Key actions for building valuable brands in India
1. Brand Still Matters
Strong brands succeed in all types of economic weather. Meaningful Difference has long been the cornerstone of the BrandZ™ approach to business insight - an approach recently validated by a University of Oxford Saïd Business School study (that was extensively detailed in the 2020 BrandZ™ Top 100 Global Brand Report). Academics at the school’s Future of Marketing Initiative found that incorporating BrandZ’s complex, deep, and far-ranging data into its existing financial forecasting models allowed it to explain abnormal market returns with an extremely high level of precision. Plugging BrandZ™ into its research models allowed the Oxford researchers to anticipate exceptional company performance with 99.5 percent accuracy; Without it, their results were at best 75 percent accurate.
In India, the past seven years of BrandZ™ data have demonstrated how strong brands can continue to survive and thrive amidst a rapidly evolving business climate. In the months and years to come, amid daunting challenges, business leaders would do well to make decisions with not only their physical and financial assets in mind, but also their company’s intangible brand assets. By guarding and growing their brands’ Meaningful Difference, leaders can give their companies a “stimulus” that comes from within.
2. Win at any size
Perhaps more than ever, India represents an open playing field where brands can grow at any scale. From 2019 to 2020, there was no correlation between a company’s size and its propensity to grow. This year’s BrandZ™ Top Risers encompass a constellation of different brand backgrounds: the list includes disruptive upstarts, beloved legacy players, home-grown heroes, and foreign imports alike. Brands are hardly limited by their histories: Once-scrappy local startups can park themselves on the global cutting-edge; companies with overseas origins can turn themselves into indispensable parts of Indian life. At the same time, core brand assets and DNA do matter: Success for the companies on this ranking lies not in trying to emulate competitors’ playbooks, but in working to understand and amplify what makes their own brands singularly unique.
3. Protect Meaningful Difference
This year, the most Meaningfully Different brands in the India Top 75 were also the most valuable. And the good news is that Meaningful Difference is not a zero-sum game: indeed, most top Indian brands do well on measures of these two attributes. The average Meaningful and Different scores for brands in the Top 30 of this year’s India rankings are markedly higher than the Top 30 averages for this year’s Global rankings. Relative to many of their foreign counterparts, the challenge for Indian brands in the year ahead will be to protect existing positive views of Meaningfulness and Difference amid the challenges ahead.
There are many varied and successful strategies that Indian brands have used to build Meaningful Difference. The question now is: How should these approaches evolve in 2020 to accommodate new economic realities and shifting consumer values, as well as radically changing shopping and media landscapes? Many smart proposals on how to move forward can be found in Thought Leadership and Brand Building Best Practice pieces - but ultimately, brands will need to study the data around their own particular forms of Meaningful Difference to formulate an optimal response.
4. Reevaluate brand positioning and Purpose
Purpose is one of five “vital signs”—Purpose, Innovation, Communication, Experience, and Love—that work together to build Meaningful Difference in the proprietary BrandZ™ metric of brand health called vQ. When Brands want to understand how they can improve or protect their Meaningful Difference, they should first look at their vQ indicators.
Brands with a strong sense of purpose are perceived as “making people’s lives better”. In the 2020 BrandZ™ India rankings, the 15 most purposeful brands grew 11 percent over the year before, while the 15 least purposeful brands fell in value by 15 percent. In the times ahead, the importance of Purpose should only grow: people will remember and reward those brands that helped them in difficult times - and punish those seen as mercenary or exploitative. At the same time, in a pandemic era when seemingly every brand has claimed to be “here to help”, standing out in consumer’s minds as truly Purposeful may well become harder. The most successful brands will find ways to “walk the talk” on Purpose in a natural, authentic way.
5. Innovate for Agility
Most modern executives believe that a brand that lacks Innovation will struggle to adapt and grow. And the data suggests they’re right. In the 2020 BrandZ™ India rankings, amid unprecedented economic pressures, the 15 brands with the lowest scores for perceived Innovation fell by 54 percent (compared to a decline of 10 percent for the most innovative brands).
Especially in these times, “Innovation” needs to be understood as being more than large-scale research breakthroughs and manufacturing shifts. It’s also about solving problems on the local level, on the ground with consumers in their newly constrained neighborhood lives. More than ever, Innovation can be unlocked - and profited from - when brands find agile new ways to package, deliver, advertise, and recommend products on an everyday scale.
6. Tend to Health
The Top 75 brands are in excellent health, far exceeding “average” brand performance on the core brand equity elements of being Meaningful, Different and Salient. This means that they can command both Power (purchase share) and Premium in the marketplace.
But the consequences of letting any aspect of Brand Health lapse can be harmful - especially at a time when there’s less cash to go around, and thus less margin for error. For instance, the 15 brands that ranked lowest in the Top 75 on Communication declined 35 percent from 2019, while the 15 brands that ranked lowest on Experience declined 17 percent - well exceeding the overall Top 75 de-growth rate of 6 percent. Just like humans, brands need to be proactive in monitoring their vital signs - the better to identify and build on existing strengths, and also to head off any looming trouble.
7. Keep your foot on the gas
At times of crisis, it’s tempting for brands to go into “maintenance” mode: to cut back on campaigns and communications, and hope to draft off existing brand perceptions while preserving marketing resources for sunnier days. But experience shows that this is not a winning strategy. BrandZ™ analysis of brand recovery since the financial crisis of 2008 shows that brands that protected their perceptions of Meaningful Difference recovered more swiftly and grew more quickly in the years to follow. As BrandZ™ Global Strategy Director Graham Staplehurst wrote in the 2020 Global Report, “Waiting to invest will not add comfort or certainty, but it will jeopardize effectiveness. Brands need to come easily to mind and be easily accessible. Disappearing from the marketplace to gain a short-term financial benefit will make it more difficult and expensive to rebuild brand presence”.