Thursday, August 04, 2011

The ‘Spirit’ual Teacher’s secret brand concoction

Steven Philip Warner learns some brand secrets from the Veteran who spearheads the marketing division of the fourth-largest spirits & wine-making company in the world

Neeraj Kum
Beam Global Spirits & Wine

Seven years back, when Neeraj Kumar appeared for his first interview at Allied Domecq Spirits and Wine India (the previous avatar of Beam Global Spirits & Wine), the-then Regional Brand Director from Singapore, shot a question at him: “What according to you would be success, five years from now?” To this, he replied, “Currently my dad drinks a competition brand to your portfolio. If I can convert him to drinking your brands, I would consider myself reasonably successful.” Today, his father’s minibar has more Teacher’s scotch bottles than any other spirits brand, a product which accounts for 80% of the company’s revenues.

So how has the journey been so far for this formerly PepsiCo and Electrolux veteran, who is today the Director of Marketing at Beam Global? Kumar feels that every single day at work, during his 15 year-long career, has been very different. And why not? Selling Pepsi-cola in Nepal to the youth, catching attention of homemakers with Electrolux ACs and refrigerators in Singapore and grabbing eyeballs with wines and spirits in India call for different routines and game-plans for a marketer. “I think it all has to do with who your bull’s eye is. So while with Pepsi, it was all about the next generation, with Electrolux, the task was to involve the decision-maker and the mother of the house. When it comes to Beam Global, it was about activation programmes to get to the legal drinking age group,” says he. Even in terms of media usage, it has been quite a decathlon, for when you talk about FMCG or even white goods, you can very conveniently use above-the-line activities (ATL) to spread the word. But the law of the land disallows the same in the case of spirits. And this is where comes the biggest learning curve for Kumar at Beam Global. “It is all about how you move away from ATL approach and reach out to your target audience, by way of activation and below-the-line activities. From using media channels in my previous roles, to really going to that one person in a Hard Rock Cafe and telling him about a Jim Beam or a Teacher’s – this has been the biggest change and the best lesson for me here,” shares Kumar.

Currently, Beam Global is the fourth-largest wines and spirits company in the world and has more than ten brands in its portfolio, of which the flagship product undoubtedly, is Teacher’s scotch whisky. “Teacher’s accounts for 40% of all scotch whisky sales in the country,” claims Kumar. The other brands include Jim Bean (the #1 selling bourbon whiskey in the world), Courvoisier cognac (the leading cognac brand in the United Kingdom), Laphroaig (the highest selling single malt islay scotch whisky in the world), Sauza (the second-highest selling tequila in the world) and a few more. But despite having established many strong brands in the Indian market (which is also the most profitable one for its Teacher’s brand), Kumar still doesn’t want to loosen his strong hold on the channels of distribution which he considers extremely critical. “I think the channel is an integral part of brand-building. You can use it as an engagement tool and make your customers believe in your brand. Without a proper channel focus, brands have a weaker selling proposition.” Then there is also the difference in the required level of education and sophistication of channel types that come into the picture when it comes to spirits. For instance, when you talk about TVs and refrigerators, customers would very rarely make impulse purchase decisions and would visit at least 2-4 outlets before taking a final call. Therefore the education to be imparted, whether to the consumers or salesforce and distributors, is of a more evolved category. Also, the engagement for the company is more off-premise. But when it comes to spirits, it is more of an on-premise effort. And this is quite an exercise, as Kumar says, “On-premise is when you talk to a bartender or the catering staff to educate them about your product(s). We have a constant effort going on in this respect. And why is education and engagement required? The reason being that there is a particular way in which a margarita drink is prepared. With colas, the consumer simply makes a choice, but in spirits, despite the consumer having made a choice, it all depends on how the bartender prepares the concoction.” There is another difference. A product like Pepsi cola doesn’t demand a high level of engagement, for it is all about ensuring that the product is available chilled, anytime & anywhere. But with spirits, it is about getting the right temperature product, with the right mix and at the right place and time.

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Source : IIPM Editorial, 2011.

An Initiative of IIPM, Malay Chaudhuri and Arindam chaudhuri (Renowned Management Guru and Economist).

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