2020 was an year like no other. Sunil Kataria, chief executive officer, India and SAARC, Godrej Consumer Products, chats with The Drum and looks back at the tough calls taken in the wake of the pandemic and also how some of the problems were resolved. He also looks at new category forays and what the year 2021 could look like.
GCPL is a part of the over 120-year-old Godrej Group, an Indian conglomerate with a global footprint across many categories.
A look back at the year 2020
We will remember 2020 as the year that changed pretty much everything, we thought we knew. The year that forced us to dig deeper and be more purposeful. The year that scared us. Equally, the year that showed us how to be stronger than we think. The biggest takeaway: the ‘challenger mindset’ of our team to emerge stronger. The muscle and the heart to experiment, learn, adapt and share quicker and better than ever before.
Navigating new set of challenges and problems
In March this year, after the pandemic broke, everyone including us was grappling with the unimaginable nation-wide lockdowns. The production and distribution had been brought to a halt. Time for action. The sales and manufacturing teams promptly swung into action and started getting the operations up with hyper agility, ensuring the supply of essential products like soaps, handwashes and household insecticides was being done.
The marketing teams, however, had their own share of challenges for which no past playbooks had the answers. The biggest challenge: ‘while essentials were in huge demand, how to market non-essential products to consumers in a lockdown?’
Looking at marketing and problem-solving from a new lens
Marketers were challenged with all that was going around and what emerged was the ability to think beyond the obvious while looking for solutions that had possibly not been considered before. This included sharing information on brands to enabling engagement and consumer trials and taking a disruptive leap on the digital journey. Here are a couple of used cases.
Problem: The hair colouring category was challenged on account of the pandemic.
Solution: The insight uncovered was that while consumers were locked in their homes and could not visit salons due to restrictions but looking good was still key to uplifting their mood. With this insight, GCPL launched a #ColourlikeKaran campaign with the famous Bollywood director, Karan Johar. Johar posted an Instagram video of his hair colouring regime using the DIY Godrej Expert Rich Crème.
Another popular actress-influencer Neha Dhupia also joined in the campaign. Backed by their combined social media footprint, the digital videos reached over 6 crore viewers in two months.
Another marketing initiative #ColouratHome challenge was conducted with 50 macro and micro social media influencers, drawing in over 2.5 million views. Learning: Digital is opening up opportunities to micro-segment and tailor content and provide the reach that is sometimes difficult to create with traditional media channels.
Solving the consumer research challenge
Consumer research is key to generating insights and is an integral part of marketing decision-making. It has been done in markets, and in consumer homes and has been the heart of the company’s explorations. However, social distancing restrictions prevented research from being conducted in the usual way.
Solution: Understanding the shift, the conversations were moved online. The consumer connect program, Conquest, was adapted to facilitate consumer interactions via WhatsApp video and audio calls. The app allowed teams to schedule consumer interactions from 30 minutes to two hours with a heads up of only 48-72 hours. This turnaround time was a big shift given it would take four-five days pre-Covid. Over 2,000 consumer connects were conducted in six months – almost three times the number done last year.
Learning: The virtual conversations are going to be a large part of the approach even going forward.
Reimagining innovation for a post-Covid world
Back in 1918, the year of the Spanish flu pandemic, Godrej was the company that made first soap in the world using vegetable oil (and not animal fat).
Our purpose was and remains clear – the best way to serve is to innovate for our consumers. This year, it was democratizing handwashing with Magic, the revolutionary powder-to-liquid handwash, which costs just 15 rupees (or 20 cents).
And we needed more products. Typically, any new product development (NPD) would take 18-24 months with product testing, consumer immersions, technology approvals and quality checks. The need of the hour, it was realised, was to be much more efficient without cutting corners or skipping steps. The team worked hard and managed to bring down the NPD cycle to two-three months. As a result, over 15 products got launched in 90 days, as well as a foray into the entirely new ‘Hygiene’ category that includes the just launched ProClean range of bathroom and floor cleaners. The company has launched a complete hygiene-suite for home, kitchen and personal use with new products that include Germ Protection Fruit and Veggie Wash, Germ Protection Dish Wash Liquid, INR One Hand Sanitiser Sachet, Air & Surface Disinfectant Spray, On the Go Disinfectant Spray, Surface & Skin Anti-bacterial Wipes, and Multipurpose Disinfectant Solution. 2020 has been our busiest year on innovations and all these products will be critical to the future of our categories.
2021: What lies ahead
It seems ironic with the hindsight of 2020, to suggest we know what lies ahead. It would better to be cautiously optimistic about the ‘new normal’. India’s digital journey has been accelerated by five years and e-commerce got a shot in the arm. There are more agile and meaningful ways to connect with consumers directly. People will engage more with brands and experiment to make up for the gap. New categories will develop, and more nuanced products will come to market.
But more importantly, harder questions will be asked of us – of our purpose and contribution as companies, how we can and must be more sustainable, how we build stronger public-private-government collaborations for larger community benefit. And here lies our opportunity, because the best tribute to 2020 will be a stronger legacy to pass forward.