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Regarded as one of the world's foremost marketing strategists, Jack Trout introduced, among other important concepts in marketing strategy, the idea of brand positioning. He is the president of Trout & Partners, an international marketing consultancy based in Connecticut, and has consulted for companies such as Hewlett-Packard, Southwest Airlines, Pfizer and Procter & Gamble. He is also consulting with the Bajaj Group and SKS Microfinance for a possible re-branding. During an interview, he tells Surajeet Das Gupta and Alokananda Chakraborty the challenges before his two Indian clients and what India could do to produce truly global brands. Edited excerpts:
While working with Bajaj Auto, what has been your assessment of the challenges before the group and how can they be resolved?
I have advised the Bajaj board that you can't put the Bajaj name on everything - from motorcycle to electricals to finance. You are a strong motorcycle brand and if you did that, you become a strong motorcycle brand that also makes electricals.
You lose your focus that way - you can stretch a brand only so far. I told them you have two options really - be a motorcycle powerhouse and let the other Bajaj brands stand by themselves or you be a motorcycle brand also selling electricals. So, what you essentially need is a large-scale rebranding of your businesses.
As I see it, there are too many divergent businesses under the Bajaj brand. My point is, you have to start by looking at competition - what you are better or best at, where do you stand with respect to the other players in the market. That has been the underlying principle for my positioning theory as well: What you are, relative to competition. In effect, you have to understand where your core competence lies and stick to it.
So, my advice to them is, you have to get into the GM mode. The brand, General Motors, has many sub-brands - Chevrolet, Cadillac, Buick, Saturn…It has kept them exclusive to avoid confusion in the mind of the consumer.
You are also consulting with SKS Microfinance. What is your advice?
What it really needs is a complete breakaway from the past. This is a very interesting assignment for me, as rebranding or repositioning work in the social sector, particularly after a crisis, means a whole lot of challenges.
I have told it, you need to start again and speak to your real customers - the rural women and encourage entrepreneurship among them.
It is fantastic what these people can do with a small amount of money. So, now the focus will be rural women and you will soon see a new brand name and a new positioning.
Why has it been so difficult for Indian conglomerates to build global brands? Take Tata, it is riding on JLR. Bajaj is looking to leverage KTM…
I would say India is just emerging on the global stage; it has not yet gone into the brand-building mode. To build a global brand you need to have a fantastic product first, work on it…bring that product into focus.
Companies like Infosys and some others in the IT space have done a fantastic job abroad but what do they really have? Skill. Skill is not a product with which you can build a brand. You've got to have a product that has a certain quality, that can compete globally.
To an extent, it has also to do with marketing. Consider Wipro or TCS: Where is the marketing?
Now look at what is happening in Korea. You had those big chaebols, which were family-run businesses, which, at some point, realised that if you wanted to go global you have to build brands and build them professionally. In a developing market, you can get away with the family thing; but when you are entering mature markets, you need freedom, you need innovation.
Has the internet changed the rules in any significant way? And finally, is it imperative that all brands should have a digital strategy?
I see a big problem with the internet; the lack of interruptibility. As a brand, you can't interrupt the user to push your message. At best, the internet is work in progress. Look at what's happening in the US. Traditional media still gets about 85 per cent of the advertising money; new media 15 per cent. And that 15 per cent is going to digital because the internet is cheap. To me the hype is way beyond reality.