Friday, December 23, 2011

BPL's second innings

The erstwhile leader in colour television is looking to diversify in a host of areas to stay afloat.

Recently, when it was reported that BPL had failed to salvage part of its 350-acre land bank pledged with Deutsche Bank, it was a setback for a company that used to be among the leaders in many consumer durable segments in the late nineties.

Sample this: In its heyday, the brand value of BPL was valued at Rs 1,400 crore – a trend-setting parameter which many Indian companies followed later. But within the next decade, they have almost lost it all.

The reasons are numerous. The company bleed heavily due to backward integration and diversification. Then, the Koreans and Japanese consumer electronic majors entered the Indian space. The brand, now, is trying to be visible by giving rights of the BPL brand to a relatively new company, Reach Distributors, started by an ex-employee.

“Leasing out the brand may be a short-term way of milking the remaining equity in the brand. In the past, BPL has been a big brand with consumer acceptance, franchise and has enjoyed a fair bit of consumer loyalty. It still does enjoy credibility and affection. What was once a consumer durable brand became a telecom brand, as well. This gave the brand a wider band-width of appreciation,” feels Harish Bijoor, brand consultant.

But the question is whether offering rights of the brand could have been avoided because it is a sacred thing for a company and founding family? Brand analysts feel that BPL does not have much choice. Its businesses, though, growing but have a small presence in the healthcare equipment market and energy efficient lighting products.

Ramanujam Sridhar, CEO, Brand-Comm, an integrated brand strategies company said that it was an interesting strategy to offer rights to another company as there are still more than 1.5 million households who use some BPL products. “If the new company brings in good quality products at an affordable price point in smaller towns, it may just work. The aspect of spreading awareness is not required as BPL has a good recall,” added Sridhar. He should know. Sridhar has been associated with BPL brand right from 1983 onwards, handling the advertising account of BPL with various agencies.

Brand analysts are of the view that there are several companies like BPL which have failed to take the consumer’s demand into account, leading to a dent in both market share and image over the years.

“I think the greatest problem that successful companies face is ‘living in denial’. ‘It can't happen to us’ is something most leaders of successful companies believe in. As a result, they are the last ones to recognise the problem, and often it can be too late,” noted Sridhar.

BPL, originally known as British Physical Laboratories, started out with medical equipment and later tied up with Sanyo for its electronics products. The flagship product was the colour television which took off with the Asian Games in Delhi, followed by the Olympics in 1984.

The company benefited from investing in technology and brand. “It outspent the competition, came out with superior products, built an extensive dealer network and became the leading brand of colour television in the country,” Sridhar recalled.

So what went wrong? Experts feel that its biggest fallacy lay in not recognising the possible threat from the Korean brands Samsung and LG. As Sridhar put it, BPL believed that Japanese were the only threat, leading to a sense of complacency that hurt it quite bad.

Meanwhile, the company is quietly putting in place a strategy. Ajit Nambiar, son of the patriarch founder T P G Nambiar, and the chairman and managing director of BPL said, “We believe the predominantly young customers of tomorrow would impatiently demand products that not only meet their rising aspirations but bring a real change in their lives. Looking at the future, as a company and brand, BPL will strive to make a difference in its customer’s lives, be it with affordable yet reliable LED lighting system for homes at the bottom of the pyramid or medical equipment for the growing need for primary healthcare, or even with lifestyle products.”

Consequently, the company has refashioned their brand promise to - Happier Living Everyday. It is a promise that the company plans to keep with its technology, products, service and the commitment of its well-knit team. “We want BPL to be a brand associated with the happiness of our people. We want our brand to grow by making people happier. We value trust and will continue to build this through our products and services,” Nambiar said.

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