Category Archives: Interviews

Up close and personal

Managing Disruptions: An interview with Nitin Seth

 

Nitin Seth, (ex-COO, Flipkart) delivered an engaging talk on day 2 of Colloquium, annual business conclave organized at IIM Indore. He discussed about the challenges faced by large as well small organizations in this VUCA world (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguity). He further elaborated on the importance of disruptions to stay relevant and build value for the organization. Here are his views on disruptions and challenges faced by modern organizations-

Sonali- Since you have been associated with Flipkart in the past, what has been the biggest differentiator for Flipkart in the e-commerce industry?

Nitin- Flipkart has traditionally been able to innovate for the Indian context very well. That I think is the biggest differentiator. If you look at most of the big innovations that have happened in the Indian e- commerce, most of them have come from Flipkart. So, as opposed to really playing out a playbook, they have tried to understand the customer and develop the proposition accordingly. I think that has been the key to their success

Sonali- As a strategy, is it not difficult for firms to choose one out of success and numbers of projects versus innovation and disruption? Does it not affect their entrepreneurial side?

Nitin- See Venture Capital is ideally the risk capital and they do not ask for profitability. If you are a publically listed company then the equity markets expect predictability from your organization. In such a case, numbers really drive the organization. On the other hand, in startups, this is not that equity capital, but the risk capital. Risk capital is usually tolerant of such numbers. I think a very grave issue is the greed that comes to play. Once you raise the capital, you tend to be caught in this whole race of valuation. So, you are continuously trying to maximize your valuation. Now, the underline business case for which that valuation is based, in reality, it is very difficult to achieve that kind of growth. So, you end up pushing very hard for growth, which is not always sustainable from the point of view of the organization.  So, like in sales, you keep giving discounts which is of course hitting the bottom line but you also want to drive the top end growth since your valuation is not based on the EBITDA number but on GMV number. If you are a listed company and the market expects predictability in results, you go for low risks and that will curb entrepreneurial activity but in this valuation process, in actual, the reverse is happening. You end up taking too much risk and too aggressive positions which may be harmful for building a sustainable business model. So, as a result, you never improve your profitability and you end up burning more and more money. The more money you keep burning, the more capital you will keep raising. It is like a drug addiction.

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Sonali- Taking this discussion on capital providers ahead, what are your views on the conflicts emerging between the founders and the executives or capital providers. This is in reference to the tussle at Infosys and Tata.

Nitin- So, I would not generalize this for each firm. Firstly, the founders find it difficult to let go. The other point of view is that the founders hold on to the culture and values of the company more dearly and it is important. So, it is about the right balance. To my mind, you will inevitably have situations where if a business grows very large, the founders are not in best place to play an executive role in the company and it makes sense for them to move aside and bring in professional management. I think it is inevitable and it has to happen. I think greater challenge today is that may be the founders are not mature enough or they have not found the right balance to step back from the executive management and constructively play a mentor role or guide on the strategy or culture. So, I think the balance is missing. So either it is that I am running it, or I switch off. In case I switch off and if somebody else is running it and I am not happy by the way the person is doing it, then I will come back. So your question is an interesting one, I will not generalize it but clearly it is very ugly and sad like the whole Infosys thing.

Sonali- Is this a global issue or just that Indian corporate space is not that mature yet?

Nitin- See, this tension is inevitable. The tension between the founder who has set something up and the emotions they will feel versus the provider of the capital. I think the more mature ecosystems have figured out how to deal with it.  This question is actually spot on as it is one of the biggest challenges involving the founders and the capital providers.

Nitin Seth has previously served as the COO of Flipkart where he led the strategy and corporate functions. In addition he has held positions at NASSCOM, Mc Kinsey and Fidelity International. He holds a degree in MBA in Finance & Operations from IIM Lucknow and B.Tech from IIT Delhi.

Insights on Making Strategies: In Conversation with Shireesh Joshi

Mr. Shireesh Joshi (ex-COO, Strategic Marketing Group at Godrej) was a guest speaker at Colloquium, the annual business conclave organized at IIM Indore. He shared his experiences in the field of strategy from organizations like Godrej, Airtel, PepsiCo and Procter & Gamble. Mr. Shireesh also discussed how to create an appropriate sustainable advantage and position a product in the value chain. After the engaging talk, we caught up with him for a short interview-

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Sonali- You discussed about creating sustainable advantage. How important is it to keep updating that sustainable advantage, keeping in mind companies like Blackberry and Nokia and how to do that?

Shireesh-Your examples prove how important it is to keep it updated. Updating the sustainable advantage is actually a matter of life and death for companies. The point worth noting is that if there is anything you need to update, it has to be in your area of sustainable advantage. This is because, if things get updated in your peripheral areas, they don’t hurt you but if things get updated in your core area and you are not part of that, then you get outdated almost instantly. So, you have to be leading the effort of updating the core area of your strength all the time.

Sonali- Sometimes when the sustainable advantage is lost or is flawed, when should a firm go for rebranding and how should it be done?

Shireesh-I think whether you do rebranding or not, it should be led from a consumer’s standpoint. So, if you feel that over a period of time, what your brand is and what it stands for has started to become a little bit distant from your target consumer and it is not possible to do activities to bring it closer, then sometimes, one way of making a significant change, signaling that change and recreating a fresh relationship is rebranding. But, it must first begin with the consumer and for whatever reasons you do rebranding, make sure to define, in what terms is the new consumer different from the earlier one and in what way their aspirations and expectations are different from the earlier ones. Also, make sure that the brand that you now craft is much more suited to these new aspirations than it was for the earlier ones. A loose description can be let’s say my parent’s generation, they bought stuff that they wanted to last their entire lifetime and they did not expect it to be replaced. Then came our generation, who might want to replace stuff. Next, may be your generation would not even own it, everything might be leased. So, there are very different mindset. As those mindsets and preferences change, then brands must evolve. For example, if I want to replace things frequently then I don’t want to pay for something that is going to last 30 years. So if you tell me that this thing will last 10 years and it costs 100 bucks and another one will last 30 years and it costs 250 bucks, I don’t want the second one although I can see it being justified. So then, the brand will have to go for rebranding because the long lasting quality in itself is going out of fashion. So you have to keep looking in what way the consumers are changing, their needs are changing and then create the brand. In addition, make sure that the new avatar that is created, is in conflict with the earlier avatar, then only you should rebrand. It should not be done just to correct the declining sales.

Sonali- So, when we talk about updating and accommodating change, another thing that strikes me is the usual saying of ‘Fast eats big’. It is because new and smaller firms are more flexible than the old and larger ones due to more complex organizational structure. How does a 120 year old company like Godrej manage to stay flexible and relevant?

Shireesh-So, first of all Godrej has been very careful of not having a centralized organizational structure. There are individual divisions and decentralization. So each division of company is managing one kind of business like Godrej Property handles property business, Godrej Appliances is the appliance business and so on. Then, they look at where are the synergy areas, say if there is a synergy in buying, so when they are buying, they will buy for multiple businesses. So it has been purpose built and should not be just for the sake of managing operations of a large business. The good thing with Godrej is the multiple family members involved who are able to cover all ground of operations between them, without really creating a structure. So, each team is competing with its competitors but that does not mean all divisions have been good at doing that. But the reason that such divisions have not faulted is that they are not centrally structured.

Sonali- Coming back to the strategies, why is it that the same strategies work for some firms and not for others in the same industry? This is in reference to the deep discount model that failed for Snapdeal while it seems to be working for Flipkart, to some extent.

Shireesh-Yes the operative word is ‘seems to be working’ because discount is not really a strategy. It is only for a temporary period during which you can use that to lure customers but you can’t keep giving discounts forever. There is a reason why margins are what they are because that is what make them sustainable. For a period, you can dip into those margins in order to attract customers but it cannot be a strategy because strategy requires you to be able to sustain those margins. Now if you have found a way of doing business that is, let us say, take 5 points of operational costs out, in that case you might be able to consistently beat others till somebody finds a new system that beats yours. But if that is not the case and all you are doing is simply taking products and assuming you might have some efficiency in operations. But efficiency in operations cannot explain the kinds of discounts you see in ecommerce market place. So these are unsustainable and that is only taking place because there is VC funding that is available for the purpose of customer acquisition and building a customer base.

Mr. Shireesh Joshi is the CEO and Principal Consultant at Priism Consulting. Previously, he has held position of COO, Strategic Marketing Group at Godrej and other key positions at PepsiCo and Procter & Gamble. He has a diverse experience in various fields across India, China and South East Asia, among others. He completed his MBA in marketing from IIM Bangalore and B.Tech from IIT Kanpur.

Entrepreneurship Series – Right2Vote

An interview with Neeraj Gutgutia ( IIMI Alumnus), the founder and CEO of “Right2Vote Infotech Pvt. Ltd.”

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Here is what he has shared with us :

Interviewer: How was your stay at IIM Indore as a student?
Neeraj: It was a great learning experience. Apart from studies you get to do many things and manage them well.

Interviewer: So were you involved in any club or committees?
Neeraj: Yes, I was a part of media committee in first year. Then in second year being a part of media committee, we came up with the college magazine I-Mag (known as Management Canvas presently). We also initiated entrepreneurship and consulting society in the college with the name of E&C.

Interviewer: You worked with Reliance and then with Hiranandani group. How was the experience?
Neeraj: After working with Reliance for 4 years, I got a chance to work with Hiranandani group. They needed a guy with Gas Project and Finance experience. As I worked in Gas sector with reliance and I was a CA and MBA, so they asked me if I would like to join and lead it.

Interviewer: Then how did you move towards entrepreneurship?
Neeraj: I always wanted to start up on my own, even before MBA but didn’t actually know how to go about it. Then at Hiranandi, I got to lead the project. It gave me exposure, confidence, everything you could ask for. I also starting saving money as I had a mental mapping that I need to start soon.

Interviewer: What was the thought while leaving such an interesting job at Hiranandani?
Neeraj: Actually, while leaving, I wasn’t too sure of what I wanted but had a rough idea on what to do. O had this “Right2Vote” in my mind. I wasn’t sure whether I could do the Technology part of it.

Interviewer: You also started “Guts Unlimited”, so what was the idea behind that company?
Neeraj: Just after leaving my job, I was very interested in start-ups , so wanted to start investing in them. “Guts Unlimited” basically was into advising and investing in the start-ups, helping them set up the whole system. As a backup to make revenue and financial support, “Guts” is still running but my major focus is “Right2Vote”.

Interviewer: When did the idea of “Right2Vote” come first into your mind and what was the reason behind it?
Neeraj: During 2014 election, I was working with Prashant Kishore, helping in the election management. I was also pitching people to come out and vote. But it was difficult for some due to various reasons like they were travelling, meetings at office etc. So I thought if there was an App where you could vote from anywhere, then people will vote for sure. And that was where it all started. I researched a lot and it was such a obvious thing, that everything is going online then why not voting.

Interviewer: What is the vision and mission of the company?
Neeraj: “When the 2019 election happen, that should happen on our platform”, this is the target we are aiming at. Our mission is to at least target 10 corporates to use the app for shareholders’ voting, etc so that our revenues start rolling in and also sign up big corporates which will also enhance or credibility.

Interviewer: What would you say about the present start up Ecosystem in India?
Neeraj: In last 2 to 4 years, the trend is really picking up. There is a lot of scope. In India still the ticket size is very small. The risk people are taking are not big enough. The Tech start-ups are the high risk and high gain, they are the ones which are in maximum number today. We have to boost the ticket size here in India. Also as a start-up, hiring people is very tough. Giving a good salary along with good office and confidence in the company is becoming a heavy task.

Interviewer: What has been the learning till now in this journey of entrepreneur which you would like to share with students?
Neeraj: There has been many highs and lows till now. During job I got a fixed salary but now it is a challenging task. Sometimes my family and others judge me and have a lot of doubt on my success. There is a lot of opportunity cost involved here but we have to keep moving on and believe in our idea.

Interviewer: So what would you like to tell to the budding entrepreneurs here at IIM Indore?
Neeraj: You should be well prepared before entering into the start-up idea. You should be financially stable, have support of the family. Also, the main focus should be on executing the idea. That is the most important part. Plan for at least 2 to 3 years ahead.line-dividerHope you gained an insight on how the journey unfolds from being a student to an entrepreneur.

In conversation with Mr. Parag Jain, Chief Marketing Officer, Jugnoo.

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Aishwarya Saraswat: Hello Welcome to IIM Indore. We are happy to have you here with us.

Parag Jain: Thank You! As it happens, Indore is one of the biggest cities for Jugnoo in terms of daily transactions.

A: There are other competitors as well like Ola, Uber and Tuk Tuk. How does Jugnoo make sure that it keeps pace with the fierce competition?

P: Luckily as far as Indore is concerned, we are the pioneers. We launched before the others and are far ahead of them in terms of number of rides. There is a critical mass that needs to be reached in every city in terms of supply and demand and as long as you are able to do that, it becomes really difficult for another competitor to come and topple you. If people are confident that this brand can get me out of the jam because I have heard about it from a lot of people then they are sure to keep using this service.
There are two factors that we closely track, one is efficiency and the other is reliability. Efficiency for us is how many rides can a driver get while he is on duty. Drivers usually take 5-6 rides in a day and are free for the rest of the day. We are working towards increasing the efficiency from 30% to say 60% by giving the driver, say 10 extra rides translating into more savings for him. That way the customer is happy because he doesn’t feel cheated as they don’t have to haggle with the auto drivers like they had to do earlier. So we are working on the efficiency factor on the auto driver side and on the reliability factor on the customer side.

A: How do you zero in on the cities that Jugnoo targets?

P: Presently, we are present in 40 plus cities. We divide the markets into-Growth, mature and Seed cities. Indore happens to be a mature city which means our efficiency and reliability matrix is pretty good here. As far as choosing the cities is concerned it is driven by a lot of factors. Since inception, we have targeted tier-2 and tier-3 cities and have grown up from there. Tier-1 cities came as an afterthought because of the prevalent competition there.
We don’t have hundreds of millions of dollars like Uber and Ola so we don’t want to get caught in the cross fires and want to avoid them as far as possible.

A: How did Jugnoo come up with this idea of changing the way the Autorickshaws work in India?

P: I would say it happened more by accident. We realized that the Indian market isn’t cut out for foreign models like that of LIFT. While exploring the market, we saw this huge gap in the autorickshaw market. To put that in numbers, 3 crore auto rides happen every day in India which is 20 times the number of the taxi rides. 50 lakh auto rickshaws exist in the country. Inspite of this huge demand, the efficiency isn’t there. A typical auto rickshaw driver takes 6 rides a day and hardly saves anything after all the expenses. The idea was that if we can maybe double the number of rides he is doing so that the savings would not just double but increase exponentially because the basic expenses he incurs remain the same. So we started exploring this possibility and launched out of Chandigarh. The technology part kept evolving and as the demand continued to increase we expanded into other cities. Most of it was try often fail fast. At one point, we launched across 25 cities in a span of 3 months. Since the beginning we have stayed really lean. The analytics team has worked really hard since the very beginning in all the aspects, everything was based on the numbers, we kept seeing what was ticking and what was not and evolved in that process.

A: Well the journey till now surely sounds interesting! Moving forward, where do you want to see Jugnoo five years from now?

P: In terms of vision while we want to continue growing in the A to B space. At this time, we are doing 40,000 transactions every day which is not very significant so we are just too small and the journey has just begun and we want to grow in this auto hailing space. We have also realized that this is not the only thing that we are going to do, we have also forayed into hyper local delivery services using the same supply base and user base from Jugnoo by launching our new brand DODO. It has been running in three cities and Indore is up next. The auto rickshaw as an asset is the densest asset in the country which essentially means that if a request comes from a restaurant for delivery, the probability that our auto rickshaw is in the vicinity would be the highest. We feel that once we reach a certain kind of a scale with regard to these deliveries, we will be able to prove that auto rickshaws can be the most economical form doing A2B transport.

A: Before signing off, what message would you like to give to the budding entrepreneurs in India? What is it that drives you and what should they be doing to get it right as an entrepreneur?

P: Solve a real problem, nothing beats that! Don’t get carried away by the funding and try to run it like a business wherein you don’t go into the burn game wherein you are spending ten times more than what you are earning. So keep your pace slower.
The life of an entrepreneur is hard! Nine out of ten startups fail. Summer, the founder of Jugnoo might as well have done twenty different things before Jugnoo clicked. But yeah, if you are solving a real and are on it for a good period of time then be rest assured that you would be able to crack it.

Digital Marketing Insights from SOTC’s Tushar Gagawe

Tushar Gagawe, General Manager at SOTC Travel Services. He delivered an enlightening guest lecture on the topic – ‘Marketing in Different Sectors’. He discussed about various business models and also the importance of identifying customer needs and taking a targeted approach. Mr. Gagawe shared his success mantra with students, which is to ‘Iterate, Validate & Launch Again’. He concluded the lecture by sharing his learnings over the years with the students and urged the future marketers in the audience to ‘Own the customer’.

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Apoorva: Digital Marketing is very quick in today’s scenario.Then why is it hard to break even in this area?

TG: Because its a deal driven channel; it is easy to enter and a lot of people are entering the market and a lot of people are funded. They are not discounting from the earned money, they are doing so from the funded money. So that becomes difficult to match with. Suppose you get 1 m and just to acquire one million of cash and just to acquire a customer, you will discount a lot of money.

Apoorva: So, although we drive sales through it we aren’t really making much headway?

TG: Yes, because you will only be burning money. therefore it’ll become difficult for a conventional player to get that kind of money into digital marketing. Because they will be investing their earned money. Whether it’s digital or not,ultimately you’ll have to meet the customers wishes.

Apoorva: My next question would be that since you mentioned that personalisation for each customer is necessary and conversely you also mentioned that only deep pocketed organisations can carry on such marketing strategies, is this a vicious circle?Is there no way for an organisation to come out of it?

TG: I’m saying that there is no formula. Atleast, not right now. I cannot say that we should stop offline and concentrate only on online marketing. We do not know if that is the right strategy. Hence, I keep reiterating that some companies have figured it out. Not all of them are hitting it in the dark. But most of the companies are still figuring in negatives even after figuring it out. So, they probably know where they want to go but it’s a long road.

Apoorva: Can you please elaborate on Customer Social Currency?

TG: By that I mean, everything the customer is bold enough to voice out. The current customer doesn’t shy away, he’s very selective and shy. The choices and moods at all.

Apoorva: Does that mean there is a decline in the unstated needs of the customer?

TG: It isn’t about that. When a customer is associating with a brand, it is very important for a brand to resonate with the customer’s social status. or social expression. Because cracking that will help us find out if a customer wants to associate with you or not. It depends on what you want to target.

The World of Advertising from the eyes of Ms Lalitha Vaidyanath of J Walter Thompson

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Ms.Lalitha Vaidyanath (Senior Creative Director at J.Walter Thompson Hyderabad) recently visited IIM Indore as a speaker at Colloquium – the annual business conclave organized by the Industry Interaction Cell of the institute. The theme this year was ‘Marketing – Strategy, science or sorcery?’. Ms. Lalitha delivered an engaging talk about how targeting the right people the right way through advertising can change lives and even impact communities for the better. She added that advertising as a process has changed from being a one-sided monologue to an enriching conversation or an experience that has become pervasive. We caught up with her after the talk, and here is what she had to say about the field of advertising–

Jasmine: So one very interesting thing that I found out while reading up about advertising was that the first female copywriter was from JWT. In fact JWT even has a scholarship for young creative women in her name – the Helen Landsterne scholarship. It definitely appears then that JWT has particular interest in encouraging women to join this field. How strong is that spirit in the Indian advertising industry? How are female copywriters treated here? How far do they go?

Lalitha: Women actually do bring a lot to the table in the field of advertising. In fact, not just as copywriters but across the board, you have a lot of women making significant contributions in JWT and every other agency. But then advertising itself as an industry has quite a few women. There aren’t a lot of hierarchical issues, as the organisational structure is relatively semi-flat and flexible, so the concept of glass ceiling is perhaps not as reinforced in advertising because of that.

Hence it draws women to these jobs. Personally, I also feel that on an average, women have good aptitude for writing and graphic art. So there is a lot of scope for them in art and copy, and now a lot of women are playing a huge role in planning as well. Advertising is all about striking a chord with the consumers. By nature women are empathetic, so perhaps that’s why they fit in so well here. Honestly, it’s a very fascinating and interesting industry to work in, whether you’re a man or a woman.

 

Nike’s Da Da Ding song ad

Jasmine: That’s right. Even as outsiders, we see advertising as a very dynamic industry. In popular culture, like say movies, if one of the characters is from the advertising industry, they’re shown to be staying up nights, doing a lot of creative brainstorming, and also being quite a bit of a social butterfly. How true to reality is this image?

Lalitha: There’s actually a lot of hard work involved. What you see there is the glamorous part. For example, when I showed you guys the Da da ding ad for Nike featuring Deepika Padukone during the presentation, I could see all of you collectively thinking ‘wow this looks really amazing’. I myself have shot ad films with different celebrities. And I can vouch for the hard work which goes on behind the scenes. You can’t be over-awed by these elements while working. What you see as the consumer is a very snazzy TVC; what we see as the creators is the grit that it takes to make it.

Jasmine: So on an average how long would a good TVC like that take to make?

Lalitha: It depends. If you’re talking about going right from the ideating process, then it could range from anything between a week or two. Sometimes you just get a good idea in a flash; sometimes it takes a lot of time. It depends on the product, on the briefing, on the approval etc. Some clients just lap up the first idea because they liked it instantly. Some clients keep coming back to you asking for more improvements, giving suggestions, till they get the wow factor. But usually for a TVC to be produced , right from the ideation, going through the pre-production, going to the shoot, then the post-production, and then finally the final edit and bringing out the film, it could take 30-45 days.

Jasmine: At the beginning of your talk you spoke about how being right brained or left brained can change your approach to things. As management students a lot of us aren’t very sure which side we come from because we more or less learn just about everything between hard core analytical skills to interpersonal skills. How likely is it for management students to enter a creative field like advertising and make it big there?

Lalitha: I’d say most management students are left-brainers. I’ve seen them to be more verbal and analytical. Right now there are so many management grads in advertising. Recruiters from advertising agencies are loving the mix of skills that they get from these graduates. So I’d say the chances of management student making it big in advertising are pretty high.

The Life Saving Dot campaign

Jasmine: Another thing that we regularly get to hear in management school is the whole spiel about how we need to brand ourselves as individuals. ‘Self branding’ as a concept is becoming so important now because everyone is becoming increasingly competent and in order to make yourself stand out in the madness of the job world, you need to work smart. As someone who deals with the concept of branding on a daily basis, could you tell us how to get it right as individuals?

Lalitha: It’s true that ‘self-branding’ is becoming really important these days. Even recruiters today don’t look at students as just black and white. They recognise that there are many parts of you and they actively seek out more well-rounded individuals. They don’t just look for pure academics anymore. There is so much more beyond that, especially in a field like advertising.

Jasmine: One last question that I’d like to pose to you is this – since creative industries like advertising are so much about real time reactions, could you give me one example of a crisis handling situation that you’ve had to go through which really taught you a lot.

Lalitha: Every campaign is a crisis, Jasmine *laughs*. I say that because every client believes that they need to have what they want right NOW otherwise their world will end. They want their campaigns out within unrealistic deadlines, which is why it gets pretty crazy in there sometimes, but we signed up for the challenge!

About Lalitha Vaidyanath: As the senior creative director at J.Walter Thompson India and an advertising doyenne, Lalitha has worked on a hard range of sectors and clients like Hyundai Santro, Royal Enfield, Mitsubishi Motors, TTK Healthcare, Sun Direct DTH, ColorPlus, Sify, Eenadu, Murugappa group, Cholamandalam Finance, Muthoot Fincorp, UNICEF, World Vision among others. She has been at places like Saatchi & Saatchi, Everest, Maa Bozell, Mudra, McCann, and a clutch of creative boutiques across Hyderabad, Bangalore and at Chennai. She brings over 2 decades of experience to the table besides enthusiasm and passion for the written word. Her interests include yoga, voluntary service and armchair psychology.

 

Know Your Audience – An Interview with Mr Avinash Janjire of Thomas Cook and Future Generali

Hiral Arora reports from Colloquium, the annual business conclave of IIM Indore organised by Industry Interaction Cell, talking about how to be an all round marketeer with a one to one interaction with Mr Avinash Janjire who has been associated with Future Generali and Thomas Cook travels.

In an awe-inspiring talk and lessons from his personal life, Mr Janjire took us through some interesting marketing campaigns from his work experience. As a context of his work in the Insurance sector, you might like to check this video explaining the Insurance Week Campaign, that resulted in breaking of the Guinness World Record for the Longest Balloon Chain.

 

Additionally, as a context for his work in the Tourism sector, you might want to check out the following explanatory video for Thomas Cook’s innovative Holiday Savings account scheme.

 

Hiral: As a marketer, how did you manage to work in two completely different product segments – Tourism (an extremely glam industry!) and Insurance (hard to sell, boring industry)?

Mr Avinash Janjire: I believe the experience doesn’t really change. As long as you understand the consumer and their needs, the industry doesn’t matter. You need to have the knack of understanding the consumer, the industry you can learn. Tomorrow I might join some other industry, except engineering perhaps, like an FMCG, and it won’t really make a difference. That’s the key.

H: When you portray Thomas Cook holidays as an affordable brand, does it not dilute the premium image it has right now?

A: That’s really a misconception. We have been here for about 150 years and people think that we are very expensive, but we’re not really that expensive. That’s because the product is such. We have holidays starting at ₹20000 also. But its just that the premium image comes because we sell a lot of these long haul holidays to Europe, US – which are expensive. This makes people believe that ‘this brand is not for me’.

If you compare us with any other competitive brand in the market like makemytrip or SOTC, we are at par in terms of price, we are very competitive. So while we have this premium image, we don’t complain about it, but it is not necessarily true. We are trying to change this idea because otherwise we limit ourselves to a very small segment of holiday goers. We want to go to middle India which has increasing aspiration for travel, beyond the 6 million people who already travel with us, and increase the size of the travel market base. 40% of our business comes from small towns. People want to go for holidays but price is a barrier. We want people to think that we are good but competitive. Not cheap, but competitive.

Right now people don’t even walk into our stores, thinking English naam lag raha hai (this is a fancy sounding english name, not for us!), otherwise they would probably go to some Kesari travels, something more localised. We want to appear approachable.

H: Is tourism a margin play or volume play industry?

A: Earlier it was margin play, decent money, but now it has become very very competitive. Now the margins have decreased to some 5-7% which is very less compared to the transaction value that we do, so it has actually become largely volume play.

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Mr Avinash Janjire at Colloquium’16, IIM Indore

H: In the insurance sector, how do you manage to make people buy (life) insurance and get past the mental block that they don’t need insurance (because noone wants to believe they are going to die!)

A: People right now buy insurance but not for the right reasons, they buy it for tax saving reasons and just look at the short term benefits so they end up buying the wrong instruments.

Most people don’t understand finance and can’t understand how much they have to pay and what benefits they can get. So the end up buying from agents who they know – such as family friends.

We have installed this mechanism of calling back customers who have bought insurance from us from the center. This is because we don’t know how the agent sitting in say, Indore, has sold the insurance. Once the deal is locked we call the customer from our head office, and there is a central unit which does this, to rectify what the customer has been told, like a welcome call. Questions like “Do you know what policy you have bought?” “Do you know what you have bought it for?” are asked so we know if it has been missold or not. This is because misselling is very rampant in the industry, leading to lack of trust.

Misselling happens because everyone has to complete targets. You need something, but I might not actually sell you something that you need. I might sell you something that gives me more money. There are some policies that make more money, some have a higher commission as compared to others, so I might want to force sell those. This problem exists because of these freelance sellers, most of whom are not our employees, they work for multiple agents. Most companies are trying to solve this through such back checks. However it is still not optimal.

When we are recruiting  we train them in a way that they do the financial probing correctly. In our forms we have questions asking if they have done proper probing or not.  What does the customer need money for – retirement, children’s educations, children’s marriage? Once we have that financial information and the customer profile, we can have an idea whether what they have sold is correct or not. This isn’t foolproof but it gives us some assessment, some idea as a brand. It is important to sell the correct policy because if I sell the wrong one, the customer won’t renew it for a second year, which is when I will actually start making money. The company makes money only in the 3rd and 4th years, for the first 3 years we actually lose money.

H: Thank you for the insights! To conclude, would you like to give a message to marketing and advertising aspirants?

A: Just focus on understanding your consumer and the results will follow!

This article is part of our Colloquium’16 series (Marketing – Strategy, Science or Sorcery) 

Rural Marketing Insights from ITC’s Business Development Manager, Rajeev Arora

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Mr. Rajeev Arora (Business Development Manager, Rural Marketing, Agri-Business Division, ITC Ltd.) recently visited IIM Indore as a speaker at the Colloquium organized by the Industry Interaction Cell of the institute. He spoke about ITC’s innovative e-choupal system, which is a unique combination of CSR and a rural penetration model. He sat down for a detailed interview with us, and here is what he had to say –

Darsheeka: Since the introduction of e-choupal 15 years ago, what do you think has been the shift in marketing approach when it comes to rural customers? Because, like you said, they are also shifting towards branded products.

Mr. Rajeev Arora: There are various kinds of shifts that have happened. Now, the consumer or maybe the end customer is more educated; they have various means of reaching out to their requirements; and people have started thinking about health, hygiene, education, and a better future for their kids. This has definitely led to a change, which is improving the quality of their life. They have also become technologically driven, as far as agriculture is concerned and ultimately, they are not the same kind of rural. The change has happened in every sphere of their life, and made them more educated and demanding.

D: As we know, the rural markets have not been doing well for FMCG companies due to drought situations and inflationary pressure. How has that affected the adoption of systems like e-choupal?

R: As far as adversity in any part of the country is concerned, the companies are not there to make profits, rather to support the system over there. There are a few product categories that are needed during emergency, and our approach has been to reach out to consumers so that scarcity is not there. As far as the ITC’s own Sanchalak infrastructure in the 4 states (UP, MP, Rajasthan, and Maharashtra) is concerned, it has always been a kind of support function. So, if anything positive happens over there, it is to be shared with the colleagues; and if something negative happens, there are ways to find out the solutions to overcome those issues.

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Source: Economic Times

D: Therefore, can we say that there is a predominant element of CSR in this initiative and it’s not just about rural penetration? If so, how does ITC balance between the two?

R: Yes, there is a heavy CSR element. The approach is not to go into a rural market and get business done; the approach has been empowering the rural people. This empowerment has come through various means – getting the right value for their agricultural produce, and providing them with facilities required for producing those commodities. So, whether it involves getting KCC (Kisan Credit Card) availed to them, securing them through life insurance policies, or educating them about how to avail weather-based crop insurance, these activities have always been done so that farmers are aware of what is good for their agricultural-related requirements. Beyond this, there are things not directly related to agriculture, but directly related to CSR. For e.g., health and hygiene of the females in the villages, employment generation, education of kids. Through these activities, ITC carries out a support function. Sanchalak is not working like a broker over there; he is a point of contact from the same geography as the people, present for support in agricultural as well as non-agricultural needs. This has definitely given us an advantage of deep rural penetration, and generating the confidence of the people in rural areas. So, this can be called a symbiotic approach.

D: Talking about the bottom line, do you think the investment in e-choupal is justified when we measure it against the increase in rural affordability?

R: Investment has been made over 15 years ago and it has given a different image to the company. Our Agri Business division has got strengthened in the rural areas. Perhaps, ITC is a company of its own size delivering results in India, and globally. Whenever our Food Business team comes across any new idea or are in the process of launching a new product category, they get back to us in terms of sourcing capabilities; this has only been possible because of e-choupal. Entering the rural market is not easy, and getting things done over there is also very challenging. The only advantage we have is our team member and channel partner, the Sanchalak; we support each other mutually in various day-to-day activities so that he can convince the villagers about what is good for them. The choice always lies in their hand.

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ITC Chaupal Sagar Rural Mall, Source: outlookindia.com

D: If I am not wrong, ITC has partnered with a competitor like Coca-Cola for this initiative. How do the dynamics of this unusual collaboration work out?

R: While talking about the platform of rural marketing, Chaupal Haat originated 7 years ago and we had a pool of partners who joined us. These included TVS, Maruti Suzuki, State Bank of India, and the rural-centric brands from ITC (Superia, Sunfeast) as well. The agenda was to have a network to support the brands with good quality and social value that want to enter the rural market, and get connected with the consumer. In this case, the cost of reaching out to the consumer would be justified since it would be a mutual effort. Your point is very valid. We have never been into tie-ups with direct competitors like HUL or P&G. In fact, as far as Coca-Cola is concerned, we have been supporting them since the past 3-4 years in getting their rural distribution more aligned and intensive. As of now, both this companies do not have the product category where there is a mismatch, or a common functionality. So, this collaboration is able to work. The rest of our partners include TVS, Mahindra Finance, and others. For rest of the product categories, the product is one that is needed in the rural areas but it is not possible to make that available from the house of ITC. So, it is a demand in the rural market that is currently not possible to be met through us, so why not help out other companies if it addresses the need.

D: You mentioned the words ‘Rozgaar Duniya’ in your session. Can you tell us about that in a little more detail?

R: It was an initiative wherein the Agri Business Division (ABD) got into a partnership with Monster.com in order to support rural youngsters through availing various employment options to them, related to their educational qualifications. Through Sanchalak, we supported a set of youngsters in villages to obtain job profiles such as security guards, mechanics, masons, carpenters, and others based on vocational skills. It worked well. Normally, in any of our support functions, the Sanchalak is a catalyst and does not need to go beyond a certain threshold. This is because he is also, ultimately, a progressive farmer. He has his own liability, family, and various business responsibilities. So, he should be in a support function wherein things happen on their own and he does not need to worry much. There has to be some kind of passion, such that not much of a push is required. Support is definitely there, but it should not be from a 0 to 100 kind of a thing; it should be lining around 75-80% from his end and the rest of the support will come from our team members.

D: As one last question, the impending challenge of rural digitization and digital literacy in rural areas combined with issues of electricity can be a test to the effectiveness and efficiency of e-choupal. How does ITC tackle this?

R: When e-choupal originated, there were certain characteristics that were attached to it. The most important one was reaching out to farmers in the villages, and letting them know prices prevailing in various markets to enable them to make better and informed decisions. We were giving them an opportunity wherein, if they were interested, they could come to our buying locations where we provided certain set of product features above and beyond the traditional mandis. That was the basic agenda. But, there was also other content they needed in their daily lives like information related to better agricultural practices, and health. Therein, limited content is telecast at the kiosk fortnightly or monthly. The villagers can come and watch that content there. In order to address the power issue, we provided solar panels when this system originated. So, power is not that big an issue. Anyway, over the years, technology has changed – people are using smartphones with freely available content in villages as well.  They have better connectivity with the nearby cities, or tehsil areas. It is no longer the case that they can only visit these areas only once a month, rather someone or the other from the villages visits these locations weekly to obtain information. So, access to information is not that tough now. Having said all this, there are various companies, organizations, and bodies that have a very fair way of trading. For example, the MP government is definitely doing a good job. So, there is a set of people trying to replicate our model after seeing our initial success, and doing a good job. In fact, more of such people are needed also. It is a win-win arrangement for everyone. We are not thinking just from our perspective and saying we have to be the only ones and the best ones. We are one of the good ones, but other players are also there. As a nation, we need more of such people.

This article is part of our Colloquium’16 series (Marketing – Strategy, Science or Sorcery)