In the last three years, Omnicom-controlled brand consultancy, Wolff Olins, has executed a number of key projects for Indian companies and business houses like the Adanis, Bharti Airtel, Hero group, Tatas and Ashok Leyland. In an interview with Viveat Susan Pinto, Wolff Olins Managing Director Charles Wright explains how his company has managed to achieve the success it has in such a short span. Edited Excerpts:
How did you manage to crack the code in India, given that there is no dearth of options in the branding space here?
It began about four years ago, when we were working on a project for Bharti Airtel. Ironically, it had nothing to do with the company’s brand identity. As someone from the West, until then, I knew India in the context of information technology (IT) and was familiar with the companies that were strong in that space. Could Indian companies achieve in branding and marketing what they had in IT? I found there were a number of Indian companies that needed help in the area of branding and marketing. The country was moving fast and companies here were increasingly getting active internationally. The Tatas and other business houses were making acquisitions abroad and India had suddenly arrived on the world stage. Therefore, they needed help when projecting their ambitions, given that their audience now was international. So, we decided I would spend more time trying to build our business here in India to help these companies that were looking to go international. At the same time, we thought we could help western companies adapt their brands to the Indian market. But, the fact now is that little has been done on that front and most of the projects we are undertaking are those of Indian companies.
What differentiates you from other branding companies?
We offer an international perspective. We all know that Indians are aspirational. And, I observe a strong desire among most Indians to learn from what has worked and what hasn’t. This is a good attribute – something that also makes it easy for us – especially when we see a company with global ambitions. We can address their concerns and help them achieve their objectives.
How do Indian companies approach branding? Is it different from those abroad?
Many managing directors, CEOs, chairmen and promoters of Indian companies are actually quite interested in branding. But, they are trained in business, and not creativity. So, while they are concerned about their logo, what they want to know is what would branding do to their business. Can it be done at a cheaper rate or faster? What are the benefits from the exercise? We address these concerns using our skillsets, both in creativity and management consultancy. Companies such as ours live where the two meet. Secondly, we have a mix of Europeans and Indians on our rolls. And the Indians on our rolls are mostly those who have some kind of global exposure. This helps bring an international perspective even as we address Indians’ concerns.
What are the challenges for an international company like yours when working in India?
For all the western expertise that Indian companies want, I find that they bargain too hard for it. Indians simply love to negotiate. While we have worked around this, I still find companies here saying we would make them bankrupt with our fees. But, we are actually not that expensive. We work for fees that would be inconceivable in New York or London. So, it is a challenge. In my view, the market will soft-select. And, we will probably not be as big as some of the other branding companies here, since we operate in a niche. Also, I doubt if we would do more than three or four big projects a year, since we prefer working with companies of a certain level, and not everybody.
Given that post-branding analysis has grown, does your company undertake that itself or work with research agencies to measure how effective a branding exercise has been?
We work with partners before we undertake a project and after we complete the exercise. This is because it will be credible that way. Besides, we are small and we don’t want to be big. If we do everything, it won’t work. We’d rather do what we are best at — providing branding and marketing inputs.