Synonymous wth branded salt since its pioneering debut in August 1983, Tata Salt was included for the first time in the survey and has gone ahead and proved that it still enjoys top-of-the-mind recall. Brotin Banerjee, product manager, relates the story so far to Reeta Mahrishi.
What do the Brand Equity survey results mean to Tata Chemicals?
We believe that the Brand Equity results are an indication of the trust that the brand has enjoyed and the consistent quality that Tata Salt has provided over the years — a recognition of the fact that Tata Salt is indeed one of the strongest brands in India. It is especially creditable that it is the only commodity-to-brand story in the top 10 brands. Also, it is the youngest brand in the top 10. And among the top five, it is the only completely Indian, totally homegrown brand.
What is the significance of a salt brand being ranked among a top 10 consisting chiefly of cola drinks and beverages? Particularly in view of the fact that salt is perceived as a 'low-involvement' category?
Huge, considering that the rest of the brands are big media spenders, have been around for longer, have huge resources at their disposal for brand-building activities and that a lot of them belong to (relatively) exciting or glamorous categories. It is a humbling experience for us to see the power a brand like Tata Salt commands, in an unassuming, everyday product category like salt. That Tata Salt has captured the mindspace of millions of Indians is a feat, and we are proud of it.
What kind of marketing efforts have helped achieve these results?
Tata Salt is strongly associated with purity, a platform that we have owned over the years and which has been reflected time and again through research. Currently, the effort has been to take purity to the next step, to evolve the positioning to one of a consumer's pride in her brand because of its kharapan — its purity and integrity — which is also a facet of millions of Indians. Our campaign, hence, focused on building an emotional connect. Our brand spends went up slightly and we revamped our distribution in order to reach more consumers. We also revamped our marketing and sales team last year. This brought focus to the brand and helped it immensely.
Last year, we had a fresh communication, which focused on purity, and the whiteness of our salt was a rational substantiator of the purity platform. We were among the top three spenders in the market last year — that helped too. In recent times, despite phenomenally high competition in the packaged branded salt segment with an increasing number of players and that too from the FMCG sector, Tata Salt not only kept its head above water, but went on to strengthen its consumer franchise even further. However, to put it in perspective, a brand is built painstakingly over time, and the credit for this goes to all those who have worked on the brand since its inception.
What was the 'increased media activity and salience' that caused Tata Salt to be included in the survey this year? What were the reasons for salt as a category being included this year?
We were convinced that Tata Salt has very high equity, based on qualitative and quantitative research conducted on consumers over the past year. It was surprising that a brand with such high equity and incidence of usage did not find mention in the list of 200 last year. The fact that, last year, media spends in the category nearly quadrupled and the entry of major FMCG players made a major impact in the media, may have probably led to salt being included as a category by Brand Equity.
Do you think that Tata Salt always had this high brand recall, and it has just come into focus because of being included in the survey this year? Or is it that its recall has increased during the past year?
We know that Tata Salt enjoyed phenomenal equity even earlier -- it was just that it was not being tapped. However, the enhanced focus and activity last year has no doubt helped bring about an increase in awareness and equity.
How would you account for this seemingly universal popularity of Tata Salt? What is it that appeals to people across socio-economic categories (SECs), town categories and zones?
Tata Salt has always provided consistent quality and has been available in key markets — even when there was incidence of a shortage of salt. Also, Tata Salt, due to its heritage, has always conveyed a substantial value proposition of quality that people can trust at an affordable price. Also, as salt is a product of everyday use, it cuts across SECs and geographies.
If the survey results in the lower SECs reflect aspirations rather than actual purchases, how do you plan to convert these aspirations into purchase decisions?
Our standard SKU (stock keeping unit) is the one kg pack priced at Rs7.50, which is affordable to a huge mass of people. However, in order to enable lower SEC customers to use the brand, and also to address the need of semi-urban and rural consumers who buy smaller pack sizes, we have introduced our brand at a lower price in a smaller pack size of 500 grams. Also, to tap into rural SECs, we have increased our distribution penetration in order to make our product available to larger sections of rural customers.
Why do you think Tata Salt rated higher in the north (where it ranked No 1), east and west, than in the south?
North India has been the largest market for iodised salt in the past and has historically been among the best served regions by Tata Salt. Also, the Tata equity is far higher in the north than in the south. However, we are currently investing in building our distribution network in the south, and we are making concerted efforts to strengthen our brand in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. We are also active on the regional media in the south, which will help in enhancing our equity.
Do you think the new ad campaign will create greater brand affinity in new target groups (for whom it might not have been salient earlier)? If so, how?
Yes, the new campaign is aimed at forging stronger bonds of loyalty with our existing set of consumers as well as creating a dissonance in the minds of the competitive user group and hopefully inducing them to switch to our brand.
How do you think the Desh ka Namak campaign will achieve this?
Our new communication highlights everyday heroes who do something good for society and the world around them, who contribute their bit and do their duty, without making a noise about it. It talks about the strong moral values and integrity of character of millions of Indians, which is reflected in the integrity and purity of Tata Salt. This is creatively captured by our tagline, Maine desh ka namak khaya hai. We hope that the creative idea as well as steps taken in refreshing the pack will be a compelling proposition for non-users.
How will it make a difference aligning Tata Salt as an FMCG, not just a commodity? How is it being re-aligned?
It will bring about focus and attention to the brand (within the company) and it will place us on a competitive footing vis--vis the competition, who are FMCG majors. The creation of a focused sales and marketing team, taking on the direct distribution of the product, supply chain optimisation, IT-enablement of trade partners, etc are attempts at bringing focus on to the brand.
How has Tata Salt moved away from just product advertising onto a more evolved platform?
Over the past years, we've been focusing on the purity platform, and we believe that the consumer does associate Tata Salt with the highest level of purity. It is a more compelling value proposition to communicate than to merely speak of product attributes. Most product attributes are easy to replicate — therefore, strong brands have now started focusing on building an emotional connect with their consumer. It is this emotional connect which gives the brand its competitive edge and provides the differentiator.
We have now attempted to make the consumer feel good and proud of her patronage of our brand, by showing through our communication campaign how an ordinary person can be a hero in real life by being loyal to his / her job, loyal to their values and loyal to the nation. And as salt in any language / folklore epitomises character and integrity, we have attempted to draw an analogy between the purity of Tata Salt and the purity of the person using it.
While on product attributes, has the fact that other brands are now talking about vacuum-evaporated salt, taken away from your USP?
Vacuum-evaporated salt in itself does not convey a value proposition to the consumer. Over the years, research has indicated that the consumer perceives higher levels of purity and saltiness in Tata Salt, and that the brand has always met consumer expectations on this front. Purity, consistency and higher levels of saltiness — all end benefits which are relevant issues to the housewife — these are a direct result of the vacuum evaporation process that Tata Salt goes through. The proposition that Tata Salt has always had, and still has, for the consumer is one of value in every aspect.
What next? Where do you go from here?
We will constantly strive to offer better value to our consumers with the knowledge that as long as we do that successfully, our brand will continue to be close to their hearts.
* Brand Equity is a supplement on marketing that appears with The Economic Times. The newspaper conducts a national survey of top brands every year.