Kumar Pillay, Vice- President, Head - Marketing Services, UltraTech
As A CORPORATE brand, we have always been proud of the part we play in nation-building and creating lasting relationships. This pride is reflected in our corporate TVCs, as well as our sponsorship of cricket, the pride of India's sporting activities, says Kumar Pillay, Vice- President, Head - Marketing Services, UltraTech. In an exclusive chat with ICR, Pillay throws light on proper branding that could cement better connectedness with the end-consumer, thereby increasing high brand recall and better sales turnover. Excerpts from the interview.
There is a greater shift towards the concept of greening and sustainability in the cement industry. However, this does not seem to show in brand positioning. What is your take on this?
UltraTech has been at the forefront when it comes to green initiatives. Right from the manufacturing process to transportation, we have been taking measures to create a cleaner environment. Our split-location plants also add to green logistics as we transport cement by ship and rail. UltraTech is positioned as the the experts choice and our baseline is 'The Engineer's Choice.' Engineers are very judicious in their decisions. Before a product is recommended they do 360 degrees evaluation which includes environment friendliness. Now with the LEED certification for buildings, they are all the more careful in selecting construction materials. Usage of green products results in a better rating for the buildings. Any product recommended by engineers is also backed by a study of the product and experience on the subject. Our emphasis has always been on use of blended cements (fly ash or slag) which have a lesser carbon footprint. Engineers also champion the cause of creating a greener environment and hence support these products. Though the concern for a greener environment is not visible in the positioning, the confidence of the engineer in prescribing a green product reinforces our baseline. In our white cement division, we are manufacturing several products including wallcare putty which is non-toxic. A brand reflects the strategy and products of an organisation. So, as buildings become taller and space comes at a premium in urban India, there was a need to make innovative products that were lighter in weight. We thus forayed into AAC blocks which are an alternative to regular bricks in construction. We are also into waterproofing solutions, grouting solutions and jointing mortars, making life easier for the construction engineers and assuring value to our customers from foundation to finish. All the above products are environment-friendly.
How do you view the potential of your own initiatives like the Yuvaratna awards and 'A Celebration of Architecture' being positioned in the space of sustainable development?
The Birla White Yuva Ratna Awards were instituted in 2004 with an objective to provide a platform for architecture students to unleash their imagination and cross the boundaries of creativity. Over the years, the themes have moved towards sustainability, which is a global concern. For example, one year, the students were required to design an interpretation centre in a rainforest ecosystem and a visitors' information centre. They had to create a space where working and living in communion with nature transports one to a higher plane altogether. The proposed site was deep inside the jungle with a lot of full- grown trees in it. The challenge was to create a structure without damaging a single tree and no motorised vehicle running on fossil fuel to be allowed for reaching the destination. Another year, the theme was to design a global development centre for Indian craft. All the themes require the students to give importance to landscaping. 'A Celebration of Architecture' was our way of paying tribute to the architects. All our value- added green products are displayed at the exhibition. These are single component, ready- to- use convenient products which eliminate the mess, wastage and pollution at sites. Seminars are conducted for architects and engineers. Sustainability as a theme has always been part of the event from Day One. The exhibition attracts the cream of technocrats. Last year, we instituted a novel competition called 'Mera Gaon Mera Base' wherein engineering and architecture students had to camp in a village for seven days, identify a problem and provide an engineering solution for the same. The students got an opportunity to get back to their roots and device methods and solutions for improving the living conditions without disturbing the fabric of the village.
How do you rate your brand positioning as an experts choice in terms of differentiating a product and creating value?
Most of the players in the category have been harping on strength. In a market with heavy brand proliferation, one needs to have a distinct differentiator. We believe quality and strength is vital to cement. At UltraTech, we are equipped with modern plants and state- of- the- art technology which boasts a high level of sustainability.
Our strength also lies in our unparelled technical services. We strongly feel we have hit the nail on the head with our positioning. Construction is a highly technical subject and one will definitely seek expertise when it comes to constructing a house. For major projects, endorsement by a peer adds great value to the purchase decision. For us, it has also added to our credibility of being a dependable brand. For the individual house builder, the expert's opinion matters a lot. From our large fleet of technical service engineers, free advice/assistance is given to optimise on material consumption and sustainable construction.
What was major objective and benefits of aligning with youth, especially in sports like cricket and hockey?
Cricket is next to religion in India. Forget the youth; the elders are also glued to cricket and hockey. Our presence in cricket gives us enough brand exposure which is important, especially in the case of house builders as their purchase is guided by brand familiarity. Our presence in cricket also acts as a motivator for the trade and they take pride in associating themselves with a company which is connected with popular sports like cricket. As a corporate brand, we have always been proud of the part we play in nation-building and creating lasting relationships. This pride is reflected in our corporate TVCs, as well as our sponsorship of cricket, the pride of India's sporting activities.
What core concepts do you try to convey with a baseline like 'The Engineers Choice?
Cement at one point of time was a commodity, till cement players indulged in serious brand- building. Now brands have become a strong differentiator. UltraTech is modern cement which instills confidence in the engineer or architect to create unique structures. The engineer is confident that he can depend on UltraTech for consistently superior quality and compliance to parameters that are important in construction. When it comes to cement and steel, the engineer prescribes the brand and his decision is based on a detailed evaluation of chemical and physical properties. The IHB doesn't get into technical details. He needs a voice to guide him on the best material and cement chosen by engineers becomes his automatic choice. For our channel partners and IHBs, it is a statement of assurance. The retail trade is happy that they can sell the brand with minimum efforts.
Was the rural and urban divide a problematic area while designing the ad campaign?
In the old days, there was a major divide amongst rural and urban customers. Means of communication were limited in rural areas. Now with advancement in technology, the rural customer has access to internet and is familiar with the latest gadgets. For them aspiration works. On our part, we design our ads with a better emotional connect and ensure that the ads are translated in local languages. Our campaigns are backed by strong on-ground activation wherein we connect with the rural customer. We also have designated vans moving in rural areas educating the people on better construction practices and choice of materials. The technical staff manning the van also enhances the skill of local masons so that they can build better.
UltraTech was very specific showing engineers in its branding exercise rather than going for celebrities. Are there any specific reasons for the same?
Construction is a very serious and technical subject as you expect your creations to last a lifetime. When it comes to construction material, engineers have the final say. It makes sense to use an engineer who actually prescribes to your product. The use of a celebrity could dilute the power of your brand. A celebrity need not be an authority on cement, hence having one to boast about your product doesn't make sense. It will look unreal.An engineer is one person who is totally involved in construction, be it a design engineer, structural engineer or construction engineer. An engineer endorsing your product reinforces the confidence that the cement is tried by him.