Traditionally a brand custodian can be described as someone, who is the architect of a brand, fine-tuning different areas like – how the brand appears, what are the attributes it should have, and also how the brand talks and connects with various stakeholders in different media. This was the focus of what Harish Bhat, Brand Custodian, Tata Sons talked about.
In conversation with Bhavana Singh, Bombay Shirt Company he first got into spelling out what a ‘brand custodian’ actually means. A brand custodian nurtures the brand for the future and also protects the heritage of a brand. The Tata brand is 153 years old this year and tracing back to the origins, it was founded in 1868 by Jamshedji Tata. Since then, the brand has had strong pillars embedded and has been involved not only in keeping the community centre stage and also giving back to society. Jamsedji Tata was more than just the entrepreneur who helped India take her place in the league of industrialised nations.
Tata’s is a pioneering organization which develops products and services to relevant customers of every age, not shifting at all as far as excellence of quality is concerned.
Brand custodian’s main role
How does one ensure that the brand idea remains intact for the future? As far as a brand custodian is concerned, this is the main role. “It’s my job to ensure that the brand emerges to the next generation, stronger and more vibrant,” he shared. If you look at it, ‘custodian’ means ‘responsibility for taking care of or protecting something’. There is a legacy of the Tata brand, that he has been devoted, as he richly pointed out in his book – TATA Stories.
What inspired him to write the book? There’s a story behind it, he admitted for the book was written in the first ten months of the pandemic, while he was sheltered within the walls of his home. People were on WFH mode, at home and the lockdown led to a feeling of despondency in a lot of people, who were facing uncertainity. This set him thinking – why not write about the simple, powerful stories of the Tata Group, which can actually elevate people? Maybe it can provoke you to do something with your life, regardless of the ambiguities and challenges you are facing? Of course, I am inspired by the Tata Group and I am totally passionate about the stories, he disclosed and added that he was focusing on young people, who need to know about how Tata was different, as it is about the human spirit, successes, failures and there are wonderful lessons too.
The DNA of Tata Group – rooted in CSR
Rooted in corporate social responsibility – it was the DNA of how Tata launched different businesses and shades of this runs through most of the stories. Take the case of Tata Steel that was launched so that India need not depend on other countries for steel. Or the case of the Taj Hotel, which is India’s most resplendent icon today; it was launched by Jamshedji to revitalize the city of Mumbai after the bubonic plague had brought the city to a standstill in the 1890s. The nation-building angle comes through in most of the stories.
The life-like stories actually brings the personality of Jamshedji alive, and readers can feel strong emotion too, as in the incident when he met Swami Vivekananda on a ship. The book mulls over the main protagonist, whether it is was Lady Meherbai Tata or Russi Modi, RatanTata or JRD Tata – the stories are told as they were. And, what’s a good story without emotion?
What should be that one story that a brand communicator should definitely read? Bhat felt it should be the story of how JRD was born and grew up and how he started Empress Mills, which in those days looked at worker welfare and even had a creche! As corporate communicators, we should know the origins of our brand, he pointed out. So, the book has created many visual references that are conjured when the Tata name pops up – like Tata namak, the Air India mascot, Tata steel or Tata Tea’s “Jaago re” or the campaigns of Tanishq. And the reason? Because of Tata’s deep connect with India and there is sheer pride in the country – a “combo that led to leaps of imagination”.
Finally, what is that one takeaway for the new generation of younger communicators? It’s to ensure that before you tell your story, you should clearly understand what the brand stands for.
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