In today's world of intense competition, there is perhaps no marketing mantra more relevant than this — the customer is king. Every company is looking to anticipate the needs and demands of this increasingly demanding breed before its competitors, both international and domestic, in order to not jut survive market forces but thrive. And as it is with most FMCG products so it is with ta.
The tea industry, with penetration levels close to 90 per cent, is extremely habit-driven. Consumers once used to a brand are not very open to a change in taste profile. Therefore, the acquisition of new consumers (which always have to be from another brand's franchise, given the high level of penetration) is a very challenging task. Yet, Tata Tea has achieved commendable success with its innovative products, savvy packaging, attractive pricing and eye-catching advertising. However, it feels that to sustain this success and continue to grow, understanding changing consumer needs and identifying related challenges and opportunities should be a continuous endeavour.
The company uses a metric that enables it to launch new products, keep its brand image contemporary and retain a large proportion of its consumer base while attracting new consumers, informs Tata Tea executive director (marketing) Sangeeta Talwar. "This is done by the continuous tracking of consumer trends and practices both inside the category and outside, in India and international markets," she explains.
But the challenges remain. Elaborates Ms Talwar: "For a product like tea, the challenges are two-fold. Lower priced offers from local brands offer a competitive product at a cheaper price, especially when commodity prices are down. Also, value added offerings in the marketplace, which look to excite the consumer and enter the household as an occasional use product, tend to reduce the share of consumption of the regular brand being consumed in the household."
"To combat this it is essential to weave substantial competitive differentiation into the brand," adds Ms Talwar. "This is done through not only the taste and in-cup profile of the product, but also through its packaging and brand communication. The latter transcending the product beyond its transaction level, creating an emotional connect with the consumer where the brand plays a role in his life."
In a large, diverse market with a scattered, fragmented trade structure, brand communication also plays a key role in ensuring top-of-the-mind recall. Mass media advertising is then used as an effective delivery mechanism for creating the right brand imagery and connect.
Moving away from the image of tea merely being a refreshing family drink, Tata Tea has made a conscious shift in brand image and has successfully associated tea with success. The recent Sania Mirza campaign for Tata Tea Premium drives home this point rather effectively. The taazgi (freshness) of its previous campaign has been replaced with kaamyabi (success). Tata Tea Gold's attractive packaging has earned brownie points from stockists who display the bright and glossy green and yellow packets prominently at all the outlets. Another ace the company has played is the Tetley flavoured tea bags — 'T' — which break away from boring old plain tea bags and promise extra zing with five exciting new flavours.
In order to support its product innovations, Tata Tea uses a range of sophisticated market research tools to map consumer experience, identify consumer expectations and measure consumer satisfaction. Regular in-home product tests are administered which track consumer acceptance of its market blends and also help in product development.
"Continuously tracking consumer responses to all marketing activity, including communication, packaging and all promotional activities through a proprietary model of TNS Worldwide called the MarketMind tracking methodology, fieldwork for which is done everyday, also helps us keep track of consumer needs," adds Tata Tea manger — commercial insights Krishnendu Dutta.
The company incorporates this consumer response while developing communication and uses Millward Brown's Link methodology along with regular tracking of satisfaction levels of both the retailers and the stockists.
"Branding is also very important in building customer loyalty," says Ms Talwar. The company believes that in a fiercely price-competitive and largely undifferentiated product category like tea, building and nurturing brand health is the only effective way to guard franchise and protect market share, and Tata Tea has used this strategy effectively.
The company devised an efficient umbrella branding strategy for Tata Tea in the northern, eastern and western geographies of the country. Three variants — Premium, Gold and Agni — are now under the Tata Tea umbrella and this strategy helps maximise the potential of the variants, while serving consumer needs at different price points and taste profiles. It also enhances bonding with consumers, while offering the right taste at the right price point. The variant route has been used to extend the Kanan Devan brand in Kerala with the launch of Kanan Devan Strong. The objective being to leverage the Kanan Devan heritage while offering a different taste profile to attract buyers of regional and local brands.
Tata Tea feels that designing effective and memorable advertising for the entire range of brands which is aimed at increasing brand saliency and enhancing emotional bonding with consumers is an important part of the whole strategy.
Reworking brand strategy and product mix has worked wonders, giving a fillip to all its brands. The company however promises Indian tea-drinkers much more, which it is confident will have them asking for another cuppa!