“Over the last one decade, I am seeing a gradual shift in how Indian companies are looking at branding. Earlier in India, branding was equivalent to creating a logo. In most cases, the only way of brand building was thought to be advertising. Now with increased competition in every sector and with every brand fighting for attention, Indian companies have started understanding the importance of brand building beyond advertising. Advertising may create campaigns that can run for at max 6 months, but core Branding services like ours, create assets that will be the face of the brand for at least 3-5 years if not more.” said Saswata Das, Co-owner & Managing Director WOW Design.
Branding and advertising have sure taken diverse turns in today’s marketing scenario; everybody is looking for that perfect message that strikes a chord with their target audience. In an interaction with MediAvataar India, Saswata divulged the changing trends of the designing industry and what made them launch a Strategic Brand Design firm.
Here is the complete Q&A...
MediAvataar: What is your vision for WOW Design?
Saswata: To become the most sought after Strategic Brand Design firm. We would continuously strive to use Strategy and Design as tools to solve business problems and help them grow.
MediAvataar: What do you consider has been your greatest achievement in your career so far?
Saswata: I have had a career with many twists and turns. Just as when I have become a little comfortable in a position, I have shifted tracks. So the year I got promoted as a Senior Software Engineer at Wipro technologies, I left the job to undertake my PG in Marketing Communications at MICA. Post MICA, the month I was being promoted to being AGM, Marketing at a Brand Consultancy, I quit the job to start off on my own, and that was less than 2 years of entering the Marketing field. Ever since, I believe, I have never entered a comfort zone. Entrepreneurship throws in new challenges every day and that’s what keeps me going. Being an entrepreneur at an age as early as 27(even though Zuckerberg became a billionaire at this age) and being able to successfully sustain it has been my biggest achievement so far. I always had a dream of being the source of livelihood of 35 households before I turn 35. Having fulfilled the dream much earlier gives an immense sense of satisfaction.
MediAvataar: How would you describe the Indian branding landscape?
Saswata: With Modi’s Make In India initiatives, Indian Startups and SMEs are witnessing a sea change. It has brought to them huge opportunities to showcase themselves against their global counterparts. Now to do that in an utterly competitive space, branding plays an extremely pivotal role and that’s what is fueling the branding landscape in India now.
If we are going to “Make In India”, we would need to Brand what we make and that lays down a humongous opportunity in the branding space. If we put together a list of top 50 global brands, it’s unfortunate that we would have very minimal or next to no Indian brands in the list. However that situation is soon going to change. We do have home grown brands that are the best market leaders in their sector. eg. Café Coffee Day in Bangalore or Hi Design, the leather goods manufacturer.
MediAvataar: What differentiates your firm in its approach to its work?
Saswata: Whenever a new employee joins the team, I sit with him personally to take him through what Brand WOW Design stands for and how we live by our philosophy of “Thoughtfully Fresh” every single day. I believe it’s this philosophy of taking a Thoughtful approach to Design which makes us different. We are in love with human culture and delve into the ethnography to derive from customs, traditions, attitudes, behavior, etc. We love to spend time with the consumer and many a time do observational research rather than direct questioning.
MediAvataar: How do you stand out to win the pitch?
Saswata: I have always guided the team to go beyond the brief. Sometimes the brief may be stating a symptom as a problem and seeking a tactical solution, but when we read between the lines and see it in light of category and consumer research (an essential part of our approach), the real problem statement is identified. Our proprietary processes, based on strong Design Thinking principles, helps us redefine the problem statement and overall objective of the exercise, which eventually leads to more strategic and long term solutions. So essentially our strategy and design solutions are not necessarily what the client would like to hear, but definitely what the consumer would love to see and experience. So when we were pitched against all the biggies in the Ghadi Detergent Brand revamp pitch, what led us to win the pitch was not by telling them how drastically to change and modernize, but articulating how little to change, considering the economy market and rural consumer who were not ready to see her brand change overnight.
MediAvataar: What’s the secret to attracting the best talent and keeping clients happy while balancing the books?
Saswata: In today’s world, just doing good work doesn’t help, you need to be heard and seen doing it. We make sure we engage with our prospective talent on Social media. The fact that we do good work and more importantly the fun that we have doing it, is all out there. I make sure to personally visit my Alma mater, MICA and colleges like SIMC for guest lectures and recruitment process to keep the interactions on.
But the challenge is not only attracting the best talent, but to retain them once you get them on board. I believe in our kind of business. You don’t need a lot of people if you have a lot of talent. So instead of hiring too many, we hire less with outstanding talent and then take every possible step to retain them.
We have a wall at WOW Design, which defines our purpose of being here. It’s important for every employee to understand what is expected out of him, what are the goals and once he achieves it, getting acknowledged and appreciated for the same.
The group and team heads work almost as entrepreneurs, and have been given a free hand at many critical decision making stages. I think the mantra is simple- Create a culture where individuals and teams are recognized, engaged and they take pride in whatever they are doing. When this is achieved, we have the best talent working happily and passionately. This automatically takes care of the client’s happiness and eventually the Moolah!
MediAvataar: What’s one of the most a) gratifying and b) bizarre experiences so far?
Saswata: a. I think the most gratifying situation is when we have won the trust of the client so much so that they are ready to relook at their decisions based on our recommendations. Also we see the same when the client feels “These people know their field thoroughly and also understand my business, sometimes more than my internal stakeholders. My brand is in safe hands.” Without naming the client, I would like to sight an instance when the client had decided to launch a new product. With the current Brand Architecture, it would have just confused the consumers, leading to the risk of losing on to the loyalists. Our Strategic approach, involved redefining the Architecture, consolidating the number of brands. It not only helped them avoid losses but it led to a new product launch with confidence, which eventually became a grand success.
b. When we were told that we have lost the pitch and within a few months we see the client launching a brand with our design solution with the minutest of changes. We have learnt it probably the hard way to take IP rights of our own creation more seriously.
MediAvataar: How has the role of branding changed or evolved in India? How has this change affected the work?
Saswata: Over the last one decade, I am seeing a gradual shift in how Indian companies are looking at branding. Earlier in India, branding was equivalent to creating a logo. In most cases, the only way of brand building was thought to be advertising. Now with increased competition in every sector and with every brand fighting for attention, Indian companies have started understanding the importance of brand building beyond advertising.
Advertising may create campaigns that can run for at max 6 months, but core Branding services like ours, create assets that will be the face of the brand for at least 3-5 years if not more. So brand owners have started to realize the importance of specialized branding firms like WOW Design. Most of our clients like ITC, Heinz, Kellogg’s, etc. have an advertising agency on board. But when it comes to a new brand creation or a brand revamp, they look up to us for specialized solutions.
MediAvataar: Where do you see the future of creative marketing, and branding in India heading?
Saswata: Branding in India is still in its nascent stages, which means the opportunities are great and with the startup culture just about catching the heat, I believe sky is the limit.
With Indian brands becoming more and more ambitious, in partnership with firms like ours, they are now looking at branding as a long term strategic resource. They want to look at global trends and learn from them as fast as possible. However, India being utterly diverse is complex and poses different challenges which need to be solved with a thorough understanding of the Indian consumer behavior and culture.
MediAvataar: What global market trends over the last year, do you think will progress branding and advertising in India?
Saswata: The fact that Marketing is an intuitive science about what the consumer needs and wants, it has to constantly evolve to suit the changing sensibilities, attitudes and behavior of the consumer and his environment. By June 2016, we are going to have 462m consumers in India connected to the internet and we already have over a billion phones here, which clearly suggest that the digital consumer is no longer a rare species. Researching a product over the Internet has transformed from being a trend to being the norm. Digital launches are preceding mass media launches and hence the content will need to be molded accordingly. The youth has been consuming YouTube more than TV and the advent of Netflix in India which is an indicator of the shift. Technology is evolving faster than ever and Marketing will have to keep pace with it. Traditional marketing will have to give way to newer models. eg Traditional Market research will be replaced with more emotional response structures rather than rational ones.