Kunal Sharma

Head of Marketing & Business Head – Modern Trade & E-commerce

Giving tech armor to traditional marketing will make it a force

What are the nuances of brand marketing and content creation for consumer-facing businesses in the FMCG industry? Can you adopt a one-size-fits-all approach? Is there a difference between new age marketing strategy vis-à-vis going old school, when it comes to this traditional sector? Once a brand is thoroughly established in the consumer psyche, how do you still experiment around it?

Kunal Sharma, Head of Marketing & Business Head – Modern Trade & E-commerce, KRBL, touched upon these fascinating aspects of brand communication while having a cup of coffee with us. Let us drive straight in:

1. A brief on your career journey so far, for the audience's benefit.

I have spent around 15 years working in the consumer goods industry, primarily in sales and marketing functions. During this time, I worked with ITC for about 5 years and with Dabur for around 9 years, handling various roles. Currently, I am working with KRBL as their marketing head for the past 6 months.

Throughout my career, I have worked in various parts of the country and gained experience across multiple categories such as Foods, Personal Care, and more in the FMCG industry. Working in FMCG has been an interesting and fulfilling journey for me as it gives you a very good grounding and learning in terms of the various aspects, and it is the closest one can get to the consumer. I believe this is why many MBA students aspire to work in this industry.

2. What are the differences in working with these three companies?

In terms of consumers, each company targets a different segment, with ITC focusing on FMCG and foods, Dabur on healthcare, and KRBL on staples. Additionally, each organization is at a different stage of evolution, and as a professional, I aim to come in and add value to help them move forward. For example, when I worked at ITC, the organization was in the midst of an evolution, while Dabur was transitioning into a new ecosystem. Similarly, KRBL is now exploring newer ways of looking at the consumer in the staples category. Ultimately, each company has its nuances, but the goal remains the same -- to add value and help the organization grow.

When I say that each organization is at a different stage of evolution, I mean that they have its unique challenges, strengths, and opportunities. For example, when I worked at ITC, the organization was already an established player in the FMCG and food space, but they were looking to expand their presence and compete with other giants in the industry. On the other hand, Dabur was at a different stage of evolution, where they were transitioning into a new ecosystem. The organization was expanding its offerings beyond traditional healthcare products and into new areas such as skin care, oral care, and home care.

Now, at KRBL, the focus is on exploring newer ways of looking at the consumer in the staples category. The organization is looking to innovate and create new products that meet the changing needs of consumers. For instance, they are exploring plant-based alternatives to traditional staples and launching new products that cater to health-conscious consumers.

While each organization is different, the goal remains the same - to add value and help the organization grow. As a professional, I try to understand the unique challenges and opportunities presented by each organization and leverage my expertise to drive growth and achieve success.

3. How do you view new-age marketing versus traditional marketing?

I believe that when companies or brands choose marketing mediums, it ultimately comes down to the objective they want to achieve. Once the objective is established, it is crucial to look at the target audience to determine the best approach. There are a plethora of options available today, and it's essential to choose the right one for the specific audience and objective.

For instance, as a kitchen product, India Gate rice is primarily purchased by the lady of the house. However, when looking at the brand's future, it's essential to become relevant to the younger generation, who will soon become decision-makers. To accomplish this, it's necessary to explore other platforms and communication methods, such as digital media. Digital media can be used to create a connection with a new audience by leveraging new-age technologies.

In one of my recent campaigns, I used mainline media to build reach and achieve a particular business objective. However, I used digital media to connect with a new audience through a campaign on NFTs on Rice Art. This kind of convergence between traditional and new-age technology is the future of marketing.

4. How do you put safeguards around brand communication?

In my opinion, when it comes to marketing activities, there are both quantitative and qualitative parameters that need to be considered. As a business person, I am always swayed towards activities that lead to certain objectives that I have laid out, both in terms of business and brand objectives.

Business objectives are more short-term as they lead to immediate benefits, whereas brand objectives are more long-term as they feed back into the brand in the longer term.

When it comes to deciding how to add back to the brand, it is more of a qualitative lens that marketers use. We understand what actions we take will do to the brand, but there can still be slip-ups at times. It's essential to be careful and think through these ideas' initial stages and understand what they will do to the brand. Still, in the long run, they are all intended to feed back into the brand, and that's the judgment of a marketer.

5. How important a role do short 30 secs or 1-minute films play in brand communication?

Brand films have a significant impact on building a category and expanding the market. They work towards building a category in the long run, which is crucial to driving growth. As more and more categories become cluttered, it is not enough to only capture the existing market share. Brands need to expand the market and tap into new audiences, and brand films can be an effective way to do that. This approach has been adopted by many marketers, and it has proven to be successful in their respective niche spaces. Ultimately, brand films play a vital role in driving growth and expanding the market.

6. Do you think that by focusing on a premium brand image, the company might be unintentionally excluding a large portion of the market?

As a marketer, I must identify the sources of growth for the next four to five years and plan my strategies accordingly. In the early stages of Basmati rice penetration in India, our objective was to increase its consumption. However, now that Basmati rice has reached a healthy double-digit penetration rate, the challenge lies in converting loose or unbranded Basmati consumers into branded Basmati consumers.

I understand that changing consumer food habits can be a daunting task, but we have found that getting consumers who are already consuming Basmati rice to switch to a branded version is easier than converting consumers who are used to consuming local or unbranded rice. Currently, around 40% of Basmati rice consumption in India is branded, while the remaining 60% is unbranded. As a leader in the Basmati rice category, this is our clear strategy for growth in the coming years.

7. How do you plan to evolve your marketing tactics and strategies for Basmati Rice in the next five years?

While Basmati is a significant part of our revenue, we are also looking at other sources of growth. One such area is regional rice, which has a lot of consumption in specific parts of the country. We see an opportunity to establish our brands in this space as there are not many packaged players. Another area of growth is by making rice more relevant to specific cohorts of people by investing in low-GI rice and fortified rice. These consumer propositions will enable us to make high gross margins and tap into a huge pie. Additionally, we are exploring how the India Gate brand can extend into newer adjacent categories that can open up new avenues for growth.

Whenever we look at new categories, we need to understand whether we have a right to win in that space. It may not necessarily mean extending the India Gate brand to a new category. If we feel that India Gate is not relevant to consumers in that category, we may need to launch a new brand or acquire an existing one. For example, the government is promoting millet, which is primarily consumed in the southern part of India. We could explore this category by building a new brand or through an acquisition.

However, I agree with you that ultimately, it's the consumer who decides whether a brand is successful or not. We need to make sure that we have the right mix before venturing into a new category. A few years back, we launched some products, and I believe their failure was not due to India Gate as a brand fitment but because those categories were too small.

Every organization has a unique DNA. In the case of Basmati, we are a rice commodities company, and the top line is a driver for us. Therefore, we cannot plan to get into categories that will only contribute one or two percent to our revenue. We need to focus on significantly larger categories.

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