Building a Purpose-Led Brand in India

In 2018, brand purpose was a recurring theme in most communications and marketing discourses. Experts repeatedly reminded the corporate world that consumers, especially millennials and Gen Z, want sustainable behaviour from the brands they engage with.

This got me thinking about what Indian consumers want from brands. I did some research on our country’s most reliable brands and why they are so loved. I cannot fit in all my findings into a word count suitable for this blog, so I will summarise what I have learned with an example of India’s most iconic and trusted brand, Amul. No Indian household is complete without Amul butter on their breakfast table.

Amul was founded in 1946 for the betterment of dairy farmers and cooperatives, and has remained committed to this purpose for over 70 years. The Amul dairy model has helped India become the largest milk producer in the world, ensuring a better life for millions. Which brought me to the question: do Indians love Amul because it is a purpose-led brand? The answer was a resolute no. All the consumers I spoke to as part of my research choose Amul because of its consistent quality, competitive pricing, availability and also, the lack of better alternatives. My conclusion: for Indian consumers functionality is far more important than purpose, a fact confirmed by WE’s recently released Brands in Motion study that surveyed India for the first time this year.

 In the Brands in Motion survey, Indian consumers were asked if they would support a brand that has a high level of purpose or a high level of functionality, and 51 percent of respondents opted for functionality compared to 22 percent in the UK, 24 percent in Germany, 39 percent in the US and 36 percent in Australia. Consumers in these first-world countries said brands should strike a balance between functionality and purpose.


Why is functionality so important in India?

India is a diverse market with an urban, a semi-urban, and a rural population. Further complexity is lent by the great variation that occurs across this population on social parameters such as income and education. Consumers’ brand preferences are affected by these socio-economic and geographical factors. The urbanised younger generation is a lot more aware and cares about what a brand stands for, but for the older generation and also for consumers in towns and villages functionality is of primary importance.


Expectations from brands are high

This, however, does not mean that ethics and purpose are of little importance in India. The average Indian consumer may want value-for-money, but they also have high expectations from brands.

  • 59 percent of Indian consumers surveyed during the study said brands provide stability, against a global average of 53 percent.
  • 86 percent believe that brands should take a stand, against the global average of 74 percent.
  • Most consumers surveyed said they would not hesitate to shame brands if they stepped out of line.

Evidently, Indian consumers have exacting standards about how brands should conduct their businesses and want them to check all the three boxes in this order:  Functionality, Ethics, and Purpose. That said, there has been a dent in their confidence because of the magnitude of non-performing assets accumulated by India's public-sector banks as large conglomerates like United Breweries, Essar Group and Videocon Group failed to honour their debts. Brands need to fix this waning confidence with consumers, and the best way to do it is by following through on brand promises.


The road ahead for companies

In an increasingly chaotic and uncertain world, consumers are demanding proof over promise. At WE, we call this trend SHOW DON’T TELL and it is one of the three takeaways of our study.

A handful of brands are looking beyond profits and doing their bit. Croma, the electronic retail chain of the Tata group, has started an e-care initiative under which consumers can donate their old, unusable devices such as mobile phones, laptops, copiers, refrigerators, and even electronic toothbrushes. These goods are recycled to minimise toxic electronic waste. Croma also plants a tree every time a consumer deposits e-waste at their store.

However, much more needs to be done.

As strategic advisors to brands, we too have a role to play here. Clients today are mostly looking for quick ‘cause marketing’ hacks to manage their fragmented audience landscape. It is up to us to help them understand that in this age of social media, consumers can see through such stunts, and then guide them to build purpose-led brands that reinstate consumer faith in the future by creating better lives for everybody.

December 07, 2018

Nitin Mantri
Regional Executive Managing Director for Asia-Pacific, WE and Group CEO, Avian WE