GCPL decides to ‘zag’

Kala Vijayraghavan, The Economic Times - Brand Equity, 16 September 2015

Rohit Vengurlekar, 33, brand manager in Godrej Consumer Products (GCPL) moved into a new role four months ago, heading marketing for the company's premium haircare offering, B Blunt. It was the latest move in a career graph that followed a fairly unconventional trajectory. He was first noticed as area sales manager in Madhya Pradesh, moving on to area manager Ahmedabad. His last assignment was building Aer, GCPL's air freshener brand, a new category for the Rs. 8,300 crore FMCG company. In three years, he built it to a Rs. 100 crore brand, a creditable feat in an intensely competitive market. Vengurlelar admits, "The three years exposure was a huge learning experience. I learnt how marketing was done to create a category. We were constantly egged on to think different, try new approaches and take risks. I made mistakes but they were seen as part of learning. We were constantly encouraged not to let one failure pull us back".

However GCPL is loath to let him rest on his laurels. Its constant innovation cycle means even a star performing brand is moved into the base portfolio in its fourth year. "We have given him another challenge: to grow B Blunt, our premium unconventional haircare brand. It is a nascent category right now at Rs. 350 crore but we want it to go up to Rs. 1000 crore in the next three years," says Sunil Kataria, business head - India and SAARC, GCPL.

After decades of being a more conservative player in the cut-throat Indian FMCG space, the last few years have seen GCPL become more aggressive. Half of its marketing team has been with the organisation for less than three years. Talent from diverse backgrounds — food, personal care, digital agencies — bring in different perspectives as it moves into new categories: air care, hair creme and Protekt handwash in the health and wellness category.

Over the last three months, GCPL has reorganised marketing to create a new structure that leverages its scale and empowers teams. From three marketing groups: household insecticides, hair care and personal care, it is now down to just two — home care and personal care. Home care is led by Ajay Dang, who has previously worked with ColgateBSE 1.41 % and HT Media. He also leads media buying. Personal care portfolio and consumer insights is led by Chetan Gore, who joined GCPL in 2014 after 15 plus years with P&G in India and abroad.

"We are giving marketing leaders dual responsibilities and facilitating higher levels of collaboration. Marketing teams are integrated, whether it is consumer insights, digital, brands or design. We are asking our teams to own the business, take entrepreneurial decisions and empowering them on ground to take risks. Young employees with a proven track record but not necessarily in the same field are being given important roles," explains Kataria who was earlier CMO and has now been elevated to business head - India and SAARC. It's part of GCPL rewiring itself to be more agile and innovative, challenging the traditional marketing rulebook.

Executive director, Nisaba Godrej, has been instrumental in changing organisational culture along with managing director, Vivek Gambhir, to be entrepreneurial and edgy. She believes, "Data and technology are going to see a huge shift which affects the way we budget, structure and work. We need to be really creative and quick on our feet with content and stories around our brands. We have to be much less dependent on agencies. Our marketing teams ought to be whole brained and creative."

For the first time, GCPL has a creative director, getting in Thomas Dawes from Godrej UK who focuses on brand architecture and communication strategies to ensure the brands are differentiated and memorable. Also on his agenda: studying trends and technologies in digital and mobile to see how they can work for GCPL. Clearly, television alone is no longer enough.

Sunil Kataria says the DNA of the company is to challenge the traditional. Research, for instance, is something that most marketers are comfortable outsourcing. However, drawing from his experience at Idea, Kataria believed there was a significant transmission loss. "We realised the importance of holding the custodianship of the consumer. Asking a third party to do research who in turn would ask an outsourced agency meant we'd never be close to the consumer. We trained teams to be in touch directly as part of Consumer Quest. We hired qualitative in-house researchers from IMRB who are now part of the marketing team." When in doubt about a brand, GCPL has worked on as many as 70 Consumer Quests aka Conquest researches over 30 days.

The results: almost 40 per cent of GCPL's incremental growth is driven by GCPL's new launches. The company has one brand over Rs. 1,500 crore (Good Knight), one over Rs. 1,000 crore (Godrej No.1) and three over Rs. 500 crore (Cinthol, Godrej Expert and Hit). Good Knight Fast Card, India's first paper-based mosquito repellent, became a Rs. 100 crore brand in just 11 months — among the highest run ups for a new FMCG.

Today, the salience of new product development (NDP) to sales is 17 per cent from 5 per cent three years ago. "We could have done better. But 65 per cent success is a damn good average. We do not have the structure and strength of an MNC but we have strength unique to us," says Kataria.

Its product and package design has caught the eye of retailers. "I am impressed by how GCPL has renovated its legacy. It is doing what FMCG marketers should focus on: market development and category creation. The emphasis on design and packaging is amazing. Protext handwash or the hair colour packaging is truly futurist. At Rs. 30 a packet, GCPL offered a hair colouring experience that bettered the Rs. 500 a pack offered by a rival", admits Devendra Chawla, group president - food FMCG, brands at Future Group.

And now GCPL is moving onto its next big project, One Rural. It roped in consultant Bain to benchmark the rural strategies of other FMCG companies and found that none were too different. 90 per cent of spends of consumer companies in rural are on TV and activation "We are now on an integrated sales and marketing strategy. Our presence is the weakest amongst most companies, although it has moved up from 24 per cent to 28 per cent over recent years," says Kataria. In the last four to five months, GCPL has piloted four or five different projects to tap new media. "We are shifting spends from TV to community radio. There are 26-30 operational in India and 120 more will go live soon. GCPL has created a separate GM position within its One Rural organisation with supporting teams in each state to ensure last mile execution. "We have 4.2 million outlets covering 60,000 villages which is 75 per cent of rural. Now the challenge is to get more throughput per outlet. So we are not expanding the rural presence. We will instead focus on top 35,000 villages and back it vigorously with an IT backbone that is among the top three best companies in the country," he says.

Shripad Nadkarni, founder & director of MarketGate Consulting, says innovating on new formats in the mosquito repellent category and the Rs. 30 crème hair colour and the air care brand have been killers in the brand space in their respective categories. "The organisational change as an agile, innovation and design-led company is not superficial. The proof of its reinvention is in the marketplace. The challenge for it is its legacy in terms of being seen like some of the old world companies like Tata are: very reliable and trustworthy. The brand image change in the minds of consumers as an innovative and cutting edge innovative brand will not happen overnight. But it is on the right track and that change will happen in due course too," he says.

Nisaba Godrej says, "I truly believe that we are still at the very beginning of our reimagination journey. You will see a very different GCPL a few years down the line."