Banerjee, Senior VP, Marketing, Vodafone India, talks about IPL, ZooZoo, Cheeka, competition, challenges, telecom banking and marketing strategy in a free-wheeling interview with BestMediaInfo.com
Akansha Mihir Mota | Mumbai | February 6, 2017
This Lucknow boy always had an ambition of creating a positive impact on society. He took interest in the sphere of marketing while in college. His love for advertising is from the days of his internship after finishing B-School. A writer and an avid reader with a personal library, he finishes a book each week. Siddharth Banerjee, Senior Vice-President, Marketing, Vodafone India, calls himself an ‘omnivore’ as he reads anything and everything. With one book already published, his second book is already in the making. Banerjee is a fitness freak and a long-distance runner. Other than marketing and advertising, he would love to become a full-time author and teach public speaking and effective communication.
Banerjee has been with the telecom giant for the past two years. In his 17-year career, he has spent around 15 years in the FMCG/CPG sector, with 13 years at Hindustan Unilever. Before HUL, Banerjee has worked with General Mills and Reckitt Benckiser. Other than working with India’s top companies, he also holds degrees from various universities: he has a degree from Harvard Business School, Oxford University, Indian School of Business and Faculty of Management Studies, Delhi University.
Banerjee’s advice to young brand managers is to take on the most challenging roles early in one’s career to learn the most. Secondly, if a person is planning to make a career in India, he should make sure that he has travelled all over North, South, East and Western regions well. Thirdly, he suggests that other than marketing, one should get the basic grounding in some of the other allied functions like how to build a commercial P&L sheet, how supply chain management works and so on.
BestMediaInfo.com caught up with Banerjee to understand Vodafone’s marketing strategy.
With Jio entering the fray, the dynamics of the telecom market seem to be changing. What will be Vodafone’s strategy to hold back and increase its customer base?
The telecom category in India has been and is a highly competitive market. Vodafone has always thrived in this competitive market in India and has earned brand love with 200 million plus customers over the years. Hence, we continue to compete in this market with our ever-demanding customers. So, our strategy has always been to be very aware of the evolving needs of a customer and therefore offer products, services, tariffs and brand efforts, which are relevant to them. Specifically we, as an overall organisation, are keenly focused on providing our 200 million plus customers great reasons every day to be on Vodafone.
Does the entry of Jio and increased competition give you sleepless nights?
We now have another big competitor in the fray and this increases the competitive heat in the industry. On the other side, with the industry having multiple players, we will see consolidation going forward. Hence, the nature of competition will change. But like any good consumer-oriented organisation, we continue to keep our eyes firmly on our customers and serving them every day. Therefore, we continue to provide services that delight them and serve their needs.
There was a time when the cola wars dominated the marketing world. While the fizz has completely gone out of the celebrated Cola wars, have telecom wars become the new centre stage of marketing excitement and high-decibel advertising?
I wouldn’t put cola and telecom on the same plane. Personally, as a consumer I can do without a cola, but I cannot do without my mobile connectivity. Therefore, given the essential nature of the telecom category, the level of competition that happens in a dynamic ever-changing technology-based category is immense. And I think it is beneficial for the consumer. So I find the space very exciting because we are constantly focused on the changing needs of the Indian customer and able to learn so many new things and evolve in a very dynamic market.
Vodafone SuperNet was launched after your competitors Idea and Airtel had already announced their 4G services. How difficult did you find to promote the service and with differentiation?
If you look at what Vodafone SuperNet has done, right from last March when we introduced Vodafone SuperNet with our pug, in a short time we have been able to make our consumers aware of our SuperNet 4G services. We have launched it across circles. By March 2017, we will cover most of our business as well. I think we have done a fast roll-out and communicated it via well-loved and memorable campaigns. I am delighted to share that the Vodafone SuperNet campaign is the most-awarded telecom campaign of last year. So, we have been able to build brand love. We have then followed it up with some very interesting products and services like the most recent Vodafone SuperHour.
In marketing terms, how do you differentiate a product that is seemingly the same across players?
An important point to remember in telecom is that while the foundation is the network connectivity, there is customer service via retail stores, call centre and social media channels, and there is also the product, tariff, content and so on. Overall, the telecom category is about the total customer experience. Therefore, I think it would be incorrect to say that it is not differentiated because good customer-focussed companies can always find relevant differentiation which serves the needs of customers.
Specifically, Vodafone has stood for many years as ‘the network that follows you’. So, we offer great network connectivity. The second thing that Vodafone has stood for is about the ‘Happy to help’ service philosophy. We continue to build on these differentiation platforms and consumers recognise that, which is the reason why 200 million plus customers continue to love us.
How did ZooZoos come into this world? Are they men, robots or animation?
(Smiles) Let’s keep the mystery on the ZooZoos going. But ZooZoos were first born in the Indian Premier League (IPL) Season 2 because we had launched a whole library of value added services (VAS) and we wanted to convey that in a very simple and engaging manner. Also, because it was IPL, which Vodafone has been a long-term sponsor of, we do get a lot of TV spots. So, rather than repeating the ads, it was the brainwave of the Ogilvy team to create these lovable creatures that people would love to see over and over again. Therefore, the ZooZoos were born. Think of these egg-shaped creatures as coming from another planet. Interestingly, when we shot the ZooZoo TVCs, there were people inside the costumes and not computer graphics. That’s how ZooZoo ads were created and that’s how the campaigns have been one of the best across categories.
When you joined Vodafone, ZooZoo and Cheeka were already established intellectual properties. Was it difficult to maintain their legacy and reinvent them along the way?
I think the first important thing is to appreciate that the pug and ZooZoo are valuable brand assets for Vodafone India and I spend time in understanding how to use them well. What I was able to successfully do is to figure out and articulate where the ZooZoos should be used, where the pug should be used, and why should they be used or not used. For example, we don’t provide over-exposure of either the pug or the ZooZoo. It’s a clear rule that we have for ourselves.
The second thing is that we re-adapted and re-crafted both these icons for the digital world we live in. For ZooZoos, we turned it and played around with it as emojis on Twitter and that built a lot of brand love with our consumers. For the pug, besides TV advertising, we have done a host of digital assets that consumers continue to see on our digital platforms and that’s again is a refresh of these brand assets. With the right exposure levels, we will continue to use these brand assets, which we believe is a differentiator for our brand that our competitors just don’t have.
What is the strategy behind placing the Zumi army and Cheeka in your advertising? How do you decide when to feature which of these Vodafone properties in your ads?
A simple guiding rule is that whenever there is a big network announcement to be made, we tend to use the pug. When we launched Vodafone SuperNet in India, we used the pug because it’s symbolic to our network. Similarly, we normally use the ZooZoos and the Zoomies when there is a simple message that we have, either for a technology or a data product, but it has to be a simple message. These are some of the basic ground rules that I can share. Beyond that, there are a couple of rules that are part of our marketing strategy.
Previously, you have used celebrities such as Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Irrfan Khan in your ads. But it is not a regular phenomenon for Vodafone. When and why exactly do you use a celebrity?
We believe the Vodafone brand itself – and the products and services we offer – has to be the hero. Therefore, Vodafone has traditionally not relied on celebrities. However, in certain cases we do use interesting characters or interesting voices. Some years back, when we wanted to create a mass-market product of small denomination, we used Irrfan Khan. We didn’t use him as a celebrity, but as a theatre artist with fantastic acting skills. Similarly, last year when we launched a mass-market proposition, Vodafone Flex for prepaid customers, we wanted someone who could relate very well to the mass-market customers, which is why we chose Nawazuddin Siddiqui. We tapped into his authenticity, which is relatable to a common man, not his stardom.
Banking and telecom are two entirely different product categories. What was the reason that telcos like Vodafone and Airtel have ventured into digital banking with m-Pesa and Airtel Mobile Bank?
Consumers today are using their mobile phones and their mobile services for various things like education, entertainment and, of course, mobile commerce. It made sense since we are a mobile service provider that we provide convenience and security both to our customers. Banking is the extension of the trusted connectivity that we provide to our customers.
How different and trickier is the communication strategy for a telecommunication brand compared to FMCG brands, as you have worked with Unilever before? Is there a basic differentiation in the communication strategy?
In telecommunication, it is more than just about a brand proposition. In this sector it becomes a little bit more challenging because you have to talk about the brand, but you also have to talk about the network and customer service. So, overall you have to find the right balance of how you talk about the customer experience. There are so many facets of a customer’s experience with a telecom brand. Also, I would like to believe that telecom is an example of an intense brand that you are living with 24x7 and 365 days, whereas for soap or soup, you might not be living with that intense amount of time. Hence, since telecom is an example of a very intense brand and so the level of challenge is much higher.
What is one big marketing and communication challenge that Vodafone has had to deal with?
We are very privileged to have a history where consumers love our marketing and communication efforts, be it the pug or ZooZoo or be it the beautiful human stories that we tell. So the challenge is always to be relevant to our customers to find the right needs and to communicate it with simplicity, and building brand love at the same time. That’s the constant challenge.
Each year you allocate 20-35 per cent of your marketing spend on IPL. To my knowledge, this is the highest allocation that Vodafone does on a single event. How has IPL benefited Vodafone?
Vodafone has been associated as a brand with IPL for the longest period. In fact, we are the only brand that has been associated throughout IPL and this is the 10th IPL that we will be celebrating. IPL as a mass platform works very effectively for us. We have done annual studies to determine our return on investment and every year it has proven to be a great investment for Vodafone in terms of conveying our most critical messages in a manner that consumers are delighted with every year. An example of that was the ZooZoo campaign a couple of years back. Another example is the SuperNet campaign that we did last year. Therefore, hold your breath and keep your fingers crossed for the next IPL campaign.
With rural data coming in from the BARC India workstations, how has the marketing strategy changed for Vodafone?
Rural has always been an area of focus for Vodafone. But the rural data gives us a little bit of more transparency in what is happening in terms of viewership. Therefore, we continue to review this data and use it to support our rural efforts. The good news is that we get to see in real time what’s happening in terms of viewership. For example, during the IPL, we were able to see what was our rural reach, etc.
What are the priority areas for the brand, going forward?
The priority will be to be relevant to the customers in a very competitive environment.