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Corporate Jun 12, 2012

Anand Mahindra: Twitter most poorly understood new tech

By Anant Rangaswami

Mahindra is now a $15.4 billion multinational group with more than 144,000 employees in over 100 countries across the globe, with operations that span 18 key industries that include aerospace, aftermarket, agribusiness, automotive , components, construction equipment, consulting services, defense, energy, farm equipment, finance and insurance, industrial equipment, information technology, leisure and hospitality, logistics, real estate, retail, and two-wheelers.

The sheer breadth of product categories, the geographic spread of their varied businesses and the diversity of their employees and consumers make brand-building a mammoth challenge. Overlay this with the fact that, when Mahindra forays abroad, they carry with them the advantages and disadvantages of Brand India.

How does Anand Mahindra, vice chairman and managing director, Mahindra & Mahindra see brand India? How does he go about building a global brand? How does he keep in touch with the varied events and developments without being intrusive? Why does he spend so much time and energy on twitter?

In an exclusive interview, Firstpost spoke to Anand Mahindra to seek answers to these questions.

You can watch the entire conversation in the video above.


On the complexities of having a mother brand and sub-brands

"People are missing the real trend out there. The trend is, after a good five-six years of a huge erosion of trust in the corporate sector, the consumer is beginning to look for companies that he or she can connect with. They want reassurance. They want assurance not just of quality. Is this company trustworthy? Is this company somebody that's going to partner me for the future? Can they actually be somebody I can use to individualise myself? Everybody wants to buy bespoke things. They want to customise. They don't want the customisation done by some entity that they don't believe in, don't identify with. Therefore, no matter how many things you go into, if there is one brand that signifies that we are people who understand, that we are people who will not rip you off, that we are people who put quality first, that we are people who put consumer-centricity first, the world is going to recognise that there is a place for such brands."

On the challenges of building a global brand

As companies do try and build a consumer brand abroad, they almost have a cap on the brands which is like the sovereign rating of the country they come from. You are, in a sense, defined to some extent, by your place of origin. But I don't think that (the) defining is something that is necessary to build your brand, but it certainly can limit it upto a point. It can impede your brand, depending on the area you're in.

If you're going abroad to sell bidis and exotic tobacco, the sovereign rating of India is not a limitation. But clearly, if you're talking about quality or aesthetics, no matter how much I might argue with you that Indians understand quality and aesthetics, when people land in India they don't see it. The image is one of a place that is not hygienic, of a place that is dirty, of a place that has an awful urban landscape.

There is a limitation (for India) here. We try to work within the brand and leverage it and turn it to our advantage - do a little bit of judo, if you will (In judo you use your opponent's weight to your advantage).

For the area of vehicles that we're in, rugged, reliable, durable, utility vehicles, you can actually turn your place of origin into an advantage. You can say, "Well, if they can drive in the Indian landscape, where infrastructure is, if anything, non-existent, then you can drive in this thing anywhere." So, it adds to the image of ruggedness.

Selling a premium product clearly is a challenge, but selling a product that gives value for money becomes easy. With all this popularisation around the world of jugaad and frugal engineering, the Indian brand new lends itself to people who are saying, "I'm going to give you more for less."

These are just two examples. One is atmospherics, one is a kind of feature or performance-based attribute. But we are trying to work within the Indian brand and then, hopefully, the Indian brand will also evolve and we'll evolve with it.

On the state of Brand India

India is like a staircase. There are always some risers and then a little step there that you have to negotiate where things seem to plateau... at times the step suddenly seems to vanish and you go down again. But we always move in a way where you go to a higher level. We are never a 'linear' kind of escalator that's constantly moving up. We are a staircase. Sometimes the risers are longer than one would want or higher than one would want and sometimes the plateaus are too flat, but we always get to a different level.

Maybe, the more appropriate metaphor is one of rock-climbing, where you put your piton in (and) you may be stuck for a while due to inclement weather, but you never really go back down to the place that you started from. India is like that.

Starting almost from ground zero of brand perception, the first meaningful change - meaningful, positive change - in brand India came after the IT boom. Here were these people who were a bunch of very bright geeks, who succeeded despite their environment, despite the government, because they flew under the radar. So smart people who were able to cope and use their native intelligence to provide solutions for your toughest IT problems and created a global business out of it despite the government's inertia and hostility - that we were smart people became a very core element of the Indian brand, which, no matter what the Indian economy does, cannot be taken away.

One element was that we are smart, then came the element of, "hey, this could be a China." So we suddenly got the feeling of being winners - not winners now, but eventual winners. Everybody wanted to get on the bandwagon - this is one train you can't miss - that was the perception. Hey, they've finally got their act together - India's going to be the next China, India's going to be a powerhouse for growth - that became a part of the (India) brand.

What's happened in the last 12 months is that that halo has gone. I don't think that halo is something that goes irrevocably; it just needs the economy to ratchet up. But I believe that India's brand therefore is moving up, and, despite the current gloom, it's a step. I think the riser will come again.

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by Anant Rangaswami

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