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Beyond logo

India Inc is finding compelling reasons to invest in corporate identity

Arijit Barman  |  Mumbai 

When the Burmans of approached DMA Yellow Works, now D Y Works,  for a makeover of their corporate identity and brand, they wanted to actually drop the from their logo. But DMA persuaded the promoters to rejuvenate the tree; tweaked the font and through a series of interventions that saw newer packaging, product extensions and communication, galvanised a more holistic change.

It took a survey of 10,000 people across the country for Sanjeev Goenka to step out of his father’s shadow and create a legacy of his own. He also wanted his new group corporate identity — RP-— to reflect the clear demarcation of the business empire between him and elder brother Harsh. “I had been wondering whether staying together could lead to a potential confusion between my son and nephew,” he candidly explains with heir apparent Shashwat next to him.

Reasons differ, circumstances vary but companies are finding compelling business reasons to acknowledge and invest in a brand framework for the entire corporation. From familial splits, operational realignments to internationalisation of business, and even global strategy shifts, corporate branding today is getting dovetailed with a bigger transformational journey that enterprises are undertaking. “It’s no longer an extension of the company’s annual report,” quips MD & CEO of Future Brands.   

Strong, resonant corporate identities today are tools of enhancing business or assets that far transcend mere goodwill. “Firstly, it creates consumer magnetism. Reputational is now linked to corporate identity as it ring fences you from assaults. And in an environment of flux, scams and workforce migration, such softer associations are also engaging methods to retain talent,” says Suhel Seth, managing partner of brand and consultancy firm, Counselage. 

Designs trigger association. “So companies express their core philosophies through a visual message. Collectively they become the very identity of the corporation,” explains Lulu Raghavan, Country Director of Landor Associates.

“Corporate brands are the external manifestation of the core purpose of a corporation. In a cluttered world, the visual identity plays a strategic role. So any branding or a rebranding becomes the most visible symbol of change to a wider audience,” adds Alpana Parida, President of D Y Works. 

But even though identity transformations typically get communicated through a corporate logo change, it has to be a deeper involvement. If identities are a shortcut to creating a sense of being, “then a makeover of just a logo without actually changing anything else in the organization will be like putting lipstick on a gorilla. Cosmetic makeovers usually face skepticism ,” warns Raghavan.

INDIA & THE WORLD
Corporate branding for the MNCs in India tends to follow set global templates and usually get triggered with ownership or regulatory changes. And with India emerging as a key market for most transnational corporations, realigning corporate identities become critical. “From Hindustan Unilever, to P&G and GSK, it’s a result of external environment. It can be an IPO, joint ventures, M&As or strategic shifts which make India part of the overall global story,” observes Desai.

Even though such endeavours are led by business exigencies, Sujata Keshavan, Chairman of Ray&Keshavan  — a Bangalore-based leading brand identity and design consultancy firm of the WPP group – says global corporations increasingly opt for cross-cultural branding solutions. “But for product brands, market-specific factors play a greater role in branding. The Rs U’ mark of Unilever works across countries. But Horlicks in the UK is very different from the one in India in terms of logo, positioning, packaging, communication, and even colour,” she highlights.

Globalisation is making India Inc transcend borders too. And that is why Indian promoters are sensitising themselves to connect with a wider, newer and a bigger audience. From the Aditya Birla Group to the Tatas, from Essar to Mahindras and Vedanta, corporate branding to showcase their global identity, core values and dynamism are influencing perceptions.

“There were growing rumblings from the cosmopolitan people in our group saying that we are a multinational so our core value of Indians being second to none was irrelevant. As we became more global, it became a basic tension and dichotomy of a rising global company,” says Anand Mahindra, chairman of the 63 year old diversified M&M, while explaining his new group corporate mantra – “Rise.”

Essar – whose logo itself is an innovative moniker of the promoters, brothers Shashi and Ravi Ruia —  it’s been an ongoing exercise. “The new branding exercise, Rs Let’s Begin’ was planned to convey the scale, size and diversity of the group and how the spirit of entrepreneurship has been the driving force behind that journey. Globalisation is just one part of the story, the idea was to convey a larger message to our global audience and the Essar Energy IPO in London was one such event coinciding as the branding program unfolded,” says Shivnath Thukral, Essar’s Group President, Corporate Branding and Strategic Initiatives. 

FOR A BRIGHTER PRESENT
Similarly for many storied Indian companies, reinvention or repositioning to adapt with the changing times and lifestyles of their new set of stakeholders both at home and abroad are catalysts for rebranding. But connecting with a younger audience doesn’t mean forsaking one’s heritage especially when the brand’s equity in built on that. So Wipro’s sunflower got a splash of colour when it morphed into a cutting edge IT giant from its legacy businesses of vegetable oil and consumer products. Godrej retained its signature equity but gave a new visual language through a multi coloured ribbon, embodying the new philosophy of “brighter living.” 

In many cases, however, sheer business strategy drives change. ITC removed the dots in between to minimise the overhang of Imperial Tobacco. A simple move, which also allowed it to subsequently have a wider FMCG and hospitality play, beyond cigarettes. Internationally too Philip Morris, says Raghavan, “changed its name to Altria to insulate Kraft – a group company – from any negative rub offs.” 

While retail centric ICICI Bank under KV Kamath had to shed its developmental credit bank credo, the name Calcutta State Electricity Supply was geographically limiting for the company that was planning to break out and diversify nationwide and the across the entire utility value chain. So both simply stuck to just their acronyms. UTI Bank rebranded as Axis after the end of a statutory term. In banking, where names are the sticky factor, UTI faced a trust deficit after the fiasco of US-64 and its name itself became a liability.

FAMILY PICTURE
As families grow and new generations come in, separate identities and lines of businesses also get demarcated. The landscape changes too with time.  Even though traditionally the death of a patriarch like a Dhirubhai Ambani prompts succession issues, path breakers like Aditya Vikram Birla stepped out of his family group to create his own set of business space and companies from scratch. This even when both his father and grandfather were alive.

“But splits are typically not amicable. Thus each party, while carving out his  space, evaluates the equity of the original brand's legacy. If this is judged to be substantial, both parties often lay claim to important brand properties such as the name, strapline and logo,” says Keshavan.    

Many perceive Anil Ambani tried to appropriate his father’s equity by adding his name in the new corporate branding of his business empire, after an acrimonious split with his elder brother Mukesh. For most investors who double up as Reliance’s biggest torch bearers, Dhirubhai’s name was the most premium currency for enhancing shareholder value.  But after the rapprochement between the two last year, Anil Ambani dropped his name from the corporate logo for just the company name. 

On the other side of the spectrum are promoters like Gautam Thapar of Avantha or Future Group’s Kishore Biyani, who have dropped their family names for secular identities in an effort to detach from an individual and promote professionalism and pragmatism. “Avantha as a holding company has strong child brands like Crompton Greaves, BILT which are also flourishing,” says Parida.   

But among global business houses, Tatas are an exceptional example of codifying a brand architecture for perpetuity. It’s a hugely diversified group with a legacy of minimal shareholding in many of its flagships, yet through a business excellence model and layered brand licensing, they have been able to create a sustainable hierarchy. Such a model allows them to not just leverage the Tata brand but also incentivises individual users to add value. Armed with a formal legal basis, Tata Sons, the group’s holding company, can control how the brand will be used.

Parts of such innovation may now even get replicated as many of their corporate peers like an L&T or a GMR are thinking along similar lines in their quest to create holding companies or to simply safeguard their business heritage and brand equity.

First Published: Mon, July 25 2011. 00:49 IST
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