The opening of the first Starbucks outlet in South Mumbai in October last year triggered quite some frenzy among Mumbaikars, with long queues of venti-mocha-frap verve translating into a major rock concert hysteria. And it was all for a coffee shop! Imagine the burst of marketing energy from Starbucks to take advantage of this excitement. Within five months of opening its first outlet, four each were opened in Mumbai and Delhi (taking the footprint of the coffee chain to nine outlets in India). It reminded me of the kind of madness that was witnessed during the launch of Pepsi and the relaunch of Coke in India, way back in the early 1990s. Here’s the simple truth – our craze for foreign brands has never ceased, despite our progress in almost all dimensions of socio-economic parameters. Why? Because as a nation, experience has taught us that our brands have never quite had the gumption of American, British, European or even Japanese brands. The halo was and is missing. This lack of unique proposition in our brands is due to the shoddy products and services offered in the name of Indian brands!
In this new age of globalisation, our brands need to compete globally and not just nationally. In the past, so many Indian brands – from the Ambassadors to the Vimals – were whipped and almost but sent off packing when foreign brands came knocking. These foreign brands piggybacked on their global popularity and our lack of expertise due to substandard innovation. If India has to reverse the ongoing trend of the influx of foreign brands into its market, it has to invest on innovation on a large scale, and frame and implement comprehensive policies to support innovation.
The low count of patent applications that is filed in India is some warning. In 2011, only 42,291 patent applications were filed in India. China on the other hand saw 526,412 applications being filed – highest in the world that year, followed by US with 503,582 applications (source: World Intellectual Property Indicators 2012, released by the World Intellectual Property Organisation; December 2012). In the Global Innovation Index (GII) ranking 2012, India stood at a dismal 64th – two spots below where it stood in 2011! Shameful it is that India, in terms of GII ranking is last amongst the BRICs. No wonder, a June 2012 Standard & Poor’s report revised its outlook for the Indian economy and warned that India could become the first amongst all BRIC countries to lose its sheen! [The S&P report was titled, ‘Will India Be The First BRIC Fallen Angel?’] It is disheartening to observe that despite Sam Pitroda’s efforts to pump life into India’s innovation machine, and PM Manmohan Singh’s call to promote India as an “Innovation hub”, the country is still largely seen as a “screwdriver nation”, only capable of assembling together parts of foreign-branded products.