Monday, June 15, 2009

Pulsar: The birth and rise of an enigmatic brand

Sarvesh Chowdhury | IIM Shillong

"You can't make bikes. Even if you make bikes, you can only make 100cc bikes with the help of Kawasaki. That too with issues of quality. Then you need hundreds of Japanese to come and set it right".

In words of Rajiv Bajaj, this was what people used to tell him. It happened because Bajaj Auto had seen success only in the scooter manufacturing, and its reputation as a motorcycle manufacturer was not that positive. Its motorcycle manufacturing cost was high, the quality too low and its initial models failed to excite the consumer. The company needed drastic measures to survive the 21st century consumer demands.

With the beginning of new millennia, India saw a dramatic shift in the preference of consumers. The two wheeler market showed a clear shift towards bikes and with the launch of Hero Honda CBZ in 1999, the sales of motorcycles overtook scooter sales for the first time. Bike manufacturers, Hero Honda, Yamaha and TVS removed Bajaj from its no. 1 spot and moved it down to 4th.

The Birth Of Pulsar
Rajiv Bajaj and Sanjay Bajaj, two young and vibrant leaders, set to change the way things worked at Bajaj Auto. They created a team who were themselves crazy about bikes and loved biking, this new team had a clear vision of what exactly the customers needed.

The marketing team guided the basic concept of bike by providing crucial inputs. They found that the users looked at bikes not just as a mean of commuting but it was more of a style statement. They were thus looking for a bike having power as well as rugged style. These features later became the differentiating factor as well as the USP for the bike.

Answering the needs of the marketing team, the design department came up with various designs fulfilling the latent consumer requirements. These were carefully
studied by making prototypes and getting feedback on styling and comfort through market surveys. The team worked not only on design but also developed an engine specially fabricated to suit the Indian roads and driving habits. The entire process took over two years. Finally the Pulsar was launched in November 2001 with two engine options of 150 cc and 180 cc.

Success Factors
Pulsar was designed keeping in mind the age group of 20-30. But the concept soon became a hit and successful across the entire biking ages (20-45). The reason why even the older people enjoyed riding the Pulsar was attributed to the stance that riders took while driving the bike. The posture gave riders a feeling of energy thus making them feel younger. Perhaps in the same way the formally dressed executive in the US may drive a Range Rover SUV to create the image of a man who seeks adventure.

Pulsar was not immune to quality problems. There were few minor issues just like the critiques had predicted but it was the only bike which best satisfied the needs of the Indian Biker. It was powerful, cheaper and muscular looking than other bikes in its category. The only other bike which came close to the Pulsar was Hero Honda CBZ, which had its own list of issues. It was expensive, less economical in fuel consumption and had poor resale value. Pulsar was very cleverly positioned in a manner to answer these shortcomings of its (only) competitor.

Definitely Male
Pulsar’s performance, feel and looks were the main aspects that triggered its success. Moreover a major success factor for Pulsar was its innovative campaign conceptualized and designed by Ogilvy & Mather Advertising.

There is an interesting story behind the birth of “Definitely Male” campaign. The creative heads found the new product from Bajaj ‘distinctly different’. Pulsar would be the first bike that Bajaj would market without the Kawasaki label. It was an R&D and design marvel. O&M felt that the communication for this bike needs to be different. Working on a lot of ideas, they zeroed in on the Big Idea of India's He-Bike. Although lots of bike takes the persona of Macho bikes; it was more oriented towards being "sexy". The Big Idea was to position the bike as World's first bike endowed with a Sex (Gender).Thus born the classic campaign of all times "Definitely Male".

This innovative campaign along with the looks and performance catapulted the brand and made it a youth icon. It is the only bike in India after Bullet that has built a cult following.

Continuous Innovation
Bajaj did not rest after the success of Pulsar. They continuously innovated and improved the bike to cater to the changing needs of the consumers. They saw Pulsar as the key to regain the no. 1 spot and to control the entire bike market.

The first set of improvements took place in 2003 with the introduction of DTSi technology. DTSi stands for Digital Twin Spark Ignition which delivered more power and efficiency. It was the first two wheeler engine in the world with the twin spark ignition. The increased performance of the brand took Pulsar to greater heights.

2003 and 2005 saw some cosmetic changes in the brand which kept the design fresh and excited the customers.

Another major design change happened in 2006 in reply to growing competition in the 150CC bike market. With Honda entering the market and Hero Honda and TVS expanding the offerings, the new “Digital Look” Pulsar, left others far behind.

In 2007 Bajaj introduced the 200CC and 220CC variants of the Pulsar, and offered some features that were never seen by the Indian Consumers, which were used only in the sports bikes. Recently (April 2009) Bajaj released the UG IV (fourth upgrade) versions of the Pulsar 150 and Pulsar 180.

Everything’s perfect, Bajaj’s heavy reliance on Pulsor is also dampening its market share. With premium segment capturing only 6-7 % of the market, it cannot achieve its dream of being numero uno, unless develop some alternative strategy. Definitely Pulsor has played the most crucial role in not only reviving Bajaj’s brand equity but has also created new dimensions for Indian two wheeler industry.

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