Positioning Brand India

The Insight

Over 2003-06, Brand India was positioned & marketed as the world’s fastest growing free market democracy. As the author of this positioning, I was hunting for an insight that would enable me to develop an idea that could serve as glue, both for driving alignment with disparate internal stakeholder groups across the private & public sectors, but also as a foundation for outward communication.

As it happens, I found my answer over an innocuous coffee conversation with a leading economist, when I was sharing my frustration about how India got described as the world’s second fastest growing economy after China, ironically and inadvertently reinforcing the marketing-leading position of India’s key economic competitor! The answer came to us soon enough: leverage India’s fundamental truth and biggest differentiator vis-à-vis China: Democracy.

But, ‘India: fastest growing democracy’ didn’t quite cut it.

Framing the positioning

The other challenge was existing perceptions about India, which, over the decades, fuelled by limited media stories about the country in international magazines & newspapers, were limited to a few, recurring stereotypes: poverty, creaking infrastructure, snake charmers & rope tricks!

The fact was that India had benefited from a decade & half of economic reforms, and with new leadership, was wooing foreign investors, and was certainly more than the sum of stereotypical perceptions that shaped the brand in the minds of global investors, influencers and opinion leaders.

Another conversation, this time with a leading advertising professional, served as a catalyst. Linking democracy to business, by positioning India as a fast growing market democracy seemed like a good way to go.

But I wasn’t satisfied. Something was missing.

The Organizing Idea

Freedom, as a brand attribute, is an enduring idea, and I decided that it was a great way to reinforce India’s democratic credentials competitively as global investors evaluated which of the two Asian giants to go for. The fact, however, was that China was way ahead of India in terms of its track record and its ability to attract foreign investment; so India really needed something that would trigger an emotional response from the global community, and give it the edge…

Thus, was born, “India: Fastest Growing Free Market Democracy”.

Medium is the message

As I worked closely with the Union Commerce Minister, and his team, I inserted the phrase in one of his speeches to be delivered at the Annual Meeting of the US India Business Council, to test the idea. India’s leading newspaper noted the reference, and picked it up giving the Minister, and the idea, a positive review.

Subsequently, I made a passionate case with the India Brand Equity Foundation’s Board to make this the central theme for our soon-to-be launched global campaign at the World Economic Forum in Davos, “India Everywhere”.

The rest, as they say, is history…

Key lessons

I found myself recounting this story in the midst of preparing a presentation on positioning & marketing Sri Lanka as an investment destination. Eventually, positioning brands comes down to the same thing: finding a problem for the brand to solve. In India's case, at the time, investment dollars were desperate for an alternative to China. That insight became the basis for a new proposition. However, and in my view, that was only the necessary but not the sufficient condition for success. To trigger the right response and make a connection with global investors, the brand's key audience, the proposition needed a powerful organizing idea. This is where most brands fail. To succeed, Sri Lanka, or for that matter, any city, country, company or cause, must begin their exploration by finding the right problem to solve.