Can it or can it not? That remains the moot point as DDB Mudra’s brand consultancy Water slowly makes the transformation to Interbrand. The latter ranks among the top branding agencies in the world with 40 offices in 25 countries. But in India, Interbrand has had a satellite base, with much of the work for clients here coming out of its London office.
Jez Frampton, global chief executive officer, Interbrand, admits this approach did create a perception in the marketplace that the agency was not serious about India. “But not anymore,” he says. “With Water now representing Interbrand and eventually transitioning to the latter, this issue will be tackled because we will have a local presence here. And we don’t intend at stopping at a Mumbai office alone. We are looking at multiple offices in different cities,” he says.
But will the strategy work? Especially when rivals such as Brand Finance have had a headstart in terms of local presence. The Bangalore-headquartered agency has people sitting in Mumbai besides the IT capital. The core team comprising of 25 members frequently travels to different locations quickly whenever there is a client requirement.
While Interbrand did have staff in India, the London team, say industry sources, was more directly involved in operations here. Ashish Mishra, chief strategist & head, Water Consulting says local engagement is bound to increase now with a dedicated team on board. “Water has its own clients including PepsiCo India, Godrej Tyson, Novartis and Asian Paints. We have done some international projects for PepsiCo Inc, Etisalat and Moneygram. So we have had a team of 12 to steer these projects,” he says.
But with Mishra counting on greater dialogue with clients such as Procter & Gamble, GSK, Samsung and Hyundai from the Interbrand fold, the canvass will only get larger over time. “I see this as a win-win situation, where we have global clients and they have the local presence they have been wanting. We are obviously keen to take up work for these clients should there be any such requirement from their end,” he says.
But the road may still not be easy given that branding companies like ad and media agencies are willing to slash their fees, if required, to bag a client. This is partly because of the competition in the space. Besides local players, international branding companies have made a beeline for India in the last few years. Experts cite the growing aspirations of Indian companies besides the entry of multinationals into India for international branding companies making their way here. In the recent past, for instance, names such as Wolff Olins and Strawberry Frog have crept up often.
These companies have executed some high-profile brand makeover and strategy projects for blue-chip companies such as Mahindra & Mahindra, Tata, Adani and Bharti Airtel. Against this backdrop, Interbrand has far more competition now, say experts, than it did earlier. Says a brand marketing expert, who declined to be named, “Whilst brand valuation is a specialised area, with clients, especially the big ones, preferring to go to the best, the larger brand consultancy space has evolved. There is no dearth of players now.”
Finding a strong niche then becomes imperative, say experts. Brand Finance has opted to stick to brand valuation and strategy, say industry sources, as its core offering. In the last few years, Brand Finance has worked with a number of business groups in India including the Tatas, Godrej, Essar, L&T, TAFE focuing on its core strengths. Industry sources say that more often than not Brand Finance is preferred over others when it comes to a valuation exercise. Interbrand, on the other hand, could find its ambit widen with Water on board. That is because while Interbrand has been known for its brand strategy, analytics and valuation work, Water's strenghts have been in more in brand makeover and design besides strategy. Mishra says he sees no problem with that. "I don't think we are deviating from the core. If anything, we will have more skillsets to offer," he says.