Dear Marketers,

Pause for a moment today on India’s 68th Independence Day, and consider the number of proud, successful Indian brands which have taken birth after our country became independent. The list is long and impressive, and includes a host of powerful names such as Tata Salt, Reliance, Airtel, ICICI Bank, Maruti Suzuki, Titan, Nirma and Hero. Many of these are iconic brands that now cater to millions of Indian consumers. Interestingly, Amul, one of my favourite Indian brands, took birth just a year before Independence, in 1946. Clearly, Indian business houses and marketers have a lot to feel proud of, about what they have achieved, as the Tricolour is unfurled at the Red Fort today.

Amidst such positive sentiment, could we also pause and consider the subject of Indian brands which have gone truly global over the past 68 years? Over this period, we know that brands such as Toyota and Sony have attained legendary status, and have held aloft Japan’s flag across the world. In recent decades, Samsung has done Korea proud, and Lenovo has begun making its mark for China. Over the past few years, the US has once again given rise to a fresh new generation of global superbrands with the likes of Apple, Google and Amazon. Now, set against these successes, which “global” Indian consumer brands come spontaneously to your mind?

I asked this question of my colleague and friend Nirmalya Kumar, who is one of the world’s most formidable thinkers on branding and strategy. His latest book ( Brand Breakout , co-authored with Jan Benedict EM Steenkamp) is an excellent and incisive thesis on how emerging market brands will go global. He listened to me, and responded virtually immediately. “Dabur and ICICI are very good examples of Indian brands which have gone global in the recent past”, he said, “and the logic they have used is both efficient and sound.”

Kumar’s book talks about how brands from countries such as India can use several alternative strategies to establish themselves globally. These include use of the Indian disapora to build an initial beachhead overseas and gaining appeal from the local audiences soon thereafter, or branding unique natural resources of the country (such as Darjeeling for tea, or Kancheepuram for silk), or leveraging cultural resources which lie deep in the country’s history and heritage (such as Ayurveda or the Taj Mahal). He also provides many powerful examples of these strategies.

Serving unmet needs In the meanwhile, there is an equally interesting set of Indian brands which have successfully ventured outside the country, but which may not necessarily belong to the conventional consumer product or services space. Let’s talk a little bit about these today. Leading my list is IPL, or the Indian Premier League, which was created only a few years ago, but has already made its mark in most cricket-playing nations of the world. The brand, built on a powerful cocktail of cricket, glamour and entertainment, has captured the imagination of cricket lovers worldwide. IPL took on board a respected but ageing sport, and transformed it into a young, pulsating and vibrant version of the game using the Twenty20 format. The brand caught on so quickly in so many countries mainly because of the multiple innovations it brought to the fore, including teams owned by celebrities, huge investments to attract the best global cricketers, cheerleaders, a fast-paced league format, strategic timeouts, and IPL nights. Clearly, these innovations successfully addressed a vast and vacant space and need that existed in many countries which still loved their cricket.

Another Indian brand which has made it big globally in recent years, albeit in an entirely different space, is Art of Living (AOL). First established in my hometown Bangalore by the charismatic Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, the Art of Living Foundation now has a very large worldwide following in as many as 152 countries of the world. Not many product or service brands can boast of such wide global appeal. Just for comparison, McDonald’s, one of the most ubiquitous global brands, is present in 116 countries worldwide.

Why do you think Art of Living has become one of India’s most successful contemporary global brands? Here’s my view. Just like IPL, AOL addressed a large and empty space that spans countries and modern cultures, when it called upon people to lead a stress-free existence, to make life a celebration, and to live with joy and confidence. Thereafter, it went ahead and offered simple but innovative new-age solutions, anchored in age-old Indian heritage and techniques of yoga such as Sudarshan Kriya, to achieve these universal human goals.

Let’s now move on from cricket and yoga to information technology. In this space, Indian brands such as TCS, Infosys and Wipro have captured the world’s imagination. These are huge business-to-business brands which have been created within the past 30 years. Each of them took birth many years after India gained its independence. Today, they are respected across all five continents of the world, and their image is anchored primarily in their efficiency and business success. Once again, these brands went global because they served a global need, and served it really well.

Yet another Indian brand that has made waves globally is brand Kerala, with its popular tagline of “God’s own country”. Kerala was a sleepy Indian coastal state, relatively unknown to global tourists until the 1980s. Today, the brand is so unique and compelling that National Geographic Traveller has called Kerala one of the top ten paradises of the world. Travel and Leisure magazine has named it as one of the 100 great trips for the 21st century. Here is an example of a wonderful Indian superbrand built on unique natural beauty, culture and tradition – ranging from backwaters to beaches, mountains to wildlife, ayurvedic wellness to Malabar cuisine – that has developed significant global appeal over the past three decades.

So dear reader, would you like to stop here and add to this somewhat unconventional list of Indian brands which have gone global? Do you think Bollywood should also feature in this set, or perhaps the delicious Indian curry? Or would you like to cast an eye to the future, and take a stab at what kinds of global superbrands of Indian origin are likely to be born over the next decade?

Most importantly, it would be useful to reflect on what exactly has made Indian brands such as IPL, Art of Living and Kerala Tourism so popular globally. What lessons can their successes teach all of us in the marketing fraternity, even as we contemplate how our brands can possibly stretch beyond Indian shores?

On that note, may I wish all of us a Happy Independence Day!

From your fellow marketer,

Harish Bhat

The author acknowledges valuable inputs from Niranjan Sane, Tata Sons, in the writing of this article.

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