‘As brand licensing is new here, we hope to grow with the sector'

Rajalakshmi Sivam | Updated on January 26, 2011

Michelle Minieri, President, Bradford Licensing LLC   -  Business Line

Michelle Minieri, President, Bradford Licensing LLC, on the Indian market and changing consumer trends in the country.

At the international franchise and retail show in Delhi last week, Michelle Minieri, President, Bradford Licensing LLC, a global licensing agency, spoke to BrandLine on her views about the Indian market and changing consumer trends in India. Minieri has launched many licensing programmes over a range of categories, specifically developing and implementing corporate, art, celebrity, fashion and entertainment products in the industry. She played a key role in PepsiCo's success on the global front, facilitating the international expansion of PepsiCo's network in China. With the launch of Bradford India recently, she is looking to bring many international brands to the country.

You have been visiting India for the last four years — are consumer tastes changing here? How are Indian consumers different from US consumers?

During this visit I have learned a lot about what female consumers buy when they go shopping and have also seen a shift in their dress style from the traditional saree to formal wear. Women tend to dress more Western and casual. At my first conference here, I noticed that eight out of 10 women were in sarees, but during this conference, most of the women were in Western wear. This is an interesting trend that lends itself well to our efforts to bring to India international fashion brands that create Western wear. We are also interested in taking an Indian brand to markets outside the country. I have been talking to some Indian designers about taking their collections to places such as London that have a good-sized Indian population, and also the US. We believe there is large potential that is relatively untapped.

Do you think Indian consumers relate well to brands or are they highly cost-sensitive?

I think it depends on their income levels. But again, I would say there is a shift where people are moving towards the brand. Earlier, when they spent a dollar, they wanted a dollar and a fifty in return — of quality. Now if they spend a dollar, they want a dollar in return with the ‘name' being the reason they buy. I think ‘brand' is becoming a factor in decision-making.

What do you think of India as a brand? Why did you consider India as an option for expansion? Have your clients asked for it? Or did you guide them here?

I think India is a great frontier that we are yet to discover. We are a global agency that had a presence in every market but for India till recently. When we looked at India, we saw the huge growth opportunity it offers.

As ‘brand licensing' as a concept is new here, we felt we could grow with the industry if we came in at this time. When we started out in China, no one really understood the concept — but it is now our biggest market. It will not happen overnight in India either. It will take us some time to grow the brands here, but it will happen and we want to be a part of that growth.

When we launched Bradford License India (July 2010), we were contacted by many companies. Everyone wants to come to India. Most international companies see it as a huge growth market. It has been so hard for them to enter the country — they don't understand the market, the retail, the consumer. India has been like a closed society for many international companies and now they are very interested in getting their products here.

What are the differences between Indian and Chinese consumers?

I think Chinese consumers are more brand-aware — they seem to know about most of the international entertainment and fashion brands. They are more exposed to international brands than Indian consumers are. So we have to put in more effort into marketing to educate consumers about the brand — why they should buy it and so on. And we also plan to focus on local Indian brands for licensing. Our strategy will be to focus on local brands in conjunction with international brands.

In India, the mid-segment in tier-II cities is growing rapidly. Are you also looking at this segment for some of the lower priced brands that you are bringing in?

Absolutely, we see the growth in the middle market which is relatively underserviced right now. So what we are planning to do is — even if we are bringing a high-end brand into India, we may put that at the high end but also simultaneously create a sub-brand that will go to the mid-level audience.

Brand licensing as a concept is new to India. How will you promote it?

We do a lot of education — we have seminars and also work with the licensees. We understand that we have to do a lot of hand-holding. Here we are authoring a strategy so that we can work with the licensee as more of a partner and also make the brand owner understand that they have to be more flexible here than they would be in other markets. We want to create an industry here. We want more licensing agents to come in; we do not see other players as competition but as the way to growing an industry. We want to have a plain field where players compete with each other because right now it is like playing by ourselves.

How does one arrive at the value of a brand?

The value of a brand is based on quite a number of things — awareness of the brand, do people recognise the logo, the picture or the product's trademark, is there marketing and advertising support behind the brand, what are its assets and so on …

What is the most effective way of building the image of a brand?

The image of a brand has a lot to do with the marketing by the brand owner. Brand licensing, when it started in developed nations, saw the licensee take the brand and go off on his own, create the product range, sell and be okay. But in India it is very different because the concept as such is very new. The brand owner, the agent, the licensee, all have to work together to put out the product range to get the consumer to understand why they should pay for a licensed product rather than a generic product.

What is the difference between franchising and brand licensing?

In franchising you have a system. Say, you want to put up a Subway store, you put X amount of money and you are told the steps — 1, 2 and 3. Then you open a store. In brand licensing, every deal is different. You buy into the concept and create your own product range with it. You could be much more creative with it than you would be with a franchising deal.

What is hampering the growth of the licensing industry in India?

It is awareness — if consumers don't know the product, they are not going to look for it or buy it. Cost is also an issue. Usually, licensed products are more expensive than generic products. So that's a stumbling block. We are trying to come up with solutions to help consumers feel that they are getting more value with a licensed product. Also, we find that there is strong loyalty towards local brands here. We are exploring ways — for instance, whether we can use Bollywood celebrities to endorse a brand, or if a local company would be able to take an international brand as its co-brand.

In India we have seen many big brands die with time because they were not able to keep up with the changing preferences of the consumers. How should brands adopt to changing times?

That is absolutely true. To last in any society, a company definitely has to be flexible and change with the times. As trends, designs and buying habits change, companies have to alter their marketing strategies, increase or decrease their product offerings, keep themselves abreast of market research and understand exactly what consumers want. If the company stagnates without these, it won't last long and will die out. We tell all our brand owners to change with the times and be flexible because different markets have different needs and you need to service those needs as best as possible.

What are Bradford's plans for India? How many brands have you brought to India in the last six-seven months?

Bradford plans to educate the market on the concept of licensing and introduce its benefits to potential partners and retailers. We plan to help launch both domestic and international brands throughout India as well as help extend local Indian brands to international markets. Currently our brands in India are: Pepsi, 7UP, Mountain Dew, Marilyn Monroe by Sam Shaw, Beverly Hills, Love Beverly Hills xx, Aspen, Denise Richards, Donald Trump, Zorro, Felix the Cat, Neeta Lulla, London Taxi, British Motor Heritage, Mel's Drive In, Polaroid, Sharper Image, Caribbean Joe, Ellen Tracy, Pampered Girls, Guinness World Records, Shiv Khera.

You recently signed the first licensee for a girls' apparel brand. Which is the market you are targeting for this?

The brand Pampered Girls is a design brand targeted at young girls, originating from Hawaii. The brand currently has over 50 licensees throughout the world and its own stand-alone retail stores. We recently signed the first India agreement with Dhananjai Apparels Pvt Ltd. They will be launching a range of tops, sleepwear, skirts, co-ordinate sets, party wear frocks and sets for young girls aged 2–14 in their own branded stores throughout India, as well as additional retailers within the next two years.

Published on December 22, 2010

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