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India 2015: THOUGHT LEADERSHIP | Brand Experience

Today’s thriving brands build great experiences by putting the customer in the driver’s seat 

Interactive, responsive and resilient brands earn customer loyalty 

Ambrish Chaudhry
Regional Strategy Director
South and South East Asia
Brand Union

We are a global brand agency with deep expertise in brand strategy, design, brand management and employee engagement. A network of 500 people in 25 locations around the world, serving every market. Founded in 1986, we are part of the WPP Group.


The mood at the board meeting is somber. The c-suite, used to having its way - be it double-digit growth or expanding international presence, is suddenly being upended by two innocuous forces much closer home. The unshackled customer who will no longer be subjected to any manufacturer-imposed restraints on how she is supposed to consume and the naive ideologists who, unencumbered by the baggage of complacency or past successes, are forging new business models and questioning the creaking wisdom of “how it’s done.”

This wouldn’t have been the cause of too many sleepless nights had the twain not met through the all- consuming tidal wave of wondrous technological possibilities. That genie is well and truly out of the bottle and we are now living in a world where the largest provider of hospitality accommodations doesn’t own a single hotel room and the most talked about public transportation company doesn’t own a single taxi.


At Brand Union we have a singular belief: The experience of the brand is the brand. Behind this is a strong conviction that successful brands make a lasting imprint as a result of continual, positive moments of interaction. It’s the brands that build coherent thought-through experiences that are truly interactive, responsive and, most importantly – authentic. These experiences earn love and respect. Think of the brand as engaged in a life-long relationship with the customer. After wooing your partner you must then live up to his or her expectations, then embrace change to exceed them and finally make your partner feel part of something bigger than a transaction. Critically, as in all strong relationships, power isn’t hoarded, it is earned and it is shared.

Thriving brands get this and they’re putting the customer firmly in the driver’s seat. They see themselves as platforms that enable the customer to interact with them anyway they want.

Think communities like Uber, where drivers and customers both rate each other to create self-regulation, with minimum interference by the service provider. Think mobile companies offering unlimited data with no throttle and the ability for subscribers to solve their own queries digitally. Think airlines allowing modular flight experiences such as business class food in economy at an additional price or lower cost business tickets if you don’t want food. These are all examples of platform thinking and that’s the philosophy that tomorrow’s power brands are acting upon today.

Here are a few more examples of how the Indian customer is warming up to platform thinking. The Idea Internet Network (IIN) of Ideal Cellular appeals to young people with its clever premise of finding freedom and empowerment with a mobile phone. With the IndusInd Video Branch program bank customers can use a mobile phone to connect by video with their bank brand manager. The budget airline IndiGo gets customers to help clean up the plane so that the flight can leave on time. Customers have rewarded each of these service brands with strong momentum.


There’s probably never been a more challenging time to be a marketer, but there’s also never been a more rewarding one. Companies that imbibe platform thinking inherently realize that it’s anathema for marketing to work in a silo from the rest of the organization.

In fact, given the customer’s quest for authenticity, the role of the marketing department should not only be to strengthen external perception but to mold an internal culture that breeds innovation and platform thinking. Today, more than ever, a brand is an embodiment of the culture that produces it. Or, as Peter Drucker elegantly put it, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

So, to wipe the frown off the faces in the c-suite and create vaunted growth and value for the brand, marketing departments must ask themselves if they are creating a culture of platform thinking within the company, how connected they are to the rest of the organization and how much they manage to influence the eventual customer experience. While it is challenging, it is also the defining moment for the brand to be the central organizing principle that propels the organization forward. Repeat after me – change is not the enemy.