Friday, November 21, 2008

Design and communication strategy for Lifebuoy’s re-launch

Rural India has ample of opportunities all waiting to be harnessed for the much-needed volumes. Not astonishingly, it has become the latest marketing catchword for most FMCG (Fast Moving Consumer Goods) majors. Some of the requisites for making an impression in the rural market include:

1) Strong distribution channel
2) Minimum profit margin
3) Simple marketing message
4) Lesser-priced packs to increase affordability
5) Packaging in smaller units and localised design that attracts consumers
6) Convenience of storage while use
7) Thorough knowledge of the village psyche
In brief, the strategy revolves around what attracts rural consumers to a product.

Hindustan Lever Ltd. (HLL) is one of the few FMCG’s to be highly successful in rural India. It has been a pioneer in reaching out to the smallest of villages with innovative products. HLL is also open to the idea of building rural-specific brands since it will only dispel the marketing media effort for the brands. Today, HLL’s brands have become household names. No one knows Indian consumers better than HLL. The company has access to both global and local research, technology and development teams. It is fully supported by its nation-wide manufacturing and distribution network.

HLL is India's largest marketer of home & personal care products, foods & beverages. Recently, it launched “Pureit”, which is an in-home water purification system that gives water ‘as safe as boiled water’. It is also the largest exporter of branded FMCGs, marine products, basmati rice and one of the global players in castor.

When we speak about HLL, the first name that comes to our mind is Lifebuoy. It was sold in India as early as 1895, but was officially launched and marketed from 1935. For over 100 years, Lifebuoy with its distinct perfume and catchy jingle was associated with health and well-being, making it the world’s largest selling soap brand. Its ads carried the message that Lifebuoy washed away germs and kept one protected and healthy.

Lifebuoy is among HLL's power brands which contributed to nearly 30% of the company’s detergent turnover and was a leader in the carbolic segment with almost 95% market share. It went through a major re-launch for the first time in 1964 with a change in product formulation, shape and packaging. In mid 2001, HLL then launched Lifebuoy Active and Lifebuoy Extra Strong. However, these launches led to a minimal turnaround. For nearly 107 years, the brand hadn't undergone a major restructuring and repositioning. The sales were declining since consumers were shifting from carbolic based soaps to beauty soaps with better fragrance and lather.

The decline of the brand, prompted HLL to re-think its marketing strategy. Lifebuoy underwent a major turning point in its history with the re-launch in 2002, 2004 and again in 2006. The re-launch was done to beat the slow-moving sales. To register positive preference among consumers, HLL challenged everything that Lifebuoy stood for.

Lifebuoy is now an entirely new mix with a superior formulation, fragrance, lather profile and a contemporary shape. It offers an improved bathing experience and skin feel. The new Lifebuoy is targeted at today’s astute housewives who seek family health protection. It made a thoughtful shift in positioning from being a male soap, champ of health to a family soap with a more reliable health protection against germs for the entire family.

The new range includes Lifebuoy total, Lifebuoy deofresh, Lifebuoy nature, Lifebuoy care, Lifebuoy activ fresh, Lifebuoy International Plus, Lifebuoy International Gold, etc. Apart from this, Lifebuoy also offers specialised products like Lifebuoy HandWash and Lifebuoy Clearskin, which provides treatment and protection against acne.

HLL did huge rural campaigning using the idea of hygiene as a podium to reposition its brand. The company devised a strategy to ensure its focus on family health themes via TV and print campaigns in the rural markets. They conducted consumer education exercise using "Germ tests" through multimedia. They also explored the opportunity to spread message during World Health Day. HLL also launched Lifebuoy Swashthya Chetana, the first single largest rural health and hygiene educational program. The campaign aimed at educating children and community about the threat of unseen germs and maintaining good health through practice of basic hygiene.

HLL used innovative communication tools at melas, festivals, haats, etc. to spread awareness about hygiene and health by product demonstrations. These techniques were used in order to change the hand-washing and bathing habits in rural India. For example, people in mela were asked to put their hands below a special camera where they could see the germs on their hands and were asked to wash their hands with Lifebuoy and see the difference. Hand-carts were also displayed at the company’s stall for attracting more people.

Ideas like putting stickers on hand pumps, walls of the wells, putting tin plates on trees surrounding the pond were some of the innovative media utilised by Lifebuoy. The idea was to market the product not only at the point of purchase but also at the time of consumption. Other media techniques used were shop-fronts and cinema van operations having films and audio cassettes with songs and dance sequences from popular films that comprised ads of HLL products during breaks. The reach of conventional media is not that effective in rural markets. Moreover, it is not always viable to cover all these markets due to high costs involved. Yet, these markets are vital since the growth potential is high. Operation Harvest served as a medium to augment the role of conventional media in rural India and in the process built relations and loyalty with consumers.

HLL has always been at the front line of trying out with innovative schemes to reach rural consumers. It deliberately introduced small-sized packs of Lifebuoy targeted at rural markets. Cross company product mixes were also offered to lure consumers. To induce growth, HLL dropped the prices of its products and has been also trying to upgrade its consumers by cannibalising its own brands.

Rural retailers and quick product availability influence the purchase decision of rural consumers. HLL therefore undertook projects to enhance the rural supply chain by a network of sub-stockists and 'Project Shakti' in partnership with the Self-Help Groups of rural women. These Self-Help Groups acted as direct-to-home dealers. In rural India, women are the catalyst of change and that is why Project Shakti kept women in focus. It is they who give Shakti its strength. Project Shakti has proved to be a great marketing venture for HLL since it works in both terms which is promotion as well as a distribution network with social welfare benefits. The model created a win-win partnership between HLL and its consumers, some of whom depended on the organisation for their livelihood and helped building a self-sustaining virtuous cycle of growth for all. Another good initiative taken by HLL under Project Shakti is `I-Shakti', an IT-based rural information facility that provides solutions to major rural needs such as agriculture, education, vocational training, health and hygiene.

Rural markets are still evolving and there is no fixed layout to understand consumer behaviour. Lot of research is yet to be conducted for understanding rural consumers.

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