Satrajit Sen

Profile: Vikrant Khanna: Insightful

After being recruited from IMT Ghaziabad by Dabur in 1994, Vikrant Khanna embarked on a career that was built around understanding consumers.

"It was interesting for a guy right out of a B-School to lead the sales teams for a big FMCG company. Besides, Dabur was transitioning from a wholesale business driven company to a direct selling business," he recalls.

Profile: Vikrant Khanna: Insightful
Dabur, unlike other FMCGs back then, was not strong on distribution, but the transition brought that into focus. So much so that - according to Khanna - Dabur's dependence on the wholesale business came down to 40 per cent, from 60 per cent in 1995. A year down the line "I probably did something right for which they promoted me and even asked me to handle their largest portfolio - the hair care range - in Delhi," he states proudly.

First insight

At Rs 200 crore then, Dabur Amla was the biggest hair care brand of Dabur as well as the country, thanks mainly to its deep roots in the rural parts. But with its glass bottle packaging, the brand was not able to attract young consumers.

"We cut out our trade spends and used the money in brand building and advertising. We engineered a revamp campaign directed by the late Yash Chopra (a close friend of the Burmans, which helped), featuring actor Karisma Kapoor. It led to the brand growing by 24 per cent after the re-launch, compared to 12 per cent in the previous year," informs Khanna.

Another learning curve was the launch of Dabur Vatika in 1997. Ethnic Indian formats of brands compared to classical FMCG products have worked well for Dabur. That's probably why it never enjoyed success with products like toothpastes or shampoos.

Vatika was an exception and it worked really well. "Indian women classify hair care products as either 'look good' or 'do good'. Shampoos come under the former and hair-oil, the latter. Women felt that shampooing would damage their hair. So we created Vatika as a herbal product that would not damage the hair," he remembers. It worked.

New steps

After four-and-a-half years with Dabur, Khanna moved to Pillsbury, which was trying to set foot in India as a start up, in partnership with Godrej Foods, to launch Pillsbury Atta. "We went back to the process of gathering insights and saw that branded atta can be sold on three parameters - taste, aroma and softness. We created a tangible differentiation for Pillsbury on the softness parameter by using the chakki grinding process. Before Pillsbury, branded attas were made on roller-mill grinders, which took the softness away," he states.

Pillsbury, according to Khanna, also introduced innovative packaging that involved a mix of pet and poly bags. Other brands used polybags, which are only moisture-resistant, while pet acts a gas barrier (and blocks out the smell of other products like detergents, lying alongside them) as well. "Within six months, we gained market leadership in the four metros where we beat Kissan Annapurna and Unilever's atta brand," he points out.

Between 2000 and 2002, Khanna had a brief fling with the internet business at Sify. "I joined ICI Dulux and was put in charge of the interior decorative portfolio, which accounted for 75 per cent of the brand's revenues," he recalls. During the next half a decade, he understood the concept of 'Colour Leadership and Colour Inspiration' and that a colour brand is not remembered by the brand name, but the texture it provides.

Mobile move

In 2006, the company asked Khanna to move to Vietnam to handle global responsibilities. He was not happy about leaving India and hence moved to Airtel. The first three years were spent in leading Airtel's e-commerce business, targeting NRIs, and the last two towards marketing to the youth. Khanna discovered that it was not about reaching out to the youth with a standard 30-second video ad. Youth have several layers of friends and they treat everyone equally. So we developed the 'Har Ek Friend Zaroori Hota Hai' campaign, revolving around the 'fun' quotient," he states.

Khanna believes that a business has to be run by understanding the consumers in that category and HomeShop18 will not be any different.