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‘People asked us if a soap manufacturer can make ice-cream, why not Amul?’

Senior Vice President & CMO, Samsung India

During a field visit to Mumbai, I realized that typically the flats there are much smaller than those in other cities of India. Yet, I observed that people had huge television sets, bigger than what you would consider ideal for the room. It is part of the build-up for the evening when you sit down and relax with your family and really want to leave all hassles behind by watching that beautiful big screen. That was a very good learning for me, and now we see to it that there is a whole upsizing of the screens, be it mobile or television. More and more consumers are choosing bigger screens because watching TV together is a form of relaxation and an important interaction point for the family. So, television viewing is now where families are bonding together. This is something that came out of observations during field visits.

‘At this Varanasi store, on either side of me was someone drinking an Appy Fizz!’

MD, Perfetti Van Melle India

I have two interesting field experiences to cite. The first one was when I was working for Marico around 2000 -2004. We were doing our research before the launch of a cooling hair oil under the Shanti brand. One of the things we did was to go to UP, Bihar and plonk ourselves in salons and barber shops to witness what the customer wants, how he walks in, demands a cooling hair massage, the ‘champi’ that follows, watch the expression he has, etc. Then we would talk to the customers to understand why they need a massage, what do they get out of it, etc. We realized that a lot of them were labourers who work hard during the day, some of them come to the salons with a headache after working in the sun all day and they just need something to cool themselves, and shelling out just Rs 10, they were getting a nice cooling effect through this oil. That gave us an insight into the role the product plays in their lives.

The other interesting example that comes to my mind is when I was handling the brand Kurkure. We were looking to position Kurkure from an anytime-anywhere snack to a snack which is central to tea-time. So the challenge was to get Kurkure from a peripheral place to a central place on the tea tray. We did a lot of consumer immersions back then, like going to people’s homes during tea-time and observing them to see what is it that the housewife or the mother is putting out on a tea tray. In the North, it included anything from bhujiya, mixture, samosas, pakodas and biscuits. Each food item had a different role to play. Some would give a change of flavour to the mouth, some were about filling your stomach because you tend to be a bit hungry by tea-time, etc. It was a totally different range of foods when we did the same exercise in Chennai and the West, where it was about chiwda and bhakarwadis. The whole point was to see where in the scheme of things could Kurkure fit in, and what role can the brand play in that tea tray. That was a very interesting exercise because you sat with consumers, saw what they did over an extended period of time, picked up insights and that’s how the whole tea-time Kurkure campaign was born, saying the role that Kurkure can play during the tea-time is to provide ‘masti’. So the tagline created was ‘Chai time masti bole toh Kurkure’.

‘One conversation with a small vendor helped me enter unchartered territory’

Founder, Chairman and Managing Director, Thyrocare

When I started out, I was a scientist, and knew nothing about business. But, when I got into this business, I discovered that everyone overcharges. Because they overcharged, their volumes were less and there was hardly any profit. That is when I thought – Why not disrupt this market, deliver good quality at a lower cost? So I kept my price low and didn’t make any profit until the first year, when I had volume. I finally broke even in the first year in 1996. That was when we moved towards profitability. Customers would trust us for quality, though we didn’t advertise or use fancy jargon, and we didn’t have any marketing personnel or a big advertising budget. I only launched a magazine called ‘HealthScreen’, which turned everything around for me. Today, in simple terms, the magazine covers everything in the matters of health- disease, health tests, screenings and technology. Twenty years ago, when we launched, I printed 1,00,000 copies, and I circulated them to members of the medical fraternity free of cost. Back then, TV was not ideal for medical businesses so this was the best way to do it. The magazine set the course for a really successful journey for me and for Thyrocare. It also solved one very important problem – if I wanted to speak with a doctor to sell my product, he usually had no time to talk. This was the best way to get the doctor’s attention. Reaching a target of 1,00,000 doctors across India is not easy, but the magazine made it possible. In creating the magazine, I found the easiest way to reach the target audience across the country. Think of any big tagline for a brand – like ‘Washing powder Nirma’, or ‘Thanda matlab Coca-Cola’! My magazine did for Thyrocare what these taglines did for the brands. It made a huge difference in an industry where straightforward advertising would not work.

‘No matter where I went, simple human connections were the most important for me’

Associate Director-Marketing (Biscuits), Mondelez India

The gifting season is a very interesting time for a brand like ours and Diwali is a big festival for North India. Diwali time in Delhi is almost like a carnival. Diwali is big for our business too because the gifting portfolio comes in play and our business more than doubles during the season. During these times, store execution is a battlefield. In 2009, we thought we would get into the game early. We reached out to stores 30 days in advance, put up our products in the stores and felt really good about it, because we thought we had started executing our plan early. About 10 days before Diwali, we went on a market visit and realized many of these stores were erecting pandals outside their premises and putting out a lot of other products there. People were buying things from these temporary pandals and not even entering the shops, where our products were displayed beautifully. So while we had been focusing our energy on putting our designs, products and presence inside the stores, the gifting category was moving out of the store. We got a very interesting insight out of this experience. We know that the customer is at the heart of everything that we do. However, it is equally important to have all the stake-holders involved in the process on your side, and this would include the shoppers, the sales force or even the ‘chotu’ in the shop who is actually responsible for bringing the products from the godown and placing them inside the shops; making him an important person. So during the Diwali season, we started giving away a lot of freebies to people in the store, to make sure they were happy.

‘Feedback on ceiling damage from downlighters made us come up with a new product ’

CMO, Muthoot Pappachan Group

While I was on-boarding Muthoot Pappachan Group as the Group Chief Marketing Officer, I took off on a market visit. At Muthoot Pappachan Group, it’s a mustdo to understand our customers’ needs and wants. We met up and chatted with a diverse set of customers in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. We met a feisty lady, whose husband, in her own words, was good for nothing and she has been running a small clothing shop on her own, travelling hundreds of kilometres to fetch stocks. We met a frail old lady, whose husband was bed-ridden as she bravely ran a small provision store, working 18-20 hours a day. We sipped generously served tea and snacks; many a times tender coconut water, and kept chatting. It was a working day. But they all listened and responded to our questions. Patiently and mindfully. Even without any understanding of the language, we understood the context, used gestures and moved on. We went deeper and deeper into their lives. I still find it incredible as to the extent the customers opened up to us strangers. One man spoke about how his relatives had ditched him and a woman rattled off about her start time at 3 am in the morning and closing time at around 11 pm, making us wonder as to how she was even able to stand through our session, so frail she was! Now, we have enough information and deep insights about these customers. If knowing the customer is the primary and profound aspect of Marketing, then we had discovered and conceptualised a new paradigm in marketing: Conversation Marketing. We need to differentiate between a transactional relationship and a relationship wherein two human beings begin to relate to one another, beyond a certain give and take. In essence, it is not some purpose behind the conversation; rather, conversation with a customer should itself be the purpose.

‘I worked hard to bring in the local flavour of advertising, local campaigning and local faces’

Chief Marketing Officer, Yatra.com

One of the most important segments for any marketer is high value purchasers. Any marketer worth his or her salt would want to identify such high value transactors and ‘recruit’ them for specific programmes designed for such customers. These programmes are fairly commonplace now and usually involve keeping such customers ‘engaged’ by offering them other high value benefits like premium memberships, discounts on premium products and services, etc.

But the biggest revealing insight is that a single or low frequency purchase of a high value product or service doesn’t automatically qualify the customer as ‘premium’. In fact, high value and low frequency categories, e.g., flight tickets, premium fashion labels, etc., are highly penetrated by customers who make very infrequent purchases in the category and would not qualify as ‘premium’ on the basis of other lifestyle markers.

This has been repeatedly revealed in field visits with actual customers. A father of two takes his first ever international flight with his family but does not intend to take one again for at least the next few years since he comes from a fairly modest household. A young professional takes several premium cab rides since they were being paid for by his office on an official trip, a young student saves up and purchases a Rs 15,000 Nike shoe… All of them got marked as ‘premium’ customers, though a customer visit confirmed that other lifestyle markers would not qualify them as premium and the benefits designed to engage them, pre-supposing their lifestyle thanks to their high value purchases.

‘I learnt that you can’t categorize customers solely on the basis of their previous purchase’

Marketing Director, Nivea India

In 2013, I was the Global Brand Manager for Nivea Crème, and based out of Germany. The blue tin of Nivea Crème is an icon; it’s been in the market for over a hundred years. At that point, we were trying to figure out what is it exactly that consumers like about the product and we were meeting people across Germany. In this context, I met a young mother who we knew was a big user of Nivea. So I went to her house and got chatting about the product. I also told her to show me the place where she kept it. She had placed the product in the bathroom, next to the wash basin. Our customer profile was matching till now, and the fact that the product was kept in the bathroom meant she used it frequently. However, when I picked up the tin, I found that there was a layer of dust on top of it. Now, a place like Germany has no dust, unless the product has been untouched for months. This was very confusing for me. Why would a customer say she’s a heavy user and essentially not use the product? This was a tension point for me as a marketer. I had to know the reason behind the behaviour. I then informed her that I was doing a survey for the brand around whether consumers really want Nivea Crème, and I told her that we were planning to shut it down. Until then, I hadn’t really told her where I had come from. When I asked her opinion, she said, “Of course we want it.” I replied, “Yes, but it seems like you haven’t really been using the product because it has dust on it.” I asked her when was the last time she’d used it and she couldn’t come up with an answer. She then went on a tirade saying how could we think of shutting the product down; she got agitated and started talking in German-English, and I could capture a bit of it. “You cannot do this because Nivea Crème is my mother,” she said. This blew me away. In the Western world, people part ways with their families at the age of 16 or 17, and start living separately. This woman used to apply the product as a kid and she associated the smell, touch and the haptic of Nivea Crème with her mother. So, while she moved out of her house, she would always carry a tin because the smell and packaging reminded her of her mother. In 20 years of FMCG marketing, I had never seen a consumer love a product so much. This experience completely changed my point of view of the product and overhauled my entire global strategy for Nivea Crème. We actually went from negative growth to positive growth globally. To me, the trigger point was this consumer interaction that we had. The insight out of this experience was the amount of love, trust and care which consumers associate with a particular product. For consumers, it is not just a product, but a much deeper association.

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