Way back in 2010, our work was making waves in the national media on Design Thinking, for our brand strategy work for Secure Meters, an Indian multinational. Here is an extract and link:
THERE’S LITTLE IN MANOJ KOTHARI’S appearance to suggest the wildly creative nature of his profession. The relaxed formal attire and well-trimmed look point towards a serious business professional. And when he uses terms like “brand architecture” and “perceptual mapping” it’s easy to think of him as a branding guru or a market researcher.
But Kothari is actually a designer. A designer with a difference.Kothari, who founded Onio Design,and others of his ilk are no longer content designing refrigerators, mobile phones and soap wrappers. They now hope to take on a bigger, more serious role in their clients’ businesses—from brand experience and trends research to business process design to re-crafting corporate strategy. In short, they want a seat at the decision-making table.
How? Design thinking is a new philosophythat has helped these firms move into areas traditionally occupied by research houses, advertising agencies and consulting firms. “Design is a mindset. A design orientation helps see the world in a different way,” says Santosh Desai, managing director, Future Brands, a brand consulting firm. For someone who has no design background, Revathi Kant’s position as head of Titan’s Design Studio is a perfect indicator of this shift in perception. “The transformation is happening. We are now beginning to realise in India that design is going to be a key differentiator,” she says. Though it cannot help size the market, design helps capture even what consumers aren’t saying yet, she says. “Market research gets the facts but design gives a better understanding of deep latent needs of consumers… To know what’s the next big thing, what people on the‘extreme’ are doing, you need design research,” she says. ACASE IN POINT IS ONIO’S recent project for Secure Meters, a Rs 700-crore company based in Udaipur that provides metering solutions for consumers of utility companies and to industrial customers. Secure went global in 1996 after acquiring British metering company PRI, an erstwhile technical collaborator. It snapped up five other small brands in Sweden, Australia and the UK over the next decade. Pitted against global giants such as Honeywell and GE, Secure had a milliondollar question to answer: whether to continue with a portfolio of local brands across the globe or opt for a single corporate identity?
It was, in classical marketing terms, a choice between a house of brands (like P&G) and a branded house (like Samsung). Given the scale of Secure’s worldwide operations and different cultures involved, it was necessary to run a comprehensive and rigorous validation exercise before arriving at any decision, says Sanjaya Singhal, managing director, Secure Meters. Besides ad agencies and market research firms, Singhal invited Onio, which had previously done a visual re-branding exercise for the company, for opinion.“The question posed to us was—how could we transition these brands into the overall (Secure) brand without losing the equity of those individual brands,” says Kothari. Applying techniques like perceptual mapping (where stakeholders’ erceptions about the company and its culture were mapped on a twodimensional scale) and corporate ethnography (observation and in-depth conversations with people to uncover patterns of thought) Kothari and his team met customers, dealers, istributors and employees across four locations in Sweden, India and the UK in an exercise that lasted six months. Kothari explains that he used methods integral to a designer’s toolkit—seeking insights rather than inferences,visualizing problems across multiple dimensions, storytelling, prototyping and making everyone a participant in the process. “We involved people in visualizing the new integrated brand. People realized how a small local company can take on global competition; what values they’ve observed in the company;what they would like to build afresh and so on.” For example, a senior manager at one of the acquired companies, Horstmann Controls in Bristol, UK, who had moved from a bigger competitor Landis+Gyr, was surprised about the nimbleness agility of Secure’s culture. Even casual conversations weren’t ignored. When he was first being chauffeured to the company’s office in Udaipur, Kothari recalls asking the driver what he thought of his employer. “Yeh log hamesha kuch naya karte rehte hain (they are always doing something new),” he was told. That was a simple yet crucial insight into the innovative nature of the company’s culture. The exercise validated a single brand identity approach that would espouse the core values emerging from the research. For a mid-sized player like Secure, it also made economic sense to promote a single brand globally, as a ‘branded house’.Singhal says it was the back-to-basics approach by Kothari and his team that made decision simpler to make: “They were not just the solution but part of the solution, which we crafted for ourselves. We learnt the methodology and process,so the choices were conscious choices.”