India is one among a total of 195 nations in the world today. The second biggest in terms of population, a country that occupies various positions on multiple sets of global lists that measure nations on metrics of their own making.
Therefore, even as you read this, India is the sixth largest economy in terms of nominal GDP (USD 2.6 trillion) and the third largest in terms of purchasing power parity (PPP). And equally India ranks 139 out of 149 nations on the UN World Happiness Report 2021. Win some. Lose some.
Those who build country brands try to latch on to numbers that glaze the eye with pride. As someone who has participated in building some six country brands to date, I worry for nations that pick the anecdotal to showcase their image.
Imagine the nation that positions itself as one that makes the best butter-chicken. Or a nation that says that it has the most handsome men in the world. Believe it or not, both are options that some countries have considered in their journey of 'nation branding' to date.
A nation brand is therefore an important imperative to address amidst a clutter of countries with an even bigger clutter of positioning options ahead, each vying to make it to the top rung of recognition and impact. Some therefore use the anecdotal and others the solid, in their journey to immortality and recognition. Israel is therefore "The Promised Land", and India is "Incredible India". And who is to say what is anecdotal, and what is real?
Nation branding, however, is big business today. Every nation wants to have a dominant image that will get it the attention of the rest of the world. It is B2B (business to business) in terms of country-to-country recognition, and becomes an intricate and complex B2C (business to consumer) activity, as nations begin vying for the attention of the people who live in these countries. To many a country, its image among the people who live in that country is more important than what governments of other nations think of them.
In the very early days, both the Soviet Union of yore and the US understood B2C nation branding well. In India for one, both nations had a very aggressive focus on building their brand image. Their respective consulates did yeoman work. If the US had its SPAN magazine, Russia had its Sputnik. Today, in a seamlessly connected world with its digital outreach mechanisms, you don’t need a SPAN or a Sputnik anymore.
Let’s look at Brand India. It is a nation for a start. A robust nation that packs in the energies of a billion, plus a third of a billion people. Brands have two aspects to concern themselves with. One is an intrinsic one. What do people within the country think of Brand India? The second is an extrinsic one: What do countries outside India think of our nation? And more importantly from today’s context, what do the 6.3 billion people who live in these countries think of India? Do they think differently from what their governments want them to think of India the nation?
As I research out thoughts expressed by many a nation, both at the B2B (sample size: 23 countries) and B2C level (sample size: 23,640 people from these countries), Brand India definitely needs a rejig. It needs a refresh. A refresh that is topical, timed to a post-pandemic world, and one that is as contemporary, real and futuristic as it can get.
The current theme "Incredible India" has served the nation long enough now, with its very visual emphasis on everything that is fantastic and nice in India. In many ways, India as a live phantasmagoria at play. It has done well to date, but I am not sure it will continue to serve the purpose of the nation into the immediate and distant future. My research probe tells me that the phrase does well for India Tourism, but not necessarily for Brand India.
"Incredible India" is a phrase that cuts both ways in positivity and negativity, depending on the experiences of people with the nation. I do believe we need to pave the way for a powerful, reliable, consistent and "Credible India" as opposed to an "Incredible India" as the current theme puts it.
The world is currently going through the throes of tumult that the pandemic has brought into our lives. People in every nation are going through uncertainty of every kind. Volatility is the norm, and the minds of people all across are grappling to clutch on to the rays of hope that emerge from anywhere and everywhere. Countries of every kind have gone through the phases of fear and panic. As the economy of hope emerges ahead, it just might be the right time for India to reposition itself correctly and strongly in the minds of the world at large. What the world thinks of India, and more importantly what the people who live in these many countries all across think of India is going to define our nation brand.
There are many issues to consider as we think about nation branding of India all over again. Do we want to be a "David" or a "Goliath" nation? Isn’t small beautiful once again in the future, if not in the present? Do we want to be an "Insular India" or an "Open India"? A "Tech India" or a "Brick & Mortar India"? Many questions to sort.
And before I sign off, one last thought to think. Isn’t it time we stopped saying "Made In India" on our products and services that find its way across the world? Time to do it the Swiss way. Why not use the "India Made" phrase all across?
"Made In India" means made in a geography that is India. It doesn’t mean much. "India Made" on the other hand means made by the proud Indian with hard work, effort, and most importantly with India-passion poured into it!
(The writer is a Brand Guru and founder of Harish Bijoor Consults. He can be reached at email@example.com)