labels: indian resort hotels, tata group, writers & columnists, advertising/branding
Holding the high groundnews
Philip Chacko
06 December 2003
Mumbai: In brand territory, it takes clear-sighted vision to be king. In the early 1990s, right after Ratan Tata succeeded J R D Tata as chairman of the Tata group, India''s best-known business conglomerate embarked on a brand-building expedition whose goal was to unify a diverse and diffuse enterprise and make it capable of navigating the rough post-liberalisation waters that lay ahead. The rewards of the exercise were slow to accrue, but the trickle has now turned into a flood.

That''s the message borne by the latest edition of a three-year-old research study on the health of the Tata brand. Conducted biannually since December 2000, the study, dubbed the Tata Brand Track, was conceived with the objective of "systematically and periodically measuring the health of the overall Tata brand vis-à-vis peer corporations."

Round six of the track, which was completed in July 2003, sees the Tata brand strengthening its leadership position on all parameters and fortifying its appeal among the various segments of respondents. The competition that the Tata brand was faced with in this contest included the best and most reputed on India''s brand landscape. The quality of its rivals in this battle makes the Tata brand''s accomplishment all the more significant.

The survey covered 10 segments, divided into three wide categories each representing a cross-section of Indian society:

  • Tata insiders (comprising Tata employees and business associates)
  • Informed audiences (employees of banks and financial institutions; government officials; business journalists; shareholders and brokers; and other managers)
  • Lay audiences (housewives, chief wage earners and students)

The study, which is an ongoing affair, is based on in-depth research involving more than 2,000 respondents spread across 13 urban centres.

There are seven parameters that decide a company''s score in the study: knowledge of the business environment, dynamism, workplace quality, quality of products and services, consistency and dependability of quality, reputation, and renown. Conducted by Pathfinders, the market research division of Lowe, the Tata Brand Track bases its methodology on how the association between consumers and a company plays out over an extended period of time.

There are two factors through which this relationship is plotted: affinity and relevance. As with any long-term union, the strength of this relationship is decided by whether the fundamentals of affinity (also known as familiarity and bonding) and relevance improve.

Pathfinders defines a brand leader as one who is high on affinity as well as relevance. The challenge for a brand aspiring to be a leader, then, is to be strong on these two factors, to be ahead of the competition and its peers, and to get stronger over time. This is what the Tata brand has succeeded in doing. Says T Krishnan, the president of Pathfinders: "This brand has sustained its position as leader. In fact, it is the only brand that has consistently consolidated its position; others have seen ups and downs."

The Tata group''s achievements on the brand front are not an overnight phenomenon. The seeds were sown with the drafting, in the mid 1990s, of the Brand Equity and Business Promotion (BEBP) agreement, a comprehensive contract that laid down the conditions a company had to comply with to earn the privilege of being labelled a Tata enterprise. Companies had the choice not to sign the agreement, but then they would lose the right to use the Tata name.

Companies that sign the BEBP agreement are obliged to abide by the Tata code of conduct, a set of principles that guides and governs the way a Tata enterprise runs its business. The agreement also enjoins the group to follow practices that enhance the Tata brand, and invest in building the Tata brand equity. BEBP signatories can access established group capabilities in areas such as strategic management and human resources.

Parallel to putting the BEBP initiative in motion, the group acquired a fresh and modern logo and a corporate identity plan. Crafted by the British design agency Wolff Olins, this logo now adorns every Tata group company''s corporate markers. It has become a powerful symbol, signifying the values of the house of Tata and helping to coalesce group companies under a common canopy. Advertising, media relations and the Internet are other avenues that the group has used to add muscle to its brand equity.

Ratan TataSpeaking to The Economic Times in a 1996 interview, Ratan Tata stressed the importance of constructing a unified Tata brand: "The intention has been to create a single strong entity that will benefit all [Tata] companies… If you are to fight a Mitsubishi or an X or Y in the free India of tomorrow, you better have one rather than 40 brands. You better have the ability to promote that brand in a meaningful manner…."

Exercises such as the Tata Brand Track highlight the effectiveness of the group''s brand-building efforts. The results of the latest edition of the research study show that the process has been gathering steady momentum. The survey shows the Tata brand improving its potency while its peers have fallen back. This means that it has extended the gap with its closest competitors.

While the tracking study is not engineered to understand why respondents make the choices they do, it is possible to decipher some possible causes why the Tata brand is placed on top. For instance, the ''other managers'' grouping sees the Tatas as having a high growth rate, a clear business focus, and companies that are good to work for. The ''business journalists'' category considers the group dynamic, responsive to customer needs, and result oriented, while ''shareholders and brokers'' think the group has companies that are safe to invest in.

What the survey reveals quite clearly is that the Tata brand has more pep and zest than ever. In a 2001 interview to, R Gopalakrishnan, executive director, Tata Sons, said: "I think the world over realisation has dawned that, as economies develop and consumers have more spending power, people don''t buy products; they buy a promise. The future will undoubtedly belong to the brand — and the Tatas will not be left behind."

Gopalakrishnan should know, given that he has been one of the architects of the Tata group''s brand-building endeavours. Speaking in the same interview, he said: "Today the Tatas represent assurance, reliability, a sense of nationalism, value for money… Irrespective of the product you are making, those are the attributes you would like to be known for, whether it is through a wristwatch, a piece of software or a car."

While its old-world properties remain unaltered, the Tata brand has moved on to conquer new turf. Today it is increasingly being seen as innovative, forward thinking, well managed, aggressive and with a high technology content — just the right ingredients for prosperity in a brandscape that promises plenty.


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Holding the high ground