Brand Management

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Patanjali – The Feasible Strategic Response

Published September 11, 2016 by vishalvkale

The Feasible Strategic Alternatives
At the outset, let me clarify that I am not an FMCG player; my interest in the Patanjali case study emanates from the unique marketing riddle it presents; and its close similarity in some ways with my Trade Telecom Handsets, wherein two challengers have upstaged the established player/s. Being a keen student of Brand responses to attacks in my trade, I could see ready parallels and deep learnings to be had from the studying the rise of Patanjali, and the current responses of the attacked incumbents i.e. the established players.
As I have gleaned from my FMCG friends, the current responses include launching brands or sub-brands around the health parameter, Ayurved, etc; these are clearly not going to be adequate. I don’t deny the need for such variants in the product lineup, but these cannot be the core response for obvious reasons, as we saw in the previous two parts of this article. We need to go deeper, into individual product lines as well as absolute fundamentals of product usage, need fulfillment & marketing basics to look for answers
As a brand, what do you do when attacked? This is the core question, the first question that needs confronting. In the real word, this is a routine matter which is attended to on a routine basis. But the question is, what do you do when the conventional approaches as mandated by your organisation’s internal structures have been found inadequate? The very last thing to do – a witch hunt. The existing people have both industry as well as organizational knowledge, and are indispensable. They may need support, fresh blood etc; but that they are needed now more than ever is a given.
The next step is the most difficult to do, both  as an individual as well as an organization; accept that you have been beaten, and quite comprehensively. From this base the structure can rise; that, to my mind, is the only way : people, and humility in defeat. These two together open your mind to new thoughts and full realities. Beyond this, you need to understand the attacking product’s strengths, not just from a product or a brand offering, but a complete full picture, something I have termed the 360-degree approach. This should look at all variables : market realities, socio-economic-political changes, individual product lines and their precise usage etc. And one word here – this you cannot do until you yourself have used and experienced the attacking products
You are under attack; what do you do? How do you respond? The first response is always, almost always, tactical in nature; given that most managers do not become aware of the full nature of the threat until much later. These tactical responses are also vital – they buy vital time, defend counters, markets; ensure continued robust cash-flows, and thus cannot be discounted. But the strategic response needs to be properly thought about. What can that be in such  a difficult terrain? The answer – the core attacking army itself. You need to understand and highlight weaknesses in the Patanjali armour that can be attacked.
Let me take myself as an example : I personally do not like at least two products from the Patanjali stable – a bathing soap I have used, and its toothpaste. The reason? In the soap, its lathering is not very efficient, and lacks satisfaction for me; and secondly its perfume isn’t to my liking. In the toothpaste, I lack the freshness quotient that other toothpastes give me for long after brushing, giving a nice tangy fresh aftertaste that lingers for a long time. Note that both these are clear examples of core product benefits. That is what is needed : highlight weaknesses in the core product benefits from the Brand Patanjali.
The Patanjali Brand has used a very emotive and powerful appeal; that is why attacking it on its strength areas is not the answer. Your health or ayurved products will like as not do nothing; for two simple reasons – you lack the perception in the consumers’ minds, and the related associations. And two, there are other brands and products that offer similar benefits, and have done so for long. You have to accept that your Brand is going to lose some space – frankly, you have no option but to take your losses, and try to minimize using tactical measures like line extensions, discounts, trade maneuvers etc.
Identify specific areas to concentrate on – not on emotive or psychographic segmentation etc; but on hard-core product usage and benefits, like lathering of the soap, its perfume, the aftertaste of the toothpaste, effective cleaning of stains, and so and so forth. Consumer dissatisfaction, if and when it emerges, will start from core areas of product benefit. Why is the consumer using the product {not the brand}; what benefits is it giving? Are you able to identify current or future products that can beat the competitor Patanjali?
While you are advertising health, or beauty, or cleanliness, is the customer buying into your Brand communication? It is feasible that most consumers equate all soaps with cleanliness, meaning there is a chance that your pitch is getting fuzzy by the time it reaches the customers / consumers. Maybe they look at perfume, packaging attractiveness, pricing, or indeed lathering and smoothness as key benefits! The quick rise of the competitor is equally an strong indictment of the disconnect of your overall communication {I said communication, not advertising alone – communication is much  wider} with the target market!
Logic is the only answer to a strong emotive appeal and pitch; that, and time. Many people, or rather critics, have stated that quality needs looking at, etc. What will that achieve? In my opinion, focusing too much on alleged poor quality is counterproductive, as the target market is not going to buy into your pitch, seeing it as a vested one – given the emotive appeal in the background. And do remember  that typically quality is  a price-quality trade-off and not an absolute statement in itself.
The precise response can then be formulated on the back of extensive research on consumer usage experience of the competitor products from consumer samples drawn from all geographies and relevant demographic profiles; it may be expensive, but warranted as the choices and perceptions of consumers vary widely. Small samples wont do, regardless of what the statistical theory says regarding effectivity and representativeness of samples. My gut feel is multiple studies across target markets.

Thus, meeting core consumer needs and giving solutions to their needs is the way forward; understanding where Patanjali is not being as good as you can be. Be prepared to lose a little, so that it gives you learning and flexibility to launch a counter-attack at the appropriate occasion.  That, and as I noted above – time. If the attacking product is not meeting market expectations, your continued and steady focus on basics is bound to pay rich dividends, especially if combined with effective tactical responses to arising situations and a strong tactical defense. In short – back to the drawing board, and your first-year  Kotler book and basics in marketing and management… only basics are the answer in an emotionally charged atmosphere as is the current marketing case we are studying!


Published August 28, 2016 by vishalvkale

The rise of Patanjali cannot be explained by mere Marketing Factors; to further underscore my point, let me just quote a small observation : for the first time, I am seeing an FMCG Brand {or any other product, for that matter} being discussed in Social Media, Whatsapp forwards and discussions, personal discussions etc. Now this is absolutely unique; for a mere Brand to get so much traction as to become a talking point in such areas does call for comment as well as some pretty serious thinking and analysis on the part of both Academa as well as Corporates; it is {yet another} indicator of the seismic shift in the Indian Consumer that should have been spotted
The Indian Consumer Story is admittedly complex with deep differentiation and divisions that most corporate honchos love to parrot – and they are spot-on accurate. However, when trying to pin down the growth of Patanjali, one has to go beyond these narrow Segmentation & Positioning / 4Ps / Product Market approaches, and take a larger market overview before getting into the specifics of jargon and strategy. The reason for that is that while the inter-segment divisions and differences are indeed pertinent from a Marketing Standpoint, some aspects of consumer choice determinants transcend these divisions due to their emotive appeal and perceived closeness to the consumers’ hearts


The first and most important aspect is the India Story; the rising feeling, a fast-rising swell & tide  of nationalism combined with an urgent need to modernise several sectors and encourage investment is creating a climate of fast-rising acceptability of Indian Goods and Products gaining larger acceptance – across sectors & socio-econo-cultural divisions, spanning all the way from Telecom to FMCG / High Income to Low Income. This is happening in a market historically used to and comfortable with Indian Products and Brand Names. That is one aspect of the story that needs to be kept in mind. The impact of this is that it makes the consumer more amenable to experimentation with local products – which also fuels and enhances nationalist aspirations as well as gives a satisfaction.
The second aspect that needs consideration is, as some people have pointed out, Yoga; but, in my opinion, you have to add the Hindu Pride aspect in no small measure to this potpourri. There is a present and fast rising upsurge in Hindu Pride and community feeling  – I mean no negative connotations here. I refer to the rising need for the Sanaatani {Hindu} personality to seek solace in a long cultural history that is frankly unparalleled on this planet. There are other products on the health parameter, or Ayurved, or other such factors; none have come even close to the now-iconic status of Patanjali, the Brand. It is now high time that Brand Pundits gave Patanjali its due – it is now an Iconic Brand.
The third aspect, dutifully covered elsewhere, is the central figure at the core of it : Baba Ramdev, a man who is a cultural icon and a famous personality. This is one aspect that needs much greater attention : as marketers, you need to understand how and why this is so relevant. Baba Ramdev is not just a renouned Yog Guru, he is also a very well-known quasi-political personality with his activism around anti-corruption and The Jan Lokpal Bill. Both these topics hold emotional appeal of a very high degree with most Indians. The fourth though relatively minor aspect, is the name itself : Patanjali – which happens to have cultural as well as Religious connotations going back millennia


Thus, from the above rather lengthy preamble, it can be seen that the term Patanjali has some deep associations attached to it, ones that appeal to the mind at a very, very basic and deep-rooted cultural level : Indian, Sanaatani, Yog, Nationalist, Cultural Similarity, Activist, Anti-Corruption, Community Pride, Health, Ayurved, Sanskrut as well as History. A quick perusal of this list will easily clarify that it clearly has pan-Indian Appeal, across divides and segments – be they economic, geographic or demographic.
Patanjali lies at the confluence of several independent but important factors that come together at a cross-roads to create a definable, marketable opportunity; these factors – identified above – have together created a vacuum that needed to be filled; a definable desire that needed to be tapped. That is why Patanjali has scored so highly and at such a blinding pace. To be sure, the opportunity presented had to be identified, a working plan built, product lines identifed and created / manufactured, a distribution to be built, and all the rest of it. But the core reason cannot be these marketing aspects; we have to understand the core market and the core consumer that Patanjali is targeting.
For far too long, Academia and Corporates have focussed on the easily definable aspects of Brand Management; the time is ripe for a genuine effort to understand the many, many other aspects of Brands and what determines their equity, image, associations and personality with particular reference to India. For far too long, there has been a total absence of quality research in the public domain in the scenario of Brands in the Indian Context. The reality on the ground spanning innumerable product failures from abroad bears mute testimony to the difference between India and the West. Given India’s cultural difference from other nations, there is a felt need for a much better and improved understanding of the Indian Business Scenario that caters to Indian Realities.

Consumer Choice is not a simple either-or option, not even in simple repetitive purchase cycles as typified by the FMCG Sector, to say nothing of my core speciality Telecom. It is influenced by a series of factors, the listing of which is beyond the scope of my blog. Unless you pin-down each Brand in detail, as opposed to a superficial 4Ps approach, the risks of not getting a full understanding remain very high. This is not something we can afford in the modern ultra-competitive marketplace. From such a fundamental understanding will emerge the way-forward – which is the topic of the third article in this mini series, wherein I look at the feasbile competitive responses that can be adopted…

Previous Part : Click Here


Published August 27, 2016 by vishalvkale


The Rise, Rise And Rise Of Patanjali…

The rise, rise and rise of Patanjali in the FMCG Sector is the cause many a heartburn in the trade  whose marketshares it has eaten, excitement in the media which gets something magnificent to talk about and report on – analyse – discuss; and a whole new range of products for the customer to experience. A lot has been said and anaylsed about the rise of this brand, and a few responses are also trickling in from the current majors in the trade, which is where the issue stands as on date.
A lot has been said about the key reasons behind the rise of this brand; a lot of it does actually make perfect sense; the factors that I have read are indeed pertinent and contributory factors behind the rise of the new brand. But, and this is a big but, all of these factors together will account, or rather, ought to account for, the rise of Patanjali. I respectfully submit to all Marketing Pundits out there, that let us first of all recognise that we arent talking of the rise of Patanjali; we are talking about the phenomenal  rise of Patanjali. The additional adjective does make a huge difference indeed…

A Look At Some Reasons…

On perusing a few articles around this these, I found several contributory factors identified; Health platform, Ayurved, New and Tailormade products to Indian palates and needs, Distribution Network, Yoga Connection and Baba Ramdev, Make in India, Indian products and so on and so forth. Each of these factors is quite pertinent, and does present an undeniable advantage that can be converted into a defined competitive advantage for the new brand.
But not one of these, or even all taken together, can account for the phenomenal growth that we have witnessed, which is nothing short of miraculous; we are talking of expected revenues to the tune of Rs. 5,000 Cr in FY 16. Now that, I respectfully submit, is quite stunning for a new brand in any industry – let alone in an industry with a well-entrenched competitive scenario and wide competitive choices and defined customer likes and dislikes with low comparative innovative potential like the FMCG Trade.

Objectons To The Reasons…

If you say health or bio-products or ayurved, there are other examples aroiund, like Himalaya; if you state distribution, then any number of companies can challenge the network. If you state the owned or exclusive network, then you can just point to its shelf space and sales from other regular outlets to defeat than claim.  Same can be stated for Swadeshi, or for product formulations and so on and so forth. The problem with this analysis is that all it, just about 100%, is internal and post-facto analysis that competely ignores the Market, The Brand and The Consumer : the three most significant aspects that need need contemplation and study when analysing any brand in any industry.


Let us start with the Brand; what does a Brand typically mean or entail in practical terms? One of the most pertinent descriptions I have found is this one – which is my particular favourite : In other words, the real power of a brand is in the thoughts, feelings, images, beliefs, attitudes, experiences and so on that exist in the minds of consumers.  This brand knowledge affects how consumers respond to products, prices, communications, channels and other marketing activity – increasing or decreasing brand value in the process.   ( Keller, 2003)
What I like about this line, which has somehow stuck to my mind, is that it encompasses all three components – The Brand, The Consumer, and The Market which is in reality consumers responses in totality. What can we say about Patanjali in the light of the above? Looked at it from this perspective, it becomes clear that we perforce have to look at consumers; and that further, we have to try and identify relevant trends that impact or influence consumer choice. From this perspective, all the factors identified as reasons for the Patanjali phenomenon do not sufficiently explain the concerted and combined consumer response to the Patanjali offering,
This stands true for any Brand in any Industry; in order that you get to the bottom of the reasons for either the success or failure of any Brand, you have to look at the consumers’ responses; analysing the behaviour takes you deep into the psychology of the consumer body and their collective attitudes, value systems etc. It is these aspects that determine the purchase behaviour of any consumer. And, when you are talking of Beliefs, Attitudes etc, you perforce have to analyse all parameters that can influence the same. With respect to a product, we are talking of the external environment as well as marketing factors, of the kind mentioned above, including socio-cultural and political factors, inasmuchas these have a defined and well-studied influence on our beliefs etc.


Would you buy a Made in Pakistan product? Or rather, how many of you would buy a made in Pakistan product? If yes, why – and if no- why not? What are the associations in your mind vis-à-vis that country? Some may view it as an enemy; some as an underdeveloped nation incapable of manufacturing good products; point is that these have nothing to do with the 4Ps of Marketing, and yet have a significant and defined impact on the Brand’s fortunes in the market. The question is, can we spot major shifts, trends in the external environment that can be our guide in understanding Patanjali?
One such possibility is Make In India / Indian Products; here again, we run into major trouble when we expand and consider that there are other companies across industries which are definedly Indian, or Make In India. And yet, not one has managed to match Patanjali and its speed and success so far as I am aware. Why should that be the case? What is it that is so different that can explain the phenomenal growth and consumer pull? That to me is the key; the competition is missing this simple reality. A holistic analysis would take us in another direction, when we consider trendlines in the society as well as in corporate India / consumer behaviour & choice / market trends across industries / economic realities…
This is the subject of the second part of the this analysis… watch this space as we look at Brand Associations, Society Trends, Industry and Consumer Trendlines. Consumer Noise & Pull, The Phenomenal Pull Of the Patanjali Brand. This is frankly a subject of research, and should ideally be a research in some top management institute as well as Brand Managements functions  of Major Corporations, as frankly I see Patanjali as yet another indication of the seismic shift in Indian Choices, which are established players would be well to pay attention to…

The Brand And The Channel – 2 : A Deeper Look At The Role Of The Channel

Published June 4, 2016 by vishalvkale

How does one create a Brand? Traditional Brand Management looks at concepts like the marketing mix, brand loyalty, awareness, personality, equity, positioning, attributes etc; all these and more are admittedly  core concepts with a range of practical ramifications and uses. The difficulty I have as a marketer in relating to these is due to the excessive focus on one element in the mix : promotion, and specifically advertising.
No Marketer can deny advertising its rightful place; it is through the medium of advertising that company products reach the consumer, and make the consumer aware of the same; it also helps build loyalty, creates differential & preferential demand, builds strong associations and all the rest of it; that is pretty much beyond argument. But the problem is that, in tandem with these steps, a host of other steps are needed to provide the base from which promotion can build. Further, these other steps provide the superstructure as well as stability.
Price and Product are most often considered in this set of “other steps”; what is left out are the organisation policy framework, culture, and… Place. The distribution network and its role gets most often ignored. I shall deal with the first two at a later date; this article builds on the previous article on Brand Creation, { Crafting A Great Brand : The Channel Perspective : Crafting A Great Brand : The Channel Perspective}
 I observed in the conclusion of the above article, “in my career so far, despite having covered in excess of 2000 retail points at a minimum, I can’t really say what really makes products move from the shelves. All I have experienced is that “Brand ” is only one among a set of factors, which I may pen in the due fullness of time and experience… that is, to me – the final frontier of Sales and Marketing” The question that jumps to my mind is simply this : Why is it that in over 16 years and more than 2000 retail visits, have  few customers come demanding a specific brand choice across Telecom, Durables, FMCG in my observation?     
Rather than compartmentalise this into the regular constructs of marketing mentioned above, it seems to me that we should look at this in an entirely different light : the relevance of the customer’s experience with the company as a whole : Brand, Physical Product, Customer Touchpoints, Communication, Usage Experience, Employee behaviour and Ethical Conduct, Process Orientation as well as the Channel and its approach. The customer runs into these aspects on a regular basis, and forms an opinion of the company and its products basis a series of interactions; the sum total of these interactions is what determines the customer response to the company offering, and a continued relationship.
This is a divergent approach from traditional marketing, which does not give as much weightage to these aspects, leading to dissonance in the customer’s mindset towards the company. There do exist companies that have bridged this, and built a solid rapport with its customers spanning several industries – but they are few in number. Not all the points above will be equally relevant for all products; for example, high-involvement products typically will be impacted by most, whereas low-involvement products will be influenced more by the Channel than the other aspects, although they will still hold relevance.
When a customer enters a channel location, it is the first face-to-face direct contact with the company; and what the channel says in Verbal and Non-Verbal  communication / interaction to / with the customer is a significant influencing factor; this is further strengthened by a comparison of the actual product or offering vis-a-vis what the customer has been exposed to through Advertising and Brand Building. When I enter a store to purchase a Shirt, or a Mobile Phone, or even a bar of soap – I have a clear set of product attributes in mind – in my observation, few customers have a Brand-Centric demand.
It is usually a case of having a consideration set of Brands to choose from. Thus far, we are in established Brand Management theory; what happens next is the key. The further ongoing interactions of the customer with the organisation in the purchase process, usage, and re-purchase is the single most-ignored aspect of Marketing in the modern world in my experience. The first three Ps can only bring a customer to the store, but beyond that, lies an entirely different and little-understood world, both in theory {that I am aware of, at least} as well as in practice.
The impact of unfriendly  channel policies, lax claim settlement etc are all well understood by most experienced sales personnel; these have the power to wash out sales from entire regions literally overnight. What is lesser understood is what makes the channel recommend one product over another, given equality in the basics mentioned above. If you have everything in place, it does not necessarily mean that you have all bricks in place. Everything that happens right from the first interaction to repeat purchase in an ongoing cycle is the Brand’s core business.
The normal course of interaction in my experience leaves this most vital phase of the purchase process with zero or near-zero control or even influence of the organisation. At the most, as I have observed by and large, the focus of attention becomes After Sales Service; that, though vital, is only one aspect in a rather longish list. The modal response usually hovers around the statement that the rest is not in the control of the teams. But is that really the case? And more to the point, what are the other aspects that influence the customer decision while in the channel location? And, how does the Brand building aspect enter into it? This is the topic of the next part in this series…

Crafting A Great Brand : The Channel Perspective

Published May 1, 2016 by vishalvkale

One of the most neglected and underestimated aspects of Brand Building remains the contribution and role of the 3rd “P” of the marketing mix : Place. The other 3 Ps have been looked at threadbare in any number of excellent case studies, books, researches, in both India as well as the rest of the World. But, on this, the   third “P”, a few selective articles, case studies apart – I have not read anything in my reading so far. Funnily, this is at complete variance with my own on-ground experience in Sales for 16 years.
The question is and remains, how to go about building a great brand? Sure, you need a great product that fulfils a defined need from a set of prospective customers; it should be at a price-point acceptable to the customer-set {segment in Marketing Jargon}; this price point should not reduce the allure of the brand; and it should be backed by a strong marketing programme spanning Advertising and Sales Promotion activities – this is what most pundits will expound.
The question that occurs to me is this : you can have an optimal product-range, backed by a pricing that is in keeping with market needs and realities; with a strong marketing programme. All of this is also executed to near-perfection. Does this ensure success in the marketplace? The answer, basis long years of observation and work experience in sales across diverse industries and geographies is a clear and resounding no. In fact, the answer is very nearly an emphatic “almost never”.
All of the above is of no use if you cannot place your product in the right channel; please note : not just channel, but the right channel. Basis experience, I am only too painfully aware that a strong brand with a top-of-mind recall and strong associations etc {all the Jargon here} is not necessarily the sole, or primary consideration factor in the mind of the channel. Sure you will get placement – that is a guarantee almost. But placement does not mean tertiary sales.
What moves and how it moves from the retail shelves remains one of the least studied aspects of Marketing in contemporary Marketing Theory; again, basis experience, the power of the Brand is but one factor among several. And the list contains several items that prove to be googlies for even top brands, as many a brand have found out. Despite this, it is surprising that contemporary theorists in the field of Brand Building and Marketing pay no attention whatsoever to this vital aspect.
An example from my personal experience. In a state I was once heading, the leading brand {it was leading, still is among the top-2, frequently no. 1} just disappeared from shelves smack in the peak season : vanished,  like vanishing cream. The  reason was widespread dissatisfaction among the retail towards the online strategy, pricing and product availability of that company.  Where is the power of the brand here, and all those lovely associations and recalls? Nothing could work, as the channel united as one, leading to mayhem in peak season.
Another example : a product was washed out from 4 states in the space of a few months, due to massive claim pendency at the distributor level. Third example : I once asked my distributor, you sell xty-x of my products, and yty-y of my competition {y being much larger than x, obviously} – while our product range is not that much outclassed. His response contained one little gem, among the other points raised : I will, in front of you, give you an order of one truckload, and the competition an order of two units. Stay here and see who delivers first. The competition delivered within hours, I wasn’t able to even in 2 days. This leads to better profitability at the channel level, translating to increased penetration and marketshare.
There can be other examples – inability to penetrate markets and shelves due to legacy issues, relationship problems etc; lack of the right logistical base that ensures proper service and replenishment right till the smallest shop shelves; speed of roll-out etc. The point I am trying to make is that the Channel remains the only place where the customer comes into contact with the company offering, and the complete absence of appreciation beyond the clichéd POP and Sales Promotional activities belies the vital importance of the Channel.
You can always state that each of the above are one-offs; and you would be right. Problem is that I have seen these one-offs happening repeatedly, again and again – so much so that they aren’t really one-offs. The repeated happenings that I have seen in my career is leading me to question the basic premise of Marketing : the importance given to the various elements in the mix. It is also leading me to a basic theory basis my personal experience
Crafting a successful brand isn’t the  responsibility of just the Marketing Team, or the Brand Management Team alone : it isn’t their sole deliverable. The success of a company, of a brand – is the responsibility of the entire company, of every employee, and not just in customer-facing functions alone. This has been said before by pundits; my base point in the article is far beyond this; and focuses on the channel functions at the core.
Crafting a market victory requires a deep understanding the dynamics of the physical marketplace, and and in-depth understanding of the micro-level functions and realities. Let me give an example – a brand once came in with a revolutionary premise : MOP or market operating price,  strictly enforced. This is an ultra competitive market. We all laughed and ridiculed, yes  – including oh-so-smart yours truly. Two years later, this brand has shaken the foundations of the market with its surprising results; it may not be the market topper – but its rapid growth has stunned everyone.
There were other reasons – the right product at the right price etc. But that fact that the company keyed into the eroding profitability in retail, and the mayhem that price competition was causing in that industry gave it a small, tiny space in the marketplace for it to exploit. Initially, it was hard going but, eventually, the market began to accept. It is still early days, but the strategy belies a deep understanding of market realities.
They were also very innovative in customer contact at the retail points, with product dummies and trials in every point almost; massive visibility etc – the works. But this was carried out across the board, and with flawless execution. That is the next point I need to make- that the execution brilliance has to be uncompromising with a uniform experience across all customer contact points for a truly great brand to be crafted.
What does it take for a great brand to be crafted? Apart from all the points of the mix and its comparative importance of each component – flawless execution of strategy, and a uniform customer experience across all touchpoints. Having seen this in 3 industries, I can theorise that this is not industry-specific. This, combined with the other points – supply chain efficiency, deep understanding of channel functions, wants and ambitions, accounts transparency etc, are all prerequisites.
That is why I have a fundamental disconnect with most Marketing Theory around Brands : the exclusive focus on one {or two} selective item from the mix, which is completely absent from the real world I have seen and experienced. It takes much, much more than that to craft a truly great brand; Branding should encompass the entire gamut of activities required from production right till the after sales service. Every component plays a vital part in the brand story. And trust me – most top brand are clued into this…

That said – let me reiterate, in my career so far, despite having covered in excess of 2000 retail points at a minimum, I cant really say what really makes products move from the shelves. All I have experienced is that “Brand ” is only one among a set of factors, which I may pen in the due fullness of time and experience… that is, to me – the final frontier of Sales and Marketing : decoding the retail in the new and changed market dynamic and reality of connectivity and seamless inregration wrought by technology… this is the subject of the next article, whenever I manage to get around to it…

Book Review : Storm The Norm – 20 Brands That Did It Best

Published April 10, 2016 by vishalvkale



By Anisha Motwani


Image result for storm the norm reviewThis book is yet another milestone in Indian writing on our internal marketing and business success stories; for way too long we have been fed Western success stories in our marketing books and cases, virtually 100% of which have little direct applicability in India and consequently learnings from them. There is precious little literature on our own stories, of which we have examples aplenty. The complete lack of quality research on and writing on Indian cases is a major lacuna we face; one that is now being slowly bridged.

I recall reading only 3 books so far – one a book on Positioning giving Indian case studies, another a more recent book by Anuradha Goyal on Ecommerce companies, and this – the third one. And sadly, not one of these is available on book stores prominently; while I can spot an entire series of books by Western authors, Harvard and what not; as I mentioned in my review on HBR Case Studies book on Decisions, I can understand the concepts; but the setting is totally alien and inapplicable to the business atmosphere in India, rendering the much-vaunted HBR useless to me as a practicing business manager in the Indian Economy.


This book takes out 20 case studies from contemporary India – making it a treasure trove for all Business Managers. These are companies we have worked in, producing products we have purchased in a socio-cultural atmosphere we are comfortable in, and in a geography we understand. The chosen case studies are basis brands that have challenged norms, redefined markets or created new ones, brands which have been transformational in their impact and approach; all in all – brands which have done things out of the ordinary.

These brands can be categorised into 3 – Legacy businesses {Cadbury, Kissan, Raymond, Saffola, MTR, TOI}, Entrepreneurial {PVR, Makemytrip, Mirchi, Real} and Challengers {Tata Tea, Sprite, Axis Bank, Cheetah, Kurkure, Honda, Sensodyne, Idea, Ford Ecosport, Fiama Di Wills}. Challenger category represents brands which came from behind and launched an attack on the market leader/s; Legacy represents stories of old & established companies that have constantly reinvented and reinvigorated themselves to maintain contemporary relevance –and Entrepreneurial, representing brands that created new categories, and start-ups which defined a clear space for themselves in in emerging markets and product lines.

It is this varied approach, which attempts to cover most types of business challenges a brand can face in the market, that is the best part of the book. It also makes for a riveting read, as you are treated to an entirely different market, business environment and reality every few pages, breaking the monotony. It also gives deep learnings and fascinating insights for industry specialists like self, as it gives a peek into processes, best practices from other industries, which is a vital aspect.

I would not like to make any comment on the choice of brands; we are such a large and diverse market that a different author would like as not find 20 other cases as well; what matters is we are seeing a write-up on a wide spectrum of business cases cutting across industries – and this may just be a first. Earlier books I have read have been pretty much industry-specific. There is a crying need for more such quality research – I hope and wish Management Institutes and Top Professionals are reading this, and will in future place before us more such quality output.


All in all, rated 4.5 stars out of 5; it was a tough call – 4 stars or 5; and, as befits a man who has studied Decision Making in detail, I simply used elementary statistics to arrive at this scholarly evaluation. 5 stars for the reasons mentioned above, and 4 stars {minus one} for one case study that I found to be inaccurate both as an professional as well as a person, for reasons I shall withhold; as well as due to undue focus on what I perceived to be Urban Indian Case studies. Be that as it may, the remains that this book is one of the best I have read for practicing managers and educationists alike, unlike all those HBR Books which I found to be impractical and  theoretical in the extreme.

The approach that I liked the best was getting the companies that actually did the tasks to write about how they did it within a framework developed by the author and her team; while this approach may have it downsides, it does bring an interval view, a cockpit view to the entire matter, and gives a realistic vision and exposure to thought processes, analysis of business realities, and how they planned it out, what decisions and risks they took. This obviously comprises valuable insights; what I would have loved , and what would have elevated this book to the level of 5 stars overcoming all other objections is if each case had an external expert analysis as well, giving a complete view to the professional. I especially felt the need for more numbers, and industry analysis to be present. But what is there is way more than enough, that is also a truism.

The learnings one can glean from these cases are diverse, and stretch across the fabled 4 Ps of marketing, giving a full insight to the thinking reader, as well as the practicing manager. The impact of each decision, the way it was taken, the approach taken in each case and the focus of the leaders on the various elements are covered in detail, which is valuable. In reading all, one gets a deep insight from the level of importance and emphasis placed on each component “P” by each company. Given that they are from diverse industries, it becomes a valuable learning when in the process of reading each case, you attempt to place the decisions and the marketing mix in the context of the industry it is from; this is what actually furthers your own personal growth, imho.

The book is a fast read, written in easy simple language and thankfully devoid of any jargon. It covers a diverse set of industries and Sectors – FMCG, Auto, Banking, Ecommerce, Services, Telecom, Media, Entertainment. What I felt lacking was that a couple of cases exclusively focussed on rural India could have been used; having rural sales experience, I am aware that what is applicable in our cities is not applicable in the interiors in many, many cases. Then, I also realise that it is not feasible for one book to do all –  and given the relative paucity of such material, this is a really class book, all things considered…