Playback: Where is the authenticity, asks Wally Olins

01 Oct,2013


This interview was conducted on the sidelines of the IAA Global Markeing Summit held on September 30, 2013.


By Fatema Rajkotwala


Wally Olins

“Where is the authencity? What does your product stand for and why should I buy it?” These are some of the deep-ringing questions that Wally Olins, Chairman and Co-founder, Saffron Brand Consultants, UK raised at the Global Marketing Summit 2013 organised by the Indian Advertising Association India Chapter.


The Global Marketing Summit, 2013 held at the Taj Lands End, Mumbai were treated to an insightful presentation from Mr Olins on “What a brand really is”.


Mr Olins, a veteran in the field of brand-building and someone who have been closely associated with India over the years, defined what makes a brand a brand. Citing examples of clearly defined brands such as Harley Davidson and Loius Vuitton, he explained that a brand’s identity begins at the nature of human condition. “I do not believe the idea of branding floated from Harvard Business School on a bubble. It is about us. It is demonstrating what the company does visually. Emotional factors profoundly affect the way we think about brands. A brand is not a logo, a tagline or a slogan. It is what you stand for visually. It expresses feelings in a consumer. For example, Nike is equal to winning. If there is no empathy and warmth with the brand then you cannot choose. A brand idea is projected in everything you do through the product and services, communication, environment and behaviour.”


Speaking about the illusion of brand valuation, Mr Olins spoke next on what is a brand is worth? He explained how while a brand’s valuation is governed by numbers; it is not absolute and final. It may rise or fall.


Looking at the Indian journey towards globalization so far, Mr Olins took us back to how we view ourselves and our products as Indians. Be it with a revolt during our political movement with Swaraj, Mr Olins reminded us how our belief about western products being better demonstrates a constant lack of confidence by Indian brands. Even the way brands use multiple celebrities for endorsements, seems to dilute the very identity of a brand, he pointed out. “It seems that you are trying to be everything to everyone. What does the product stand for? Why should I buy it?”


Within a globalised market, which has led to increased competition, he emphasized authenticity as the new zeitgiest. Mr Olins highlighted how more brands are relaising that we like authenticity. “In a culture of shouting the loudest, to compete globally, where you come from is more important than ever. That is why major brands, directly or inferentially, emphasise their origin. This presents a huge opportunity for India to create authentic Indian brands.”


How can Indian brands use this global consumer attitude shift to their advantage? Mr Olins advised Indian brands to get their brand idea right. In certain spaces such as health, food, Bollywood pop culture, IT, frugal technology, textiles or scents, Mr Olins said that Indian brands have an inherent perceived advantage. “Be proud of your governance; exploit and develop it. Start building it; the world is waiting. It’s a slow burn but if you don’t other will.”


Speaking on how Indian companies cannot expect to achieve the kind of growth that a Coca-Cola, a market player for over 100 years, has seen. Except for a few such as Apple, if you are an Indian company with an FMCG product or a product that is not software related, brand building is a long process over 10, 20, 40, 50 years. You have to invest money and be patient. You cannot try to enter markets by cutting prices all the time. You don’t pretend to be somebody else you’re not.


Talking about advertising, Mr Olins said, “Advertising and promotion is one part of what a brand is. The key is to work out who you are and what you are trying to say and to whom and then work out how you are going to say it. The constant talk about advertising undermines these basic issues.”


And some final words of wisdom from the Brand Guru: “Be who you truly are. Stand for something. Look at the big picture. Show your unique personality. Be consistent, coherent and speak with one voice. Use your leading Indian brands. Be self-confident.”


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