deals in the global marketplace are not made to be reneged on. And that is exactly what is happening.
So this is as far as the commitment domain is concerned. Now if we analyse the benefits basket there are quite a few surprises here as well. For a country that has recently begun to boast of population as its core competitive advantage, we have done precious little to integrate the power of this population and that is because our infrastructure is woefully inadequate. So you have not just two sociological India’s (India and Bharat) but you also have two geographically disparate India’s which makes it difficult for any kind of integration to happen: be it of people or of markets and there in lies the inevitable challenge. The fact that vast parts of India are without regular power and water tells a story that the world is quite aware of which is why there are the obvious comparisons that India has to suffer qua China.
In the brand benefit domain we have been making strides as a knowledge economy but the question that begs an answer is whether we have knowledge expertise or do we have a significant cost advantage because the history of brand-building across the world tells us that cost alone cannot remain an enduring competitive advantage and we have seen that in countries such as Thailand and Indonesia which are no longer the factories of the world as they used to be simply because their costs have spiraled as their economy has grown. I have always believed that the reason India was saved from the Asian meltdown was because we had enough domestic demand but then this demand needs to be nurtured and stoked and have we done enough therefore to integrate the two India’s because as far as the world beyond India is concerned, they are seeing just one India as they ought to and that picture of India continues to be fuzzy for the reasons mentioned above.
So where do we go from here?
I believe we need to do the following:
Only then will we give substance to the brand. Only then will it be a meaningful proposition to various consumers looking at the myriad things that Brand India has to offer. Till then, it will remain just a posturing slogan. As shallow as our politicians are!