Ananya Pathak

“Consumers aren’t satisfied with ‘good enough for India’ products”: Manohar Bhat

A quick chat with Kia Motors' vice president and head of sales and marketing.

Kia Motors India, wholly-owned subsidiary of Kia Motors Corporation, announced the winners of season two of its Australian Open Ballkids India Program at an event held in Gurugram on January 8, 2020. The 10 selected kids, aged between 12 - 15 years, underwent an extensive training process and will represent India among other Ballkids from across the world at the iconic Grand Slam later this month.

Winners of second season of Australian Open Ballkids India Program
Winners of second season of Australian Open Ballkids India Program

On the sidelines of the event, we interacted with Manohar Bhat, vice president and head of sales and marketing, Kia Motors India. Starting at Hyundai Motor India as a regional manager in 2004, where he later took over as the general manager, national sales in 2005, Bhat went on to take up the role of commercial business head at Maruti Suzuki in 2008. There, in 2012, he took over as the vice president (marketing and product development). Bhat worked as the president of Bajaj Allianz General Insurance for two years before joining Kia in 2017.

Manohar Bhat, VP & head of sales and marketing, Kia Motors India
Manohar Bhat, VP & head of sales and marketing, Kia Motors India

We asked him about the kind of sales and marketing policies that work the best in times of an economic slowdown.

“Give the consumer what he wants at a good price and with all the comfort he seeks, and you will be a winner. At any point of time, even during the slowdown, this strategy should work.”

He agrees that the economic slowdown will however impact the advertising and marketing policies of a brand. “During a slowdown, everyone is shouting, so you've got to shout louder and differentiate your message from that of others. Focus your communication on your strengths and what you want to showcase.”

He mentions that the task of a marketer during such times is slightly more difficult as compared to an easy going time.

Bhat feels that the economy affects the consumer sentiments too. “There may be a lack of sentiment but not a lack of purchasing power. If you notice, even during times of slowdown, we and some other brands have been able to sell. There is purchasing power, but it is just that one is not able to exercise that power. A customer may feel that it is not the best time to purchase a car unless there’s a very convincing reason. That’s where the job of a marketer starts.”

Having established markets in over 180 countries, India is one of the major markets for the South Korean car brand. Bhat believes that the Indian market has great potential. “Putting our money where our mouth is, we have started our own manufacturing facility here which can turn out more than 300,000 vehicles in a year,” he shares.

How do you sell to an Indian? “This is not an easy question to answer,” he quips. “... it took us over two years to study the Indian consumer. We came up with Kia Seltos to meet the needs of the Indian consumer. The car incorporates features from upper end vehicles to meet the Indian consumer's needs.”

He defines his target audience as anyone young at heart, who loves design, wants good quality and likes technology. “The only age we look at is the age of the heart. We look at the attitude with which one looks at life.”

Speaking of how the market has changed in the last five years, he states that markets are usually not so quick to change. “It is not an overnight thing but the market has slowly shifted. People are looking for better products today. Consumers are not satisfied with ‘good enough for India’ products today. They want international quality. Even the entry level of consumers has risen by over a couple of lakh rupees. Today, i20 and Swift can be considered as entry level cars. Many first time consumers look at more expensive and bigger vehicles, as compared to earlier.”

Two weeks ago, the brand launched a 50-second film for its soon-to-be-launched Kia Carnival, which the brand claims stands a class apart with its opulent interiors, ornate looks and features.

Here are some other films by the brand released in the past:

We asked Bhat about the presence of Kia Motors on mass mediums and the brand's preferred advertising channels. He tells us that the brand goes where the consumers are. “The preferred medium to communicate with young-at-heart consumers is digital. We’re also looking at communicating with the general public and therefore, are considering TV commercials. Print and outdoor for us are need based.”

When we pointed out the rise of taxi hailing apps in India, Bhat said that the rental cars are also cars that were once purchased. Although he says he is not sure, theoretically he strongly believes that the rise of the likes of Ola and Uber will adversely impact the sale of cars in the country. “In any case, the hailing facilities are mainly concentrating on metros. However, we as manufacturers look at a bigger market,” he concludes.