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Amul is proof that you can really become self-dependent in anything, if you really decide: RS Sodhi

Sodhi, Managing Director, GCMMF (Amul), also said that for the country’s growth, it should be ensured that the small people with little income are also growing at a pace consistent with that of the rest of India

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If India has to grow it should ensure that Bharat, which consists of small people from urban and rural areas, too grows at a similar pace and similarly, entrepreneurs, start-ups, and policymakers should ensure that they have long-term commitments, said RS Sodhi, Managing Director, GCMMF (Amul).

Sodhi said this during the course of an interview given to Shripad Kulkarni, Marcom Advisor and former MD, Vizeum. The interview touched on multiple aspects such as Amul’s brand journey, its advertising and marketing strategy, and more.

Excerpts:

We know how you have had Dr Kurien, Sardar Patel, Lal Bahadur Shastri, all big names who have contributed to Amul’s legacy. But what we want to understand is how are you ensuring that the legacy continues and it will go on continuing because it is huge? 

To be truly a purpose-driven brand there are two parts which are equally important. 

·         The first part is keeping the customers happy. They simply want the best. So, whether it is butter or cheese, we give them a tasty product, with the best natural ingredients, at an affordable price. We use the latest production processes, best ingredients and also contemporary packaging. Being in the food category, we have to obviously ensure the product reaches where they are and remains fresh. 

·         The second part is about the brand’s purpose. We serve millions of Indian farmers. We buy their produce twice a day, every day, at a very sustainable and reasonable as well as high price. With Amul around, they have absolutely no worries about marketing. There's no example in agricultural produce where farmers do not have to worry about marketing, and only focus on how to produce more. These farmers perceive Amul as a very sustainable and dependable source of livelihood. 

So, Amul is in fact owned by these semi-illiterate farmers. 80% of people don't have any assets, no land, but still, they own India's most valuable, biggest food or FMCG brand. We believe, like farmers, billions of our Indian customers are the owners of this brand, they are the stakeholders. Farmers want maximum price, while consumers naturally want affordable price - because it’s a mass consumption item. But both are happy, and that is why the brand is growing. 

So, our philosophy has been ‘Value for Many’ that is, providing stable prices to farmers and value for money for customers, giving the tastiest nutrition products at an affordable price. You give more to both the stakeholders and you earn more. And that is the basic philosophy of the brand Amul, which is there for 75 years and is growing day after day.

Can you tell me something more about this entire customer-centricity, how is the whole organisation customer-centric?

I will share two quotes or the ‘brand mantra’ that Verghese Kurien, our Founder Chairman has given. He has taught us how to make an ageless brand. First, always think the customer is smarter than you. Don't think you can fool customers with very flashy packaging, very good positioning statement, spending millions or billions of rupees on brand ads on electronic or press media and making high claims. Strategies like reducing the pack size or the contents to maintain price also work just once or twice. 

The second ‘brand mantra’ Dr Kurien used to say is that see to it that customers should have blind faith in you. Loyalty is one thing, but blind faith is like a faith which you have got in your religion - you don't question why will I wear a turban? Why not cut my hair? The faith does not come by merely watching your ads and your communication. Communication has got a very important part to play, but it is about the total experience the brand delivers to them. 

So, we feel, that when housewives enter a shop, without looking left or right, without any comparison, they should pick up Amul butter or ice cream. Never try to exploit your customer, especially when they’re in distress, like in the Covid situation. I mean, food was in short supply and we could have very easily charged 10% 15% or even 20% extra. And, this is not the first time when our products were in short supply, but we never hiked the price. Because that is a time you'll connect with the consumer. They’re going to appreciate the concern shown during the distress and then will have blind faith.

These two mantras we're following for the last 75 years and today Amul not only exists but is also growing at a much faster pace than the previous decade.

One more thing is also unique to the Amul brand. Branding experts will have one soap for the top people, one for the middle-class working people and one for lower-income classes, like say a worker, auto driver or a security guard. But Amul brand is such that for butter or cheese, a person living in Pedder Road in a big apartment and, say an auto driver, both think Amul is a premium brand. 

Not only that, the Amul food brand is probably the only brand, which has been carried over for the last three generations. You will hardly find a food or FMCG brand range, that your grandparents used to buy, your parents used to buy and you buy. Amul products have thrived for three generations, purely because of the great experience and the purpose of the brand.

The one other thing that strikes me is that Amul has not just survived the different times and multiple socio-economic strata. But the 75-year-old brand is still very, very young. How has this also been managed? 

For any brand, especially in the food segment, you can remain young, and contemporary if you are able to meet the expectations of the current generation. You can't say that I'm 74 years old, I'll continue to sell the same products which have been the same, along with the same packaging. 

The other thing is the positioning of the brand and communication strategy. Our famous topical campaign, ‘The Butter Girl’, is another reason why our brand is young or contemporary. The Amul girl has been around for more than 60 years. She is always on top of happenings in India or abroad, Hollywood, Bollywood or even sports. And she does not spare anybody, she does not favour anybody and she's not afraid of anybody. And that is a very big connection with not just the youth but with all age groups. 

When I travel to any part of the country, if I say I'm from Amul, the first reaction comes “Mr Sodhi, your Amul Topical Campaign is superb”. Can you give me one example when a brand recall is of the campaign first, not the brand, not the product? Sony, Maruti, Dove, you name it, what comes to mind at first? Products of course and then the campaign. 

Our purpose is to provide a livelihood to the millions of farmers who are dependent on this brand, and this purpose resonates very well even with the youth.

Here you find that there is so much integration in the complete communication right from the experience to the engagement, to the deployment of money, and your messaging. How do you get this in sync?

The one word I would have to use to answer it is consistency. Consistency in your communication message, because “Utterly, Butterly delicious” is more than 60 years old. “Amul taste of India” is around 30 years old or “Amul doodh peeta hai India” is more than 20 years old. I mean, our advertising agencies are there right from day one, last 60 years, DaCunha is our agency, FCB Ulka is now with us for more than 30 years and more or less the same people are there on this side of the table too.

There is something more than being consistent, I think. I remember you saying somewhere that you see the topicals at the same time as customers.

Appreciating and trusting the professionals for which they have been hired, is very important. So, advertising agencies have been hired because they have got creativity which you don't have. So, they create a topical campaign and release it on various media. They don't need our approval. We see it when you see it. That is why it is topical.

Dr Kurien used to tell us whether you hire an advertising agency or you hire architects or any specialist, you give your brief, and you leave it to them. They'll do full justice. And I think when you give freedom to these people, I'm telling you, you get the best out of them because they feel they own it, they are responsible. That is the trick. 

If there was one way in which you would want your customers to engage with your brand beyond buying it, talk to them or tell them something. What would that be? And anything else you want to tell the people today?

Well, the one thing we want to tell, especially to today’s generation of entrepreneurs or start-ups or the farmers, leaders or the policymakers is that Amul is proof that you can really become self-dependent on anything if you really decide. We have done it more than 50 years back in milk when we were deficit like Sri Lanka is struggling or like Bangladesh. Only you need long-term commitments and policies that will serve two stakeholders. 

If India has to grow and we want to be number one, in terms of GDP or economy, Bharat has to grow. When I say Bharat, I mean small people- from either rural or urban areas. India is a country of small people, small farmers, small artisans, small restaurants fellows, and more. You have to see how to aggregate these resources, products or services in a business-like model which is competitive. And then by using modern marketing and branding, reach out to your customers. 

On the one side, this service provider or product provider should ensure that these small people feel they're happy. And then you have the customer who's buying your service or product, they must also feel that they really have been delivered value for whatever money has been paid. And, this is precisely our cooperative model. If you follow the cooperative principles, it can make India number one in any field, if we follow it consistently and diligently. 

This is why the Government of India recently formed a Co-operative ministry, it's not for more regulation. They have realised that if India has to grow Bharat has to grow through the cooperative model, and that is the best way of doing this.

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