Catalyst

Marketer, Leader, Teacher, Titan

Harish Bhat | Updated on September 20, 2019 Published on September 20, 2019

Bhaskar Bhat The man who was out there in the markets

Some lessons from Bhaskar Bhat, who powered iconic brands

Earlier this month, we celebrated Teachers’ Day. Later this month, a teacher who has had great influence on me will retire from an iconic company which he has led brilliantly. Bhaskar Bhat, Managing Director of Titan.

During his 17 years at the helm, he transformed Titan from a watches company with a small jewellery business, to a lifestyle behemoth that boasts some of India’s finest brands. Titan, Tanishq, Fastrack, Sonata, Titan Eye Plus, Skinn by Titan, Nebula, Xylys, Mia, CaratLane, and now, Taneira.

I have had the unique opportunity of working as a member of Bhaskar Bhat’s team for several years. Here are some of the invaluable marketing lessons I have learnt from him.

Curiosity

Bhaskar is a curious man. He is most curious about customers, and brings up the most fundamental questions in our meetings that provoke us to search for answers. Why does Fastrack, a youth brand, appeal to middle-aged men? Why do so many Indian customers wear deodorants, not perfumes? Why don’t more people wear sunglasses in a hot, dusty country like India? How do consumers respond to dynamic pricing? He is constantly focused on the “how” and “why”. His questions are often thoughtful and deliberate but always curious.

Lessson 1 - Marketers have to be curious people.

Simplicity

Bhaskar brings to bear simplicity of thought, that cuts through layers of complexity. The notes that he prepares do not contain marketing jargon. Instead, they contain powerful common sense. He gets to the crux of the marketing or business problem in a crisp manner, but only after discussions that sometimes last for days. That process of deliberation yields the simplicity he searches for. I have never seen or heard obtuse marketing phrases such as “customer forward thinking” or “visionary brand construct” or “omnichannel optimisation” in what he writes or says.

Lesson 2 – Marketers have to keep it simple.

Market connect

Despite being the CEO of a large corporation, Bhaskar spends more time in the dusty markets of India than in conference rooms. He has built legendary connect with hundreds of franchisees and distributors of Titan. More often than not, he is in their stores, talking to them about what is working and what is not. He brings this intimate market knowledge to bear in discussions. While he respects the results of market research or analytics, I have seen him also judiciously use his own market knowledge, as an additional layer of well-considered judgement.

Lesson 3 – Marketers have to be out there in the markets.

Social connect

Bhaskar is totally rooted in mainstream Indian society. He enjoys singing Hindi film songs (he is very good at it, too). He knows all about what’s happening in Bollywood. He follows cricket and other popular sport avidly. He is strongly integrated with Indian cultural traditions. He has been known to often catch an auto-rickshaw to his destination, and engage in an informal chat with the rickshaw driver on his way. All these points of connect ensure that he is in constant touch with Indian society and key social trends — some of which inevitably manifest themselves as consumer trends too.

Sometimes, CEOs and senior marketers are focused only on their categories, to the exclusion of other social interests.

Most often, they travel in cars or flights, shunning trains and public transport. All this isolates them from mainstream India. Bhaskar is quite the opposite, and he teaches us the power of social connect.

Lesson 4 – Great marketers build strong social connect.

Growth

Bhaskar’s inherent belief is that marketers have to constantly find ideas for growth. Creating demand has to be on top of a marketer’s agenda.

Notwithstanding market challenges, he would always push us to find pockets of growth for our brands, reminding us that the Indian opportunity space is vast. This is the philosophy that led to the creation of legendary brand extensions by Titan — such as Titan Raga for women, Fastrack for college-going youth, Reflex by Fastrack for people seeking accessible wearables, and many others.

Lesson 5 – Marketers should relentlessly focus on driving growth.

Product quality

Bhaskar has constantly emphasised excellent product quality and deep category knowledge. He has emphasised that consumers first buy products, and it is on the back of such widespread usage that great brands are created.

Lesson 6 – For marketers, ensuring excellence in product quality is fundamental.

In addition to these lessons, I have also learnt from Bhaskar Bhat the discipline of sound product and margin management, and the need to make customer centricity the core of an organisation.

Even as he retires as Managing Director of Titan at the end of this month, my colleagues and I convey sincere thanks to this restless marketer, leader, teacher and Titan.

Harish Bhat is Brand Custodian, Tata Sons. These are his personal views. The author acknowledges inputs from Suparna Mitra, Titan, in the writing of this article. [email protected]

Published on September 20, 2019
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