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Amitava Chattopadhyay

Amitava Chattopadhyay
Emerging Market Multinationals - Amitava Chattopadhyay


Social Issue Based Brand Transformation: Strategies of the Luxury Beauty Brand SK-II

SK-II, a leading luxury beauty brand in Japan, was experiencing a decline. Its customers were aggressively courted by rivals, and changes in society made it difficult for the brand to stay compelling to its customers. SK-II must formulate a new strategy to fundamentally transform itself, bolster relevance and transcend the competition. The case describes the market landscape, economic, societal and technological changes, as well as SK-II’s prior strategies and their implementation. In developing the new strategy, the brand needs to decide:

  1. whether and how it should speak to social issues such as gender equality and incorporate those issues into its brand purpose;
  2. how digital technologies should be effectively integrated into every aspect of the brand experience;
  3. how it should synergistically leverage social media, metaverse and other media platforms; and
  4. how it should work with established celebrities as well as emerging influencers to create a prestigious and yet engaging brand image.

The brand needs to thoroughly assess the pros and cons associated with the potential options, craft its strategy and develop a detailed implementation plan.

Dilmah Ceylon Tea: Committed to Taste, Goodness and Purpose

The case describes the story of Sri Lanka based Dilmah Ceylon Tea, a company founded in 1988 by  Merrill J. Fernando. The company had pioneered the concept of ‘single-origin tea’ to its latest innovative Elixir range. The premium positioned tea was ‘picked, perfected and packed’ at origin with a brand based on three pillars: taste, goodness, and purpose. Present in over 105 countries, it had become one of the most well-known Sri Lankan brands worldwide. The group invested a minimum 15% of its pre-tax profits in humanitarian and environmental initiatives through the MJF Charitable Foundation and Dilmah Conservation and Sustainability Unit (DCSU). However, the tea business was becoming increasingly competitive with the largest player, Unilever, about to sell its tea portfolio. The current CEO, Dilhan Fernando, needed to address several key questions, in this context: How could the Dilmah Ceylon Tea brand ensure the margins necessary to thrive and grow? Which customer segments and geographies should it focus on? Could it potentially leverage its investments in humanitarian and environmental initiatives to achieve better margins and

Market Disruption Strategies: The Transformation of Xiaomi

After breaking into the smartphone market in China and becoming a leading brand, Xiaomi saw its sales stagnate and then decline. The market disruption strategy that empowered Xiaomi’s rise was losing momentum. Competitors aggressively countered its every move, targeting its core consumer segment. Xiaomi urgently needed a new strategy to reignite growth and develop a sustainable competitive advantage. The case describes the changing market landscape, its product portfolio, distribution systems, partnerships, brand architecture, promotion and pricing. Xiaomi has to decide whether to remain focused on smartphones — on which its success and its reputation have been built — or transform itself into an IoT ecosystem encompassing a variety of product categories. The firm needs to thoroughly understand the pros and cons of either path, and formulate a detailed implementation plan for the chosen strategy.

An Unexpected Product Benefit Can Be a Powerful Marketing Tool

As companies test a new product, they often learn that it can deliver unexpected benefits. This very famously happened in the case of Viagra, a product originally developed to treat cardiovascular problems. During the first human trials of the compound, a study nurse reported that male subjects would frequently lie on their stomachs on the examination table, trying to hide their erections. The compound did indeed dilate blood vessels, just not where expected.

It is common for companies to discover unintended benefits to their products after launch, once customer reports start flowing in. This is particularly true in the health and beauty industry. Just read online reviews for omega-3 supplements and you will find people claiming the heart health supplement helped them with a wide range of issues, from brittle nails to weight loss. Similarly, Botox was approved for cosmetic use in 2002, but users soon started reporting that the injections improved their migraines as well. It was licensed for this type of treatment in 2010.

Research has shown that consumers value a product’s benefits more when they believe a firm was intentional about creating them. For instance, if a company launches a programme that accidentally helps the environment, it is less likely to get praise than if the programme was expressly designed for that purpose. In law, premeditated crime is punished more harshly than an involuntary act that led to the same result. Intentions matter, because they are associated with effort, and effort with value (whether positive or negative).

However, another stream of research suggests that an unexpected benefit can pique consumers’ interest and lead them to anticipate other potential benefits from the product. This has a biologic basis: Studies on mammals (from rats to humans) have shown that receiving an unexpected reward (such as a squirt of juice instead of plain water) fires up neurons in the regions of the brain associated with reward anticipation and seeking. In a way, a nice surprise is perceived as a sign of more good things to come.

Feel Busy All the Time? There’s an Upside to That

Imagine yourself at a restaurant, trying to decide between two desserts: a chocolate cake and a fruit bowl. You’ve been trying to eat healthier, but the cake just sounds so tasty… What do you do?

As it turns out, your decision is likely to be influenced by how busy you perceive yourself to be.

Busyness has previously been studied through the lens of time pressure. Researchers found that when people feel that they’re under significant time pressure, they tend to make decisions based on emotions. For instance, when consumers are placed in situations where they lack time to complete a task, they grow anxious and become more likely to give in to their impulses. They are more likely to choose the cake, so to speak.

However, that’s not the end of the story, as there’s a flip side to busyness. In recent years, being busy has become an unmistakable badge of honor in many Western societies. It’s quite common for people to humblebrag that they don’t have a minute to themselves. Feeling busy — that is, perceiving oneself to be a busy person — thus makes individuals feel that they’re prized, important members of society.

Earthspired: Building a Brand for Social Impact

Mrida (Sanskrit for soil), a recently founded social business venture, had launched the Earthspired brand a year ago to sell products made from high-value plants and herbs, which it sourced sustainably from small and marginal farmers in India, to  urban middle class consumers.  This was a key initiative for Mrida, and the founders had big ambitions. They wanted to grow the brand in India and internationally. To address this ambition, Mrida needed to address several interconnected questions: What should the consumer value proposition for Earthspired be and how should it be communicated? What was the most appropriate distribution channel – direct selling, retail, or on-line sales? What should be the business strategy to scale the Earthspired brand, given the limited resources available to a fledgling social business venture?

Johnnie Walker: Reigniting Growth

The debate of whether to be global or local has been an important strategic issue for the past several decades.  The case describes Johnnie Walker’s efforts to move from a multi-local product focused brand to a global master brand.  It makes the  point that global branding is a strategic business decision. It requires an understanding of a global customer need that the master brand can authentically speak to and position around. The brand then needs to manage the the standardization of marketing activities across markets, which requires significant internal changes in structure and process, to be successful.  The case presents consumer data confronting Johnnie Walker and asks the question: What should Johnnie Walker’s global positioning be? How should the brand be managed? What should be the key next steps to build the Johnnie Walker brand?


How Your Firm Can Reignite Sales Growth

When Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997, the company’s annual losses were in excess of US$1 billion.  Bankruptcy loomed on the short-term horizon. One of Jobs’ first moves was to hire an ad agency to help him rebuild the brand’s status. It resulted in the famous “Think Different” campaign.

At the campaign launch, Jobs told the audience that to him, marketing was about values. “It’s a very noisy world,” he said. “We have to be really clear on what we want people to know about us.” Apple wouldn’t achieve much by talking about “speeds and feeds” or “bits and mega-hertz”.

Indeed, the campaign focused on iconic personalities of the 20th century. The implication, cleverly pointed out by Jobs, was this: If these inspirational figures had been born in the computer age, each and every one of them would have been Mac users. With its universal resonance, “Think Different” ushered the long-awaited return of Apple to profitability.

A brand beset with myriad problems

During the same period, a merger saw the birth of Diageo, the world’s biggest player in the alcoholic beverage market and the seventh largest food and beverage (F&B) company. As the merger benefits were slow to materialise, management was soon under pressure to revive sales of its Scotch whisky Johnnie Walker, the crown jewel in the company’s portfolio.

Why Brand Experience Failures are Endemic.

We live in the age of brand experience. Yet, again and again I find that brands the world over fail to create a strongly differentiated and positive brand experience. Three back-to-back brand experience failures makes me write this today.


The first experience was on December 3rd morning.  We were in Bangkok, where I had been on work, and staying at the Pathumwan Princess Hotel.  My wife had visited me for a few days during my stay and she was checking out.  I went to the front desk with her explaining that she was leaving but I was staying and would check out the following day as per the original reservation. Once my wife left I went back to the room to discover that my Internet connection had been terminated and I could not log on with my name and room number as I had done the past several days.  It took several phone calls and a full half hour before my internet connectivity was restored.  An otherwise pleasant stay was blemished.


THE next day, at Suvarnabhumi Airport, I spied a Jo Malone shop. As my wife likes their perfumes and her birthday was around the corner I went there.  As is customary at Jo Malone, tester bottles for all the perfumes we re arranged in a semi-circle on a table at the front of the store along with the paper strips to test out the perfumes.  I picked out a bottle and tried to spray some on the scent strip but nothing came. Looking at the bottle I realized it was empty.  Never mind, I tried a second perfume, same story.  When I looked at the display more carefully, the majority of the bottles were empty! I asked the store clerk what was going on and she said they had no stock! I was not only disappointed but annoyed.  Why oh why would Jo Malone spend money on a store at the Bangkok airport only to annoy customers with a wide ranging stock out?  Wouldn’t it be better to just shut the store when there was no stock rather than annoy customers? Or, if stocking was challenging, perhaps shut down the store permanently, rather than annoy potential customers who may have shopped for it elsewhere and now may not buy Jo Malone again.

Most recently, yesterday, December 5th, I tried to set up a data connection with Bharti Airtel.  I bought the device and the SIM card along with 1GB of data at the Airtel store at Gariahat in Kolkata. First, it took forever, including the  sales clerk 1) repeatedly trying to upsell me from a prepaid to a postpaid connection and then making a mistake in his instructions on how to sign on the application form, leading to it having to be filled out a second time.

Once that was over, he informed me that in about an hour I would receive an sms message and I would have to go through a set of steps to activate my account.  The sms did come and I went through the steps required to activate the account.  I received an sms message indicating I had been successful and that my account had been activated.  Pleased, I went off to sleep as I had an early morning Skype call.



In the morning, I connected to the Airtel WiFi and my computer showed that I had “internet access”.  However, tries as I might, restarting the Airtel WiFi modem, restarting my computer, reconnecting to the modem,… I couldn’t get online on Skype or using my browser.  All the time the internet connection showed that I had “internet access”.  When I went to the Airtel store again this morning after they opened at 11 am, I was told that they had to activate the connection from the store and that was done only when they reopened at 11 in the morning.  Thus, in fact, at 7 in the morning I did not have connectivity even though it showed I did and I had been informed by an sms generated by Airtel the night before that I had connectivity.  Again, a feeling of deep frustration and lack of trust or loyalty towards Airtel.


So what’s in common for all these failures?  It seems that organizations don’t understand that brand experience is not about what the marketing people do, but about what the organization behind the brand does as a whole to deliver on the promise made to the customer. For Pathumwan Princess the nice physical facilities, great location, nice restaurants, fantastic gym and pool were undone by either incompetence on the part of the front desk staff or the IT system which logged both guests out when one checked out but the other remained.  At Jo Malone, their interesting and distinctive fragrance product line was undone by a wide spread stock out.  In the case of Airtel, it was a failure of the automated customer response system that generated messages that set false expectations. In each instance the failure was on some part of the organization other than marketing.

Why does this occur?  The problem is that in most organizations, brands are managed by the marketing department and the marketing department does not have control over the various other organizational functions that are crucial in delivering brand experience.  It is time that organizations understood that managing a brand is an integrated organization wide activity and, thus, each brand needs to be managed as a business, cutting across functional silos, so that the brand head can orchestrate a complete brand experience. This requires moving responsibility for the brand from within marketing to the level of the business head.  Some organizations already do this.  Thus, for example, at Diageo, brands like Johnnie Walker are businesses unto themselves with all the business functions reporting in to the global brand director, who in turn reports to the Diageo CEO. More companies need to take this to heart and manage their brands from the C-suite.

When Advertising is Just a Waste of Money

Watching the recent cricket test match between India and England on TV in India, I was staggered at the level of advertising repetition I experienced. During one hour, I decided to keep track of the commercials aired. The brands and the number of times they advertised during the hour period are below.

As one can see, 17 different brands advertised during the hour. These brands covered a broad range of categories across products (e.g., Blenders Pride, CEAT and Panasonic) and services (e.g., Amazon and McDonald’s), as well as domestic (e.g., Idea, Fogg and Kent) and global (Axe, Google and Suzuki) brands. Of the 17 brands that advertised, 11, or a whopping 65 percent, aired their ads three times or more, with Gionee, the Chinese mobile phone maker showing the exact same “creative” a mind-numbing seven times during the hour!

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