Rahul Akkara, Associate Vice President - Strategy & Brand, JSW Cement
In cement sector, both the consumer and the influencer play a pivotal role in decision making process. So, our media plan is designed taking care of the requirements of both these groups, says Rahul Akkara, Associate Vice President - Strategy & Brand, JSW Cement. Excerpts from the interview...
What are the challenges that you foresee in the market and how have you factored them in your marketing strategy?
We are into manufacturing of portland slag cement (PSC). The awareness levels of PSC and its applications are still in a nascent stage in India. On the other hand, more than 95 per cent of the cement used worldwide is PSC. Today, JSW Cement has taken the leadership in the propagation of PSC; hence a larger part of our marketing strategy is to create awareness on the usage and applications of PSC. Over the last one year, a lot of hard work has gone in creating awareness for the product and the results have been very encouraging.
Soaring raw material prices have forced cement price to rise higher. How can one entice consumers to shell out extra for your product?
One of the core raw materials used in our cement is slag which comes from the steel facility owned by our group. We are very competitive as far as our pricing is concerned. Today, consumers are far more evolved as far as the buying process is concerned. If they see value in the product offering backed by a good pre- and post-sales service, they are not hesitant in picking up the right product at the right price. They need value for money.
Which is a better strategy, distributing through few large dealers, or routing it via an extensive network of small dealer outlets?
A mix of both is essential for the business. We need the support of large dealers to expand our business and network and we also need equal support from the smaller retail outlets as they are the last chain in the buying process.
Cement is seen more as a commodity than as a specialised product. In such scenario, how do you create brand differentiation and stand apart from the rest?
Positioning plays an important role in any category, be it FMCG or cement. Unless there is no differentiation, one would be another ´me-too-brand´. If you look at the cement space, barring JSW Cement, most of the players - big and small - speak about strength and durability. There is too much of clutter in this space. Hence, we decided to move out of it and worked around the positioning of Banao Pyaar Se as we felt the consumer goes through a lot of hardship in building his/her home and in doing so he/she should not compromise on quality of cement; instead take cement which will last for generations.
How do you reach construction professionals at different levels, ranging from civil engineers and consultants to contractors and masons?
At JSW Cement, this is a continuous process; we regularly conduct meets and one-to-one engagements with key influencers such as architects, engineers, consultants, masons and contractors. We also have a strong technical team which visits sites, meet key influencers and educate them on PSC and its applications. We have 8-10 Cement Care Vans across our operating states which conduct site and technical visits.
Quality perception of cement varies from customer to customer. How do you factor this in your marketing plans?
Equity of the brand plays an important role in quality perception. Fortunately, for us this is an edge we have. JSW Cement is a part of the JSW Group that stands for making world-class products in India and overseas. People today know that a product coming out of the JSW Group has to be top-notch on quality and other parameters. We have a strong R&D which ensures that every bag coming out of our cement plant has gone through rigorous quality check parameters before it reaches the consumer. Today, the fact that JSW Cement brand is accepted and used in public and private sector projects in India is a testimonial to our quality. Other than price and quality, which factors influence buying decisions? JSW believes in four most important factors; brand being the first among them. Quality, price and availability of the product are the other three.
What are your current marketing plans/initiatives for promoting your products?
We would be engaging with both the decision makers and influencers, besides TV commercials which has been a front driver for us. This year we would also be focussing more on micro activities and ensure that we are constantly in the minds of our consumers.
The key to success is to engage with the right TG in the right way and in doing so achieves a higher share of voice and higher market share.