Sunit Roy

"Pressure to carry out high decibel product launches is growing": Vinay Pant, Maruti Suzuki

An interview with Vinay Pant, Assistant Vice President - Marketing, Maruti Suzuki India.

Maruti's Vinay Pant spoke to afaqs! about his segment and his brands.

This interview is part of our Marketers' Special Issue - afaqs!Reporter magazine, June 15, 2017.

Edited Excerpts

In what way has the quality/quantity of information/data you receive about your consumers changed over the past 12 months? Has this change led to any tangible impact on your marketing decisions?

New software and programs are coming in. Earlier, data-basing was very simple. It used to be more transactional. Today, you can capture a lot more data. Say, a person owns a car for five to six years... there are so many opportunities to connect with him/her. Now the approach is more emotional - for example... when is she/he getting married/having kids? Loyalty towards customers becomes very important. Also, social/digital platforms and listening tools have become very critical today. The customer is becoming digital-savvy and impatient.

What is your lead medium of communication today? Why?

Digital is certainly becoming very strong as a medium due to the social buzz it creates. Youngsters today have a huge influence on their parents. So, one has to work on digital platforms.

But at the same time, our lead medium continues to be television because of the reach it has.

And if we are launching any new car then it has to print.

For Nexa, outdoor - example, display at airports and the Nexa Lounge at IGI-T3 - is very important because where you are is what matters most. Nexa showrooms are present only at up-market places.

Marketers today deal with way too many external brand custodians - agree? What can be done about it?

At Maruti, we believe in a one-agency approach. For Nexa brands, we have Hakuhodo Percept, and for Maurti Suzuki channel brands, Dentsu Creative Impact is the agency on record.

Whether it's a single media or a multimedia campaign, our mantra is 'one brief, one solution'. The agency comes back with not just creative ideas, but also media solutions. So the creative agency is more of a brand partner that is involved in all our marketing activities. This way, the agencies are more accountable.

For your segment and company, what characterised the year gone by? Going forward, what are the big challenges that you see coming your way?

The industry is now in recovery mode. MSIL (Maruti Suzuki India) outpaced the industry for the fifth consecutive year. This was our third consecutive year of double digit growth at 10.6 per cent. We attribute Maruti Suzuki's success to several factors: foray into new segments with a flurry of new model launches such as Ciaz, Baleno, Vitara Brezza and Ignis, and our new premium retail channel Nexa.

Our market share also increased and our existing models continued their strong run. All our models have been doing well. In fact, of the top 10 models in the country, seven are from Maruti Suzuki.

There has been a steady change in the demand for different variants. Earlier, lower and mid-level variants were selling more, but in the last few years the mid and top-end variants have been in demand.

Where will your next million consumers come from? And what will you do to get them?

India is still a nascent market. Our car penetration is hardly 19-20 per 1,000 people. There's so much opportunity. We have to get more people behind wheels. Entry level cars are becoming more and more important. The first car in the household will continue to hold the importance it does today.

How is the role of the CMO/marketing head changing?

The pressure to carry out high decibel product launches is growing. Media and PR options are evolving and new-age technology (like virtual reality) is getting introduced. Utilising these options effectively across consumer touch-points is important.

Another important factor is speed-to-market and visibility of our new models on the roads.

As a marketer, what scares you?

Nothing scares us.

We're often asked, 'Where will you get share from?' But we are in the game of creating the market and growing the industry. We have been expanding the market; that's the way we have been gaining share.

Have you noticed any change in consumption patterns? In what ways are changing urban lifestyles affecting your category?

People are becoming 'aspirational' and indulgent. They are spending money; they now expect that 'extra something' from their cars, whether it's comfort or convenience. In certain models we have up to 40 per cent penetration of AGS (Automatic Gear Shift). People are also looking for features that complement their gadgets. For example, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

Are there any changes in technology/manufacturing that could affect your category? Is the environment around your category changing?

Design, technology and safety are becoming very important. We use high tensile steel - it makes the car sturdier but lighter. When you plant an engine in such a frame, fuel efficiency goes up.

Have there been any geographical/demographical shifts - effort driven or incidental - in the demand for, and consumption of, your product?

Growth in demand is coming from both urban and rural areas. A few years back, though, rural areas were contributing more to our growth story. But now, demand from urban areas has seen an upswing, especially in the case of top-end variants.

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