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"Indian business people have got a very shrewd and sharp mind" : Graham Halesh - Interbrand UK strategic director

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Brands are an important influence on our lives. They are central to free markets and democratic societies. They represent free choice. They also have a profound impact on our quality of life and the way we see our world. They colour our lives and reflect the values of our societies. Megabrands, such as McDonald's and BMW, can even embody the spirit of many nations, if not the spirit of an age. Most importantly, strong brands bestow value far beyond the performance of the products themselves. Brands that do this possess an idea worthy of consumer loyalty. The more inspiring an idea, more intense and profound is the commitment. And the more the consumer believes in the brand, the more value the brand returns to its owner.

Interbrand is dedicated to identifying, building and expressing the right idea for a brand. The company combines the rigorous strategy and analysis of a management consulting practice with the entrepreneurial and creative spirit of branding and design, offering a comprehensive array of consulting services that guide clients in the creation, enhancement, maintenance and valuation of their most valuable asset -- their brands. Founded in 1974, Interbrand has offices in 36 cities in more than 20 countries around the globe and clients from among the most respected businesses.

In an interview with Indiantelevision.com's Hetal Adesara on the sidelines of a retail summit in New Delhi, Interbrand UK strategic director Graham Hales holds forth on branding and all that jazz.

Excerpts:

How has the retail environment changed in the last decade or so?



People's expectations of retail have moved significantly. They were used to just suppliers with goods. Now, we as consumers have the choice and ability to buy products to a degree so as to express ourselves with the ingredients of our lifestyle. So, our expectation of retail has grown significantly and therefore their ability to draw us to them and become destinations of their own rights through the products that they offer has become deeply significant.

Do you think that the retails are matching up to the expectations of the consumers?



I think that is always going to be a challenge. Some retailers do that well than the others. What you tend to find is that society and consumers have an ever-growing appetite, which is not necessarily fulfilled. So retailers are always toying with the idea of the next big thing. Sure enough consumers have got a constantly changing agenda and unfulfilled appetite.

How often do you think brands should reinvent themselves and what should be the focus while reinventing?



There is no direct figure in terms of how often brands should reinvent themselves. But brands should constantly monitor themselves to ensure that they maintain their currency and benefits within their market places. Every now and then, if a brand is measuring, tracking and thinking enough about itself in terms of the position it is occupying in people's mind, it will feel the need to evolve and move on to the next level.

What is your understanding of the Indian retail market?



I'm not an expert on the Indian retail market but what I do know and find fascinating is that India, on one hand, seems like a very complicated, chaotic and confused market. But the sort of questions that I have been getting at the conference completely assures me that Indian business people have got a very shrewd and sharp mind. They are earnest in their quest for knowledge and half of that is therefore the ability to go and brand them in the appropriate manner. I'm sure there is great potential here.

Can you list some of Interbrand's clients for whom you have done branding?



Some of our major clients are BMW, T Mobile, and British Airways. We tend not to specialize in any particular market place. We like to have a broad range of experience and therefore bring branded expertise to a range of market places.

Which are the countries that you are present in or do you focus on some particular countries?



We have 36 offices in 22 countries across the globe. Chicago, Mexico, Toronto, New York, Los Angeles, Sao Paulo, Santiago, London, Paris, Athens, Munich, Amsterdam, Zurich, Johannesburg, Melbourne, Tokyo, Singapore, Shanghai, Jakarta to name a few. So we basically wrap up quite a lot of the globe and a lot of our work is focused internationally.

Any plans to set shop in India?



We have a small office in Bangalore. But India, as a market, is something that we are very keen on looking at more. We think the time is right to be considering the brands here on the basis of the number of international players that have started coming into India. Also, there is a great manufacturing strength here, which seems to be getting lost as others take away business. The ability of brands to export to India also makes for a potentially lucrative export market and that should attract people toward Indian companies.

Can you give me an example of an innovation in branding that the company has done for a particular client?



I think the Samsung story is a very good case study at this point, where we went through a brand valuation process to help them not just arrive at the actual figure of what their brand was worth, but also the business in terms of the economic asset. We also helped them understand how the brand created its value - where the brand was under-performing and where it was over-performing. So they could then take that strategy on by observing these things and grow their brand value.

How important do you think is branding and design today? Are more and more companies realizing the importance of it?



I think it is becoming apparent to companies. The difficulty is that quite often once it becomes apparent to companies it is likely that they will respond and react to it. If you think about branding and its end result about having an 'Oxford' reputation, it becomes enormously difficult for businesses to try and disregard their reputation is all about.

Branding helps organize the thinking within a business so that it can orchestrate what it wants its reputation to become. If you don't brand, then you're letting other people think what they want to about your brand, your reputation, etc. Branding helps manage the reputation so as to make people think what you want them to think about your brand.

How different is it working on a corporate brand image and a retail project?



Good question! You tend to find that the principles of branding actually remain true. You can work in different markets and geographic

areas; you can work on corporate brands or retail brands, but they still fundamentally require a good and strong idea that sits at the heart of the business' organizing principle. A good strong idea that is credible, relevant, different and stretching. The basis of any good brand is on the clarity, strength of its idea and the ability to lift the idea and tangibly deliver it to its market place.

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