Brands need to be an integral part of real communities

In 2015, when I decided to create a beer brand for India, consumers had two choices. First, the incumbent default Indian beer Kingfisher—which for 21-year-olds was already their dad’s beer and no longer cool. The second choice was international brands like Carlsberg, Heineken and Budweiser, which sold at a premium and seemed to communicate to Indians: “Drink me because I am highly respected in a Denmark, the Netherlands or the United States”—hardly resonating with a young population no longer seeking validation in “imported stuff”.

We created a third alternative—one that we think speaks more authentically to the urban, millennial consumer in India.

Bira91 is a name that is short, easy to remember, tongue-in-cheek, evokes beer but is also phonetically Indian. Bira is very similar to the slang for “dude” in some Indian languages. “91” in the name comes from the +91, the international dialling code for India.

For a brand that is “Imagined in India”, we stayed away from the exotic, museum version of India of maharajas, spices and elephants when we were thinking about the visual identity. Instead, we created an identity that is irreverent, modern and fun. With bold colours, design language and typography that evokes street art, and, most importantly the clever, playful monkey mascot—ubiquitously Indian, yet universally resonant.

We created liquids that are accessible yet flavourful—a low-bitterness wheat beer, and an extra-hoppy craft lager. And we identified a route to market that was a massive white space—draught beer. We used technology to disrupt the inefficient beer-supply chain to bring it into the 21st century, including one-way kegs and a data-driven cloud-connected dispense network. In a category that had been about getting drunk or about a dated version of “aspiration” or a “luxury lifestyle”, we introduced taste and experience into the consideration set for consumers on the back of technology.

The trifecta of a brand that resonates, liquids that are loved and our draught platform has led to viral growth for our company. Without having spent a dollar on traditional marketing, we are now the country’s largest draught beer brand and command a 15% share of premium-beer volume in our active markets. As we go forward, our ambition is to become a top 10 brand in the global craft market.

What worked for Bira91 perhaps holds lessons for new and emerging brands. As we become a culture that is both more cohesive (we are urbanizing quickly and are hyper-connected) and individualistic (our identities are our own and we choose our interests and attitudes far more than we did earlier), we believe that brands need to:

■ Be an integral part of real communities: Whether it is a Bira91 or a Patanjali, these brands are an integral part of the identities of their consumers. Brands that are born in the communities they speak to have the best chance of success—they understand their communities best, speak their language and appreciate their aspirations.

■ Tell authentic stories: Narratives that are based in truth and not made up are non-negotiable. Consumers today are smarter than ever before, more aware than the previous generation, and filter out noise quickly. The days of a Madison Avenue agency developing a tag line are over. Authentic stories that are unapologetic are closer to your heart and more memorable.

■ Solve core functional needs: Luxury for the sake of it no longer works. Consumers have more confidence in their differences, are more inward-looking than before and do not look for validation from communities that are not their own. Successful brands solve a core functional need for their communities better than anybody else. That is part of the reason why, for a certain community, a Tesla rather than a Mercedes defines automotive luxury today like nothing else.

■ Be technology-immersed: To make their product better, cheaper or ubiquitously distributed, and win against competitors, the brand and the business need to be technology-immersed.

Whether it is a Tesla, an Under Armour or a Snapchat, all have pinned their success on a combination of these elements. As we technologize, urbanize and individualize further, these features will define resonance and success of brands.

Ankur Jain is Founder and CEO, Bira91

This is part of a series of articles in Mint’s 10th anniversary special issue that look at India 10 years from now. The entire list of articles can be found here

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