Though brand pundits are brushing aside cement terming it as a 'commodity', Indian cement companies are focusing on brand building for hogging the consumer's mind space, even among bulk users.
At the inception of brand creation, it is done mostly in the name of the corporate. But as the business matures, the brand gets a distinct name and identity. A brand represents the entire organisation's commitment, and efforts to get the all-important competitive advantage. It is a promise that the entire organisation has to fulfil in all its functions.
Take the example of one of the young brands in the industry - Bharathi Cement. Launched in 2009 with the tagline "Three Times Better", it sought to highlight the superiority of its product on three counts - Quality, Consistency and Technology. For ensuring superiority in all these areas they had to survey the standards followed by various manufacturers for ensuring the ultimate product quality available in the market and quality of inputs that could ensure that their product could stand one step above others on these three parameters. As if to highlight its technical superiority it has also introduced SAP-software based e-billing system across the supply chain.
"Consistency plays a very important role in cement. It was ensured that each and every bag was of consistent quality since inception. We were the pioneer in certain aspects of the cement industry. To maintain the consistency of cement, we introduced robotic quality control, which checks quality at all the three stages,"said Suresh Kumar, Assistant Vice President - Marketing, Bharathi Cement.
Not strength alone
On the other hand, JK Grey Cement brand is 40-years old. It had to keep repositioning itself from time to time along with the changing consumer trends and preferences. Instead of just jostling for space highlight the strength of its products, JK Cement focused on 'Trust', leveraging on its legacy and strong heritage it has built over the years.
Though mass media campaigns are one of the main focus areas of many cement companies, JK Cement has adopted humour to take its message across. "In the Cement industry, most brands hung on to the claim of 'strength' which was visually represented through 'obvious' treatment routes. We took the route of humour and also got a celebrity cricketer, Virender Sehwag to endorse the brand promise of trust,"says Raghavpat Singhania - Special Executive, JK Cement.
More recently, based on an extensive brand study and research that gave us a very important insight on the basic human need for safety, JK Cement repositioned itself with a brand mantra "Build Safe."
Thus, brand-driven companies are strongly consumer-knowledge and understanding driven. Who will the brand serve most, what will the brand promise be, how will it back that promise up in each and every act, where will it spend most of its R&D efforts - these are some of the tough questions brand-building corporate will have to answer. The marketing team will work as an interface with the customers to understand the needs of the customer.
JK Cement has adopted national wall painting competitions for its wall putty branding, where 'prevention of flaking/ pappdi' had been the core single-minded message. This campaign saw the birth of a brand evangelist - Chhutkau Painter, the national wall painting champion who touts victory over substitute products like POP and inexpensive chalk mitti by using JK Wall Putty. "The campaign was then extended to a prosperous Chhutkauji, with his own wall painting academy training a new breed of wall painting experts. With the third campaign, Chhutkauji grew in both fame and recognition, and is invited to judge the World Wall Painting Championship. Over the years, the Chhutkau series has very successfully strengthened our positioning statement for JK Wall Putty - 'Deewarein Bol Uthengi',"says Singhania.
Lot of cement companies have launched premium brands under their umbrella to tap premium clientele imparting better pricing power for the companies. To sustain its brand, Bharathi has also launched new products aligning to its brand identity. "We had added value in product with Bharathi Ultrafast in the blended cement category. That will also help keep the brand fresh in the minds of people, sustaining the brand,"says Kumar of Bharathi.
Technically, blended cements are far superior because of low heat of hydration. We can produce a dense concrete by using blended cements. It gives you the strength of OPC, and durability of blended cement, with a fast setting ability.
JK Cement has recently added a premium grey cement product to our portfolio - JK Super Strong, that has been specially designed for concrete applications and caters to Karnataka, Maharashtra, Goa and Kerala. "After extensive R & D, it has been manufactured with MPET - a new breakthrough technology in cement production that improves the performance of cement,"says Singhania.
Focus to remain
Though cement is considered to be a commodity for there is no much differentiation that is possible, if the cement company wants to cater to the rural markets that account for over one-third of the overall market might have to promote their brands which impart some trust and brings in loyalty for the branded products.
Bulk cement is picking up pace, lowering the share of bag cement in urban areas and in infrastructure projects. Due to economies of scale in usage and transportation that the bulk cement brings in, many big projects are opting for it.
"Unless we show value in the products or services, it will be continued to be looked upon as a commodity, and it will not enjoy any premium or preference. In fact, purchase itself is a premium. From this perspective also, it is even more important that the brand equity is sustained,"says Kumar.
"Considering that at present, the rural markets in India are still in the developing phase, cement has no direct substitute and the small quantity of cement used in building a home doesn't require bulkers. This would act as a major factor for the cement brands to survive even 20 years from now,"says Singhania.
- B.S. SRINIVASALU REDDY