India picNot too long ago, Brand India was riding high. Now, it is fast losing some of its sheen. The country has been beset with a series of scams and governance issues; foreign investors are plagued by uncertainties in taxation; and recently, the Central Statistical Office has pegged the country’s GDP growth for the current fiscal 2012-2013 at 5% — the lowest since 2002-2003. In fact, last year, credit rating agency Standard and Poor’s (S&P) released a study titled, “Will India be the first BRIC fallen angel?

At a recent conference in Bangalore, organized by the All India Management Association (AIMA), speakers from the corporate world and other arenas like sports and entertainment addressed the critical question of how to rebuild Brand India. Giving the keynote address, Bhaskar Bhat, managing director of Titan Industries, emphasized the need for corporate leaders to play a more proactive role in taking a stand on various issues facing the country. “We have to move from being silent bystanders to voicing our views and actively participate in the process of change,” said Bhat. He also stressed the need for Indian companies to learn from global firms and “pursue world-class quality and scale.”

D. Shivakumar, senior vice president, IMEA – Nokia, and also the president of AIMA, listed three things that corporate India should focus on: value addition, global mindset and good governance. Pointing out that 80% of price warriors die, he said: “We have a position of being ‘cheap and cheerful.’ Instead, we need to be innovative and offer value-added differentiators. We also need to move from being domestic to international, adopt global practices and new business models. And we must move from loose governance to reputed governance. Otherwise, we will not be able to participate on the global stage.”

Offering a contrarian view, Santosh Desai, managing director and CEO of FutureBrands India, noted that “our focus [in building the country’s brand] is always on catering to the international investors.” Pointing out that India “is not a market but a civilization,” Desai said: “Typically, the idea of Brand India centers on business and attracting investments. But FDI (foreign direct investment) is not a yardstick for a country’s legitimacy. This is a very limiting view. Brand India has multiple dimensions. Our country brand is a powerful idea that distinguishes us from the rest of the world. We must look at offering to the world a powerful new way of resolving [its] problems.”

Speakers like Harsha Bhogle, leading cricket commentator and journalist, highlighted the role that non-corporate segments like sports and entertainment play in shaping a country’s brand image. “Often, the first impression of any country that others get is through its sports persons. And the power of sports lies in its reality. You can’t manufacture fluff on the sports field. The way you play sports reveals your culture,” he said.

According to Rishikesha T. Krishnan, professor of corporate strategy and policy at the Indian Institute of Management Bangalore, it is imperative to also focus on the softer aspects. Says Krishnan: “I really believe that if we want to build the Brand India of our dreams, we need to focus on ‘soft power.’ I have a feeling that economic growth will happen anyway – it may happen slower than we hope, but it will happen. What I am more concerned about is whether we will build the requisite soft power – people looking up to us for ideas, philosophies and ways of life, much like how the United States became the beacon of the 20th century.”