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Shankar Shinde

Country Head | 24 Nov 2009

The Indian consumer is increasingly more affluent, discerning and aware of high-quality personal care products. Given all these strong fundamentals, the Indian body odor market is likely to continue growing at a pace far faster than most other markets. Despite the global economic downturn, India remains one of the fastest growing personal care markets globally, growing at 13 per cent per annum and valued at $6.3 billion. The market offers extensive opportunities for domestic and international players.

Shankar Shinde is not the archetypal marketer. The insights and expertise that he has honed over the years make him a walking encyclopedia on the market dynamics in India. Having travelled through the heat and dust of over 2,300 villages in India, Shinde can not only reel off the statistics and insights as to what would work in the marketplace, but has made it happen since 1993 with elan.

Currently the Country Head of Zodhita Inc., USA, Shinde began his career with MAA Bozell, handling clients like TTK and HP. Moving on via TBWA to Ogilvy, he served Ogilvy’s Outreach Communication Network and then became its Client Services Director, handling clients such as Glaxo and Seagram.

Shinde then moved on to the publishing industry and joined the Indian Express Group as its Vice President and Group Brand Head and was instrumental in growing the group’s sales by 32 per cent. He rounded off this experience with a stint at DraftFCB+Ulka as Senior General Manager, handling brands like Amul, Tata, LIC and IOC.

An Electrical Engineering graduate from Pune University, Shinde holds an MBA from Symbiosis. He is also a guest lecturer at IIM, Bangalore, INSEAD, Singapore, and National University of Singapore, to name a few.

Shinde has also advised Mckinsey on emerging markets.

In conversation with exchange4media’s Tasneem Limbdiwala, Shinde speaks at length about the marketing initiatives at Zodhita and the proposed new launches in December 2009.

Q. Please elaborate on the various marketing initiatives that have been undertaken by Zodhita Health Solutions (P) Ltd.

We believe in researching customer acceptance rather than spend monies determining the cost to produce an item; lack of consumer focus is one reason why many new products fail to achieve commercial success. Rapid change, increasing competition, complexity, organisational stress and high customer expectations have combined to make successful new products a key to profitability for inventors and manufacturer alike. The pace of the market provides less time to overcome new product failures and re-establish credibility. Speed to market is important, but our promotional strategy and our advertising campaign are what we think are critical to financial and market success of Zodhita. Apart from mass media advertising, we will also be executing a few innovative BTL initiatives. The challenge for new companies like us is to ensure that the ROI on marketing communication is tightly monitored, which our marketing team would be doing. PR also plays a very important role in our kind of business, and this will be beyond media relations. We are not looking at individual communication elements, success will be determined by how every aspect of communication is delivered to consumer with lasting impact.

Q. We believe that the company has plans to launch its antiperspirant deodorants in India. When is this launch expected?

We have adopted an idea and turned it into a product concept, which gave birth to Zuska (our brand). It involved researching customer requirements. It also involved testing the concept to determine if it would meet the needs of customers, besides analysing market potential and possible price points. In this step, engineering also got involved in producing concept drawings, models and prototypes. It also involved engineers and accountants working together to develop estimated product costs and possibly even tooling costs. All this was done in an effort to determine whether or not it makes economic sense to continue to explore the development of the Zuska idea.

Thus, we conceived our products, which include antiperspirant deodorant plus spray for men and women in two variants each, antiperspirant deodorant plus sticks for men and women in two variants each, antiperspirant deodorant foot spray and deodorant soaps. The launch is scheduled for early December 2009.

Q. What is the market share of antiperspirant deodorant brands currently in India?

Antiperspirant deodorants today form a very small segment, around Rs 400 crore. In the Indian deodorant market, most of the products are sneaked in through the gray market channel with no product/ brand awareness. This has resulted in non-uniform pricing/ distribution. Two organised players are importing these products, but they are being communicated to consumers as deodorants and not antiperspirant deodorants.

As the market is moving from talcum powders to aerosol body sprays, we see a similar shift happening toward antiperspirant deodorant sticks, the reason is that it lasts longer than sprays and is an environment friendly product. Unlike sprays, sticks are applied only on the underarm area resulting in no wastage and no chemicals are released into the environment.

Our antiperspirant foot spray, too, is a unique product. We have competition from just one small player. Our innovative formula, excellent distribution strategy and well thought marketing initiatives are going determine our success.

Q. Why have you chosen India to launch the product? What are the challenges that the brand faces in this market?

Penetration of deodorant products is less than 7 per cent in Asian markets. In India, it is around 1 per cent, but growing at 20 per cent for the body odor segment, which does not include perfumes. Due to our food and climatic conditions, we tend to sweat a lot, which leads to bad body odor, however, awareness about bad body odor is extremely low. All these factors have led us to first launch in the Indian market, we will be launching in the US market, too, around the same time, while the launch in Europe and the South-East Asian markets will take place in the next 18 months (after the India launch).

Our product formulations are developed in our technical collaborator’s R&D centre in the US, and the scientists involved in the development of the formulations comprise Indian, South East Asian and Amerian scientists. These brains from different parts of the world have managed to develop world class formulations acceptable to consumers in different geographies, which have helped us to bring science-based products that deliver real results. As the market stabilises, we will be launching a few more products. The whole project is the brainchild of our Founder Director Vidya Vepuri, an Indian American.

The Indian consumer is increasingly more affluent, discerning and aware of high-quality personal care products. Given all these strong fundamentals, the Indian body odor market is likely to continue growing at a pace far faster than most other markets. Despite the global economic downturn, India remains one of the fastest growing personal care markets globally, growing at 13 per cent per annum and valued at $6.3 billion. The market offers extensive opportunities for domestic and international players. The current per capita expenditure on cosmetics is about $1, compared to $36.65 in other Asian countries. This low market penetration for personal care products in India actually offers an opportunity for more significant growth down the road.

Most of the brands with same offering and ‘attracting opposite sex’ as their communication plank has confused the consumers. The challenge will be to move away from this space and build a new space, we will certainly not adopt this route.

Q. How do you plan to target the rural customer?

We will take some time to get on to these markets, may be not with the current line of products, but certainly with other products that we plan to launch next year. We will first tap the top 30 cities for all our products. Two products are been developed only for rural markets, which should take more than a year to be available in the market.

Q. How has the year been so far? Please give us an overview of your operations in India.

It has been a great year. Our HR, sales team, distribution partners, marketing, finance teams came on board, the challenge was to set up our own distribution channel, which we have cracked. Some of the best players in the industry are partnering us, setting up office in Mumbai to selecting communication partners were the challenging tasks. Finalising contract manufacturers for the products that we are sourcing from the Indian market was a very long process that we had to go through. Now, with all this in place, we are ready for the launch.

We have also managed to get the design of international standards; four teams – one each from the US, the UK, Europe and India – presented the designs. I am happy to say that the Indian work was the best, and the same designs are going to be adapted to other markets.

Q. What are your future plans regarding advertising? Any particular creative and media agency that you have appointed for brand communication?

As we are launching in December, most of the spends are going to happen in 2009. We have kept aside a budget of Rs 10 crore for the four-city launch. PR, media and BTL partners have been finalised, formal agreement with advertising agency is expected soon. We have selected the partners who have the hunger for knowledge and growth. Our communication partners have a challenging task to bring in behaviour change and change the way we look at body hygiene.

Though our budgets are fixed, we will tweak them as per market requirement.

Q. What are the media vehicles that you intend to use to send across your message to your target audience?

We will be concentrating more on radio and outdoor, apart from other BTL initiatives, Print – magazines and weekend newspaper supplements, and television will be a very small part of our gameplan at this point. As we are targeting the 22-35 segment, Internet advertising is going to play a major role. For us, Internet goes beyond banners and windows. All the modes of communications are extremely well thought and we have ensured the theory of ‘message is medium’ is followed to the core.

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