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Building a Brand in India? #7 Things you Must Breathe as a Business High-quality storytelling, laced with smart wit, works wonders and start-up brands can grow word-of-mouth!

By Sambuddha Bhattacharya

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India, a hotbed of opportunities this decade, has been going through tectonic shifts at the intersection of consumerism and entrepreneurship, evoking behavioural patterns that are more than interesting to observe, and problems ever so enticing to solve.

The digital space continues to grow in foootprint, and tech-led companies continue to endeavor to build meaningful business. Yet, 98% of trade happens offline.

Start-ups built on the base of powerful brands and robust business models go on to become large organizations. While the future of entrepreneurship seems somewhat bright, start-ups across sizes continue to crumble left, right and center. Building a real business needs profitability focus and customer money prioritization.

But for building a brand, the journey needs to be reverse-engineered to Heart > Mind > Wallet. And to get to that wallet attempting survival in a rat-race, the conversation becomes transactional. However, brands take time to build stickiness, grab mindshare and earn loyalty.

A new category of modernized brands is taking form and sizeable shape. Navigating through all this chaos, as an entrepreneur, what should you focus on — with your heart in the brand and head in the business? Here's a quick primer.

1. Storytelling, a highly impactful tool, spans far beyond television advertising

One common thread between many successful brands in the past has been storytelling and building an emotional connect- that makes people remember iconic advertisements, lightyears later. Today, in the transaction-focused marketing in the start-up world, often there is a wall between consumers and businesses- where consumers are trying to decode what the brand is trying to sell, and brands end up translucent to earn revenue. Bummer! For brand entrepreneurs, storytelling needs to move beyond traditional television advertising, to re-telling how salespeople can sell, to what digital communication could take shape (Insta-stories are the next big thing to take over!),and into store layout and design). High quality storytelling, laced with smart wit, works wonders and startup brands can (and should) grow word-of-mouth!

2. Finding your own answer to the Online-offline intersection

It's a no-brainer that generating more storefronts would generate more revenue and customers - and that increases your probability of success. Yet, consumer is fundamentally discovering brands and making shopping decisions online.

How should you straddle both channels? Some brands focus on belting out their own stores while some grow retail presence through multi-brand outlets.

In choosing a retail-first approach, we realized that consumer would discover the brand online, the first purchase would happen offline given category dynamics and price, and then repeat purchase happens online again: the classic O2O2O. Question to answer for online-led brand entrepreneurs is when to go offline, and how to make that happen while the traditional brick-and-mortar world tries to deal with the converse.

Channels are colliding as consumers continue to desire deeper omni-channel integration.

3. Pattern-recognize where the world will head to, and move there fast

Dining out used to be a once-a-quarter affair with family only a decade ago. Today, look what has happened to the industry as a result of what happened to the consumer. You could argue vice-versa, but it all started with Zomato recognizing what was going to happen to both segments. Many industries have this allegory. As purely function-led purchase becomes passé from a brand communication standpoint, and fast fashion led e-commerce businesses are wondering how to crack consumer loyalty, what's next?

We recognized that consumers are starting to care about what their brand image would be, with what eyewear they sport. Also, observed similar patterns with social media behavior — the smart purchase mentality starting to trump the big-brand showoff mentality.

And recognizing these have led to business decisions around what we do with our stores, and website, and brand communication. Pattern Recognition and Forecasting is key! For us, it has been realizing that personal branding is taking over.

4. Marketing is getting innovative, new-age, and more quantitative than ever

People love great pictures of themselves- especially if the pictures are polaroid- was one hypothesis statement. One year ago, we bought a Polaroid camera at our stores, and handed out a great picture to everyone who shopped. Today a whopping 28% of our walk-ins were driven by that polaroid picture referral with no inherent referral built in there". A passcode only establishment becomes most sought after hangout spot in Delhi, while many competitors kept flashing discounts. Innovation has its own charm- do it, and do it well.

5. Build the right team and craft the right culture: It has amazed me how powerful can it be to instill a sense of purpose rather than showering perks. While raw intelligence is needed in copious amounts for startups and brands to succeed, EQ goes a long way over IQ in creating impact. Balancing merit over age, influence over authority, attitude over technical prowess- all play an important role as brands/businesses start resonating the personality of high-impact early stage teams. Want to know when to realize you've got it right? When you don't instill attendances and leave policies and have to never check on your team, and yet be surprised with non-requested working weekends and 2am emails and once in a while, them checking in on you JWhen you can take holidays- and come back shell-shocked with quality and quantity of output!

6. Pricing is Critical: Businesses make or break, gain or lose market share, on price architecture. Some whitespaces are good, some not so much. After having figured out if value based (what your consumer could be willing to pay) or a cost-plus approach (how much markup should you make on your product) works for your start-up, price-communication becomes critical. We moved five price points to two flat price, re-nomenclatured a 3,999 price to 4,000, and labeled that price communication- all for simplicity and transparency.

Increased conversion rate by 12 percentage points, order volume by 25% and revenue by a solid 20%- all on a fairly large base, and all within a quarter.

Razor-sharp focus Frugality, and innovative cost-sharing approaches make the backbone of organizations. If businesses are stable and profit-making right off the bat, you've won the first biggest battle and now have the time to build the brand while you scale topline and deepen profits. Yesterday, it sounded herculean, and today I'm flabbergasted at how easy it is to do this.

Build a great brand, Build a great business. Au Revoir!

Sambuddha Bhattacharya

Co-founder & business head, John Jacobs

Business Head & Co-founder Sambuddha Bhattacharya believes in the philosophy of transparency and has incorporated the same in the business. He believes that people's views are changing as the category moves from vision impairment to fast fashion and headed towards a powerful, personal branding led journey. And as eyewear consumption increases 25X, he is focussed on building John Jacobs as a sensibly priced aspirational brand. 

John Jacobs is a trendy designer eyewear brand, home-grown in India that is fast creating a name for representing top international styles at surprisingly affordable prices.

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