Mind your Marketing

Understand your customers and then customise your offering

| Updated on December 05, 2019

This week we have in the spotlight, B. Krishna Rao, Senior Category Head, Parle Products.  With over 20 years of work experience in the FMCG sector, he has grown to become one of the key opinion leaders within the industry on several aspects such as manufacturing, distribution, sales, marketing, advertising and branding, to name a few.

Have millennials and GenZ transformed the way businesses approach marketing?

As far as millennials and GenZ are concerned, things have been changing drastically. I would say more so with GenZ than the millennials. This has happened in the last three years with the advent of 4G in the country. 2016 was the year when Jio, and then others, jumped on the bandwagon of high-speed internet connectivity. 4G gave access to the Indian consumers and was lapped up by GenZ and the millennials. This was then followed by some smartphone brands, which eliminated the price barrier to owning a smartphone. The advent of 4G and the entry of low-cost smartphones have changed the game for millennials and GenZ and made the marketing scenario very different from previous times. And, so, our approach towards marketing is also changing, I would not say it has completely changed, but traditional marketers like Parle are changing. Of course, there are certain new generation companies, that are already doing a lot of digital advertising or digital marketing. But in our case, definitely, there is a change that I can see.


What are the best ways to connect with and to sell to this audience?

Digital marketing is the best way because this audience is really not into television. They are consuming a lot of content on their phones, laptops, iPads. They are the generation, that wants content on demand. In Western countries, we have seen the advent and growth of OTT platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime. And the same thing we've seen happening here in India as well in the last two years, with HotStar adding several million subscribers. The IPL Cricket tournament has done a lot to add subscribers to HotStar. Similarly, several broadcasters have OTT platforms eg. Voot from Viacom, Zee5 from Zee, Sony Liv from Sony Entertainment, apart from the popular Amazon Prime and Netflix. There are others as well like Alt Balaji or MX Player. Also, YouTube and closer to home T-Series which is streaming music. GenZ’s consumption is in large numbers on such platforms, so, our approach is to get eyeballs on these platforms to catch the attention of the GenZ consumer.


What are the specific technologies that have driven these changes?

It is largely low-cost internet and smartphones – these are the two key technologies that have driven such traction towards newer platforms and digital marketing. This generation has access to a phone at a very young age. My own kids of 13 and 17 years have had access to phones early in their life and all kids today have an understanding of phones and their structure and the ways to consume content on them. My generation would take a lot of time and we would fumble around but kids do it at the click of a button. I would attribute a lot of this to the new technology that has been made available and the kind of evolution that we are seeing in terms of the smartphones. And we are seeing better quality transmission, content, etc. So, from a point in time when there were slow downloads to now where it is live streaming, technology has made things a lot easier and changed the consumption pattern of GenZ.


What do you need to win in the marketplace – better technology or better ideas?

This is a tough one! I would say, always a better idea. Technology is going to aid the idea. But if you have a strong idea, you are better off.  It's also very difficult to isolate them. Even if you have a very good idea but do not have the technology to support it, it's going to be difficult in today’s marketing scenario when the audience is millennials and GenZ. Perhaps you can prioritise one over the other, but you cannot remove one – they have to be together. Idea is definitely at the core and it has to get support from better technology.


Krishna says…

a) One strategic change we plan to execute by 2020

I would want the brand image and equity to be very strong so that the brand is rid of discounting.


b) My top three marketing buzzwords

Change, Digital Marketing, Election or Cricket as every marketer wants to ride that wave.


c) Three concepts I believe define a hot brand

Revolutionary, daring and bold, and wow content.


d) A powerful ad campaign I liked

Bisleri’s campaign using camels in the desert.


What makes customer experience the differentiator of the future?

Customer experience is very important today. The current consumers are making a lot of their purchases online and brands have to create an experience for them in that space. I will share a personal experience - I was on Grofers to make certain purchases and I keyed in Gulab Groundnut oil - a brand based out of Gujarat. Grofers did not have this product on their portal. Then after about two to three weeks, when I went back to Grofers, it started advertising that now Gulab Oil is available on the platform. This was a moment of customer delight for me. I felt wow! There is a portal, that is able to understand my needs and willing to customise it as per my requirement and able to deliver customer delight. So, that made me skewed positively towards a brand like Grofers. I would say, customer experience is a key differentiator. Once you are disappointed, you're not going back to a brand.


How do you bridge the gap between expectation and experience?

Marketers have to be vigilant. As a marketer, I would give full credit to the marketers of Grofers. Likewise, I would, as a marketer, want to be far more open and willing to understand my consumers’ need. Our company operates in traditional channels - from manufacturing to depots to distributors and then to the retailer and finally the end consumer. This makes the depot my first customer and so on until the product reaches the end user. The entire chain is very critical for me - they are all my customers. So, I need to understand their needs, if I do not understand and if I'm not able to satisfy any of these needs, this channel will break down and I will not be able to reach my end customer. On the other hand, if I understand the grievances or the pain points of my channel partners, they are going to push my products to my end consumer. If I satisfy the end user, I succeed.


At the end of the day, be it traditional channels or marketing to GenZ, the expectations remain the same - it's human behaviour. But possibly with GenX and GenY, the patience was relatively higher. With GenZ and millennials, patience is low. They want instant redemption, reward and connection. Quick response is expected on an online portal, else you lose the customer. And actually, brands like Amazon are doing that. They are talking about quick returns. So if you're not happy, you can return it. And in about three days’ time they pick it up and ensure that you get a refund. Time is of the essence for GenZ and millennials.


What does it take for brands to stay competitive in today's dynamic economy and market?

We are not just catering to one sector; we are catering equally to millennials, GenZ and future generations who are also going to come along. Parle has been a traditional company and we have been in existence for over nine decades now and intend to be around for a long time. It's really pertinent as a marketer, to understand the needs of such current and future target audience. I would need to be open and listen to my customers. If I'm turning a deaf ear to my customers, I'm going to lose out.


Furthermore, the norms are getting stringent by the day. FSSAI, Food Safety Licences, Standard Weights and Measures Act, FDA Acts have come in strongly to regulate the segment it is mandatory, for example, to have a customer service cell contact number and email id on the back of every pack. The customer has better access to the manufacturer or marketer of the product now. They can give feedback about their expectations easily now. If you want your product or brand to be more accepted, you have to understand customers’ expectations better and fulfill their needs better than your competitors. Along with that, you need to be also open to your environment and how the industry is adapting to change.


What are the three secrets to successful branding?

The first mantra is to be the first. If you are the first one, you are bound to be successful, but if you're not the first one, it's going to be extremely difficult. Look at any category and you'll understand the importance of coming in first. If you are not the first one, your investment will be larger for longer and it will still be difficult to dislodge the first entrant. So my first mantra to branding success is being the first one, if you're not the first one, invent a new category and be the first one there. The third mantra is to have a resounding brand name. Without a good name it will be difficult to be successful.


Can a one-size-fits-all approach work in a differentiated market such as India?

Not just in India, this approach cannot work anywhere today. Till about two decades ago, we were trying to manage with one-size-fits-all. But India is a nation of almost 30 States, which are like 30 different countries. Every few hundred kilometres you will see beliefs, food, culture and ethics changing.  So, one-size-fits-all cannot work. You need to have customisation and localisation. You need to understand the local tastes, you need to understand your customers and then customise your offering.


Why and how should brands think local?

You need to treat every market as an opportunity and address it. For example, let’s look at Tamil Nadu. Tamil Nadu behaves extremely different compared to any other Southern state. Someone in the North or West of India may believe that all of South is similar but Tamil Nadu is extremely different from Karnataka, Karnataka from Kerala and Kerala from AP or Telangana. So, if you're making one national ad, the same dubbed ad cannot be aired in Tamil Nadu because the audience there will not be able to relate with the models or the locations. Your emotional connect will be lost. Unless you customise and shoot the ad with the local models from Tamil Nadu with a localised script, it will not work. Dubbing loses the essence because the dubbing artists or the translators just literally translate, they do not get the meaning or the essence of the creative. So customisation is required right from the pack size to the communication.


Be it millennials or GenZ or any other audience, the localisation and customisation rules remain the same. This applies to the digital platform also. Likewise, even if you were to address or communicate through digital the content will have to be modified. It's not just one bit, it is the entire marketing chain that needs to be customised and localised.


How does your brand approach the Southern market when it comes to branding and consumer engagement?

Almost two decades ago, we did a study and we found out that the brand equity or the salience level for Parle, especially in Tamil Nadu, was much lower than in other parts of India. To address that, we understood that we needed to have a better emotional connect with the people of Tamil Nadu. We were looking at various opportunities and touch points to create corporate brand awareness for Parle. We found out that during Dussehra, they have an event called Golu. During this nine-day festival of Navratri, a lot of households in Tamil Nadu decorate their homes. This is across all income groups. Depending upon their ability, they create steps and decorate them with dolls. The display is on for the nine days and draws friends and relatives. We did an activation around this, Parle Golu Galata. We asked households to participate in this contest for the Golu display in their homes. We advertised it and participation was free. We sent a team of judges and photographers to clusters within the cities and towns to understand the display, photograph it, etc Then, there was a scoring pattern and based on that the best Golu displays were selected and were felicitated at an awards function. This initiative was very well-received and opened doors for us in this market. We take on many such initiatives in other markets as well during local festivals.


What is unique about the South Indian market? Do you see any difference in consumer behaviour from the North in your category?

They're different consumers. Even within the South, there is a difference between consumers. So, definitely there is a difference between the consumers in the South and the North. My experience is that the consumers in the South are more loyal. If they are hooked to a brand, they are unlikely to change, whereas in the other markets, they're far more experimental, they are far more open to newer products. In that sense, I would say they're extremely different in terms of the consumer choices


This article is part of a brand initiative by The Hindu BusinessLine to profile marketing professionals from across India.

Published on December 05, 2019

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