Power of mother brands

It’s an everyday occurrence for salesmen all over India to reassure indecisive customers mentioning reliability of the Product because it is from Tatas or Dabur company. In a majority of cases, these lines do the trick and the deal is struck. Such is the power of mother brands – or master brands – like Tata, Dabur, Hero Honda, Maruti, Bajaj and Godrej.

The names invariably serve as a hallmark of quality, reliability and leadership to consumers, and the transfer of trust onto products that bear one or the other of these names is relatively easy. A mother brand name clearly imparts confidence to consumers and creates comfort in buying a product. It creates instant recognition for the sub-brands.

It’s not surprising that sub-brands that consumers strongly associate with the mother brand have done well in the survey. Take, for instance, Dabur. Three of its brands – Dabur Amla, Vatika and Hajmola – were introduced in the survey for the first time. All three have traditionally been sold as ‘Dabur products’, and all three have debuted in the Top 100. The Dabur logo evokes trust in the consumer’s mind and urges her to try the products coming from the Dabur stable. However, the company’s juice brand, Real, has consciously been built as a standalone, de-linked from the mother brand: Real hasn’t even managed breaking into the Top 200 list, despite being in the survey for three years.

Now take the Tata brand name. Six Tata brands figure in this year’s Top 100 list, with Tata Salt at No 3 and Tata Tea at No 15. Most significantly, though, Tata’s mass market watch brand Sonata was introduced in the survey for the first time and the brand debuts at No 96. The brand is sold as a ‘Tata utpaadan’, by the way. The mother brand draws an analogy to the hand that guides the knife. Notwithstanding the support of the mother brand, the sub-brand has to create a certain amount of equity of its own.

Eventually, it’s the knife that has to cut through the competition. That said, the mother brand’s equity is hugely desirable – even if it means paying for it. For instance, Tata Group companies have to pay brand royalty to Tata Sons for using the Tata name. Those that use the name directly pay 0.25% of the turnover or 5% of profit before tax, whichever is lower; those that use the Tata brand name indirectly (like The Indian Hotels, for example) pay 0.15% of the turnover.

Recently, a similar agreement was struck between Godrej Properties and parent company Godrej Industries, whereby the former was granted the non-exclusive rights to use the ‘Godrej’ trademark and logo at a royalty of 0.5% of Godrej Properties’ gross annual turnover.

While usually, sub-brands in the portfolio inherit the values of the mother brand, the opposite also holds true. Sometimes, it’s a flagship brand that imbues values to the mother brand, which then gets passed on to other sub-brands.

Splendor from Hero Honda is a case in point. Both brands complement each other. They synonymously stand for higher fuel efficiency, dependable quality, great value-for-money and good resale value. But it’s the original fuel-sipper, Hero Honda CD 100 (remember ‘Fill it, shut it, forget it’?) that first gave the mother brand the core value of ‘fuel efficiency’. Similarly, it was the Maruti 800 that lent brand Maruti its values of ‘value-for-money’ and ‘reliable family car’.

In fact, in the case of Bajaj Auto, its sub-brands have played a huge role in changing the image of the mother brand. Once associated positively with reliable, value-for-money scooters, the mother brand’s image took a downturn when its clunky scooters began losing the race to the consumer’s new fancy – motorcycles. And even though Bajaj Auto had a portfolio of motorcycles, the abiding ‘Bajaj image’ was that of the fuddy-duddy scooters. At the turn of the millennium, the company launched its performance bike, Pulsar, which was well received.

Then came motorcycle brands like Bajaj Platina and Bajaj Discover, which not only worked in the market, but also re-emphasized Bajaj Auto’s connection with bikes. Bajaj admits that as the company shifted focus from scooters to bikes, it used the subbrands to change the positioning of the mother brand from ‘value-for-money’ to ‘aspirational’ to ‘distinctly ahead’.

Companies like Godrej are developing a symbiotic system of equity transfer between the master brand and its portfolio of brands. Godrej Industries – while some categories such as appliances and hair colors draw on the power of the master brand, others such as Cinthol and Good-Knight, which are strong brands in themselves, lend their equity to the master brand through association and endorsement.

The mother brand is essentially an aura that is difficult to cobble together, and something that brands harvest for themselves after long years of investment into brand reliability. Only brands that deliver value and reliability to customers over a consistent period of time achieve this status.