Interview

"Unless there is a crisis, branding is rarely on a Board’s agenda"

Exclusive interview with Nirmalya Kumar on the sidelines of GPTW Summit 2020

Faisal Magray

Nirmalya Kumar doesn’t mince words. Known for his candour and acumen, he has served on several boards as director, including heading strategy at Tata Sons as member of the Group Executive Council. He has also authored eight books and is currently the Lee Kong Chian professor of marketing at Singapore Management University. In an interview with Outlook Business’ Shruti Venkatesh, Kumar talks about building ‘Brand India’, and the damage wreaked by corporate-governance scandals

How is ‘Brand India’ faring?
Overall, it is seen as youthful and energetic. In general, it is a positive story and people in business think of it as a must-win country. But there are problem areas, such as the recent slowdown in growth and communal differences that need to be addressed. 

In 2020, have the ‘ingredients’ of what make a good brand changed?
It’s hard to say what a good brand is. What people are looking in a brand is generally a functional or a symbolic need that is fulfilled. We call it the logic and the magic of a brand. Every brand has to question why it exists. And in that existence there is a functional part – this is what I do for the customer – and there is a secondary part related to the personality of the brand. For instance, when you consider Adidas, yes, it is about the shoes, performance of the shoes, but it is also about what the brand says about me as a person.

Have Indian businesses understood the importance of brand-building?
The top companies in the world know that we live our brands through our products and our people. Increasingly, ‘people’ (those employed by the brand) are becoming an important part of the brand, especially in those brands where people interact with the consumer. For example, in brands such as P&G, its people don’t interact with the consumer, the product does. So brand has to be communicated through product and advertising. In the other case, in a company such as Starbucks, people serve you the coffee. So while the product is important, there is als

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