Fitch has 12 studios across the world. Tell us about the growth of the Mumbai studio – since its launch five years ago. How much of the business is for global clients (coming into India)?
India is of paramount importance as a market for Fitch. The growth here has come from global clients, and also from home-grown businesses. In fact, when we came here, we did not come in on the back of global alignments; we started work with large Indian groups such as the Tatas (Westside) and Reliance. We also work with global clients such as Nokia and Dell. As of today, 65 per cent of the business for Fitch India is from Indian companies.
Home-grown companies are increasingly recognising that it is important to be continuously relevant to consumers. It is interesting to witness how home-grown companies are seeking to change dynamically. The portfolio is expanding across multiple industries and services. We’ve done work recently with L&T (naming, branding and designing their new mall), Pepsi (T3 airport terminal in Delhi), Hindware (re-branding, positioning, retail design) and Park Avenue (new store design). Some of the new clients we are working with are D’Decor, Shoppers Stop and Gitanjali (jewellery).
There are several specialist design offerings from ad agencies. There are also a number of independent design shops. What do you say is Fitch’s differentiation?
Fitch’s core differentiation lies in the philosophy of translating a brand into a consumer experience. It’s not just about pretty pictures; it’s about a strategic design direction. We have 40 years of experience in retail that we bring to the table; that is unmatched. We have a team of over 400 globally and over 60 in India. In India, we have a wonderful mix of international and Indian designers working in the 3D and 2D creative teams, resulting in world-class brand thinking and retail design that is both visually striking and market relevant. There’s a young crop of talent working here. And we also have some creative directors with over 20 years of global experience who are now based in India. The cutting edge differentiation that they bring in is real world class 3D design experience. A lot of clients relate to that.
Which are the segments buying into your services, and driving growth?
The growth is primarily from the retail space. Initially, it was more from the super markets and hyper markets. What we’re seeing now is that, increasingly, brands in the fashion space are seeking out specialist retail design services. We’ve worked with clients like Park Avenue on their stores and also with clients like Nestle on packaging. Another new area for growth has been FMCG.
In the last three years, I have seen the client list swell amazingly. Clients are understanding that the ultimate moment of truth along the consumer journey is at the point of retail. They are beginning to see the customer journey as a vital part of the brand experience.
In terms of practice areas, how much do 3D, 2D and areas like digital contribute?
The thrust has primarily been on retail, that is in the space of 3D design. But we focus on brands a great deal now, which encompasses things like 2D graphic design and packaging. We’ve done brand communication for Pepsi at the T3 airport terminal in Delhi, and now we will be taking that into shopping malls across the country for the brand.
We have a very strong digital practice in London. In India, we have very recently forayed into digital. But it’s a growing part of the business, especially for clients in the lifestyle space.
How has the understanding of RoI from design investment changed, among Indian clients? Does the element of the intangible lead to debate?
There is a debate on RoI. That’s a debate in advertising as well. Especially in a business where we design stores and retail formats, there will be questions on how the design impacts sales.
Having said that, we have been growing at double digits over the last three years. To be fair, while conversations on RoI are always on, none of our clients have come to me and asked me to equate their spend with a 30 per cent sales increase (or so on). But they do know that the retail design will be an influence on the brand; and influence on sales. We’ll know that only when we go out into the market, but we do try and track it for our own understanding.
There are cases where we have demonstrated how we have been able to increase sales through changes in the environment. For example, with Asian Paints, we created brand experience centres. It was about informing, educating consumers on what colours could do for them. It’s a wonderful example of a brave client who recognised that the brand needed to be relevant to the new age customers - and it has paid off.
Colors, the experience centre, does not sell paint. But it is surrounded by shops that do. Sales increased by around 35 per cent in adjacent stores after the experience centre was launched. We’ve launched 25 to 30 centres and there will be a few more. The whole idea was that the brand’s retail identity need not be paint and that it could be colour.
Let me add here that we are in the midst of a survey to understand ‘The New Customer Journey’.
This has been initiated out of our London studio, with the view to understanding the ‘seamless retail experience’.
Since sales are not the direct and immediate influencer, what do you think are factors leading to investments in retail design?
A lot of clients have understood that retail design is a very, very special part of marketing and brand building. Clients do see the merit in a scientific approach to this by specialists. There is an understanding today among more clients than before that the retail environment can increase the brand’s longevity.
Competition is usually a clear catalyst in getting retail identity changed. We see cases of local brands deciding to go in for a makeover of retail identity when the best global players in the category come in.
Another big driver of change is change in consumer behaviour and preferences. Consumers are also getting used to best in class retail experiences across the world and the aspirations are at an all time high.
Moin Mir (MM): There's not much joy in the retail enviornment where paint is sold. We decided that the retail identity need not be paint, but could be colour.
MM: This would be an example of Fitch's understanding of environments getting it business. Pepsi was the only cola brand to be sold in the T3 airport terminal in Delhi. We bought in our understanding of the airport enviroment, and of the 'transumer's' mindset. We had to speak in a tone of voice that was relevant in that environment. It was also a challenge in terms of playing in a limited area with limited options - we had to create a mood that spoke the Pepsi language with the available media such as vending machines. Now there are plans to take it across all the cool stuff at T3; several innovative options are being considered. We're also looking at taking the retail concept to shopping environments.
MM: Take the case of Hindware, a very large player in its category. We did the brand identity for them and have gone on to create the retail identity. The idea was to make it a more confident brand; in the face of international competition in the form of the Kohlers of the world. The brand's strength was its believabilty - we couldn't turn that upside down. So we went out and created a brand identity that was more cofident yet was believable as Hindware.
MM: We are creating the name, brand and retail design for L&T's first mall in Chandigarh. L&T is seen as an engineering company. This was their first foray into retail. We had to come up with the positioning for the mall. We found the origins of its identity in the 'beautifully smart' city of Chandigarh, its home.
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