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Brand Speak
In today's complex scenario of 360 degree communications , Brands and Brand Building is taking on a new meaning. To be able to get insights into Brands and their Brand building strategies, exchange4media brings the freshest and in depth perspectives from marketing and brand honchos of leading brands in this new section BRANDSPEAK.

"We are trying to position Liberty as a more vibrant and contemporary brand without leaving the current comfort, durability and value planks."

This time in Brand Speak, we speak with Adarsh Gupta, the Executive Director of Liberty Group to find out how Liberty is coping up with the increased competition in the footwear market and the use of advertising and promotion by Liberty to create a new brand personality for itself in the consumer psyche.

How the footwear market has changed in the last few years as seen by you?

See, footwear industry is no exception when you take into account that the overall market has changed in the last decade. Everywhere the supply is more than the demand in the market. So consumers are flooded with optional offers from different brands. So the overall supply has gone up but the consumer spending per se has not gone up as per the expectations of the marketers.

Globalization has also changed the market quite dramatically creating a cut-throat competition especially with China emerging as a big threat. But any overseas player finds India a tough market as India is a very vast country with diverse tastes, demands and culture. And Liberty is firmly entrenched in the Indian market fully knowing the pulse of the consumers.

BS. How Liberty emerged as a forceful brand in the footwear market?
See, we started our business in Karnal(Haryana) way back in 1944. We made a beginning as a small retailer sourcing shoes from small local manufacturers. In 1948, we started manufacturing our own footwear.

However, Liberty as a brand name came into existence in 1954. We catered mostly in domestic market in neighboring areas like Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab and some parts of Pakistan till 1964. Thereafter, export market caught our fancy and by 1968, we completely switched onto exports. And till 1983, we were 100% exported oriented unit in terms of sales.

In 1983, we turned our attention towards domestic market again. We introduced a new technology of PU (Polyurethane) based sole shoes in the Indian market as we were exporting these kinds of shoes to our international customers. At the same time, the second generation of our family also entered the business.
BS. Since you were not in the Indian market for long, you must have had to establish Liberty as a brand among the Indian consumer as well as trade?
Yes, because of our absence for a long time in the domestic market, our immediate task was to create awareness for the Liberty brand name in the Indian market. Our advertising and promotion strategy over the years has consistently aimed at positioning Liberty as a complete family footwear brand. Initially, we focused on the upper class segment as our core target market. Later on, we shifted our attention towards the middle and upper-middle class segment also.
BS. Why this change of target group?

See, the premium segment does not offer volumes. The market up there is very small and there are too many players in fray. Therefore, in order to grow by gaining in volumes, we have moved towards catering to the middle and upper-middle class segments, which offer a far higher off-take of footwear.

BS. How Liberty positioning has changed with the changing market dynamics?

Till few months back, the customers perceived Liberty as a comfortable, durable and great value for money brand. We are trying to enhance that perception by positioning Liberty as a more vibrant and contemporary brand too. The new positioning does not mean that we are moving away from the comfort, durability and value planks. Those will always be there associated with Liberty. So Liberty as an umbrella brand has become more fashionable in tune with the changed market needs now.

BS. What kind of footwear range is offered by the Liberty brand?
In 1991, we took a stock of the long-term view of our business and marketing strategy. Thereafter, the Liberty product range was divided into number of categories with their own sub-branding under the umbrella Liberty brand.

'Force 10', fashionable sports shoes (not performance sports shoes) was the first sub-brand launched by us. We have 'Fortune' for men's formal and 'Windsor' for executive range mostly for the people who are on the move. So we have three ranges in men's shoe category. We have 'Coolers' which is a sandal for both men and women. For women, we have 'Senorita' for more fashion conscious women and 'Tip-Top' for married women who look for more comfort.

Then we have 'Gliders' which caters to the entire family from 4-years to 50-years plus. It is positioned as a young brand. In Gliders, we have three categories - Glider C for children, Glider P for teenagers and Gliders A for adults. We also have 'FootFun' for children and 'Prefect' which is children's school shoe. We also have 'Warrior' which is a shoe for industrial applications with a safety benefit used primarily in factories and army.

Besides these 10 sub-brands, we also have a brand called A-Ha which is a hawai chappal, catering to the lower class segment market. But A-Ha is not a sub-brand of Liberty as we do not cover it under our branding.
BS. Which one is your best performing sub-brand?

In terms of number of pairs, Gliders is the No.1 sub-brand in our portfolio as it is catering to a wider age group range and offers the maximum choice.

BS. What is the share of Liberty brand in the overall footwear market in India?

In terms of number of pairs, it is very difficult to analyze because 75% of the industry is in the unorganized sector. But according to certain Govt. agencies, India produces about 1.1 billion pairs of footwears. In value terms, the industry size should be around Rs.8,000 crore including exports. In the organized sector, we are second to Bata with a turnover of about 350 crores.

BS. What makes Liberty different from other competing brands?

I would say the brand personality of Liberty is different from other brands like Lakhani, Action etc. Unlike others, we are catering to the entire family. Bata is the only other company which offers the complete family range of footwear like us. Other players are catering to certain niche markets only such as Lakhani is more into rural segment or Action which is more into teenagers and kids only. So Liberty is catering to a very large segment of the market through its wide range of sub-brands whereas others are single brand entities.

BS. What role advertising has played in creating a distinct personality of Liberty brand?

We strongly believe that advertising for a brand is the fuel for the growth of the company. See, consumers react to the advertising which results in a demand for a brand translating into sales for the company.

Thanks to our advertising consistently over the years, Liberty has been perceived as a brand which is young, modern and offering new and international range of footwears. But in the last two years or so, we felt that ads irrespective of the TV, press or outdoor mediums were not adding any value so we toned down our ad spend.

BS. But don't you think this drop in advertising affected the consumer's mind as he finds the brand less visible then before raising doubts in his mind?

Yes certainly, low visibility does affect the brand's share in the consumer's mind. But business was low and we tuned down the advertising to a minimal level.

However, we took stock of the situation and as business has improved, we have again upped our ad budget. This financial year we plan to spend around Rs.12 crore on our advertising. We have changed our ad strategy also by opting for advertising in the peak seasons only instead of advertising through out the year. Even our advertising creatives have also undergone major change. Our ad campaign has become more youthful and catchy communicating the new fashionable appeal of Liberty brand in a more effective manner.

BS. How loyal are the Liberty customers to the brand?

We fare very well on the loyalty parameter among the customers, However, as I said earlier, in the last few years brand loyalty among Indian consumers has eroded and foreign brands/products are perceived to be better than Indian products/brands. But our experience shows that customers are now realizing that among the footwear products/brands Liberty is still the best brand in the country and Liberty customer loyalty is further improving.

BS. Which are the major channels of sales of Liberty footwears?

Well, we sell through 350 exclusive Liberty showrooms and more than 4000 multi brand stores spread all over India. But the retail stores are neither owned nor managed by us.

BS. There has been a trend to push sales through factory outlets. What do you think about it?

The trend of pushing sales through factory outlet has been borrowed from Western countries in India. However, I feel that Indian markets are not as matured as Western markets. Neither we have high street shopping concepts in whole of India nor the customers are short of time. Yet percentage of factory outlets is very high and they are very very visible on main highways. The customers, to take advantage of discounts, prefer to buy the products at factory outlets which erode the value of the brand and business shifts from prime outlets to secondary outlets. I feel that Indian companies should not push factory outlet concept in the prime markets highly visible sites for at least next 10 years.

BS. What are your plans for the future?

I think Indian consumer is now more aware of international trends and shopping standards as our markets are becoming an important part of the global market. Being associated with exports for last more than 40 years, we have an advantage of providing international quality products to Indian consumers and in terms of technology and styling, we are not behind international trends. However, we do not provide international shopping experience to Indian consumers and therefore in the last 3-4 years, we have made conscious efforts to upgrade the standards of our retail outlets and we shall continue to do so to make the shopping enjoyable for the Indian consumers.

Moreover we shall continue providing the latest high quality products to Indian consumers at affordable prices, which are not only comfortable but durable too.

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