Sana Akhtar, Sria Majumdar, Rahul Mantri | IIMS
"A story that has not been told. At least not far and wide enough. At least not loud enough. Yet it is a magnificent one. India- twenty eight states, seven union territories, 1.21 billion people, multiple languages, widespread cultural and religious diversity and countless opinions- can it ever be a single unified brand? The story features the evolution of Brand India, its various dimensions and then discusses the future of ‘Brand India’- a brand for which, we all are ambassadors."
The strength of a country brand is measured by the level of awareness, familiarity, preference, consideration and perception. However, if one really wants to know the value of the brand, one has to look at the attributes and the associations of the brand. Well-branded countries are the ones that have a better chance at almost anything- be it winning the bid for the World Cup, or attracting more foreign investment- they always have a competitive advantage. Countries use various strategies for branding- they use global sports to showcase the nation, they showcase their culture and heritage or their growth potential through brilliant campaigns. Whether marketing is more important, or a solid foundation of good governance, infrastructure and resources, in the building of a brand is difficult to say. However, we can safely say that both have a very vital role to play in building a nation brand. Country branding has many advantages: it defines how its own citizens as well as the rest of the world perceive it, and it is this perception which helps in achieving all the economic, social and political objectives.
Origin of the Term
As a country brand, Brand India existed ever since management experts started discussing branding. In the pre-British days, India was known for its natural resources and wealth. Post-Independence, India was known as the License Raj in the business world. Strict rules and regulations made India a local brand, known only to Indians and eyed with suspicion by the outside world. We could not reap the full benefits of Industrialization, but when Globalization came we went on full throttle. Post 1991, India started growing by leaps and bounds. More foreigners wanted to visit India, even more desired to invest in India and the world was forced to sit up and take notice. India has been called the ‘BPO country’, the ‘Medical Tourism’ country, the ‘Culturally Rich’ country and recently the ‘Terrorist Attack Prone’ country. The names have stayed, but if there is something that has stood out in the crowd- it has been ‘Incredible India’.
Yes indeed, it was the Incredible India campaign spearheaded by Amitabh Kant, a Kerala-cadre IAS officer of the 1980 batch who was then a Joint Secretary in the Tourism Ministry, which changed the game. They say that crisis is the genesis of innovation, and the ‘Incredible India’ campaign is a standing example. Over the past few years, Brand India had suffered. The world did not react well to the 1999 nuclear test conducted by the BJP-led NDA government, there was a drastic decline in air travel post 9/11 and people were associating India with terrorism in the wake of the Parliament House terrorist attack. From being a tourist unfriendly nation, Indian tourism suddenly became the flag bearer of Brand India post ‘Incredible India’. Medical tourism and Rural tourism grew, building the brand further. Undoubtedly, this campaign took Brand India to another level. Brand India was painted again, this time on the canvas of Incredible India. We discuss more on this campaign under the section.
Brand India- For the Government
The Government has backed India’s branding campaign with significant industry assistance. The opening up of India’s markets in 1990s brought forth a huge inflow of investments. The flip side is that these investors looked at India as a huge consumer base, where they could sell their products. Branding hopes to change this and project India as a destination where you can, not just sell, but also produce. There is a huge need for India to be seen as a hub for doing complete business and not just as a market to sell.
There are various initiatives from the Government like the Indian Brand Equity Foundation(IBEF) which has been formed in association with the Ministry of Commerce and the Confederation of Indian Industry(CII). Besides being a repository of information about a wide range of industries, it thrusts the positives about India’s business environment and tries to build a good perception. IBEF also launched a successful campaign ‘India Everywhere’ at the World Economic Forum in 2006. One look at the website and contents of IBEF shows how seriously the Corporate World and Government consider India’s Branding.
India – Future of Change is another such initiative which aims ‘to take India to the world’. It is all about engaging the world with what is going on in India and create a bridge to ensure the smooth transition across cultures and geographies. If one would look at IBEF as a business oriented initiative, Future of Change encompasses domains ranging from Education, Creative Arts, Culture, Social Sector and the Environment. It has tie-ups with top educational institutes in the country like IIT Bombay and IIM Ahmedabad as Knowledge Partners.
The State Governments are not behind, they are branding themselves and in turn helping the cause of Brand India. A very good example is that of the ‘Vibrant Gujarat Summit’ which has become a regular feature attracting business corporations from within the country and around the world. The summit aims to bring in huge investments into the state and explore the business opportunities available. These kinds of summits bolster India’s case for becoming a premier investment hub.
Tourism is another major cause being promoted by the Government. The Incredible India campaign is a resounding success story. The different states have caught onto this as well and we can see them seeking to get a slice of this pie. This branding is showcases the rious treasures of nature India possesses and seeks to capitalize on them. There is a still lot to be done though, if we are to become a bigger tourist hub. The facilities in most tourist places are far from adequate and the Government should be working on this too, and without this ground work, the campaigns feels hollow.
Brand India - For the Aam Aadmi
We’ve explored how Brand India has worked for India’s businesses. In the case of the common man, Brand India has been a double edged sword. Its worked for the ‘aam aadmi’ in some cases and gone horribly wrong in others. The mad rush to build multi-lane highways, towering skyscrapers and Special Economic Zones has put agriculture and environment on the backseat at times.
In the race to position Indian metros as clean with affluent environments, there have been incidents where cities like Mumbai have indulged in removing slum dwellers without taking effective relocation measures. This is not a one off case, but it has been repeated with minor differences in other parts of the country. The city of Delhi seemed to be under a siege when the work for Commonwealth Games 2010 was on going. There was no concern shown for the common public because the Games were ‘bigger’ than the common man.
There were also reports of food grains being reserved for export to keep up India’s image and standing as an exporter when there wasn’t enough supply available to meet domestic demand. These sensitive issues need to be handled in a proper manner and ensure that the common man benefits from Brand India as well as contributes to its success. The Branding has to be an inclusive one and not involve alienating its own citizens. At the end of the day, it is the common man who is the true ambassador of Brand India. If he grows, the brand grows. Else it will just be show without substance, and Brand India will not sustain its glory for long.
Through the Looking Glass
Predicting the future is always difficult, and we do so with optimism in our hearts and fire in our bellies. India today is poised for growth and -with rising consumer spending, growth of services, Indian manufacturing trying to establish itself on the global platform, rising literacy level with large pool of graduates, infrastructural and communication network growth etc- experts say that India is in the same state that China was in 10 years ago.
However, when one talks about China, a picture of a closed and uninviting country is painted, with an authoritarian government. This is an effect of country branding, and it is similar to the case of US after the cold war. The US wanted to be seen as a leader of free world, a place where all were treated equally, but it was overshadowed by the second class treatment of African, Asians and other racism issues. India seems to be learning from the past. The Indian Government is trying to project India’s fringe benefits along with – including better protection of intellectual property rights, transparent legislation and high diversity of population.
Yet India has a long way to go. It has a lot to do in field of education to attract student migrants and retain them. Branding includes promotion and here India has to learn from other nations such as China, South Africa and organize events where people get to know more about the country. Also, workshops and courses to study Indian literature, art and culture in cities abroad are the need of the hour. Indian medical tourism is booming, should also not be allowed to tarnish.
Above all the positives, a major concern that India faces is security. Branding India is of now use, till the world perceives us to be a safe destination to travel to. After all, we all value our lives more than anything else. Also, government policies for dealing with foreign investment are safe at best (after all, we prevented ourselves from global recession!). This would be a point to highlight , enjoying greater FDI inflow, rather than just FII from stock markets
At the end of the day, the best brand ambassadors for a country are its people. Individual greatness and success of Indian companies will drive home to the world that India is indeed a superpower and a super brand, ready to take on the world.