Caution: Diversion ahead

The rules of marketing are changing with the aggressive entry of televangelist-turned-brand promoters and discreet digital campaigners competing with traditional marketers.

The Indian market today is a curious intersection of marketing and branding trends that pit the traditional approaches with the digital, and a new wave of televangelists-turned-tycoons who are changing the rules of the game.

The aggressive entry of brands such as Baba Ramdev’s Patanjali Ayurved – which has forayed into sectors such as food and fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) while inspiring other god men to follow suit – by presenting multiple products in multiple markets is in sharp contrast to others that roll out, experiment and advertise one step at a time.

The question is which approach is most viable: should one carpet-bomb the market with products at one go or measure and go slow?

Sudip Ghose, vice-president, marketing, VIP Industries, believes both approaches have their pros and cons. Citing an example of handbags, which is covered by its women’s fashion accessories brand Caprese, Ghose says: “If we plan to launch a category that is not around handbags, we need time to first establish the brand and then get into it. One has to establish the brand in a category and gain the consumer’s trust. But if I am launching handbags, I can always launch leather or canvas bags simultaneously, because consumers see the brand through the category.” In other words, consumer trust precedes the launch of multiple products.

In a country like India, he feels, if the distribution is right one can keep launching products and growing. “But after a point you need to consolidate and establish the equity of the brand before launching different categories. There are certain categories associated with brands, and we need to stay in and around those categories.”

P Rajan Mathews, vice-president, marketing and sales, Desai Brothers Ltd, owner of Mother’s Recipe, says: “There are those which become too brand-focused. For example, Rasna created a new category talking about soft drinks and got consumed by it. It failed to extend the product or the brand image to other categories. Similarly, Frooti, too, is a product-focused brand and has failed to scale up its image beyond a point.”

For brands to succeed, he recommends focusing on a product’s benefits rather than only its image. “We are offering a number of pickle variants across states, to complement a nationwide roll-out. Similarly, we are offering a wide array of products in ready-to-eat form. For us, the challenge is how to make our brand truly national.”

Mayank Shah, marketing head of Parle Products, reckons that for most FMCG players the rules of marketing have remained the same. “You always have to launch a product, build and then expand. Typically, at one point of time you get into one category of products.” In Patanjali Ayurved’s case, too, he argues, “they launched one product only, and that was Baba Ramdev”. He explains: “When Patanjali is launching multiple products today, what it is selling is a promise or a concept – good living, closer to nature, less artificial, Ayurvedic – that has been thoroughly sold for many years. Once people bought the concept, the company is now piggybacking on it.”

Anil Nair, chief executive and managing partner, L&K Saatchi & Saatchi, says, “What Patanjali is doing is branded house strategy, where everything comes under a market master brand (Patanjali). When you look at something like Dabur, they are multiple brands. Each brand stands for something and has core values.”

With years of television master-brand building behind Patanjali Ayurved, now it comes down to operations and product placement, feels Nair. “Patanjali has equity which is beyond the product, whereas with a Dabur or Colgate the equity is with the product. It is a wonderful position to be in, because if one or two products fail, you can try something new.”

N Chandramouli, chief executive of Trust Research Advisory, terms the marketing style of the yoga televangelist “radically new”, calling him an oxymoronic “mass-scale direct marketer” who has converted a one-to-one approach to one-to million. Evangelists have the prior advantage of mass following, but cases of them turning into FMCG or brand sellers are new. And with products from “cow feed right down to toothpaste”, once the results of advertising and reach coincide, Chandramouli is certain about predictions of ten-fold growth of Patanjali coming true.

Tailing Baba Ramdev are other spiritual gurus including Sri Sri Ravi Shankar of Art of Living and chief of Dera Sacha Sauda Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh. For instance, Sri Sri Ayurveda has on offer products in categories such as food and nutrition, health and personal care.

The counter strategy for other brands, he adds, might be to compete by riding on celebrity endorsers who have an appeal to match that of the evangelist. However, the latter saves money by being the ambassador and promoter at the same time. Chandramouli also points out that in urban India with its saturation of products, it is a zero sum game, whereas a brand like Patanjali could put other FMCG players under enormous pressure by taking the battle into untapped rural areas.

The surge of social media, too, has dictated innovative approaches in marketing. Smartphone maker OnePlus is a case in point. Karan Sarin, the company’s head of marketing in India, says its focus on marketing is around three areas – digital, community and experiential. “Before we even started selling and building the product, the first thing the founders did was to start a forum for smartphone and Android enthusiasts. The agenda was to get feedback from the community, understand what the consumers want. Digital marketing for us is not about broadcasting our message, it’s about engagement.”

OnePlus has created a community-driven, self-sustaining model, to build brand awareness and affinity, with focus on online and offline engagement and campaigns like partnering cab aggregator Ola for consumers to get an experience and even delivery of smartphones on order.

Despite the changing ways of doing business, one cannot ignore the importance of creating a strong history and mass connect. Apurva Chamaria, vice-president and head, corporate marketing, HCL Technologies, looks back at Tata as an example with over 200 companies and an equal number of brands, each commanding unparalleled trust, under it and a century-old legacy built on trust and consistency.

“On the other hand, there are brands like Paperboat which has managed to make an impact in the last two to three years. It started by narrating relatable, likeable and believable day-to-day stories. The design of the product appears to have been done by a two-year-old rather than an accomplished designer. Similarly, Facebook is a 10-year-old strong brand,” says Chamarai also the author of You Are The Key.

He says what sets strong brands apart is brand image and brand experience. “Brand image is created through a lot of marketing and advertising. Brand experience is offered through the use of a product or service. The best brands are created when they are fabulous on both parameters.”

Chamaria also identifies a shift in focus while building brands – from putting in place a detailed investment and media plan high on TV, print and radio to one where growth is all about creating a brand much faster without spending too much money.

He also recommends products and services to add layers to be successful. “ITC is into services, but it launched the Kitchens of India – an example of a services brand launching a product. It’s all about making services tangible.”

Legacy brands must redefine competition: Apurva Chamaria

For legacy businesses to survive, they must redefine competition. They have to become agile and nimble and start leveraging the digital economy to identify new consumers and expand reach.

It took Nestle and brand Maggi 30 years to earn consumer trust and build what looked like an unassailable brand. However, it lost all its glory within a week.

Key steps to build strong brands

• Create likeable, relatable stories for consumers. Engage them. Paperboat revived the old style of storytelling by bringing back our long forgotten childhood memories.
• Chase mindshare, not market share. Once you win consumers’ heart you will rule their pocket, too.
• Act and react to the changing business dynamics. Don’t get caught off guard.
• Build mean and lean structure. Look at cab service provider Uber. It isn’t tied up managing huge assets, doesn’t have any assets on its book.
• Be authentic. It never pays to short-change consumers, particularly millennials, as they hate cynicism and see through if brands are being smart with them.
• One can become a brand overnight but one needs to sustain this brand status through unflinching trust and consistency of performance (brand experience).
• Advertising-media industry is littered with corpses of brands that failed to reinvent. So stay relevant and continue innovating.

Apurva Chamaria
VP and head, strategic marketing, HCL Technologies and author, You are the key

© 2016 Business Standard


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