Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Mr. Kiran Khalap, Brand consultant, author and co-founder of Chlorophyll

An Interview with Mr. Kiran Khalap
Brand consultant, author and co-founder of Chlorophyll

In this month's Vartalaap , we have with us Mr Kiran Khalap, co-founder of Chlorophyll which is India's first end-to-end brand consultancy firm. Mr Kiran Khalap started off his career in Lintas as a trainee copywriter before moving on to Clarion advertising where he eventually became the company's first CEO and CCO (Chief Creative Officer). He has been the recipient of the prestigious Ashok Jain Award for Public Service advertising and also is a published author. In January 2010,Mr Khalap was chosen as the Chairman of the Brand & Marketing Advisory Council to the prestigious and challenging Nandan Nilekani-led Unique ID Project of the Government of India. He shares with us his unique perspective about the world of branding.

Q1. You juggle three passions and one career. Did these three diverse passions of yours play a role in motivating you to start out your own venture?
The venture started as a reaction to all that seemed not right (a very naive
view perhaps!). With advertising as a profession, where I had spent 16 years
of my working life (1983 to 1999), I needed a new way to utilise all that I had learnt-a way that was less self-obsessed, less ego-driven, more objectives-obsessed, more results-driven. That’s how we started chlorophyll, India’s first brand consultancy. There were design shops before chlorophyll, but no brand consultancy.

Q2. If you were asked to choose one defining moment of your life what would that be?
It was a very unusual setting. A local train running on the delta of steel
tracks in Mumbai. I was reading a book called Talks and Dialogues by J
Krishnamurti. I had read it twice before. But that day, in that dimly lit second class compartment, there was a white light inside my head: I saw how
our thoughts and memories create a division inside us and outside us, and
how one can discover an awareness that is untouched by our thoughts.
Nothing in life was the same after that.

Q3. ‘ideantity’ & ‘litmosi’ are two of chlorophyll’s newest and path breaking offerings. What was the thought process and reasoning that went into the creation of these two tools?
Good question! Thanks.
As the phrase goes, chlorophyll came from “the wrong side of the tracks”:
We were not set up by sexy, award-winning designers, but by a band of
holistic thinkers who were committed to an idea of what brands meant.
So we created chloropathy: a way of looking at brands (nouns) and branding
(verb) that we believed was uniquely ours. That is why on chlorophyll’s 10th birthday, we decided to go public with our beliefs and recorded our perspectives on the difference between the complexity of the design world and the simplicity of communication. For example, there is a lot of technical explanation about the use of colours in logos (Wipro is one of the most amazing in this regard), that taken out of context, makes no sense. ideantity attempts to clear the air using data rather than emotion. litmosi™ is the result of our consistent work with 50 corporate brands (asopposed to product or service brands) since 1999.
It is focussed on CEOs of SMEs who are
a.committed to growth
b.have realised that the organisation has grown beyond their ‘human
c.need to substitute themselves with a set of values
We believe it’s the world’s first corporate brand alignment tool.

Q3. Branding is considered to be the most effective way for a company to differentiate itself from the crowded market place and off late the branding bug has caught on. Using terms such as brand or brand consulting seems to be the in thing and one gets the feeling it is being overused and misplaced at times. What’s your take on this?
I agree with you 100% that the word brand is being abused and misused.
Everybody from signboard printers and logo designers to advertising and
PR agencies offer branding. Closer investigation reveals that 99% of the
time they refer to some form of communication, whether a logo or a mass
media ad. Branding is about making hard sacrifices so that the business is aligned to an unchanging direction, not about spouting philosophy through clever brand lines or about creating a spiffy logo.

Q4. Brand voice - the written content used across all stages in the branding exercise is an important cog in the whole process of branding as such. For example it is said that McKinsey has an authoritative tone, Southwest Airlines’ is friendly, Virgin’s being tongue-in-cheek and so on. But these examples are few and far between. More often than not this important aspect is overlooked by major companies. Why do you think companies miss out on this aspect?
Even before brand voice (guided by brand personality) comes the definition
of who the brand is, what we refer to as the Brand Core, defined as an
unchanging idea. You can have a Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela with
the same unchanging core (belief in satyagraha) but with dramatically
different personalities.
Virgin’s cocking-a-snook is a personality trait, what drives the business is
the belief in contrariness: zig when the world of business zags.
Why do companies miss out on these aspects? Because they believe
business is only about tangible assets and EBITDA, while if you look at the
data in books like The Living Company by Arie de Geus, you quickly realise
that a company is a community of human beings held together by defined

Q5. Rebranding efforts sometimes end up alienating the existing loyal customer base and confusing other stakeholders such as the employees, owners themselves, suppliers etc. What do you think is the reason for this and what could possibly be done to ensure such a thing does not happen?
The confusion in the heads and hearts of brand owners reflects in the heads
and hearts of stakeholders.
Vodafone is the only worldwide example I know of a service that has
changed brand names three times, Maxtouch to Orange to Hutch to
Vodafone, without losing customer loyalty.
This is an amazing example (you might say most of it is driven by lack of
number portability, but this argument does not work as well with other
brands) of a brand not changing despite its name changing.
Stakeholders need to experience what has changed and they should
understand why the brand has changed, only then will they not be confused
and stay with the brand.
When Bank of Baroda changed its logo, it changed its offerings by adding
new-age services. Did Union Bank do the same?

Q6. How important do you think is Brand valuation as a service going to be, considering the fact that IFRS will come into force in India in 2011 and brands’ value has to be shown on the companies’ balance sheet?
Yes, brand valuation as a service will be important.
But the one myth one must not be seduced by about brand valuation is
that it is a static number.
GAP lost $ 4357 million in brand value between 2008 and 2007 (20%) due to
child labour issues in India.
Pepsi lost brand value when the Surgeon General USA attributed junk food
as the chief contributor to obesity, and obesity closing in on as the No 1
killer (after smoking).
Nokia was punished for ignoring the clam-shell model.
A brand needs to remain vigilant and vibrant; its goodwill value in the
minds of the consumers and its value in the balance sheet can change
dramatically even due to unforeseen circumstances.

Q7. One of your many passions is spiritual evolution. If you were asked to give one piece of advice to today’s youth and more specifically to the B-school students based on your wide ranging experiences, what would that be?
I guess every individual follows a path of evolution dictated mainly by their
psychosomatic constitution. Some students will be driven by their heart,
some by their brains. Some will have a higher musical IQ, some verbal.
Therefore, one simple suggestion is ‘avoid comparisons’.
Secondly, while education attempts to reward those who give the right
answers in classrooms, in real life there is no one right answer. So look for
the second or third answer in every situation.
Lastly, accept that you have a larger responsibility as a human being,
beyond your role as student, brother, sister, teacher, manager-define that
responsibility and see if everything you do is aligned with that truth.


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