Fireside chat with Suhel Seth


What is Brand India?
• Brand India stands for entrepreneurship and the ability to achieve
against all odds.
• India is amongst the youngest democracy and the oldest civilizations
in the world. It has a rich intellectual legacy – one that promotes
universal brotherhood (Vasudhaiva Kutumbakkam) and an inclusive,
informed code of conduct (manusmiriti).
• Our civilizational legacy has allowed us to move ahead against odds.
India is like the bumblebee; aerodynamically speaking, they are not
designed for flight. But the bee does not know that and keeps flying
• To the world, Brand India is a vibrant, young and chaotic democracy.
Chaos is important in brands because that leads to recalibration and
• Nations as brands follow the same rules. They need to recalibrate
to stay relevant and on the upswing. Thirty years ago, no one would
have thought India could be digitalized to the extent it is. It would
have been inconceivable to think people of Indian origin would helm
twenty of the leading companies in the world.
• Nations as brands are not to be defined by national identity. They
need to be defined by national achievements.
• There is a difference between Indian-ness and being Indian. They
are quaint attributes to Indian-ness that only we understand because
of living here.
• However, there are certain areas that we need to focus on in order
to improve brand perception.
• The first is our global communication. negative comments on social
media, under the cloak of anonymity, fan the global perception that
India is intolerant, at the core of India is the ability to absorb and
internalize different influences. India is like a sponge; its culture is
ever evolving and fluid. That is something unique to our country.
• Where India suffers is from the impoverishment of opportunities.
Both Dr Singh and PM Modi have worked to correct that.
• Historically, we deprived our fellow citizens of opportunities – the
opportunity to access education and healthcare, for example. We
thus pushed them into deeper poverty and prevented them from
achieving their true potential.
• A society is only as strong as its weakest link. Just its economic or
intellectual power does not define a society. In the scheme of things,
we must work on the individual link–that is a family– to strengthen
the chain.
• What the current dispensation has done is change brand perception
of India from derision to respect, it has established India as an intellectual force to contend with in terms of business and commerce
and; it has been successful in waking the country up to the power of
knowledge. Knowledge creates empathy and humility. Today, more
and more Indians are giving back.
• We are in a good place at a good time. It makes me believe that my
dream of an inclusive, resilient and empathetic India is taking shape.
What should be done in the near future to strengthen brand India
• People don’t buy brands, they buy benefits. India has many benefits
that have not been communicated well. Our ability to communicate
is not effective . Tourism sector is one example. People fly over India
to go elsewhere.
• We have allowed many of our cultural institutions to stay in the
government’s stranglehold, including this government. That needs
to change. People invest in countries that they love, that they are
affectionate about. Currently, there is too much negative perception
about India. Too much reportage, some true, some fake about violence
and communal disharmony. This needs to be solved both in terms
of issues and communication.
• We need to communicate the reality and address these perceptions.
• In short, we need to do two things. First, internally recalibrate brand
India–that needs to be done by citizens of India. Second, communicate effectively.
• We have not leveraged our soft power. We need to communicate it
effectively and not outsource it to Bollywood.
• Convenient academia has replaced genuine intellectualism. The latter
is a shaky foundation for societies. A country needs to invest in its
culture and its roots to grow stronger.
• A country, like any brand, will need multiple inputs. India will need
to invest heavily in knowledge and healthcare. Both are imperative.
We must see knowledge as the composite of enterprise, innovation
and skills.
• This change is already taking place, as can be seen in the transition
in the outlook of our young. They want to become entrepreneurs
and not job holders.
• A “country” brand is always complex. Brand India is a composite of
culture, commerce and compassion.
• We need to look at our contribution to globalization not just through
the lens of commerce but as our ability to sow the seeds of hope, ideas
and inspiration. It is encouraging that Indians are finally being able
to see that the country brings to the table.
How do we unleash our soft power?
• One cannot have an umbrella communication under “Brand India”.
One needs to communicate to disparate consumer clusters, each of
which may have different wants from the brand. We need to develop
specific communication for these clusters based on brand offerings
that apply to the group.
• The other thing we need to do is to communicate the “taking local
global” agenda effectively. Let’s identify one or two things and take
it to the world.
• Let private platforms be the engagement platform for consumers/
citizens with queries, grievances, etc.
• Engage the Indian in India about how the country is doing abroad.
Communication must be pitted both to the Indian in India and to
the global citizen.
• As a country, we need to be more graceful and learn to acknowledge
and appreciate our oases of excellence; from a nation of whiners, we
must become a nation of inspirers
How can success stories be scaled up?
• Imitation is not just the best form of flattery, it is the best way to scale
up. Replication means not having to reinvent the wheel.
• We also need to become a nation that has empathy. When that happens, it will motivate us to look around, identify what is working,
and scale it up for the larger good.
In 2047, will India be showing the way to the world?
• India should aim to be a tea bag with the ability to diffuse empathy
and excellence in the world, thanks to its civilizational legacy.
• We should bring about a groundswell of our culture and leave an
imprint of our behaviour everywhere. Our intellectual gravitas must
• There are two ways to influence the world through power and through
our culture wherewithal. The latter is the approach we must adopt
because power is transient, culture is not.
• Believe in India but believe in the idea of Indian-ness. Define this
Indian-ness. Develop a campaign called “What’s your IQ – Indian-ness Quotient.