Regional Director, Brand Strategy, Asia Pacific
To Change or not to Change is NOT the Question
Once upon a time – a few decades ago, to be exact – there was a land where it was a privilege of only the choicest few to own a much-desired car. Not only were cars priced out of reach, but there was limited supply, and those models that were most widely available were built using outdated, pre-WWII technology. Enter Maruti – young, modern, vibrant, state of the art, and most importantly, democratically priced. Maruti stood for the promise and dream of India. Unbelievably irresistible – what else could India do but fall in love?
Transforming both the automotive landscape and the nation, Maruti won hearts by democratizing optimism, hope, and upward mobility for a market in its early throes of consumer adolescence. Maruti allowed Indians to dream of owning a car, and then made many of those dreams come true. The Maruti brand symbolized a nation moving forward, of families coming out of the rain, and people going places they had never been before. A brand that was proudly Indian, Maruti gave India and all Indians the wings to fly.
But as inspiring as this story is, it isn’t the one we tell today. The transformation that Maruti brought about in the eighties and nineties was remarkable, but the more compelling story is that of sustained growth and survival, of thriving and continuing to stay irresistible over four decades. Maruti, even today, through good times and bad, has stayed the market leader in what is now a fiercely competitive and crowded market.
India has changed. The Indian consumer has changed. With increased levels of affluence and higher consumer literacy, expectations of quality, design, performance, and technology have changed. Every single global automotive brand is in India now. New models are launched here at the same time that they are launched globally. Even Maruti’s prime target audience – the first-time car owner – is a different person now: younger, trendier, more empowered, and individualistic. A scenario where the oft-heard message “Disrupt or Die,” seems frighteningly close to home, especially as we’ve seen other brands of yesteryear struggle to defend their position in the changed climate.
And yet in this fierce battlefield, Maruti continues to thrive.
Maruti’s brand health metrics are well above market average, rank ahead of all competitors, and have often shown improvement over time (Source BrandZ). Maruti’s brand power index is almost twice that of its nearest competitor and has remained so over the past four years. The brand has stayed sharply salient, deeply meaningful, and clearly differentiated.
So, what is the secret to Maruti’s success? Has Maruti been disruptive? Is it a different, renewed brand from the one we knew and loved for so long? Do we see a different Maruti from the inclusive, democratic Everyman brand that promised progress without pretension, and stood for the idea that the promise of a good life can only be kept if no one is excluded?
The answer to these questions is paradoxically both yes and no. At first glance, the Maruti portfolio today seems nothing like the small, modest Maruti 800 that rolled out almost 40 years ago. Today, there is a wide range of models to choose from, to meet a wide variety of needs and budgets. There are swanky dealerships, beautiful designs, and technology and performance specs that match up to international standards.
What hasn’t changed is Maruti’s unique story. The story that captured a billion hearts continues to live on. A story of a commitment to serve with empathy and a lack of pretension. A promise to remain accessible and trustworthy, to greet everyone who walks in with a helping hand and a friendly smile. A promise to stay proudly Indian and to rejoice in the participative progress. The story stays the same but is told in a way that resonates with the new generation of consumers, who are trendier, more demanding, and more individualistic. Over coffee and conversation, the swanky new dealerships enable young couples customize their car, empowering them to choose and to build. The process is transparent, hassle-free, friendly, and free from intimidation. The assurance of help “just next door” is even truer today. Maruti understands better than anyone else that the Indian doesn’t buy just a car, but looks for a reward, a validation for achievement and mobility. Buying a car is the beginning of a brand-new journey of hope. And Maruti is right there, tailoring the journey for its customers, just the way they want it.
A brand to learn from
Nowadays the knee-jerk response to “Disrupt or Die” is to panic: to quickly discard the old and unthinkingly embrace the new, to hastily change course and as a result risk irreversible decline. Maruti represents a different way, serving as a shining example of how to sustain momentum and irresistibility by responding to market changes while remaining anchored in brand identity. In other words, it’s an example of how to preserve of core of a brand while stimulating change – and a lesson that a brand’s purpose and philosophy, its reason to be, is timeless.