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India 2015: THOUGHT LEADERSHIP | Brand India

Brands need to tap the core strengths of their “Indianness” for global success

Beyond exotica, Indian brands excel in customization and service 

Veruschka Menon

Planning Director
Ogilvy & Mather 


Ogilvy & Mather is a leading communication network in India. The company comprises strong offerings in: advertising, social media, direct marketing, data analytics, retail marketing, rural marketing, activation, public relations and healthcare.


Over the years we Indians have prided ourselves on exhibiting India in a slightly storybook light. An ancient culture of royalty, mysticism and Ayurveda are some of the labels we have been proud to associate ourselves with.

In recent years a handful of Indian clothing, accessories and jewelry brands have been gaining traction in global markets by flaunting their “Indianness” to woo customers.

You have jewelry brands like Amrapali and Gitanjali Gems Ltd. introducing to new markets traditional Indian designs like the maang tikka hair ornaments and kamarband chains for the waist. These designs are now being sported on runways and red carpets.

Even cosmetics entrepreneur Shahnaz Hussain relies on the same formula with her beauty products claiming, “We are trying to sell a whole civilization in our jars.”


To compete effectively outside of India, however, it is not enough to exploit our “Indianness.” Relying on may not always be sustainable and relegate those kinds of products to limited customer segment that has transient fascination with our culture.

Apart from the software industry where brands like Infosys, TCS and Tech Mahindra have begun attracting global clients, other industries still have a strong case to make for themselves.

We need to go beyond offering just cultural ideas to more commercial ones and we have to work hard to create relevance within all our products in other markets. What can make a brand work at home may be totally irrelevant abroad and emotional pillars that our brands stand on at home will not necessarily support growth in other countries.


Nalli Silks, with branches in Singapore and California, expanded its collection beyond just saris to include a wide selection of scarves and stoles. Their California store even has a tailoring and consultancy service within to cater to all audiences. In its stores in Italy, Mauritius, Malaysia, the UAE and other markets, Fab India carries European sizes and avoids fabrics that need hand washing, as hand washing is not common in other markets. Styling also changes by market and varies according to season, while still maintaining the core “Indianness” of fabric and overall look. Fab India has even launched a brand called Fabels, which is a western style line that competes with other foreign labels.

Another brand that doesn’t even use the “exotic origin’” route, Hidesign has a dozen stores across the world that concentrate on just delivering a superior product. Although the designs are almost the same everywhere in the world, certain customization

is required to suit preferences of a particular country. “South East nations fancy finished and fine leather whereas an American would go for very natural leather products. On the other hand, our customers in the Middle East would want aggrandized, shiny bags with all the razzmatazz and glamour,” says Dilip Kapur, founder and CEO of Hidesign.


For more Indian brands to succeed abroad we need to answer a fundamental question: What is it that Indian companies do well, maybe better than companies anywhere else in the world? When we distill the all the attributes that go into making products with “Indianness,” what are we left with? Germany brings the world great engineering while China offers low costs. So what do Indian brands own?

To succeed in our diverse country, Indian brands are expert in adapting
to many different cultures, traditions and tastes. We know how to make products that cater to any kind of need. We could leverage this unique competence and stand for “bespoke.” Brands going global should boast of their ability to adjust to the customs, requirements and usage needs of local audiences. This core competence can span a wide range of products and services.

The idea of going above and beyond expectations, of providing hospitality and service with a personal touch is something that also is deeply ingrained in our culture. This is an Indian strength that brands across all categories can exploit by magnifying the service aspect they’re offering to the global market. The quality of Indian service will be highly valued and appreciated. In a world where the idea of the personal touch is slowly fading, it’s something we can own no matter what market we operate in.

Indian brands already excel at customization and adaptation, and at customer service. Brands just need to focus on developing these distinctive strengths and communicating their long experience and expertise.