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We are not in direct competition with Patanjali, says Hamdard’s Mansoor Ali

The Chief Sales and Marketing Officer of Hamdard talks about company’s expansion plans, communication strategy, competition and much more

Mansoor Ali

Hamdard Laboratories, with Mansoor Ali at the helm of marketing and communication, has been able to maintain its double-digit growth even after demonetisation and GST. The heritage brand, as part of its image makeover and to attract the young generation, also recently launched ready-to-drink tetra packs of flavoured drinks under Ali’s supervision. Hamdard also intends to enter related herbal categories, including cosmetics, going forward.

Ali has been with the company for more than two years now and since then, there has been a lot of buzz around Hamdard’s campaigns, be it for Jigreen, Rooh Afza or Fusion.

BestMediaInfo.com met Ali to know more about Hamdard’s changing face, its marketing and communication strategy and his views on latest marketing trends.

Excerpts:

How well placed is the brand in terms of competition in India? Do you think multinationals will be able to capture the Unani space?
I don’t think there is any competition in the Unani space because Hamdard is the largest company of Unani products. We need to talk about the larger space -- natural and herbal -- because there you have Unani, Ayurveda and other products. A massive shift is happening today. The consumer is moving away from chemicals and synthetic stuff towards herbal. There will be little competition within that space as it is huge enough. Unani has separate strengths and USPs and Ayurveda has separate strengths. So when you talk about medicine, both these streams take care of a lot of illness, ailments, etc.

When it comes to consumer products such as Rooh Afza or Fusion, obviously everyone knows these have a lot of herbal ingredients with therapeutic effects. Nobody can take that away from a Rooh Afza or from a Fusion. I think that will continue to be the case and we do not see any competition. We are now actively looking at gaining a new consumer base, which is why brands like Fusion are created.

How big a competitor is Patanjali?
Patanjali is a very interesting case because it has managed to create a great brand. In terms of brand building, it has done a terrific job. But Patanjali’s business model is different and I don’t think we are in direct competition with it.

It is trying to enter every category that attracts consumers and that is where our business models differ. Our base is Unani. All our products -- beverages, skin products, oil -- are based on the Unani herbal science. So our approach is very much focused.

It is a great thing that Patanjali is doing well; the numbers of course are all over the place. But the good part is that it has created more awareness about the space. It is great to see an Indian company doing so well.

What according to you is the biggest plus point for Patanjali?
The biggest plus point is that it has been around for a long time and the brand didn’t actually start off with a consumer product but with yoga, which is something very spiritual and has an environment around Ayurveda. Earlier, Baba Ramdev was going around giving yoga sessions on TV and it all started from there. When he became a popular figure, he became a brand in himself and that’s when he decided to float his business. It was led by a very strong personality, coupled with a very strong concept and culture called yoga. Earlier, small shops used to sell just a few of Patanjali products. It is now that he is expanding. It is a very interesting story because in India there are a few things that sell very well. For example, Bollywood, cricket and religion sell very well in India. So these things are hooks today and I think he got the hook right and proceeded from there, which made it a great brand.

Coming back to the business model again, we will have to see how many of the products are outsourced and how many are manufactured in-house, the type of R&D happening or they are in hurry to churn out new products. If you take a model that works on outsourcing, then it becomes a different story and there you can talk about the spread. We are not looking at that spread and focusing on the related category.

Generally, brands use celebrities to launch new products. How much do you believe in celebrity endorsements and when is it needed?
There are two approaches and I believe both the approaches are right. When you take a celebrity, you get an instant connect with the kids and the young people. But there is a down side also when a lot of young people say that if a brand needs a celebrity to sell, then what’s the point? There are people who don't just want to ape a brand because some celebrity is talking about it.

The other thought is that you try to get the insights, think about your brand and create a meaningful communication. For example, Safi targets young girls and women between the age group of 11 and 35 years. We went deep into the insight and came up with 'I hate you Mom', which was a very disruptive campaign. That was a big success story where working on an insight-based model worked better for us than spending money on building a brand ambassador. We have seen success with insight-based advertising with Rooh Afza as well. But we are not saying that we will never do celebrity advertising. Of course, we might choose a couple of brand ambassadors soon. We would like to experiment both ways, not one recipe for everything.

There was a social backlash for 'I hate you Mom' campaign. Do you think any kind of publicity is good publicity for the brand?
As a pure commercial marketing person, the answer would be yes because all eyeballs are good eyeballs, all comments are good comments and any publicity is good publicity. But I respect the comments wherein a lot of mothers questioned how can we say something like this? Isn't it a bad thing socially and ethically to say, 'I Hate you Mom'? We wrote back to them answering their queries and asked them not just to look at that line but the underlying thought.

During teenage years, girls say ‘I hate you, mom’ and you shouldn’t use it literally. But the girls connected with the message. We received about five per cent negative feedback but I am happy that we explained it to them and they understood.

Hamdard is a brand that mostly sells healthcare products. Then why haven’t you appointed a health care agency?
We don't need a healthcare agency as we have got a lot of internal strengths and capability to assess the health care segment and to know where to position our product. I think the agencies we need today are the agencies working with us. L&K and Rediffusion help us translate our thoughts into advertisements. The other agencies that help us connect to the people are Madison and our digital agency.

Healthcare agencies help when the business model is the Rx route. We are not a hard-core pharmaceutical company, we are a natural and herbal-based company leaning more towards the FMCG side.

Where does Hamdard have a strong foothold?
Earlier, our maximum business used to come from north and central India. For the last couple of years, our businesses have spread across the country. The western and southern regions are contributing much higher volumes than they used to. Our overall business is growing and the share of the pie is now more equally distributed in all areas, which is a healthier way of doing business.

Which is the weakest region, you would say?
Deep South -- deep Tamil Nadu and deep Kerala -- is one area where we have to work. Then North-East is another area we need to work upon. Traditionally, Rooh Afza has been a North and Central India-centric drink. We have tried to break that mould with newer versions of the products and smaller packs.

How important is it to stay relevant today? And what is the consumer trend that we see now?
Talking largely about consumer products, the cosmetics side or the FMCG side, right from a six-year-old to 80-year old, there is a common feeling to avoid synthetic and chemical products and sugar. Avoid anything which is unhealthy.

I think the other trend is that people are now taking individual decisions on buying products. There is a huge amount of consciousness when they evaluate what to buy. The e-commerce companies have the ability to analyse the products and that has become manifold. The moment you see anything on TV, you just go on and compare five different products of the same category -- be it price, features or anything. So I think people are making more conscious choices, which leads to the fact that companies today need to be much more researched, much more backed up by data and before you launch products, it's very important to get a huge perspective of the consumers.

Compared to 20 years ago, people are more conscious today. You go to a modern trade store like Spencer's or Hypercity and you will find that many people read what is written at the back of the product. They want to read the nutrition panel or know when and where it was packed, who is doing it, what is the sugar content, the carbohydrate content. Today you are talking to a very discerning consumer so you have to be very well researched.

So why is Hamdard not promoting the mother brand through marketing and advertising campaigns?
We are in the process of making a corporate film. Hamdard is a heritage brand that evokes a lot of trust in consumers. Now that Rooh Afza and Safi are placed well, it is the right time a huge corporate campaign comes into play and talks about the company at large.

Will we see more products? You have also hinted about cosmetics.
Definitely in the related category and cosmetics fall in that. But that is all under R&D now. Within this financial year, I think it is important to stabilise the Fusion product as it's a huge and a massive launch and we don't want to hurry up doing too many frequent launches.

On what basis do you allocate your marketing budget on different brands?
There are two ways to do it. One is to say you are going to do this much and hence this is the ratio at which you will spend money and hence this is the budget. And that thought comes in when you are a matured brand. But when you talk about names like Fusion or newer brands, the sales in the first year is very low but you need to spend a lot of money on advertising and BTL. On such products, it doesn't help to have a certain percentage. Then you draw out the plan and say this is going to be an investment and you need to seed the market for a couple of years before the brand hits some kind of a market share. So Fusion is in an investment mode right now.

What are the sales objectives of the company this fiscal year?
The environment is very tough. With demonetisation and GST happening, the trade has been very careful about stocking products. Last year and in 2014-15, we maintained a very healthy double-digit growth in the FMCG space, which is huge. We intend to hold on to that growth and deliver high profits.

In October 2015, in one of your interviews, Hamdard had aimed to double the revenue in three years. It's been exactly 18 months now. Are you on the track?
We are more or less there. There have been a few ups and downs in this environment. But if you ask me, by 2019-20 we should be delivering it.

Hamdard wants to transform itself. So, what all has been done?
Transformation doesn't only happen in one way. The first thing we did was to change our internal processes and systems. We changed the distribution infrastructure completely in the past two to three years. Third is the quality of people. For me, getting quality people is the key to running an organised company and as an individual I can't do anything unless I have the right people and resources.
Our brands have witnessed a lot of transformation, be it the design or anything. We have diversified existing brands. The most important thing is communication on how you are addressing the consumer. The fact that we are doing very anti-stereotype advertisements is a complete transformation. The fact that we are out in the media, talking to so many people, engaging with so many partners, opening up new channels is again transformation.

So what are your short-term and long-term objectives?
The short-term objective is to concentrate on the tasks at hand. If today Fusion has been launched, we have to be operationally very strong and ensure all parameters are right and everything is distributed well.
When you talk about long term, you need to build a lot of equity from the Hamdard brand. We need to make sure that our key brands are relevant for the younger generation as that was one of the challenges I saw when I joined. For brands like Rooh Afza and Safi, we were not able to attract newer consumers. Today if you ask an 11-year-old kid who is constantly on a video game about what Rooh Afza means to him, he would just say ‘it is something which my grandmother gives me’. But is he going to reach out or is he going to ask for it? Maybe not. So Fusion bridges the gap here. Therefore, I would constantly try and build the bridge between my existing consumers and new consumers and to me, in next five years, that's going to be the task.

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