THE Brand Summit organised at Chennai last month by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) did not provide a conclusive answer on what could make a brand of India and whether it is already one or, if not, whether there are at least signs of its becoming one in the near future.

Of course, it yielded the information that India has the second largest number of brands in the world, but mostly characterised by low-end, low-priced products.

To some participants, Mr Jairam Ramesh, in particular, the very idea of making India a brand seemed outlandish, considering the diverse tastes, standards of evaluation, stages of development and cultural traits of customers.

Indeed, there is not one but five Indias with the most developed at one end of the spectrum and the island India at the other, with the BIMARU States, the Seven Sisters of the North East and the hill and tribal regions thrown in between.

On the surface, they do not lend themselves to being packaged into one homogenous brand evocative of identical feelings among customers and economic players all over the globe.

However, India Inc. which federations such as the CII represent can, if it strives harder than it is doing, become a brand. Judged by the dictionary meanings of `brand' both as a verb (impress indelibly) and as a noun (entity having a reputation and a loyal following), India Inc is yet to acquire a shine in the eyes of the natives themselves, leave alone those beyond its shores.

And that is because, barring honourable exceptions, India Inc has not yet collectively developed the full measure of self-pride and trustworthiness in areas such as quality of goods or services, customer care, delivery schedules and commercial dealings.

Even with regard to companies or products which are regarded as brands, there are many horror stories of indifference to complaints, shoddiness in workmanship and neglect of safety norms. India Inc. should make it a practice to conduct periodical nation-wide surveys with reference to the experiences of customers with particular companies and their products or services.

It is bound to get a jolt from the findings. In short, India Inc. needs to pull up its socks and summon sufficient courage to expose and discipline the black sheep among them.

B. S. Raghavan

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated March 14, 2005)
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