'Brands move faster if they have a purpose beyond business'

Kantar Insights Division Executive MD Deepender Rana & MD Soumya Mohanty opined that a campaign's message should not only be for the consumers but also for all stakeholders

e4m by Kanchan Srivastava
Published: Nov 25, 2021 7:20 PM  | 6 min read
Deependra Singh & Soumya Mohanty

The Coronavirus pandemic, especially the second devastating wave that lashed the country early this year, posed massive challenges for the Indian economy. Amid those uncertain times, brands that focussed on serving society beyond their core businesses, manage to win hearts. Purpose as a contributor to brand equity is 10 times more important in India, in comparison to globally. These findings make Kantar’s 2021 BrandZ report even more meaningful and crucial. 

Deepender Rana, Executive Managing Director - South Asia, Insights Division, Kantar and Soumya MohantyManaging Director - Client and Quantitative, Insights Division, Kantar, explained the key findings in an exclusive interview to E4M’s Kanchan Srivastava.


As per the BrandZ report, campaigns of tech brands like Amazon, YouTube, Zomato, and Swiggy showed significant impact among consumers and hence they are among the top 5 brands in the rankings. What is the takeaway for other brands from their campaigns? 

Deepender Rana: In the challenging times of the pandemic, the brand purpose really came to the fore. Our study found that the brands and companies which tried to exploit the situation to make money were pounced upon while those which meaningfully engaged with the consumers beyond their businesses were rewarded. 

Brand Purpose provides an anchor amidst constant uncertainty, both as a North Star for brands, but also as reassurance to consumers. Purpose as a contributor to brand equity is 10 times more important in India, in comparison to globally, our analysis says. 

Soumya Mohanty: Brands move faster and are remembered for a long time if they have a purpose beyond business and are able to communicate the same to their consumers through ad campaigns. Many brands did campaigns that were focussed around frontline workers and consumer awareness. It helped them grow their businesses. 

Your study finds that Indian consumers are now concerned about water pollution, hunger/food security, and deforestation. How can brands leverage this information for gains not only in terms of business but also in sustainability? 

Rana: Indians perceive climate change in a different way than the western world. More than global warming, they are concerned about air pollution which is affecting them directly and killing many.  While the UK people would be more concerned about plastic pollution in oceans, Indians seek safe drinking water. Brands need to understand these issues from the ground and devise their strategy. 

Mohanty: For example, beverages companies are often accused of usurping water and accused of causing depletion in water tables. There is a lot of backlash against companies in many parts of India. Now, the companies are cautious about the use of water. Brands will have to anticipate the anger of the community and society and focus on sustainability. 

Rana: Similarly, to popularise electric vehicles in India, brands can’t just talk about global warming. They will have to talk about environmental pollution. A more relevant, meaningful and authentic story weaved around ‘the money saved after moving from petroleum products to sustainable energy can be used for education-can appeal consumers more. 

Waste disposal is a huge issue. Brands should also focus on environmental pollution in rural areas where low unit packs are more common than the urban areas. Companies will have to own responsibility for waste disposal. Like Tata tea’s ‘Jago re’ campaign, your purpose should be part of your DNA and it should be authentic and the social message should be there for a longer period of time. And if you are not careful, you may face backlash as well just like a soft drink brand that faced accusations of racial discrimination from its employees. 

(Coca Cola’s training seminar was shared by some employees on LinkedIn with slides that featured tips on how "to be less white", including being "less ignorant" and "less oppressive").

That means your messaging should not only be for consumers but also for all stakeholders including the supply chain. 

In China, when the private sector was seen profiteering a lot, especially the technology sector, the government had to step in and tell them they can’t exploit small retailers or delivery guys. A whole range of stuff is happening in China where brands are being reminded that capitalism is not a great idea. Rather, the participation of the government, stakeholders and society can make things better. 

Mohanty: Brands have to lead the change. They have to figure out innovations and provide sustainable solutions. They should locally source as much as possible which would be cheap and sustainable, feel consumers. 

Online shopping and digital payments both have seen a surge of about 30% this year. In terms of sheer numbers, digital payments are 4 times more compared to credit and debit cards. Does this signify any changes in consumers' sentiments?  

Rana: The online payment technology leapfrogged in India during the pandemic. Contactless payment through mobile phones is far more convenient and safe than paying through credit and debit cards. We will have to watch out whether these habits will sustain over time. 

Mohanty: The government of India also played a significant role in the surge of mobile payments. PM Narendra Modi pushed for digitised transactions much before the pandemic. This bore fruit in the pandemic. 

Rana: China is facing a lot of trouble in digital transactions because they have floated a lot of QR codes which are not unified. The Indian system is quite evolved in this sense as QR codes are unified. 

What are some of the key steps that marketers or brands must take to build trust with the new and evolved consumer in urban and rural India?

Mohanty: Be authentic. If you have shown commitment to a cause, be committed to it because people judge brands very quickly. They have to be more cautious about their online and social media communications to avoid backlash. 

Most tech brands that have topped in your survey are global brands. When we compare Indian brands with global ones, what are some of the strong areas for us and where do you see the need for more work?

Mohanty: I don’t think we should differentiate brands into Indian and global. Most Indian brands are multinational now. In the survey, we found that most consumers were not even aware whether certain brands like Bata are Indian or global. How brands have Indianised themselves and come closer to the consumers makes all the difference. 

Rana: If you look closely, many Indian and Global brands are funded by the same set of players. 

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