Minoru Shimada, MD of Yakult Danone India Pvt Ltd, talks of the brand’s latest 360-degree ad campaign, raising the awareness quotient with new brand evangelist Shilpa Shetty, and strategy to harness the huge growth potential of the India market
Q] Your new campaign for Yakult features Shilpa Shetty as brand ambassador. What made you choose her, and what was the inspiration behind the campaign?
Our new brand ambassador is India’s health and fitness icon, Shilpa Shetty, who has carved a niche for herself in the wellness space. Since our product is all about good health, strong immunity and overall wellness, in Shilpa Shetty we found a perfect fit as she complements our brand’s core message. She has been a fan for many years, and she in fact ensures that her family consumes it regularly. To keep a fit body, one needs a strong gut or intestine. Shilpa is also of the firm belief that your body’s immunity lies in the intestine.
Our new campaign “Love Your Intestine with Yakult” is one that makes Indian consumers sit up and take notice. As a nation, we are grappling with lifestyle disorders and health issues and there is an urgent need to find solutions that can counter these growing concerns. An unbalanced diet, stress, poor hygiene, antibiotics, lack of sleep and pollution can disturb the balance of the intestinal flora, negatively influencing our immunity making us prone to infection. The real strength of the product lies in the fact that it contains 6.5 billion lactobacillus casein strain Shirota (LcS) in every bottle, which improves intestinal health.
Q] What kind of response have you seen towards the campaign? How do you plan to amplify it further?
Our TVC kicked off on March 24, and we have seen a positive response from consumers so far. Both offline and online platforms have been abuzz with conversations about our product and wellness. Moreover, Shilpa has been actively promoting Yakult to consumers on social media platforms, sharing her fitness regime and the importance of drinking Yakult daily. To amplify the campaign further, we have lined up a host of consumer connect and sales promotion activities in retail outlets and stores. We have adopted a complete 360-degree approach encompassing ATL, BTL, PR and Digital.
Q] What are the key differences in your marketing approach in the Indian market, vis-à-vis other markets?
India is a complex and interesting market. It offers huge growth potential for a niche product like ours. However, the biggest challenge is to create awareness about the benefits of probiotic foods amongst Indian consumers. With a population of more than 1.2 billion, India ranks very high on our list of priorities. In mature markets, the consumption pattern is different and there is a lot more awareness about the benefits of Yakult. But one of the concerns here is that consumers do not understand the product – they do not know if it is a type of milk or yogurt, so education is important to build the category. The Yakult Ladies System, the backbone of our distribution, has made a notable contribution in driving awareness and growth for the brand and category. The Yakult Ladies are ambassadors of good health – they go to the customers’ doorsteps with our core message about enhancing intestinal health. We currently have over 260 women under this distribution programme across 13 key locations in India. We also have this system successfully running across several countries globally with as many as 80,000 women volunteers.
Q] What does your marketing mix look like? Which medium gets a major chunk of your advertising and marketing spends?
A major chunk of our marketing budget is allocated to TV. However, we have recently increased the budget allocated to Digital campaigns, especially on the Facebook and YouTube platforms.
Q] What is your marketing strategy for the brand?
In North India, our focus is on amplifying the health benefits of the product since the brand awareness for Yakult is relatively higher there. In other regions, the priority is to increase brand awareness as well as category growth. Our product is already available in more than 6,000 retail stores, supermarkets, bakeries and chemists in the country and there is still tremendous potential to grow.
Q] What are you doing in the Digital space to connect with your consumer? How are the different initiatives working out in terms of connect and reach?
We have recently revamped our website to make it consumer-friendly, since Digital as a medium is becoming an undeniably important platform. We have also invested in search engine optimization to increase the number of website visitors. Additionally, as mentioned previously, we have begun reaching out to consumers on social media platforms and have a vocal brand evangelist who helps us do this too. This allows us to gain valuable insights into consumer behaviour.
Q] What are some of the interesting BTL activities, sales promotions that you have engineered to increase consumer engagement?
The Yakult Ladies System plays a key role in directly engaging with consumers and in driving distribution. This is a system that is unique to our brand and has even seen international success. Each woman is given extensive training and then allocated a specific area for delivery. Usually she delivers up to 200 bottles every day and earns a commission on every bottle sold, thus allowing her to get financial independence. Aside from this, Yakult Danone India’s PR and science team frequently visit schools and educational institutes to drive product awareness among young students.
Q] Looking ahead, which areas do see as potential growth drivers? Are there any specific target markets you’re looking to reach?
Since we have a majority of the Yakult Ladies in the Delhi NCR belt, this will continue to remain a major market for us even in the future. However, we expect a higher growth rate from other regions where the current sales volume is relatively low. We plan to increase our marketing and advertising spends in markets like Mumbai, Bangalore and Kolkata.
Q] Which products/brands do you view as your main competitors? What makes Yakult different from them?
Probiotic food is a very niche market in India and we have no direct competitors as of now. Our product’s unique probiotic strain has more than 100 studies in the world with more than 80 years of research. There are a few other brands that have made an entry into this category in India, but I believe that we have the first mover advantage and that definitely gives us an edge.
Q] Are there any other new products that you plan to bring to India?
The Yakult Danone India Research and Development team is always working to innovate and improve our product offerings. However, we have no plans to introduce any new product in India yet.
Q] How does the brand approach Tier II and Tier III markets?
Yakult Danone India has established sales offices in key Tier I and Tier II cities and we would like to cover more of the smaller Tier II and III cities. With Shilpa’s association, I believe brand awareness will grow in smaller markets and we plan to train our focus on those markets in the near future.
Q] What are the trends that you predict in the market in the coming years?
With growing consumer interest in holistic health, I believe the concept of functional foods that provide a health benefit, aside from basic nutrition, is becoming increasingly important. The functional food concept focuses on disease prevention through foods rather than treatment with medicine.
Q] Can you cite an interesting, memorable experience while marketing the brand?
Once in every two to three years, we send several of the best Indian Yakult Ladies to Japan. One of them came forward to express her appreciation and told me that she could afford a car only after working with us. These things make me very happy.
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