The buyers are picking a brand, not a commodity

The buyers are picking a brand, not a commodity

H L Jain
Advisor-Marketing and Sales, Hi-Bond Cement (India)
Gujarat-based Hi-Bond Cement (India) is rapidly expanding its reach in the country. The company is geared up to boost its capacity-from 0.9 mtpa to 1.2 mtpa-by setting up plants in Maharashtra and Rajasthan. Hi-Bond attributes its success to the high demand for its products in the market and its strong brand retention value. HL Jain, Advisor-Marketing & Sales-Hi-Bond Cement (India), talks to ICR on how a branding strategy must be crafted to meet the marketing goals. Excerpts from the interview.

How important is it to create a separate brand image for a product like cement?
Cement is usually seen as a commodity product, and world over too, it is sold as a commodity. In fact, in some countries like Gulf, no company advertises their brand or product. In India, however, companies want to project their product as something different than those sold by others and so they resort to advertising. In such a competitive environment, brand building becomes very important.

What are the channels available for building a brand? Which of the medium do you find more effective?
There are several options available such as televisions, radios, hoardings, newspapers, wall painting, etc. Apart from these, there are more specific options like engineer and architect meet, mason and contractor´s meet, consumers and dealer´s meet, site visits, to name a few.

The choice of media for branding depends on the size of market that you want to capture and also on the production capacity of the company. For a plant with a capacity of more than 2 mt per year, all the channels become important. Looking at wide reach and the costs involved, I feel that television and radio are better channels for brand propagation than newspapers.

What suggestions do you have for smaller companies with tighter budgets trying to build a brand?
They should go for radio (FM), wall paintings and hoardings. Besides these, the company must focus on below three key aspects that help building a strong brand. Clean, clear, and transparent marketing and accounting system, good network of reputed dealers and strong distribution channel, and quality of product. The total cost of branding exercise should be within the range of Rs 40 to 50 per tonne of cement to be sold. If the production capacity is smaller and involves more than one state with two different languages, then the cost is higher while returns remain the same.

Which characteristic of your brand are you trying to highlight through your advertisement?
We want to communicate clearly as our promoters are reputed and are well established industrialists with a proven track record. The product is of top quality, comparable to any other top quality product in the market. Our delivery system is prompt and efficient.

Do you feel the ´greener/environment friendly product´ angle appeals more to customers as of today?
No it does not. It is not more than a mere slogan for consumers today and they don´t bother much about it. They are more concerned about the price, the quality and the availability of the product. This awareness must be developed and the responsibility of creating it is on the entire industry as well as on the government.

Is it worthwhile campaigning in rural markets?
Nowadays, urban markets have more bulk consumers, whereas rural markets [mostly] have retail buyers. That makes it important to advertise in rural markets as well. The buyers here are picking a brand, not a commodity.

How do you look at celebrity endorsements? Does it bring more value to a product?
Celebrity endorsement does have its merits and it does affect the brand value of the product. However, this channel is very costly and must be sought only for brands that need to be sold in huge volumes in widespread markets comprising of at least 5-7 states.

Apart from cement´s strength, what are the other factors important for consumers?
Apart from strength, other factors such as durability, consistency and workability are very important for consumers.

What would be the top three things that one must keep in mind while designing a campaign or planning a branding exercise?
The top three things would be: the positioning of the brand, the size of the market/reach of the product and total quantity of the product to be marketed.

How does one evaluate the return on investment (RoI) of a branding exercise? And how soon can one expect the returns?
The returns could be realised immediately as soon as the product is launched in the market. We can say that the branding exercise has worked looking at positive feedback from the consumers and based on their repeat orders.

Could you share examples of non-traditional methods adopted by you to promote your brand?
We have not opted for a completely unconventional method so far at Hi-Bond. But in 1997, when I was associated with Binani, we tried something novel to Indian markets. At the time when we launched Binani Cement, we introduced ´cash and carry´ system. Though it was not a part of a direct branding exercise, it created a strong wave in the market. Traditional players wondered how a new player in the market is going ahead with ´cash and carry´ system, while the entire Indian market is selling on credit period of more than three months. This gave Binani a standing of its own in the market.

How does incentivising dealers compare with spending on advertising in terms of getting sales?
Simply incentivising dealers does not work. The brand awareness in the market through various media is also important and therefore a reasonable budget for that is necessary. Advertising is a variable expenditure and you can reduce or increase it according to the income of the company. Whereas incentives to the dealer is an ever-growing, fixed expenditure, which is dangerous. Unfortunately, some marketing people, under pressure from network, at times adopt this practice and ultimately damage the company severely.

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