Branding is no longer a boring monologue, in fact, it’s a free-flowing dialogue between brand and consumer and Siddharth (Sid) Shah believes that India is yet to fall in line with this powerful paradigm shift. “Indian brands invest a lot in ATL (above-the-line) and BTL (below-the-line) communication and that’s about it. Just turn on your TV at any given point and you see five celebrities endorsing five different brands, it’s mind-numbing,” declares Shah, president and CEO, The Wild East Group, a brand and business development agency. It’s got to be a top-down approach to branding across all consumer touchpoints, he stresses, while adding that Indian companies need to be proactive on digital and social media instead of being reactive to a customer experience that has already taken place.
Now, Shah, is a man who firmly believes that a brand can effectively widen its reach by making logical, organic extensions. He also knows that at the end of the day, a brand’s truest measure is the impact it has on the company’s balance sheet. “Our business is very focused on extending a brand, or monetising intellectual property in new, non-core categories which add fresh revenue streams to the bottom line without any investment from the brand. This typically only works for the number one or number two players in a particular category, because the brand equity is so strong that an extension is welcomed by the consumer,” elaborates Shah. And, quite naturally, his company works with some of India’s biggest names spanning across industries; HRX by Hrithik Roshan, Yash Raj Films, Playboy, Miss India pageant, Kolkata Knight Riders and HP are some of the names on board.
Where wild is wise
The Wild East Group began its ride on the back of one of India’s most bankable celebrities, Hrithik Roshan. “In 2010, we analysed the market to see which celebrities have a pure brand and we realised that Hrithik Roshan is the one celebrity whose brand is absolutely clear in terms of attributes, which we verified by IMRB who did panel research for us around the country on him,” says Shah. This led to a partnership between Exceed Entertainment (Roshan’s management company) and The Wild East Group and HRX came into being with a robust 10-year brand extension plan, based on the actor’s brand attributes and categories that had a clear growth and market opportunity, the first being sports inspired lifestyle. “To Hrithik’s credit, he was forward thinking enough to realise that if he invested his time today, tomorrow’s returns would be 10x that of an endorsement deal and that he would own an evergreen property,” shares Shah.
Shah admits that he knew the first two years wouldn’t be easy and people wouldn’t be willing to partner up with the company which, at that point, lacked proof of concept. “We were effectively developing the blue print for brand extensions in the country and most potential partners were extremely risk averse to this new proposition,” he notes. Today, the company which started out as a team of two has grown to a team of 10 with an office in Mumbai and another in New Delhi and multiple partners including American advertising agency, Omnicom. At this point, Shah believes the company doesn’t require external funding. “We did raise some funding in 2011 from the Mumbai Angels, India Internet Group and other foreign investors. These funds were primarily used to scale headcount, cover monthly burn and invest into some of our client brands. Until then, I was bootstrapping,” he says.
When it comes to the people he wants to work with Shah states that there’s no defined hiring policy. “Our people should be able to create clarity from ambiguity, be able to tell a story (with or without slides), have an intelligent conversation with a corporate executive, or a Bollywood filmstar and be able to dive deep into an excel spreadsheet. Most importantly, they have to be able to have fun and not take themselves too seriously.” Shah loves those who want to come in and challenge the status quo but he does put out a mandate for his team to respect the method in doing so.
Working that extension
The Wild East Group currently works with some of the youngest, most vibrant brands in the country and is in the process of creating some exciting brand extensions. “A brand like Playboy which oozes lifestyle, sex, good times and sophistication is in the process of being extended into a suite of male enhancement pills, lingerie and alcohol,” shares Shah. He also reveals that the Miss India pageant, one of India’s iconic beauty brands, is being extended into a fashion brand for young women.
Prod a little further and Shah goes back to HRX. And as he proudly states, it is the company’s most prized possession. “We used a logical deduction to take HRX into sports inspired lifestyle and have launched active wear, casual wear, active shoes and casual shoes so far. Soon, we will be launching a women’s line soon as well. We soft-launched last year with about 100 different SKU’s (stock keeping unit) and will have close to 500 by Diwali 2014,” says Shah. Further analysis has indicated that this is a category that is growing close to 30 percent, year-on-year and that’s good news for The Wild East Group. The entity has also chosen the most festive time of the year to create a connect with its audience. “HRX is now one of the top online brands and you will see an advertising campaign during Diwali which will span TV, digital, social, community and consumer products,” says Shah. Interestingly, the company is looking to forge partnerships with colleges and sports authorities in the government to imbibe the HRX philosophy of fitness, diet and achievement into our education systems. “We are also building a franchise model which will be ready by 2015,” adds Shah.
The Wild East Group has held the first mover advantage in this space for the last three years and Shah is well aware of the need to build scale and build it fast. And we are told the company is on the brink of being acquired by a larger private entertainment firm. “We realise that there are companies who need our unique skill set and lens on the market, so we are in the process of being merged with a private entertainment firm and you’re likely to see a version 2.0 of The Wild East Group by September 2014,” he shares. What that does for the company remains to be seen but Shah is clear that the vision will stay uncompromised. The company will always look to work with forward thinking brands that want to step on the pedal, onto a new route. And as Shah quips, “We’ve not even begun.”
Concept in Brief
To say that Sid Shah is a party animal is putting it mildly. One look at the picture that runs with this story is proof enough that he likes being noticed. His baby, The Wild East Group, is in the business of helping famous brands grab more of the limelight through intelligent brand extensions. Shah works with an exciting line-up including HRX (Hrithik Roshan), Playboy, Miss India and more. In a short span of two years, the company has set up two offices and has a team of 10, bustling with the next big idea for any brand that’s willing to invest in novel ways to grow. As for Shah’s personal dream list, he’d love to work with some of India’s most iconic lifestyle brands like Kingfisher or Royal Enfield. “Wouldn’t it be great if Kingfisher came out with barbeque grills or resort wear,” he ponders, leaving me with a glimpse of his mind that’s constantly exploring the depths of a brand’s might.
The Wild East Group
Founder: Sid Shah
City: Mumbai, New Delhi
Industry: Brand development
USP: Creating new intellectual properties for brands through brand extentions