Aishwarya Ramesh
Interviews

"Indian consumers are unreasonable": Sunil Kataria - CEO, Godrej Consumer Products

Sunil Kataria is the chief executive officer of Godrej Consumer Products Limited - India and SAARC. He discusses marketing insights, the evolving Indian consumer and the importance of brand purpose.

Goodknight has announced the release of a new model of liquid vapourisers titled ‘Goodknight Gold Flash’, specially designed to kill mosquitoes hidden in corners of homes. Present at the launch of this new product was Sunil Kataria - chief executive officer, India and SAARC, Godrej Consumer Products. Kataria has worked at Godrej for nearly a decade and overall, has almost two decades of collective work experience in the field of marketing. Some of the companies he has worked at include Marico and Idea Cellular. In addition to being a marketer, Kataria is also an active member of the Indian Society of Advertisers (ISA) and was re-elected chairman in September 2019.

Here are edited excerpts from a conversation on the sidelines of the press conference of Goodknight's new product launch...

Q: You mentioned during your presentation that nowadays, the Indian consumer is unreasonable and that you need to find ways to deliver up to his expectations. Can you tell us how consumer expectations have evolved in the last decade or so?

A: It’s true, Indian consumers these days have become quite unreasonable. They want everything at a discounted/reasonable price. They want a product of the best quality with differentiated benefits. They want it to be accessible and easy to reach as well – they expect the convenience of delivery at their homes thanks to e-commerce. They also want guarantee of service and of service quality after the product purchase. The consumers also expect discounts because often we see deep discounting on e-commerce platforms. The Indian consumer is a bargain hunter – the difference now is that not only does he want a bargain, he also wants value and convenience along with it.

Sunil Kataria
Sunil Kataria

Q: The way customers see a brand’s value proposition has changed. How does it affect a consumer-facing brand like Godrej?

A: For consumers these days, brand loyalty remains intact but I think they want more from brands. One of the things they look for in a brand is authenticity. They listen closely to what others are saying about the brand and there is a higher belief in what’s being said. This is a big shift that has been brought about by social media and other channels of information. Earlier, if a brand put out an ad campaign, they would just believe it, but now there are other ways in which they can verify the claims that the brand is making. That’s all become possible thanks to social media and access to technology. In fact, I’d rather rely on advertising less and pay more attention to what people who use my brand are saying about the products. Hence, being authentic about your product communication and brand message is very important – consumers will see through you if you’re not authentic.

Earlier, if a brand put out an ad campaign, they would just believe it, but now there are other ways in which they can verify the claims that the brand is making. That’s become possible thanks to social media and access to technology.

The second thing is that consumers don’t want you to talk solely from an advertising perspective. These campaigns are important, but they don’t play the same roles that they used to. Earlier, the motive was to induce trials in consumers, but now there’s been a shift in that role. The ROI of these campaigns has definitely come down. If you’re only on one channel, there’s no way to create consumer awareness since consumers have no other way to access information about your brand. Earlier, they would believe an ad campaign, they’d go to a shop and pick it up. Nowadays, consumers have access to multiple sources of information. The role of a mass media campaign is about building salience, at best. The role of getting into the consideration set of a consumer, and hence induce trial – this has shifted a lot to other pivots.

Q: Do brands necessarily need to adopt a higher purpose in terms of advertising messages?

A: The purpose piece is an important one for brands but unfortunately right now, it has turned into a fad. I think a brand needs to have a purpose because it makes a lot of difference to consumer engagement. A brand should have a purpose only if they’re going to be authentic about it. There are a lot of campaigns that brands execute with purpose being the core… The thing is, purpose is not a campaign idea. Purpose is what you do for the society beyond brand building. For example, at Goodknight, we take on the challenge of elimination of vector borne diseases, which is a genuine social challenge in the country.

Purpose is not a campaign idea. Purpose is what you do for the society beyond brand building.

Q: Can you tell us how the housewife today is different from the housewife of yesteryear?

A: The biggest change is that she’s much more connected since we now live in the age of connected consumers - we’re all socially connected thanks to technology. To my mind, today’s housewife is an entirely different consumer since she’s got access to so many more avenues of information now, at the click of a button. She can have access to information not just about Indian products, but also about popular products that belong to different parts of the world. The product may not even necessarily be relevant to her, but the point is that she has access to that information now. Today, consumers can use a platform like Amazon to shop for products from the USA, even if they stay in a remote village in India.

Differences continue to exist between small towns and big towns but this information gap is closing. The needs of a small-town consumer are no different from the needs of a big city consumer. Affordability, access, aspirations… these three things are rapidly changing thanks to the internet.

Differences continue to exist between small towns and big towns but this information gap is closing. The needs of a small-town consumer are no different from the needs of a big city consumer.

The third biggest difference between then and now is a consumer’s willingness to experiment. Products are available across the country now whereas previously, they were only exclusively available in certain pockets – so a consumer nowadays is more willing to take risks. This has given birth to a lot of online challenger brands who are making meaningful contributions in terms of products. This couldn’t have happened without internet access.

Q: What are some of the challenges associated with category and habit creation among consumers, especially when attention spans are so short these days…

A: When ideating, you need to think a few steps ahead of the consumer. The consumers are not going to tell you what change they want to see in the category. You can’t go to the consumers and ask them what they want – if that’s the case, the iPhone would never have been invented. Category creation requires a deeper understanding of the sector that you’re operating in. It needs an understanding of the overall needs of the consumers, only then can you think about offering a solution which is best suited to consumer needs.

Q: Tell us about the tools you use to measure consumer data. How do you act on the insights gathered?

A: There are standard tools that most companies have and we also use those. Most common is Nielsen, but most of the new pieces we’ve created are from a Black Box that we’ve set up. It’s our social listening tool where we monitor what consumers are saying about our brand on social media channels. And when the need arises, we use it to produce short content pieces that we share on our social channels.