We have heard stories of how seeing the plight of a middle class Indian family struggling with children on a two wheeler moved Mr Ratan Tata to build a four wheeler that would be affordable and safe for every two wheeler owner.

The story goes that the price would be around rupees one lakh , that is what we heard . That was cheaper than buying an auto rickshaw and closer to a two wheeler which is what was proposed to be replaced.

This had never been attempted before in the world it was Mr Tatas pet dream project. And the world waited . Would this be possible. And yes the Nano was launched with great PR buzz.

Looking back we all know what happened , the project bombed .

Just a few days back I saw a well maintained Tata Nano in the parking lot , it looked cute. It reminded me of the Beetle. But that is where the comparison ends.

Beetle became an iconic brand while Tata Nano flopped and finally the production was stopped.

What are the lessons to be learnt for business ? Here is my take.

1. No one wants to own ‘Cheap’ : That perhaps the biggest mistake , positioning Nano as a cheap car. No family wanted to be seen to own a cheap car . Though finally when the car hit the roads it was nowhere near the rupees one lakh mark or close to a two wheeler price.

2. Customers don’t buy features and benefits of products and services they buy a Story of themselves : The products we buy are reflection of our stories, they are extension of our identity and beliefs. When you buy a Tesla you buy story of yourself that you believe in , Tesla is an extension of that story. When you tilt towards a political belief it is the story you already hold , a smart politician only tapped into your story.

3. Every Story needs a Villain : No villain no story . Who was the villain for Nano ? A two wheeler could not be a credible villain . It was far expensive than the two wheeler . And that was a different audience that need the two wheeler. And car owners did not see Nano as extension of their story , it was just a cheap car.

Every good politician knows this and that is why they tell you the Story of your villain. They vs us is a classic story strategy that works without fail . They do not create the story you already own that story , they only repeated your story.

Have you thought who is the villain in your Brand story ?

4. If you don’t deliver the Brand promise any amount of PR will not help you : Finally when the Nano car hit the road it did not deliver to the promise of low cost and the quality definitely had a lot to be desired. There were many issues on the performance.

So it failed on both the Brand Story and the Brand promise test a recipe for disaster . In the digital world this gets worse the stories good and bad travel fast and far and they stay forever.

Could the story of Nano have been different ? When I saw the cute looking Nano in the parking lot , I could feel it was an opportunity missed.

Instead of a ‘cheap’ car tag could it have been positioned as a car that made a statement of style ? It definitely has the cheek of looking and being different . It did stand out from the crowd of cars that I saw.

The brand did try damage control later but it was too late by then and perception had been formed , also all the quality baggage had damaged its reputation.

No amount of PR can help a bad product. Though later those issues were taken care of it was too late . Besides it’s boast of being the cheapest car was lost to Maruti 800 which had a far better performance.

In fact there is a lesson to be learnt from Maruti 800 , it was my second car after Fiat , it was a fine first car for the middle class Indians . It did not compromise on quality and delivered on performance and price and mileage which was important for cost conscious India.

Many middle class Indians would have owned the Maruti 800 , it fulfilled the pride of owning a car for the middle class Indians it and was far superior in technology to the existing options in India at that time and it was cost efficient… not Cheap.

If you remember the Ads they were around the middle class family and pride of owning a car.

A Brand Story takes you from here to there and leaves you in a happy place. Nano was a missed story opportunity the story did not take you anywhere. Cheap is a place no one wants to go and very few want to own that story for themselves .

Tata Motors sure has learnt it’s lessons and today gives a tough fight to global brands , it has taken time for it to drop the cheap tag.

What are the lessons from the Nano for your business ?

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