Having become one of the leading players in the home-grown mobile handset industry, Sunil Raina, Chief Marketing Officer, LAVA International Limited, is ramping up the product portfolio to cater to the upper end of the segment.
What have been the insights behind your recent Lava M30 music phones campaign?
We had designed the product Lava M30 keeping youth in mind, especially the collegegoing segment. Our research indicated that music was the most popular content consumed by young mobile handset users. Based on that insight, we created this model. Apart from the music elements, we also used SRS sound and IPS screen to give superior quality of music and display on the phone. Our communication was based on the insight that music plays a very important role in a youth’s life, especially in India. Music is used in places where words fail to express and in India, there is probably a song for every situation and every relationship. We used that insight to be able to connect to the hearts and minds of this customer segment.
Many other brands in the segment have used brand ambassadors to take their product to the masses. But you did not go that way...
As a company, we believe that the message is more important. If your message is effective and relevant to the audience that you are targeting, celebrity or no celebrity, it will be communicated well. We have tried to marry consumer usage insight of music on mobile phones with people’s lives in a very simple way. It is just a message which is delivered in a simple, plain and truthful manner. That has reached people’s hearts.
Mobile handset communication is usually model-led or featureled. Does it help in building the overall brand of the company?
When you go for feature-led or model-led advertising, that particular model or feature of the model generates a certain amount of recall value and therefore it has a life which transcends the advertising period. But the right way is communicating the essence of the brand and its core values based on which consumers will go and evaluate different models. Eventually, the features available in one handset are not really different from another. What differentiates one product from another is the experience of those features and the relevance.
Our communication is not about one feature, but about a set of models that we created keeping certain consumers’ preferences in mind. So we are not necessarily saying that we have one feature more than a competitor, but definitely claiming that the feature we are talking about will be relevant to our consumers and give them a better experience than the rest of the options available.
You began operations two years back. What was your marketing approach then? How did you fight clutter to make place for your brand?
The market was initially dominated by multinationals until new home-grown handset players came in and started talking to rural consumers, because that’s where there was a requirement of more handsets. These markets were lesser penetrated, and therefore, there was a big opportunity for mobile handset manufacturers. We seized the opportunity and were able to strongly position ourselves on two aspects of the device – long battery and multimedia. Because rural India was starved of electricity and entertainment, these two features addressed their latent requirements. Over time, we expanded our portfolio and entered the urban market through options like A9, positioned for its stylish looks and A10, which was a lot masculine. We tried to address different segments through each of these communications and like everyone else, we also followed the model-led and feature-led communication. However, our recent communication talks about the brand values. We now have enough models to cater to various segments of the market and it is time to engage more with the brand.
In these two years, you have also changed your communication partners from Shop, Contract and now McCann Erickson.
Well, every agency has done a phenomenal job for us. Shop and Contract have contributed immensely to the growth of the brand. Because we were changing course, we did a fresh evaluation in terms of which agency we could partner with to move forward. Given the direction we were taking for the brand, we felt McCann Erickson would probably be the right partner. We have a lot of respect for Shop and Contract.
You are said to be shifting your focus from rural markets to Tier I and Tier II cities.
There is space in this category for some brands to do real good work and break out from what has been grouped as ‘other mobile handset players’ as opposed to ‘MNC brands’. There is an opportunity for some of us to come into the mainstream. We have a lot of activities lined up in that direction. We are trying to become relevant to more and more segments and also high-end consumers.
What will be your marketing approach for the smartphones and tablet PCs that you plan to launch? Will price factor come into play?
Whenever we launch smartphones and tablet PCs, it will be in such a manner that we become a significant player in that space. We will ensure that we are relevant and give the right value to consumers at that price point. As for the price factor, I think smartphone customers look for the right value. They are discerning to the extent that the price balances with the value offered. Therefore, the focus is not so much on price but on the right kind of experience and value offered to consumers. We do not work from a price point view; we work from the value point and then talk to the consumer in the right manner. We believe that once the consumer is able to experience a phone and if the right value is built into it, he or she will pay the right price for it. So our philosophy is more of right pricing than of low or high pricing.
What is your view of the competition?
There are players in the market, some significant and some insignificant. That will keep happening because the category is so large. Every month, around 10 million phones are being sold. So it is a very high value category and you will find people come and go. Competition is good as the consumer gets more choices and it puts pressure back on people who really want to improve themselves. Only companies that meet the changing demands of consumers will survive. We are pretty much poised for that journey.
How are you targeting youth over the Internet? What is your digital marketing plan?
To communicate anything to the youth, digital media and social networking sites are important. We try and communicate to youth through all of these touch-points. We have a social networking page and several activities to engage people there.
How much is your total advertising and marketing spend? What is your media mix?
I can’t disclose our total advertising and marketing spend, but it ranges from 5 to 6 per cent of our revenues. Our media mix is predominantly the imagery medium, which is television. Tactically, we have the print medium. We do a lot of BTL activities to create visibility at points of sale, plus use radio. Now, we are predominantly focusing on television for ATL and on-ground activations in BTL.
You have also launched experience zones...
Yes, we have around 1,500 music experience zones installed across select outlets in the country People can go to these zones and experience the quality of music that our phones offer.