When I wore a new T-shirt during a weekend holiday earlier this month, my teenage daughter pondered why I chose this one with a loud-brand name on it, as usually I go mellow on displaying brand love. Even my walking shoes would hardly display the swoosh or the cat or the three stripes. It has been years since I bought formal shirts which bore the “iconic crown” on the cuffs. But even those would be gelled in to the fabric colour.
So much for a person like me who is brand-conscious but not displaying it in public.
On the contrary, many brands, especially fashion apparel make sure their company / brand names are loudly displayed on their products. Even on PCs, HP, Dell, Lenovo and Acer – the top 4 companies with a collective market share of 95% in the personal computing space display their names while Apple shows just the logo.
From Bata shoes to Adidas, Levis T-shirts to Hidesign wallets, one can see the brand names liberally displayed on the products. Though it is easy to identify, premium bikes such as Royal Enfield or Harley Davidson by its looks, have still large, loud brand forms. When the car ignition is turned on, there is a dramatic appearance (with music) of the brand logos, from Honda to Volkswagen and everyone in between.
While people buy products for their functionality, consumers “pay the price” for brands.
It is psychological, after all. Essentially, display of brands one uses is one way of display of wealth too. Most people in the world, who earn several lakhs per year (in India) and perhaps over USD 100,000 pa globally are not putting in their efforts for just 3 square meals a day. It is much beyond.
From the locality and the apartment complex one resides in (especially in India) to the vehicle they drive; filling premium fuel at Shell vs value fuel from HPCL; the brand of eyeliner to the grooming essentials one uses; from the school the kids attend to brands they consume at home from the dining table to the rest rooms, there is an intrinsic tie with the psychological needs, based on the theory of hierarchy proposed by Maslow.
As people start moving up the value chain, their desire to consume “brands’ over products increases. I have seen this first hand at hypermarkets such as the erstwhile Big Bazaar. While there would be heaps of dal, sugar and rice piled up in large steel utensils, it would be common for women to interact with the staff to enquire the prices and make mental calculations comparing with the local shopkeeper.
And then, there would be a small set of customers, who would prefer packaged sugar, salt and grocery. There is, in fact premiumization even in these categories such as pink salt, low-iodine sugar and so on.
A friend once told me, whether you travel in an Audi or a (Maruti) Alto, the destination is the same, and that both vehicles have just 4 wheels, a steering wheel and an engine. So, why pay a premium? True.
Between a Jockey and a Lux inner wear or Sudarmani how does it matter what one wears, as this is not even to be seen by anyone! Quite true, minus the quality of the fabric, inner comfort, etc.
Well, these are the “outlier customers” for brands who do not wish to pay a premium for utility.
However, as is always said, it takes years to build a brand name while basic products (and services) are offered for their purpose of gratifying a simple need. 2-3 decades back, Indian customers were buying goods and services. In the past 15 years, we have seen branded showrooms for various products mushrooming all over the country. A simple business such as grooming – hair saloon / beuaty parlour – as it was called, is now one of the largest branded business with over 2,500 “salons” across the country.
There are an estimated 300 malls in India which have the best-in class Indian and international brands. The top 50 apparel, accessories and jewellery brands have in excess of 10,000 exclusive stores, each around 800 sq ft. across the country. Branded coffee shops, from CCD to Starbucks and the much acclaimed neighbourhood favourites, are over 4,000 in India now.
Consumers today are chasing brands and not just the other way around.
Two new Apple stores were inaugurated in April 2023 at Mumbai and Delhi. Seeing the crowds waiting to be among the early birds for store inauguration in the past for Ikea, Starbucks, H&M, Uniqlo among others, I can confidently say these two stores would have done tremendous business this month.
While many companies continue to offer higher importance for the “brand” in the communication – on the product, inside the retail store and other communication material, many small as well as large companies ignore it. Unless there is a deeper focus on brand building, with a long term outlook, existing and new consumer stickiness is going to be minimal or worse, nil.
Indian consumers will buy more branded products in the next few decades. Loud display of affection, from dresses to kitchen knives to drinking glasses to shoes, it is a kind of self-gratification after all.