Manoj Matthai, Founder, Strategist & Chief Creative Officer of Kerala-based Breakthrough Brand & Business Consulting, believes in making strategies visible and pioneered the ‘Brand Reverse’ model.

In this model, the effort is to find the right physical appearance or body for a spirit instead of finding a spirit/identity for an object. “I developed this model for the East because all brand thinking was developed in the West and it was not fitting into the eastern context of cultural diversity,” Matthai told businessline in an interview.

His strategic thinking for the VKC brand was instrumental in roping in Amitabh Bachchan to endorse a footwear brand for the first time. In 2022, Matthai helped launch India’s new sporty-fashion brand #Debongo with Bachchan. He would go on to work with the legend for four more power brands over a year.

Edited excerpts follow.


Does ‘brand reverse’ model appeal to the ‘brand-averse’ consumer or the ‘non-brand’ campaign driven by sustainability/ethical concerns?

In the modern world, there cannot be a ‘brand-averse’ consumer or even a ‘non-brand’ campaign. A brand is nothing but a pre-defined feeling at its core and inherently explains the concept of Oneness that emerges out of the fusion within the duality of spirituality and physicality. The intangible brand feeling is the spiritual element of the brand. The logo, the colours, the typography, the brand graphics, etc. constitute its physicality.

No business can attract a sustainable set of customers continuously without a strategy. And no business is a business without customers. So, even if you do not use the physical attributes of the brand, you cannot be successful in business without using its spirituality. I feel the ‘no-brand movement’ takes the brand beyond its physicality to experience and feelings.


Are millennials bothered less about the logo than the product itself? 

Millennials are the new philosophers of the world. Their thinking will take branding to a new level because they are seekers of experience. They are more concerned about the positions and stands that the brands take rather than their physical aspects like logo and colour. Millennials are more involved with the brand on a deeper level. They are touched by its spirituality. They are checking your strategy at the core and not the attributes on the periphery. Businesses that do not follow them will miss out the future.


Do brands need to brace for a likely situation where logos, slogans or packaging may not sell unlike earlier?

This situation is a fallout of the fast media growth. With the progressive explosion of the media using new technology and people seeking content delivery faster than ever before, traditional usage of physical aspects of branding is not working.

Readers and viewers touch base with media for content at multiple touchpoints now. Business messengers need to send out the message in new ways and formats in which they can touch the modern man at a deeper level. Businesses must focus clearly and go deeper into the core of the strategy rather than delve in the physical realm. Strategy is the way forward.


During Covid, consumers held brands to a higher level of accountability. Do brands stay committed even after?

Human behaviour hasn’t changed much fundamentally through thousands of years of evolution. People will go after new things because humanity progresses through change. So, it’s the business of the business to help its customers stay committed by accepting change faster and in the right way. Humanity will continue to hold brands to an even higher level of accountability in the future. Business leaders who cannot fathom this will perish. This needs to be factored into every strategy for every business in every market, small or big.  


Do you think brands were effectively told they couldn’t take advantage of Covid or such public emergencies? 

I don’t think so. Covid happened out of the blue and the world was not prepared for it. Disruptions happen in many forms. Natural calamities and new technologies are the most familiar forms we know in the modern era. Nobody can actually be prepared for disruptions. So, the best way to be prepared is to practice the art of owning an open mindset and to be always current in whatever we are doing. Pragmatism, honesty, humility, and continuous learning are the pillars of this good mindset.


How do you assess the rise and fall of the ‘Zoom’ brand during and after Covid?

‘Zoom’ is a brand born out of the two waves - concurrent innovations in IT and Covid itself. It rode the crest and trough of Covid mostly but didn’t do much to grow out of this linear pattern. I think they will think and move into a non-linear exponential trajectory as Netflix did. I learnt this technology wave theory the hard way.

I had invested all my money, time, and energy into, a neighbourhood portal founded in 2007. I put in all the investment in the latest technology at that time. The new smartphone market emerged in 2008 and mobile technology became the future. We were unprepared for this new technology wave. Technology brands need to watch for the ‘new technology wave’ every moment.


The way for brands to audience is not through the head, but the heart. Did the aphorism hold equally well on either side of Covid?

I think the equestrian sport will be a great example here. In a horse race, who wins - The horse or the jockey? Actually, both win because the horse rides fast because the jockey controlled it. Similarly, the heart must always be controlled by the head. Head is the jockey and horse, the heart. The heart (horse) has the energy but success happens because of the controls handled by the head (jockey).

Here, the concept is about the heart and head duality transforming into the Oneness of spirit. We may think emotions and egos are bigger because we see them first. We wear our emotions on our sleeves. Every brand and its business leader must address both the head and the heart simultaneously in the strategy framework. This head and heart rule is fundamental to the universe. If you make the fundamental laws of the universe to be the foundation of your strategy, you will be a great strategist.