By Vishal V Kale
The rise of Patanjali in the fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) sector is the cause behind the heartburn those in the trade are experiencing, those whose market shares it has eaten. It has stirred excitement in the media and brought in a new range of products for customers to experience.
A lot has been said about the key reasons behind the rise of this brand. I found several contributory factors like health, Ayurveda, new, tailor-made products for Indian palates, distribution network, Make in India and Baba Ramdev. Each of these factors can be converted into a defined competitive advantage for the new brand. But even all of these together cannot account for the phenomenal growth. We are talking of expected revenues worth Rs. 5,000 Cr in FY 16, in an industry with a well-entrenched competitive scenario and defined customer likes and dislikes with low comparative innovative potential.
The Brand, The Consumer and The Market
If you say health or bio-products or Ayurveda, there are other examples around, like Himalaya. If you state distribution, then any number of companies can challenge the network. If you state the owned or exclusive network, then you can just point to its shelf space and sales from other regular outlets to defeat that claim. Same can be stated for Swadeshi, or for product formulations and so on. The problem with this analysis is that it is 100% internal and post-facto. It completely ignores the market, the brand and the consumer: the three most significant aspects that need to be studied when analysing any brand in any industry.
What I like about this line is that it encompasses all the three components – The Brand, The Consumer, and The Market which is in reality consumer’s responses in totality. What can we say about Patanjali in light of the above? It is clear that we have to try to identify relevant trends that influence consumer choice.This stands true for any Brand in any Industry; in order to get to the bottom for either the success or failure of any Brand, you have to look at the consumers’ responses. Analyzing their behavior takes you deep into the psychology of the consumer body and their collective attitudes, value systems etc. It is these aspects that determine the purchasing behavior of any consumer. And, when you are talking of beliefs, attitudes, etc, you perforce have to analyze all parameters that can influence the same. With respect to a product, we are talking of the external environment as well as marketing factors, including sociocultural and political factors as these have a defined and well-studied influence on our beliefs and the like.
Pantajali and External Environment Trends
How many of you would buy a made in Pakistan product? If yes, then why, and if no, then why not? What are the associations in your mind vis-à-vis that country? Some may view it as an enemy; some as an underdeveloped nation incapable of manufacturing good products. But these have nothing to do with the 4Ps of Marketing, and yet have a significant and defined impact on the Brand’s fortunes in the market. The question is, can we spot major trends in the external environment that can be our guide in understanding Patanjali?
One such possibility is Make In India/Indian Products. Here again, we run into major trouble when we expand and consider that there are other companies across industries which are defined Indian. And yet, not one has managed to match Patanjali’s speed and success so far. What is it that is so different that can explain the phenomenal growth and consumer pull?
The phenomenal pull of Patanjali should be researched in top management institutes as well as brand management functions of major corporations since I see Patanjali as yet another indication of the seismic shift in Indian choices.
For the first time an FMCG Brand (or any other product, for that matter) is being discussed on social media. It is yet another indicator of the seismic shift in the Indian consumer.
Analyzing the Aspects of the Growth of Patanjali
The Indian consumer story is complex with differentiations and divisions that most corporate honchos love to parrot. However, when trying to pin down the growth of Patanjali, one has to go beyond these narrow segmentation & positioning/4Ps/product market approaches, and take a larger market overview before getting into the specifics of jargon and strategy. The reason is that while the inter-segment divisions and differences are indeed pertinent from a marketing standpoint, some aspects of consumer choice determinants transcend these divisions due to their emotive appeal and perceived closeness to the consumers’ hearts.
The most important aspect is the India Story, a fast-rising tide of nationalism combined with an urgent need to modernize several sectors and encourage investment is creating a climate of fast-rising acceptability of Indian goods-across sectors & socio-economic-cultural divisions, spanning all the way from Telecom to FMCG/high income to low income. This is happening in a market historically used to Indian products and brand names. It makes the consumer more amenable to experimentation with local products, which also fuels nationalist aspirations and gives satisfaction.
The second aspect that needs consideration is yoga, but in my opinion, you have to add the Hindu pride aspect in a large measure to this potpourri. I refer to the rising need for the Sanatani (Hindu) personality to seek solace in a long cultural history that is unparalleled on this planet. There are other products on the health parameter or Ayurveda, none have come even close to the now-iconic status of Patanjali, the brand.
The third aspect, is the central figure at the core of it: Baba Ramdev, a man who is a cultural icon and a famous personality. This is one aspect that needs much greater attention. As marketers, you need to understand how and why this is so relevant. Baba Ramdev is not just a renowned yoga guru, he is also a very well-known quasi-political personality with his activism around anti-corruption and the Jan Lokpal Bill. Both these topics hold high emotional appeal with Indians.
The fourth, though relatively minor aspect, is the name itself: Patanjali– which happens to have cultural as well as religious connotations going back millenniums.
The term Patanjali has some deep associations attached to it, ones that appeal to the mind at a deep-rooted cultural level: Indian, Sanatani, Yoga, Nationalist, Cultural Similarity, Activist, Anti-Corruption, Community Pride, Health, Ayurveda, Sanskrit as well as History. It has pan-Indian appeal, across divides and segments– be it economic, geographic or demographic.
Patanjali lies at the confluence of several independent but important factors that come together at cross-roads to create a definable, marketable opportunity.
That is why Patanjali has scored so highly and at such a blinding pace. To be sure, the opportunity presented had to be identified, a working plan built, product lines identified and created a distribution to be built, and all the rest of it. But the core reason cannot be these marketing aspects; we have to understand the core market and the core consumer that Patanjali is targeting.
For far too long, Academia and Corporates have focused on the easily definable aspects of Brand Management; the time is ripe for a genuine effort to understand the other aspects of brands and what determines their equity, image, associations and personality with particular reference to India. For far too long, there has been a total absence of quality research in the public domain in the scenario of brands in the Indian context. The reality on the ground spanning innumerable product failures from abroad bears mute testimony to the difference between India and the West. Given India’s cultural difference from other nations, the need for a much better and improved understanding of the Indian business scenario that caters to Indian realities is felt.
Consumer choice is not a simple either-or option, not even in simple repetitive purchase cycles as typified by the FMCG Sector. Unless you pin down each brand in detail, as opposed to a superficial 4Ps approach, the risks of not getting a full understanding remain very high.
Vishal V Kale has an MBA in Marketing with 16 years of experience in Sales, Marketing & Operations across various industries, with end-to-end specialisation in telecom sales and marketing.