June 30, 2010

Branding Challenges for an Education Enterprise

Privatization of higher education in India has presented a challenge for the brand pundits & the business owners alike. How do we identify a brand promise and equity so that customer loyalty & brand image can be created? Several large education providers have increased their media spend to get greater share of voice, heart & mind. But most of them end up promising almost same equity. Therefore the challenge is to achieve differentiation based on certain deliverables of great value to the customer & provides a certain barrier for the competition.

Higher education ‘brands’ in India suffer from regional weakness that is completely out of sync with the global reality. Therefore majority of the brands advertise for their assumed local footprint without factoring in a pan India appeal.  Strangely the education sector in India has been allowed to work as a not-for-profit business therefore its formal corporatization has not happened with intensity. Certainly most organsiations in education service sector operate for profit motive only. This leads to overt presentation of organization as a charity/trust aiming to promote a socio-religious cause & covertly looking to create wealth by all means.

I am amazed at the kind of names one comes across in this sector. You have institutes named after gods & goddess, castes, persons etc, there are very few such organizations that have neutral names. Education open minds & promotes new thinking challenging the existing world view but still lots of organizations in this trade operate under traditional names.

Most of the brands in this sector swear by the following characteristics:
1.       Years in operation
2.       Size of campus
3.       International relations
4.       Faculty quality
5.       Number of courses
6.       Affiliations
7.       Placements

Therefore we have institutes after institutes advertising about their placement record, Size of campus, number of students on campus and/or leadership. How does a student benefit in her/his studies if there are thousand more students in the campus? How many students can the IIMs boast of?

During PG level & professional studies students focus intensely on the study ignoring their sporting & other recreational activities. So how could a large campus be a magnet for a student? If you build your institute around the personality of one individual promoter how could you satisfy diverse group of students with one single personality?

Higher education brands must keep secular names to appeal wider audience. Such brands must develop equity in a particular academic field and discipline to create top branding. There is opportunity to associate with a glamorous sport to create image. You would do well by promoting values like team work as against promoting leaders. Higher education organizations must look for new identity in order to keep continuous interest of student.

Organized retail has taught hard lessons to our industry majors

Let us admit that the current players in the organized retail in India completely misunderstood the Indian consumer. Consequently most of them have been vanquished already by the market forces & a few are left in the fray with bruised egos and tattered balance sheets.  

Organised retailing in India has been going through several ups & downs beginning with raw enthusiasm followed by paranoia of failures. No wonder India is an amazing country & you must not lower your guards at any moment as there are many mirages luring you into believing them.  I wonder how come the Indian majors & their blue eyed managers failed to see the writing on the wall.  And the truth is that although India needs malls & the infra related to the organized retail but Indians are not ready to change in their buying habits in a hurry.

Organised retail would certainly succeed in India but the business model has to be reinvented. I am pained to clarify my clients & students about the need to understand the Indian consumer before planning to deal with such diverse group of wonderful people. You could use services of sociologists & psychologists to understand this multifaceted group. But there are few characteristics of Indians that are clearly enunciated like our preference for vegetarian food, belief in God, supernatural & fate, various traditions, family orientation, high opinion about our-selves & a competitive nature. Let us focus on the habits of the consumer.

Most businesses thought once they provide large number of products in one place in air conditioning setting then the consumers would come running right? Wrong! Indian consumers have high degree of trust deficit as they do not trust the sellers on price, quality & other parameters. Therefore there is need for repeated regular dialogue with the consumer that is missing with organized retail model. On the other hand western consumers shop in silence. Indian consumer shop more often and in smaller quantities as different from the developed world. Moreover Indian consumer has greater frequency of shopping & the average revenue is very small.

Organised retail can surely find its feet but they have to reinvent their business model & factor in longer gestation period for breaking even.

June 19, 2010

Butter Marketing of Biscuits in the land of Desi Ghee…

India is unique for its food and the culinary variety & tradition. Our Mughlai curries, south Indian, Bengali sweets & Punjabi tandoori preparations are popular globally. It amazes me that despite unique food habits the marketers have failed to develop a truly Indian food brand comparable to Mcdonalds & fries.


Reasons are many foremost one is our predominant habit of being the risk averse-traditional society. Otherwise a Samosa has all the power to challenge a burger provided a Reliance or Tata backs it. Surprisingly we are known for spices since ages but no one has taken the challenge to market a parantha. Parantha & kathi rolls in my opinion can surely give fight to a Pizza. I wonder when so many major companies have invested in retailing in India but none is ready to promote a major food brand for domestic market.

I had the opportunity to consult very briefly with a Ludhiana based biscuit manufacturer. Their product mix has glucose, butter, cookies & cream products. In fact most Indian biscuit manufacturers have butter biscuits for the market. How unimaginative?

India loves its desi ghee & desi ghee is a premium product. Why can’t we have a desi ghee biscuit brand? What stops India?

The Art.... & Science of Living

All of us must have had the opportunity to sit through the motivational training organized routinely by the every corporate. You must have listened to speakers egging you to have a never say die attitude & keep fighting with a smile as they describe meticulously about certain successful people & their struggles in life. They tell you that you have not seen enough troubles as by those great people, so you are lucky.


All such motivational speakers can be classified into two broad categories. Firstly those who tell you that all you could do is work hard & it is the God almighty that decides your fate, therefore you must smile even in adversity as you have no other choice. Second types of speakers tell you to work hard, manage your time & so on. After you come out of the motivational shows you realized that nothing has changed. The issues that de-motivated you still exist. How could you a turn a blind eye to the real world problems?

The solution to such problems could lay in developing a new approach to problem solving in the corporate life. Certain people could feel bored as their work is repetitive. So instead of packing those into a room with a guru or motivational speaker would be wrong. Instead let them take a scheduled break away from the desk depending upon their interest. Some executives may have personal issues therefore the company could provide counseling from a psychologist or psychiatrist depending on the situation.

It would be pertinent to solve the problems of the people rather than expose them to empty chat sessions without any real value. A glass of cold water, a drink, a brisk walk can give greater happiness than the value offered by a Shiv Khera or Art of Living talk. All we have to do is identify the issue that bothers us & find a unique solution to it. That’s all. One size never fits all & same is true for the pep talks of speakers.

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