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Growing importance of brand partnerships for long-term business success

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In this age of growing consumerism and ever-increasing retail penetration, be it through the brick-n-mortar model or as e-biz, the Indian market is witnessing brand proliferation like never before. Brands are now as ubiquitous as the shopping malls and e-portals that house them. Especially so, in the fashion industry! Be it apparel, footwear, consumer soft goods, home-fashions or accessories et-al, everyone is looking for a brand. The reasons are quite easy to fathom.

With growing prosperity (read disposable income), rapid urbanization, economic independence and awareness of global trends most of the consumer’s today feel an inherent need to look fashionable, desire to be perceived ‘cool & contemporary’ and would like to portray, through their possessions, that they have ‘arrived in life’. Brands in general and fashion brands in particular, are perceived to empower that statement. Add to that India’s large young and aspiring population and there you have it!

If the popularity of current fashion brand leaders in various product categories and their sales volume is something to go by, there definitely seems to some truth in this reasoning. Last month’s big, fat annual Brands of India Special issue of this magazine ‘Images Business of Fashion’ was a testament to the fact that brands in India are not only growing but doing so most profitably too.

Besides Snob-Value, Brands Score On Functional Benefits Too

The more realistic reason, why consumers love brands could be that purchase of branded products offers a certain assurance to them – not least regarding the level of quality, which can be expected. Specially, in respect of the industry downstream to us at – the fashion products – consumers feel reassured when buying brands. They are confident that it would be ‘appropriate for’ or ‘in fashion’ for the season of purchase. The colors would be the ones in vogue; fabrics, weaves & textures the latest available and fits – contemporary.

Brands with a consistent and coherent positioning also provide consumers a benchmark for their purchase decision. A ‘Nike’ sportswear would be a reference point for anyone, with an athletic mindset, wanting to purchase such branded active sportswear or shoe for comparison. A ‘Converse’ footwear would serve as a benchmark for the ‘devil-may-care, casual-chic, young-at-heart’ attitude so typical of our fresh-in-college teens.

Knowing which brands can be relied upon to provide a certain type of product or functionality as also to reflect one’s aspired personality, can help save time and avoid confusion for a consumer regarding his or her purchase decision.

The Organisational Benefit

While this is may be true from a consumer’s point of view, what do brands mean for organisations? Why do companies spend mega bucks on building brands? Are brands worth the sustained advertisement spends that are required to create them over long periods? Are the spends an unnecessary expense or a well-planned investment?

Obviously, the fact that brands are actually driving the huge wave of consumerism in India today is not lost on the manufacturers. Even though India is relatively new to the concept of brands and so far the concept of “I’m-cool-only-in-brands” may just have started travelling through the dusty lanes and by-lanes of small town India – manufacturers have understood the benefits of branding very well and are pro-actively pursuing their brand strategies successfully in the urban markets. Emergence of a multitude of brands, catering to specific consumer groups across specific SEC’s (socio-economic classification) and income groups bears out that fact. A visit to the bi-annual NGF (National Garment Fair, organised by the Clothing Manufacturers Association of India in Mumbai) could actually be quite an eye-opener to understand the market segmentation as well as the penetration of the home-grown apparel brands launched in India in the past few years. Given such hyper competition, how do the fashion brands create a clear niche and consumer appeal for themselves?

Is Branding All About Consumer Goods?

Popular perception dictates that branding works essentially and predominantly for a consumer facing product and only consumer product companies need to bother about brand building and marketing communications.

In an increasingly commoditised market place, while the competitive advantage may be attained through investment in product enhancement, cost reduction, or service quality, a strong brand is beneficial in communicating these differentiating factors effectively to customers and end consumers Even, within B2B commodity categories, recent research demonstrates a very close link between brand strength, firm loyalty, frequency of repeat business, and perception of higher quality.

In India, we all are quite familiar with brand Fevicol®. Advertisements featuring Fevicol® have entertained as well as impressed us over the year’s. As a product it may essentially be drawing a majority of its revenue from industrial applications and market segments. So why did it feel the need to be a brand? Even pure commodities like Petrol, Diesel, Steel and Electric Wires are now being branded. The moot point is that companies, even in India have, over-the years, understood well that the status or image of a strong brand and ensuring brand loyalty would be a key differentiator. As also, a powerful influence in favour of one product over another, even in the B2B segments.

It could provide security of demand and a strong barrier to competition entry. It could help increase product life cycle as well as profit margins. It enables a direct communication with end consumers and helps capture the full impact of brand promotion investments. Branding is perhaps the most effective tool to capture the cost of innovation and R&D for an organisation. Many years ago – the famous Management Guru said it well, “In an increasingly crowded market place, fools will compete on price. Winners will find a way to create lasting value in the customer’s mind”

Perhaps, because of this market reality, erstwhile ‘classic brand management models’, are now undergoing a sea change. Brand building is now increasingly used to systematically enhance the reputation of the entire business and organisation; rather than increasing the product reputation alone. Businesses are open to collaborating across its value and supply chains – vertically as well as horizontally; with suppliers or even with competition and adopting what could, for convenience sake, be called ‘brand leadership models’.

A model that helps them not only to enhance and grow their brand image through alignment and differentiate their products and services at the point-of-sale but also help accelerate the final miles of their go-to-market strategy and mitigate the risks associated with new product launches etc.

That in nutshell summarizes the concept and purpose of Brand Building and Brand partnerships in my opinion.

Why Collaborate & Partner Brands

Fashion, contrary to the common perception, is a very serious business. It is no longer about satisfying human’s basic need of clothing.

Today’s impatient consumers are constantly looking out for ‘uniqueness’ and demand ‘more’ from every product they intend to purchase. The age of digital connectivity has brought about an exorbitant shift not only on how individuals eat, sleep, live but also changed consumer behavior along the way. With a smart phone in every hand, today’s connected consumer has the power of internet to explore a vast reservoir of knowledge at any point of time. Find answers to their fashion queries and discover product alternatives per their expectations. As a result, consumers are more informed, impatient and demanding than ever before and expect brands to create experiences personalised to their distinct needs. No wonder, brand loyalty is as ephemeral as their attention spans now. Except if the brands constantly reinvent themselves, in line with the changing preferences and expectations of their chosen target audience.

This necessitates that brands keep innovating or value adding their existing experiences. Grass-root innovations are usually time consuming and cannot always match the pace of changing expectations. Product research and development requires high investments and may not always result in success. With new products and services hitting the market shelves at such rapid pace, it is crucial for brands to differentiate their unique selling points and increase lead generation.

In this hyper competitive market place, business success is increasingly dependent on its ability to build partnerships of business networks, strategic alliances and other forms of exchanges on both domestic and international markets. Collaboration amongst companies or brands catering to the same market segments with different but potentially synergetic core-competencies could help multiply value-adding features in their joint product and help enhance the user experiences for both the partners.

In addition to helping one tackle the elevated expectations that impatient consumers have from brands today or catering to the new expectations of its existing customers, product collaborations could be an effective and efficient strategy to create a completely new set of market segments hitherto unavailable to them as well. Collaboration would allow brands to build new business, boost awareness, and break into new profitable application areas.

Co-branding in turn can help them communicate their new, improved brand strength and functionality to these market segments.

So, what exactly is co-branding? It is the positive association of two or more brands to achieve shared marketing benefits and create strategies to develop brand synergy. A positive brand association helps both the partners establish credibility and extend their market reach.

Successful co-branding can also help expand marketing budgets & thus increase market share in the long run.

Co-Branding The Reliance Industries Way

As an industry leader and an innovator, Reliance PetChem has effectively used collaboration as well as co-branding to create new market segments for its downstream customers and communicate directly with its end-consumers. It has enabled us to help our customers take advantage of our ongoing R&D investments and develop value-added products, based on our deep market insights and consumer understanding. order to satisfy the increasing consumer demand for higher functionality, Reliance has undertaken a project to create awareness among fabric manufacturers, apparel brands and retailers while creating a fully integrated supply chain to support it. This ensures brand delight as well as increased value at every level of the textile value chain.

Using our ongoing research and development and extensive expertise in fibre re-engineering, Reliance has created a portfolio of specialty fabrics branded that enhance the performance attributes in all apparel segments such as active wear, denim, formal wear, casual and ethnic wear.

These fabrics are created with active participation of Reliance Hub Excellence Program (HEP) partners spread across the various textile centres of India. R|Elan™ fabrics score over regular fabrics in a number of different ways such as enhanced breathability, dry feel and anti-odour. They also feature vibrant colours, excellent drape and hand feel and are completely easy care. All these properties are inherent and permanent for the life of the garment giving assured comfort and confidence to the end consumer.

Along with strengthening R|Elan™ as a brand, RIL is also creating robust fibre-to-fabric value chain to ensure that these innovations match the commercial expectations of fashion brands.

RIL has partnered with 32 textile players that are equipped to produce new-age fabrics using R|Elan™ technologies. RIL is providing latest know how, specifications and expert consultation support to these players to enhance and sustain quality of textile to be supplied to apparel manufacturers. This strong pan-India network will provide assurance to apparel brand owners and retailers of streamlined production, timelines and standard quality. R|Elan™ products will thus provide consumers next generation fabrics that are in line with the latest fashion trends while also fulfilling their lifestyle needs. RIL’s efforts will give consumers the assurance that if there is R|Elan™ on the outside, there is something special on the inside.

R|Elan™ has forged partnership and co-branding agreements across market segments with not only the Indian textile industry leaders like and but also with global apparel brand leaders like Wrangler (V.F.Corp.) and M&S etc. It has forged collaborations with designers like , and . As part of these partnership, RIL ensures timely delivery of R|Elan™ high-quality performance technologies and our textile partners provide a high standard quality fabric to our brand and retail partners.

In Conclusion…

Co-branding is a mutually beneficial strategic partnership that may encompass product development, marketing and advertising between two brands. Evidently, success of one is likely to bring success to the other as well. However, the most successful brand partnerships need to anchor their positioning in a shared value – a resonant, powerful value that both partners can authentically claim, that would differentiate them from competitors, and one that it can share with its target consumers.