Markathon: What motivated you to pursue an MBA after doing CSE at NIT Warangal?
Honestly, I stumbled on to MBA. I was already doing B.Tech in CSE, and I had already been placed. A full year was left, I had already finished my final year project. I really did not know what to do. I was in a lot of clubs like the Debating Club and my friends encouraged me to go for management. I had just given my GRE, but my friends said I should at least try (management). I ended up applying for three institutes, out of which, one exam I did not even appear. The second one I opted out midway because I found it so boring. The third one is what I ended up completing, and once you get selected and you get a good rank, then the pressure starts that how can you leave an offer like this. I had a job with Wipro Systems, I had a good score in GRE, but after I got selected into FMS, I was more like “what is this management all about”. And then I started reading up about it, I started liking Strategy and Marketing as subjects. In reality, however, my Computer Science has helped me as much in my management as my MBA. So, I didn’t see too much of a difference between them fundamentally in terms of problem solving. While management has taught a lot of skills, the aptitude of problem solving still comes from graduation days of CSE. The entire algorithmic approach of tracking down a problem into sub-parts and then putting a solution together or even going bottom-up is an aptitude that forms early. And somehow I found management interest-ing and challenging because the same approach can be applied to real life situation in which factors and variables not under your control, are far more than the ones that are under your control.
What we see eternally as re-launching a brand is part of a bigger journey. Godrej had been 110 years old as an enterprise and we knew that the brand was its most valuable asset. But, the brand had never been managed coherently. While the group had always been more consumer-driven, there was a drive to make the brand more strategic and consumer-centric. We felt that some of the capabilities that we were over-indexing the market on, were more on entrepreneurialism or operational excellence. So, without letting go off entrepreneurial spirit or operation excellence, how do we become more strategic and consumer-centric? The best way to do that was through Godrej brand. We started upon a journey which was very business focused, unlike a brand-focused journey that didn’t really start off with like let us reposition the brand or communicate the brand differently. It was more authentic and deep-rooted than that. The whole idea was that how do we build value into the Godrej brand? And how do we then transfer this value of the brand into the actual P&Lsof the business. This involved working on three parts: consumer and brand, businesses and strategies, as to which of the businesses we will be focusing on, which will build equity and monetize, and the third was internal, related to the culture and employees. That was the kind of beginning of the journey.
Markathon: Godrej entered the virtual world with GoJiyo.com in 2010. In retrospect, how successful was this move according to you? What do you think is the road ahead for using digital media in marketing and branding exercises by Indian companies?
At that time, one of the biggest challenges for Godrej while repositioning itself, was to be more relevant for a newer psychographic of consumers in India who are more optimistic. According to our research, around 65% of Indians were attitudinally optimistic and half of them, around 35% were behaviorally so. As we were going around renewing our relationship with them, there was a big chunk of customers who were younger, younger than may be 25, who were not really in the network of Godrej. And we needed to reach out to them. But, we did not necessarily have the product range to start conversing with them in a manner that was authentic. That is one of the reasons we said that we need to create a platform. One of the things when I was on that road that I stressed on, was that I was not really in favor of just general corporate advertising. So, we need to create something that consumers can touch, feel and receive rather than just passive communication. It did not start off with GoJiyo. We figured out that internet is obviously becoming huge (by that time mobile hadnot become as huge as it is today). Internet penetration in India that time was close to 9-12%. This, in a country like India, actually translates to almost 30- 40% at a household level, because in a typical household only 1-2 people come online. So, we thought it is a good idea to create a virtual reality world. It went to break a lot of records and did tremendously well as a brand for us. And if I remember correctly, purchase intentions for Godrej on a scale of 1 to 10, will be 9% on a 10 on 10 level for consumers went up to 23-24%. This happened among youth because of GoJiyo, and we did not only create a virtual world, we advertised it, created a lot of episodic stories around it. It went on to bag a lot of international awards (was rated one of the top six most innovative social networks of the World, became a case study and many more). We had a benchmark because of some other properties that we had done earlier. The most successful digital property before that was, I think, Gang of Girls. They had around 600000 users, in about 5 years. We were like, if we get there, then we have done something. What was very funny is the fact that we got 1 billion users. We got 1 million visitors spending an average of 3 mins on the platform, we had 200000 users going inside the world, spending on an average between 35-60 min per person. It was massive. It was valued independently by Dun and Bradstreet as a 100 crore plus. We never envisaged it to a business, it was always envisaged to be a brand acquisition property, which has a life of its own. We sustained it for about 4 years to come up to a level, and now my successor is trying to experiment with certain things to take it to an another level.
Markathon: You moved to corporate role in Godrej Consumers after a considerable experience in the FMCG space. What kind of trends have you observed during this shift and how do marketers cater to the different consumer requirements and perceptions in each space?
There are some very interesting things in this business which have got to do with value. How do you create value, how do you create P&L in a business like this, say consumer durables, where most of the consumers want to go to a carpenter to go ahead and get their furniture done. They may come to an exhibition, see your furniture and like it, pick up your catalogue, take a few pictures and then again go back to a carpenter. So, how to create experiences which are irreplaceable? In order to do that, you need to have technology into your products, because our neighborhood carpenter can never incorporate technology. So, Interio started incorporating technology for superior experiences. The other interesting part about this business pertaining to consumers is that, they are increasingly becoming design conscious. While it is still very expensive to do décor for someone, and décor is nothing but taking two different types of designs and make them interact with each other and come up with a coherent design language. So, consumers tend to use a lot of small articles such as curtains etc. in furniture to make it more harmonious, despite different individual pieces being distinct from each other. So, how do you get into those fillers, and bring them to market to help create décor? These are some of the things that this business oftengrapples with.
There are lot of innovations that we are doing, going down the pop strata, whether it is Chotukool or smokeless coils, recently we have launched household insecticide, coil card, which has been quite successful for us already. Godrej No. 1 is quite successful, its Go-To-Market strategy is very different from a lot of other products. So, depending upon the category, most of the rural facing brands will tend to have a different activation strategy as compared to others. Having said that, rural and urban aspirations are similar in some ways and distinct in other ways. So, our strategy has been to build strong brands, which appeal for different reasons to different constituencies of rural and urban regions, rather than have different brand for Rural and Urban India, because that clearly doesn’t work. The manner of activating them could be different, but they are essentially the same brands.
Markathon: When you joined Johnson & Johnsons as Senior Product Manager in the women healthcare segment, the Indian market in this segment was undergoing a radical change. What challenges did you face in your role and how did you overcome them?
The penetration of sanitary napkins in urban India was 20-22 %. In a place like Mumbai, in a locality like Malaba, which has the crème dala crème of the society, penetration of sanitary napkins was not more than 40%. The reasons were not behavioral, but deep rooted, cultural and emotive. And they had to do with the society’s view of women as well as women’s own view of themselves. That is one of the parts that we started impacting a lot. There was a category development that happened at that point. The second thing was simply bringing down the excess cost of sanitary napkins. In a market where an average sanitary napkin’s cost was Rs. 45-60 at that point of time, J&J brought up a brand called Stayfree Secure which at that point of time cost Rs. 20. Because most of the people who were using home-made napkins were actually not paying anything, hence it was really important to cut down the cost. The third thing was that we started talking to mothers, not just about themselves, but also about their daughters through brands like Carefree which used to hold 15% market share. We started telling that girls at menarche need help and support, but at the same time, mothers want to live their dreams with their daughters. Whatever aspects of life that they could not enjoy, they wanted to give to their daughters. And somewhere exhorting their daughters to go for branded, good quality sanitary napkins became a reflection of their own aspirations. There are two challenges that as a marketer you need to cater to. One is the behavioral aspect, which can be impacted through innovations as well as lowering the costs. Second and the most difficult one is the cultural aspect, the way womenthink themselves and each other. In several attitude studies, you will find women see this as a matter of shame, which I the part that needs to go away.
The only one advice will be that marketers take marketing too seriously and they do not pay enough attention to business. So, they still think that as a consequence of finding great insights, for example, or in order to delight the consumers, it is enough to do differentiated and relevant communication or design or innovation. But in reality, what they need to think about is that if this is the consumer I need to target, and this is the reason, then how do I design an entire business around it rather than differentiated communication and innovation or even activation for that matter. Most of the businesses, globally and in India, which have been successful, are those which have been wired to a certain type of consumer. So, their entire front end as well as back end strategy has been premeditated on that. Thus, you need to be more of a Strategic Marketer rather than a Consumer Marketer. Consumer Marketer says that I will do certain things to delight a chosen consumer, it is fair, but you can’t go bankrupt doing that. So, strategic marketer choses among different consumers and different offerings, which will be profitable and then engineers an entire business to delight that consumer. This is mistake that most of marketers end up doing. They only think about consumers and market in isolation of the business and P&L.