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I don't think first-mover advantage is overrated: Tanya Dubash

Interview with Executive Director & Chief Brand Officer, Godrej Group

Devina Joshi 

If your only claim to fame is that you are a local player then it isn't an advantage; one has to compete with the best, Tanya Dubash tells Devina Joshi

A rebranding exercise is never easy. Godrej started on its innovation trajectory a few years ago, but is still seen as a 'traditional', 'Indian' brand. What will it take for Godrej to be perceived as a youthful, energetic brand, with a successful international play?

Godrej is over 115 years young, as we like to say. We are fortunate to have a strong legacy built on trust and quality. We understand that to stay relevant to today's consumers and to be at the top of their consideration set, we need to innovate constantly.

And you are right. We were seen as traditional, and that served the purpose when we were starting our brand journey. We realised that we have an invaluable asset, but we need to manage it more strategically to be relevant to the today's consumer. Most of our efforts have been around building a culture across our Group that places the Godrej masterbrand at the centre of everything we do. It was a long process that followed, which involved employee engagement, refreshing our identity and bringing insights, innovation and design into the heart of everything we do. We regularly track our brand to measure the impact of our efforts. We have seen huge changes in purchase intention and brand strength parameters.

Over the last two years or so, Godrej has focused on building the masterbrand. But observers point out that with diverse offerings (and leadership in only a few), Godrej is stretching itself too thin. What does the Godrej brand stand for today?

We want to be seen as a progressive and innovative brand, committed to understanding the needs of our consumers. Each of our businesses has its own set of individual brands with their own marketing imperatives - all of which fit into the broader Godrej architecture. In fact, many of our brands hold leading positions in the categories they are present in. We have found that most of our consumers tend to interact with just a couple of our products. And when we show the same consumers the diversity of what we do, it really leads to a positive reassessment of not only the product they are used to interacting with, but also of the entire repertoire of Godrej.

Godrej's product portfolio in the appliances and personal care segments is considered thin compared to competition. Are there plans to expand into other ranges/segments?

I wouldn't agree with that statement. We have strong portfolios in both these businesses and also have strong plans to move into relevant adjacencies.

From a company that appeals to the masses, Godrej is trying to get into the mass-premium segment. How easy or difficult is it to shed a long-established perception?

We are a mass brand in terms of our scale. We are proud of the fact that over 600 million consumers use a Godrej product or a service everyday. At the same time, we are a very innovative and design-led brand.

In the Godrej Consumer Products business, we have a calibrated approach to premiumisation that is aimed to 'democratise' our categories. We believe that as middle-class incomes increase, the mass population will look for superior quality products and we want to be well-positioned to meet those aspirations. Godrej Expert Rich Hair Creme is a great example of this. We created India's first-ever creme-in-a-sachet priced at just Rs 30, which equalled much higher priced similar products in the markets.

We have found that showcasing the innovations that we have across the Group together and strengthening the link between some of our brands that have great equity in themselves (like Good knight) and the Godrej brand, leads to a reassessment and change in the Godrej brand's stature. That is one of the key insights on the back of which we have released our new Masterbrand 2.0 campaign. We also have an innovative digital leg with a non web-based mobile browsing interface called Free G, which allows every mobile user to experience the entire portfolio of Godrej free of cost.

Some of Godrej's brands are very strong in international markets. What is the secret sauce?

We have strong international brands in Africa, South America, Argentina, Indonesia, UK and many of them are market leaders in their categories in these regions. We have strong linkages between our brand teams across the world so there is a lot of sharing and learning. For example, a couple of years ago in our Indonesia business, we opened up a new format in the household insecticide category, when we introduced Hit Magic, a paper-based mosquito repellent. We later reworked this product for the Indian market as Good knight Fast Card, which has become a Rs 100 crore brand in just 11 months of launch. Similarly, we leveraged the learning from our Stella brand, the leading player in air fresheners in Indonesia, when we created Godrej Aer for the India market.

Godrej is an Indian brand with a head start in many categories, but lags many late entrants in those same categories. Can we do some generalisations based on the Godrej experience and say (a) the first mover advantage is an over-rated virtue, (b) being seen as local/homegrown is no longer an advantage in an increasingly global marketplace?

I don't think we can generalise that first mover advantage is an over-rated virtue. Especially where trust is important. For instance, we have been a pioneer in the business of locks since 1897 and although there have been several other brands that have since entered that space we remain market leaders. Because the trust factor is huge in matters of security. In that sense they start with a disadvantage. Also, the follower has to innovate harder. In other areas too - like in hair colours - we retain our lead. We created the category and continue to be leaders growing in share even as new entrants have come up and had periods of success.

Being local was never an advantage. Indians have been exposed to international products for many years now. We have had MNCs like Colgate being a part of an Indian's life for decades. The only difference is that in the past we had limited offerings in the price bands that an Indian consumer would desire. Today there are innumerable options across price levels and affordability has gone up. So Indian brands need to become stronger. Godrej has the trust of 600 million Indians because our products have delivered on performance and quality for over 100 years. Not just because it is an Indian brand.

What is the focus area for Godrej Nature's Basket in a scenario where modern retail overall is less than 10 per cent of total retail in India?

Although the gourmet retail market is very niche, the good news is that this segment has strong buying power, is relatively price insensitive and is a segment that is growing fast. Gauging the potential, several local and national chains have entered this market. In this competitive scenario, our success will be determined by our superior customer service coupled with the innovativeness of our product portfolio.

  • Dubash is AB cum laude, Economics & Political Science, Brown University, US, and an alumnus of the Harvard Business School
  • Responsible for reinventing the Godrej brand, Dubash is a director on the boards of several Godrej Group companies, including Godrej Industries, Godrej Consumer Products and Godrej Agrovet. She is also the chairperson of Godrej Nature's Basket

First Published: Mon, December 15 2014. 00:12 IST