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Jan, 03 2011

The Indian-Ness Of Int'l Brands

Customisation of brands is happening in India big time. And it goes further than just putting an Indian print on a bag or collaborating with a local celebrity. In franchising, it's more about understanding the difference between the flamboyant nature of a

GLOBAL brands came to India armed with their smug self-belief of many market conquests under their belt. Ran their 'Made-in-New York' strategies, only to run into serious consumer indifference. And then looked for ways to customise their brands in India. Now, the efforts of international franchise brands to go 'glocal' (globalisation + localisation) and tap overseas market are boring fruits of profit and success. Tarek Gineina, General Manager, ‘T-Franchise’, an Egypt-based firm handling franchise development and consultations, says, “Customisation and localisation is an integral part of any global brand strategy. A brand with vision usually builds its brand strategy around internationalisation, which is that the brand can easily adapt to specific countries, languages and cultures.” While Rod Young, Executive Director, DC Strategy, Australia, quips “I don't think there are so many brands that operate nationally or internationally without tailoring to the local customs. Be it pricing, marketing or even the quality of stock, this phenomena is not just in India, but there is a global approach these days.”

Reaping profits now

The opportunities surfacing through this concept are not only breaking grounds for these brands to taste success in India but have shown the path to a steady return on investments. Speaking on the growth of Baskin & Robbins through customisation and the prospects it has provided to the brand after its India entry, Subroto Mukherjee, COO, Graviss Foods Pvt. Ltd, states, “Surely, India is a very typical market with  food-loving people. The customers here are very choosy and value-conscious unlike the West. Providing localisation is a must for any brand to survive. Non-veg mix and a veg ice cream mix is a clear must in the environment here. Local flavours for the Indian taste buds are mandatory and producing the ice cream from the factory in India adds to the customer confidence in your product and brand.” Similarly, Mritunjay Kumar, Business Head, New Zealand Natural, India, states, “If you can do customisation or localisation of a global brand without changing the core competency, USP and values of the same, it can do wonders for you. Our USP is our natural flavours without added colours. We keep on working on localising our products through new flavours and cultural assimilation and we have done it to a great extent without changing our core values. It has started paying us off and is reflected as growth rate in number of stores as well as volume of ice cream sales.” Several other franchise brands like Subway, The Body Shop, Dominos Pizza, KFC, Pizza Hut and Mango have took to customisation in a big way.

Mass acceptance crucial

Several international brands, especially in the F&B sector, have settled for the 'Indian' way through modifications in menu, pricings and even in the size of dresses. If industry experts are to be believed, it is McDonald's who pioneered the approach to customisation, paving way for profit and success through the invent of Mc Aloo Tikki and transformation of the iconic all-beef big Mac into the mutton and chicken variant 'Maharaja Mac' in India. Sanjiv Pandey, Marketing Manager, Subway, India, elucidates, “Subway has adapted to the Indian customers' tastes and perceptions with a complete range of vegetarian subs such as 'Paneer Tikka,' 'Vegetable Shammi,' 'Veggie Patty' and the 'Aloo Patty.' Also, franchisees are allowed to add one or two additional sandwiches of their choice. And since a great many Indians do not consume beef or pork products, those ingredients have been eliminated from the menu in favour of those produced with chicken or lamb. In addition, we have added a range of Indian sandwiches such as 'Chicken Tikka' and 'Chicken Seekh.'

Shriti Malhotra, COO, The Body Shop, India, states, “When we first proactively lowered the prices of our iconic best sellers last year, we wanted to help our customers to shop in our stores at affordable prices during the economic downturn. We had such a fantastic response to the lower prices that this year, we decided to extend the lower prices to 600 more products by reducing prices between 10-35 per cent.” For apparel brand Mango, the localisation comes through the franchisee system by designing special limited collection like Zuhair Murat or by accurately selecting stocks of its stores. Jasper Hougaard, MD, Serena Spa, explains, “Typically, the range of treatments offered in a given location would be tailored to the climate, local area, customer demographics, etc. Since many ingredients on the spa menu need to be fresh, it also depends on local availability of the key ingredients. The main adjustment would be in the size of the spa and the facilities available.”

What's the need to localise, customise?

If brands do appeal to universal human emotions, why then localise? Why not try really hard to arrive at that universal brand core and communicate that everywhere in the same way? The answer is because that universal core is mediated by an intermediate lens: that of culture. This is the lens of our mind, through which we comprehend reality. At a collective level, bound by a common past and a shared value system, people belonging to a culture share a similarity of perspective. Every culture particularises a universal emotion, converting it from an abstract value into real life actions in the form of rituals, beliefs, etiquette, language etc., thereby making it its own. Now, the question arises, is it primarily the challenges and the need to adjust to a diverse and volatile market like India that franchise brands are opting the 'glocal' route? “Yes, the challenge is to go close to your customers while retaining your global brand image because that is something you came with into the market. It's your permutation and combination which needs to be carefully calculated to be close/local while retaining your global image. It's a huge opportunity, which every global brand is working on to capitalise upon and yes, it's an ongoing process,” states Mritunjay Kumar emphatically. While Gineina puts customisation as the smarter way to success, saying, “I do not consider it forced or something painful, I consider it a smart way to know and identify the diversity among your customer base around the world and the ability to predict, analyse and cater to those needs. Those who fail or ignore to do that are simply not good enough to enjoy the fruits.”

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