Ashwini Gangal

Marketing heads from Dabur, Emami, L’Oréal and Godrej Consumer Products, on innovation

The unnatural situation of the pandemic and extended lockdowns has compelled FMCG brands to innovate and cater to altered consumer needs. At CMO Week, we sat down with executives from Dabur, Emami, L’Oréal, and Godrej Consumer Products to discuss innovation in consumer marketing.

Which area is innovation most crucial in? - Product/ingredients/new formats, new launches/line extensions/diversification, advertising, design, distribution, packaging, technology, etc.

At CMO Week, an afaqs! conference, I spoke to four FMCG brand marketing executives about fast-track innovation in the midst of a public health crisis. Watch the entire session here (video below) or read on for highlights:

Kavita Angre, chief of consumer and market insights, L’Oréal, said, “Innovation is a means to an end – increasing your business. What is it that you need to improve or fix?”

Angre, who looks after insights, media and strategy at L’Oréal India, straddles mass market brands like L’Oréal Paris, Maybelline, Garnier in the consumer products division, and professional brands in the salon division, as well as luxury brand Kiehl's. She spoke about recent innovations at L’Oréal “across product, distribution, reaching consumers”.

As an example of this, she mentioned L’Oréal’s “social commerce” efforts that ensured consumers were able to purchase beauty products (professional shampoos, conditioners) that are, in normal conditions, available only at salons. When asked to stay shut, L’Oréal’s salon partners got in touch with their customers and proactively asked them whether they would like to buy these products and made them available for purchase at their convenience.

She cited a second example, of “virtual try-ons”, a tech enabled solution (ModiFace) that lets people ‘try’ cosmetics on, digitally, before making a purchase.

Among insights that have moved the needle for L’Oréal in the last six months is a high demand for science backed products; consumers are more aware of the ingredients that go into the products they buy than they were in the past. People also seem to favour nature backed and sustainably sourced and packed products. “There’s a willingness to pay for sustainable brands, in India…” Angre said.

Anuja Mishra, VP and marketing head, personal care and hygiene, Godrej Consumer Products (GCPL), spoke about the speed of innovation, changes in “consumer listening” and omnichannel distribution brought on by the times. She reiterated the need to stay true to the brand’s core purpose in consumers’ lives and cautioned against losing authenticity in a bid to innovate. GCPL markets products across the spectrum, including both essential as well as discretionary categories. Popular brands include Mr. Magic handwash, Cinthol soap, Aer spray, and Protekt sanitiser, among others. (This was the second time Godrej's Mishra participated in CMO Week; watch the first session here).

Anupam Katheriya, AVP, marketing and business development, Emami, marketer of brands like Navratna, Zandu, Boroplus, Fair and Handsome, and, more recently, home hygiene brand Emasol, spoke about the year gone by as one full of lessons in changing one’s approach, and creating categories within a matter of a fortnight, including “picking up on product nuances, getting consumer insights, getting a prototype done, testing it, producing it…”

The positioning of his brand Navratna (oil, talc), as a product that keeps users cool and calm, got renewed significance during the stressful context of the pandemic. In terms of packaging solutions, Katheriya spoke about Emami’s sanitisers in sachet format and pocket sized spray format.

Rajat Mathur, head, consumer marketing and innovations, Dabur, spoke about Dabur’s focus on “contextual products” (covid specific), the push beyond rural markets and the need to target younger consumers. To meet challenges on the sales and distribution front during the peak of the lockdown last year, Dabur tied up with the Jagran Group in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, and leveraged the group’s massive newspaper distribution network to deliver Dabur’s immunity products, at a time when print circulation was hit as well.

He also spoke about Dabur’s direct-to-consumer ‘van operation’, a door-to-door supply project that took Dabur’s immunity products to people’s homes, in around 24 mini metros and small towns across the country, for almost seven consecutive months, at a time when people weren’t able to visit their neighbourhood stores and kirana shops.

In the context of new product launches, Dabur has been prolific; the company has launched 40-50 new products, both covid centric and otherwise, in 2020-21. Some names include Rheumatic pain relief spray, Anu Tailam nasal drops, cow ghee, germ protection shampoo, and Apple Cider Vinegar, among others.

Dabur’s Mathur said, “The sheer pace and quantum of new launches has been something the Dabur system hasn’t seen in many years. We’ve crunched the entire NPD (new product development) launch cycle from several months to a few weeks in some cases… we’ve moved from sequential to parallel way work-streams…”

Presently, one of his challenges is balancing the traditional, Ayurveda led portfolio (Chyawanprash, etc.) with the modern, "futuristic" kind of ranges (Vatika Select Shampoo, touted as a ‘no nasties’ product with gentle ingredients). Many of the latter kind are sold exclusively on e-commerce platforms at the moment and might be taken to offline outlets as well, soon.

This panel discussion was part of the 3rd edition of CMO Week (June 7-11, 2021), a conference organised by afaqs!. Session sponsor - MySmartPrice.

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