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Anil Ambani's recipe for success
Surajeet Das Gupta | May 31, 2006
Four months ago, Anil Ambani hired AC Nielsen, the market research agency, with a mandate to conduct research on how stakeholders and customers responded to the "Reliance" brand.
The agency interviewed over 2,100 respondents, including company shareholders, professionals, general public and trade partners across 13 cities and came out with some interesting findings.
First, the good news: the Reliance brand scored high on parameters such as size, speed, financial stability, performance, scale and promises delivered. That is expected and understandable.
But the bad news was that it lagged behind in a host of other key attributes - it wasn't seen as a very emotive, approachable or accessible, and youthful brand.
The second issue according to the survey was even more serious: the brand recall of the existing logo was nothing to drive home about. Even though the respondents were familiar with Reliance and its association with the Ambanis, few remembered the punch line "Growth is Life".
These findings have now formed the basis of one of the country's most ambitious and expensive brand makeovers, which will give an identity to the Reliance Anil Dhirubhai Ambani group.
Ambani's executives won't tell, but industry estimates suggest that in the next 12 months, the group will fork out over Rs 500 crore (Rs 5 billion) to Rs 700 crore (Rs 7 billion) to make an impression.
This, despite the fact that under the partition agreement between the Ambani brothers, both sides can use the existing Reliance logo.
Starting this week, the group will revamp signages in hundreds of Reliance Webworld retail outlets across the country, rework creatives for television and print, change the stationery and visiting cards of thousands of employees in various ADA companies and, of course, come out with an aggressive corporate campaign with a new punch line "Think Bigger", all across the country. The deadline for a complete roll out is expected to be in the next three months.
That's surely ambitious. And to ensure that everything moves smoothly, the group has set up a "brand council" consisting of marketing and brand professionals from various group companies as well as some senior executives of the group who have spearheaded the new brand identity.
It has also taken external help. The group hired the US-based brand strategy outfit, Profit, with renowned brand guru David Aaker offering critical advice. And at the downstream level, it also hooked up with UK design house Landor (which also designed the "Indian" brand logo for Indian Airlines) to execute the design for the new logo.
So what necessitated the great brand identity makeover? After all, Reliance has been a solid brand, time-tested through the last three decades and has become a household name. The answer lies in the changing nature of Reliance ADA's businesses.
After the split, the Anil Ambani group now straddles businesses that are clearly focused on the customer and more at the retail level - mobile phones, power, financial services and insurance.
The existing brand identity and logo was a powerful corporate brand conceived in a business scenario where the undivided group was largely into B2B businesses such as oil and gas and petrochemicals.
But with the group split, it was felt that the nature of Reliance ADA's businesses demanded a more customer-friendly approach and also a brand identity, which could relate more to people and at the grassroots level.
"The research clearly showed that we needed a brand identity which addresses the customer more closely than the existing brand offerings. The new brand identity had to be more youthful, approachable and emotive," says Yogendra Vashisht, head of branding, Reliance Energy and a key member of the brand council.
Of course, there were crucial challenges in drawing out the makeover. These emanated from the nature of the group's business as well as the diverse nature of its customers.
Further, it was a fact that the split in the family had created confusion in the minds of customers. For instance, unlike an Airtel, which is only in the telecom business, or a Hindustan Lever in FMCG products, Reliance ADA straddles diverse businesses.
So a niche brand identity relating to the attributes of one business was not workable. Two, the customer base is also diverse - from high-end corporates who use leased lines, for instance, in Reliance Infocomm, to the rural masses, which uses its mobile services.
So, a brand identity which, would address a niche segment of the market (such as Hutch, which largely focuses on the upper and middle end of the market) was again ruled out.
Third, in most of the businesses that it straddles, chances are that there would be a large segment of customers who would be common. Many of them probably use a Reliance phone, buy power from Reliance Energy and invest in Reliance mutual funds.
"We realised that we needed to create a monolithic brand identity, which would synergise all the group companies together. The message is that you can get a range of services and you need not go to anyone else for them," says Ajay Kakar, head of branding in Reliance Capital and a member of the brand council.
Lastly, the group was well aware that there could be the possibility of confusion in the minds of people after the split. Even though, both the groups can use the same logo, the problem could be on how customers would identify which company belongs to which of the Ambani brothers.
So, it was felt that there was a need to create a distinct identity even while using the same name "Reliance". And that, it needed to break the clutter of existing and competing brands that were already there in the market.
Kakar gives one example of the complexity of the challenge: while choosing the colour of the logo, there was need to ensure that it didn't reflect a snooty corporate attitude addressing only a niche market segment.
But at the same time, it was not possible to choose loud colours that would not appeal to them at all. The answer, in this instance, was found after about 50 to 60 meetings of the brand council: create a brand identity that has universal attributes rather than specific to any business and make it simple and contemporary.
So a red arrow was conceived, which conveys a group that is fast-forward, has clear targets and a lot of potential for expansion.
The symbolism, insiders say, makes immense sense, because all the businesses in the Reliance ADA group are like startups with tremendous growth potential. The elongated A also represents Anil Ambani as distinct from his brother's (Mukesh Ambani) group.
To cut the clutter and make the brand identity more approachable and youthful, experts used both a combination of upper as well as lower case in the font.
Argues Vashisht, "Most old companies have a consistent font, which is reflective of formality and a hierarchical organisation. We wanted to break that by saying we will not have any set pattern and use both upper and lower case fonts. This makes us look more approachable and, of course, youthful."
The group also took an important decision that the colour code and the logo style would be common across all companies. Till now, different companies used different colour codes.
For instance, Infocomm had green, Reliance Capital used orange and blue, and Reliance Energy had orange colour codes. As a benchmark, the brand managers studied the GE model, which also has diverse businesses but with a monolith brand.
However, it does allow group companies to choose different colours - a formula that Ambani's managers decided not to follow. The reason, says Kakar, is, "We concluded that a monolith model with a single look and feel would work much better for our group rather than the GE model."
Even the colour combination of blue and red was perceived with care. "Blue represents calm and serenity, while red represents passion and are universal colours that appeal across segments," says Vashisht.
But how do experts and competitors see the new brand identity makeover work? Says Preet Bedi, president of Rediffusion DY & R, "A logo change is always an external manifestation of an internal change in a group's DNA. You need at least two to three years before you can really judge whether it is working."
Others are less charitable: "Reliance was earlier a zamindari brand, powerful and strong; now it is trying to become a consumer brand. Such a strategy will only work if it is matched by differentiation in quality of service. If brands could be built by changing the logo, everyone would do the same."
Adds another brand watcher, "It has a B2B psyche, and a mere brand makeover will not do the trick. They need to change organisationally to establish a long-term relationship rather than a transactional relationship with customers."
There are other close Ambani watchers who, however, have a different view. They aver that more than being a brand trying to get close to its customers, the rebranding is an attempt by Anil Ambani to emerge from the shadows of his brother Mukesh.
Says a senior executive of a competitive company, "They might talk about stakeholders, but the logo is an attempt by Anil Ambani to consolidate his name and create an imprint on his organisation after being in the shadows. It is more personal."Whatever the reasons, the jury is still out on one of the most ambitious brand identity makeovers. And its success will depend not just on the external manifestation, but also its very ethos: importantly, on how quickly Anil Ambani and his team can make an organisational transformation from a traditionally manufacturing and commodity giant to a customer-friendly and services-focused conglomerate.