India’s Incredible Credibility Gap
There are several economic factors that can account for this gap, but Brand Asset Valuator Consulting (BAVC) believes that it is largely attributable to what we call a persistent brand credibility wedge. While China has managed to reassure foreign investors in spite of a political system that is antithetical to Western political thought, India has steadily sunk into a morass of uncertainty and instability. The recent surge in grotesque violence against women and the oppressive traditionalist values and insularity have further deteriorated foreign constituents’ confidence in its stability. For India to reverse this downward trend, it must grab its national brand by the horns and work to bridge the credibility gap.
Brand India took shape in 2002. Ogilvy and Mather, in conjunction with the government of India, crafted a masterful advertising campaign, Incredible !ndia, that bottled the magic and brought it to the doorstep of the Western world. Hungry for tourism dollars, Brand India peddled its exotic wares - awash in colors, steeped in mysticism, and endowed with the promise to escape the humdrum.
A little over a decade later, Christopher Graves, Global CEO of Ogilvy Public Relations, made this somewhat startling assertion in an essay published in McKinsey & Company’s “Reimagining India” last month:” “Incredible may be alluring and enchanting for tourists, but it is worrisome for foreign investors … Investors don’t want India to be incredible. They want it to be credible.” What investors seek, wrote Graves, is “stability, consistency, and opportunity.”
How credible is Brand India and how does this shape its perception amongst foreign investors? While the advertising campaign may have increased India’s visibility, has it ultimately done a disservice to amplifying its reliability?
Americans have heightened awareness of India, and consider the country to be unique, distinctive, and imbued with energized differentiation. However, they have extremely low regard for the country, and do not see it as relevant or catering to an unmet need. This is a classic pillar pattern that we call “Not For Me.”
The Incredible India brand has been extremely successful in creating a perception of a unique land brimming with energy and dynamism, but the country has under-delivered significantly on what matters to foreign investors – a measure of trust and confidence that their investments will remain secure and payoff at rates comparable to or better than alternative investment choices. As incredible as India may be, the US market sends a clear message – “Not For Me.”
Is India an aberration? Have the other BRIC nations, also considered to be emerging bastions of economic growth and market opportunity, succeeded in positioning their brands more favorably in the eyes of the American populace? It turns out that India is in good company as most of the BRIC countries exhibit a similar pillar pattern. In other words, there is much work to be done by these emerging nations in reframing and embellishing their “service offering” underlying these country brands, a requisite that instills confidence and respect in the eyes of investors and helps draw these economies into the investment consideration set.
The only nation that seems to stand somewhat apart from the BRIC pack is China, where levels of relevance and esteem, while generally low overall, remain distinctly above the comparison set. That brings us back to the idea of the brand credibility wedge. To further probe the credibility wedge between China and India, we took a look at the relevant attributes underlying the nation brands, and classified them in one of two buckets – Credible and Incredible.
The attributes where India achieves dominance are healthy, sensuous, and friendly – all three of which pertain to factors that stoke a casual tourist’s curiosity, rather than pique a serious investor’s interest. If we return to Graves’ search for stability, consistency, and opportunity, we see that attributes that are likely to draw foreign investment (leader, progressive, dynamic, intelligent, and so on – attributes that we classify as Credible) are ones where India has a serious deficit relative to China.
So where does that leave India? Incredible, but not incredibly more so than China, and short on the currency of credibility that shores up any nation as a reliable, stable, and consistent entity worthy of attracting, safeguarding, and rewarding outside investment.
India is stuck where a lot of nascent brands find themselves – in a niche of heightened curiosity, but without the momentum to transform itself into a leadership brand. This momentum comes from two pillars – driving relevance to bring the brand within the consideration set (of tourists, investors, and consumers alike), and building esteem through a projection of trustworthiness and reliability. These two pillars need a foundation of credibility to stand upon. In the wake of a new governmental regime, now is the time for Brand India to get down to business.