Brand building | The Smiling Curve and Hemant Jalan of Indigo Paints: By Kiran Khalap


Brand-building thought-leader Kiran Khalap, Co-founder and MD, chlorophyll, walks us along the Smiling Curve and shares the  story of remarkable brand-building by innovative maverick Hemant Jalan of Indigo Paints.

As a brand thinker, if you get curious about which countries the Top 100 Most Valuable Brands in the world come from, you will discover an interesting fact: they come from just 10 of the 195 countries registered under the UN.

Then if you dig deeper, you will discover another interesting fact: the Smiling Curve.


First proposed by Stan Shih, the founder of ACER, it focusses on how value is added during the different stages of bringing a product to market: from innovation funnel to actual marketing, with supply chain and logistics somewhere in between.

Though first applied to the IT-related manufacturing industry, it appears that we can safely presume it is the secret sauce of those 10 nations creating the 100 brands. 

Fundamentally, when top management focusses on Innovation and Marketing as the two ends of the process, and delegates the steps in the middle, you have a valuable brand on hand.

Which brings me to the maverick Hemant Jalan, founder and Managing Director of Indigo Paints.

Indigo Paints just rewrote history on the Bombay Stock Exchange: its IPO got oversubscribed 117 times and the share price doubled on listing.

Thankfully, I have had a privileged ringside seat of the company’s meteoric rise: chlorophyll has been Indigo’s marketing and branding partner since 2011.

If I have to isolate one key factor for success it is this: Hemant’s refusal to follow the decision-making paradigm of manufacturing companies. The paradigm that says you first present ideas to the lowest level (brand manager), then marketing manager and then the highest level, the CEO. 

This decision-making paradigm destroys perspectives that build brands.

It works for ordering steel sheets or nuts and bolts with known specifications and price ranges, not for ideas.

Shocking but true: creative judgment is a rarity, creative ideation is a commodity. 

That’s what made Indigo what it is: Hemant’s insistence on spending his time on innovation and brand marketing rather than counting the pennies on manufacturing. He has followed the Smiling Curve intuitively, probably a combination of Marwadi Magic and Stanford Smarts:-)

Here’s how his innovative mind works:

Which state spends the highest per capita on paints? Kerala. What is the one thing unique about painting in Kerala? They paint the roof tiles. So okay, let Indigo make the best roof tile paint and became a market leader.

What else do Indians paint? Floors. Especially in the North East. So Indigo made industrial-strength floor paint and became a market leader.

What drives salesforce performance? Being part of the company success. Okay, so let’s give them ESOPs.

What drives dealer performance? Being part of the company’s success. Okay, so let’s give them ESOPs too! Obviously, in a legally tenable form.

How do you prevent your brand from getting overwhelmed by the iconic Dhoni as brand ambassador? You bring alive your brand in Zebro, the colourful zebra on the paint can.

What does a tropical country need? A paint that can kill mosquitoes. Okay, so let’s do R&D in paints that can kill mosquitoes.

But as the Hindi phrase goes, “Picture abhi baaki hain!”

The best is yet to come. And I have every intention of being around to watch Indigo become the most valued brand in the paint industry!

Your thoughts, please