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Evangelize an Idea first. Build a Brand later

Soon we will have request from business schools in India to co-author case study on Brand Evangelism as Patanjali (an Indian cross category FMCG brand) will reportedly grow to  INR 5000 ( USD 757 Mn) FY 15-16 since its launch in 2009-10, at the fastest growth rate in Indian FMCG market,  as recently reported in Indian media. The case study will be humbly sent to HBS for approval and publishing. HBS will own copyright and Indian professors will have to pay to a foreign University for a limited period 'rights to use'; to teach an Indian brand case to Indian students. Oops, did I use the word ‘foreign’? These days the moment one writes the word ‘foreign’, one feels the world will fly accusations for being non-liberal or too nationalistic or intolerant in India.

Caves to Camps – Yoga returns Homes in India

In 1970s, when black and white television was more watched at a relatively better-off neighbor’s house more than one’s own living room, Acharya Dhirendra Brahmachari (A Yoga Guru) used to explain the ancient practice of Yoga. To the amusement of many in India, he was reportedly Yoga Guru (teacher) to Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi who was named ‘Durga’ (an Indian Goddess famous for ferociously killing demons in mythology) after Indian victory in Bangladesh war.

Dhirendra Brahmachari was a bachelor. He chose not to marry because he had taken ‘Sanyas’ – renunciation matrimonial & material world- therefore his name was suffixed with ‘Brahmachari’.  He became influential in 1975-77 as Indian government imposed emergency. Years later, he mysteriously died in a plane crash in 1994. Rest is history.

The problem with Dhirendra Brahmachari was that he did not wake up at 4 AM, mobilize people to organize Mass Yoga Camps, through all seasons, in small towns of India. He did not travel much and failed to personally connect with millions of ordinary people. He was also not called ‘Baba’, an enlightened or detached soul.  He wore white cotton dhoti and not saffron colored robes. He tried but failed to bring Yoga Revolution through TV. The household penetration of TV in late 1970s was very low in any case.

No one could forecast the market that three decades later in 2003, power of mass media television channel would be fully realized when Baba Ramdev’s live telecast of Mass Yoga Camps across small towns in India (also Yoga Camps on Luxury Cruise) would kindle a new interest in healthy exercises and Ayur Veda ( the fifth Veda after the Rig,Sama, Yajur and Atharva Veda in Vedic Civilization).
Interestingly, Indians’ need to re-connect with the idea of Yoga & Healthier Lifestyle, at a newer level, was visible twelve years after consumption was driven by economic reforms in 1991. Subsequently foreign brands had embarked on India Entry launches and re-launches across categories. Baba Ramdev was presumably interested only in Yoga and Ayurveda so he set up Patanjali Yogpeeth in Haridwar. Unlike Dhirendra Brahmachari who had chosen Jammu, Baba Ramdev preferred an ancient pilgrimage town Haridwar on the banks of river Ganges. With the choice of Haridwar, Patanjali was planted in the pious soil of Indian culture and grew on the centuries old belief system.

From evangelizing the idea of Yoga to FMCG Business

Evangelism, the spreading of gospel by public preaching or personal observer, concept does not originally belong to marketing text.  Brand Evangelism sounds like a marketing jargon in modern digital societies for an ancient medium called ‘word of mouth’ publicity or advocacy.  At the turn of 21st century, Baba Ramdev was neither spreading any religious gospel nor executing a marketing campaign for his FMCG business. He only knew Yoga and that’s what he taught. There were perhaps no product concepts in the NPD funnel. If he was a business visionary, he would not have limited himself only to Yoga exercises promotion.  In fact, Ayurveda and Unani product manufacturing or marketing companies like Baidyanath, Dabur, Hamdard, Zandu Pharmaceuticals, besides local Ayurveda doctors and vaids, were already practicing ancient knowledge in healthcare and personal care. In early 1990s, companies like Dabur had started leveraging the power of advertising & celebrity endorsements to build brands with western notions of marketing as practiced by MBAs. Ironically, it distanced itself from Ayurveda in a corporate restructuring by parking all traditional Ayurveda products in a different company named Dabur Ayurvedic Specialties. Patanjali was not even a known organization till a decade ago. In hindsight, one can see that Patanjali was busy during 2003-2008 period to research and develop healthcare and personal care products. 
Mr. Sunil Duggal, Dabur CEO fairly admitted "He (Baba Ramdev) is someone no one has dealt with before and there are no existing analogies which can match him. So, we have to deal with them differently. We're taking them seriously. I've sampled products which are in direct competition with us.”

Patanjali Founder- Yoga Teacher Baba Ramdev (or you may narrowly define him as Patanjali CEO), has 538,000 followers on twitter as against Dabur’s 2005 followers. He controversially gets banned at JNU but is invited by Government to promote Yoga also. On YouTube, He has 53,166 subscribers with 11,059,312 views.  On Facebook, 915,496 people are talking about Baba Ramdev with 5,676,103 likes.  No wonder, FMCG companies CEOs are still trying to figure him out.  His current influence is growing faster after NDA government at Centre in an uncanny parallel with Dhirendra Brahmachari’s rise during 1975-77. But this small parallel ends here. It took Ramdev years of evangelizing an idea of Yoga for a society that was increasingly living less healthier life, perseverance, and practicing what he was preaching. 

Connecting National Pride with Consumption

Recently Indian media reported that Baba Ramdev's Patanjali, with more than 350 products ranging from noodles and biscuits to shampoos and toothpastes, is giving the heads of consumer goods companies a reason to sit up and take stock. “They've realized Patanjali can't be dismissed as the whim of the baba”— the brand is rapidly becoming a contender in the consumer goods space. 

A Revolution to Build Individual and National Character with Yog. India’s Self-Esteem.
Business Schools anywhere in India don’t teach how to think and build consumer brand ideas based on 'revolutionary' concepts. The notion of building an ‘individual 's or national character’ is seen as an alien subject or something not capitalist or exciting enough. The idea of ‘profit’ and ‘accountability to stock markets’ gains supremacy over everything else and corporates need regulatory bodies to fulfill their social responsibilities. But let us not go there.

Building Brand through Evangelizing an Idea

Patanjali products are 'not revolutionary per se'  but they come from an institute (Vidyapeeth) that evokes credibility. In India, Ayurveda universities had been working for decades but academic and industry interface was so poor that both didn’t leverage each other’s strengths. So what’s underlying the source of credibility for brand Patanjali? One would argue that it is the only brand that has been located in the ‘physical, mental,spiritual application of Yoga’ or 'Mind-Body-Soul Axis'. It  may be understood as more of ‘Ritual Brand’ than a ‘Product Brand’. It is not that Indians started reading oriental scriptures or Patanjali text books, it is just that Yoga Workout has fired up millions. People have a new hope drawn from an ancient wisdom. A hope that doing “Pranayama’ will oxygenate deeply seated cells and provide healthy long life. The hope gets converted into belief as people endorse the experience - It works! This value belief , built over a decade,  now effortleslly travels through most Patanjali products .

Reframing Ancient Wisdom and Practices

Why should consumer brands come only from USA or Western Europe and not sourced from ancient wisdom locked in Africa, Asia or Eastern Europe or Middle East? Perhaps the civilization in North America is too young to think about ancient wisdom. In any case, USA is too hot on new technology and innovation;    however, there are many cultures around the world who can share their knowledge & ideas in healthcare, food, personal care and to the world that is now more connected and freer than ever before. China, Tibet, Mongolia, Japan can probably share ideas with the world that the entire humanity will immensely benefit. Not many will know that Men-Tsee-Khang – Tibetan Medical Centre in Dharamshala (India) is celebrating its 100 years of Education and Higher Studies in the fields of Tibetan Medicine and Astrology.

The main objective of Men-Tsee-Khang is to preserve, promote and practice Sowa Rigpa, the ancient Tibetan system of medicine, astronomy and astrology.

Redefining the concept of Brand

American Marketing Association (AMA) traditionally defines a brand as a “name, term, sign, symbol or design or a combination of them, intended to identify the goods and services of one seller or group of sellers and to differentiate them from those of competition”.

This definition reads incomplete now. It lacks the word ‘action’ - A brand can be an ‘action’ or an ‘exercise’ (e.g. Yoga) is worth consideration by academicians and industry professionals.

The fastest growth of Patanjali in the past six years and the fact that all FMCG companies’ leaders are acknowledging it as a ‘brand' - as a competition to worry about - is a testimony to the need to insert the word ‘action’ in the defintion of 'brand'. Today, it is impossible to decode brand Patanjali without Yoga Exercises which is at the heart of its origin, name and source of trust; not its products or any other service.

The brand Patanjali was named after an ancient Ayurveda & Yoga saint “Patanjali”. But it doesn’t evoke brand recall because of its logo (Unlike Nestle), design (Unlike Dabur’s Banyan Tree), name (unlike Coke), term ( unlike Intel), provocation (Nike's Just Do It), or competitive differentiation (Lay’s ‘No one can just eat one’). The brand does not seem to be rooted in a brilliant consumer insight as part of a foresighted strategic thinking. It defies many marketing principles while reaching out to its consumers so to that extent Evangelising Yoga Idea first to Build a Brand deacde later created a disruption; leaving competition completley unaware.

Brand Patanjali: Future Outlook

It will be interesting to track how is Brand Patanjali evolving in India and what it means to Indians today or to the world tomorrow. Today, Patanjali stores have no distinct brand identity. In fact, these are no-frill stores with open shelves, no air conditioning, no brand color-coded uniforms, no computerized billing and no trained sales or support staff. With its e-commerce presence, patanjaliayurved.net, it is already an emerging IT-enabled ‘retail service brand’. It has chosen not have a privileged ‘Ayurveda Concept’ section in modern trade. Patanjali successfully competes with global and national brands on the shelf and more significantly at full prices without consumer promotions in most categories.
But is it committing a mistake by spending crores in advertising instead of sustaining public interest in Yoga to drive its potential FMCG consumers' recruitment in its mass Yoga camps, which perhaps no event management company in India will be able to match year on year. The brand must continue to  build its energy reserves through Mass Yoga Camps to drive its FMCG business.

The Economic Times recently published its annual Brand Equity’s Most Trusted Brands Survey 2015. Though Patanjali is emerging to be one of the most trusted new FMCG brand in India, it was absent in the survey findings. However, Brand Evangelist Baba Ramdev is among the top ten Businessmen to watch out for in 2016. It won’t be surprising if Patanjali is also voted to be 'the fastest trust earning' FMCG brand in 2016 and is analysed in business schools to learn a new way ‘Brand Evangelism – The New Trust Driver to Build Brands, Faster'.


Atulit Saxena
30 Mar 2016
Atulit Saxena Before Futurebrands, he was Director of Euro RSCG Advertising, one of world's leading advertising agencies. A post graduate in business administration from University of Rajasthan, Atulit has more than two decades of brand development experience across apparels, FMCG, consumer durables and services. His principal areas of work and interest include Startup Brands, Brand Finance, Brand Licensing, Brand Partnerships, documentary films and teaching. Atulit has given lectures at franchising & brand licensing conferences, FICCI , CII seminars, and management schools in India.

Atulit Saxena
30 Mar 2016
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