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Devapriya Khanna

Director, Marketing | 03 Feb 2011

“‘Every bottle counts’ is what Carlsberg believes in and that is what I personally tell my team. We have to have that kind of passion for our brands because every bottle that we sell leads to increase in our market share, profitability and mind share. In next five years, we should be amongst the top players for sure and enjoying a healthy market share.”

Devapriya’s career spans an impressive 14 years wherein she has acquired a reputation for meeting the demands of increasingly responsible roles within marketing at several organizations. As Director, Marketing, Carlsberg India, Khanna exemplifies the company’s commitment towards staying ahead of the curve through her astute leadership. Her responsibilities include building brand equity through brand and portfolio development directing consumer marketing, brand activation and trade marketing, maintaining a robust public relations and external communications framework as well as engaging with key stakeholders. Given her expertise in strategic planning and consumer engagement, Devapriya is focusing on bringing the brands – Carlsberg and Tuborg closer to the Indian consumers. Devapriya bridged theory with practice as she began her career with Nestle India Ltd. handling brands in the beverage and confectionery segment. She later went on to lend her marketing expertise to GE Capital and ICICI before heading the marketing division at Oriflame India Pvt. At Carlsberg, Devapriya has been spearheading initiatives to take the flagship brands – Tuborg and Carlsberg to the next level. Guided by her able leadership, the company recently launched its premium strong beer – Tuborg Strong in the Indian beer market.
In conversation with exchange4media’s Preeti Hoon, Khanna shared her story and ideas about endorsing and holding up a brand that cannot go all guns in this country, since direct advertising for alcoholic beverages is banned in India.

Q. How has been the journey of Carlsberg in India since its entry in 2006?

Our journey has been very aggressive. We kick-started our operations with ‘Palone’ in May 2007, the brand that gives us maximum volumes and followed it up with the launch of Carlsberg in September, 2007. The two years that followed were a part of our consolidation strategy and thereafter in May 2009, we launched Tuborg Mild. Exactly a year after that we came out with Tuborg Strong. The year 2011 will see more of some interesting brand launches by us in the Indian market. Apart from that, as we move ahead, we are looking to consolidate Carlsberg as a power brand. It was a triple fold task when it came to Tuborg Strong and it has been the most challenging so far. If you see the Indian beer industry, there has been no availability of premium beer and we actually created that segment in India. There was a lot of skepticism initially as to whether we will find the market for premium strong beer drinkers because the notion is that India is a very price sensitive market when it comes to beer industry, especially the strong beers. People here believe in the ‘kick for a buck’ and we sort of dispelled those norms. We broke the myth by bringing Tuborg Strong into the Indian market as a small baby and now it has started running around and talking, we feel like a proud parent!

Q. Carlsberg recently launched Tuborg Strong in Indian market. What made you bring the brand here and how has the response been?

The strong beer market is about 80 per cent of the beer industry in India. Though we had been a premium mild beer player with Carlsberg and Tuborg Green, we realized if we have to play to the masses in India, we have to have a strong beer brand. Intrinsically as a company we believe there a consumer base for premium strong beer does exist and that’s why we came up with Tuborg Strong. The response has been fantastic. We already have acquired 6 to 7 per cent of the market share in some of the markets and looked at top 25 per cent of the beer consumers in India with the newly-launched beer brand. We also recently launched a surrogate for Tuborg Strong called, ‘Fungama Nights’ which binds fun, music and our brand together.

Q. What according to you has been the major turning point for the brand Carlsberg?

Our consumers were already aware of Carlsberg before it came to India because this brand is a part of this set of globetrotters, who have a lot of international exposure and who form the tip of the iceberg in terms of the consumer pyramid for us. So there was a natural demand for it when we launched the brand in India. We tapped into that demand and also grew the customer base by doing a lot of lifestyle events. I wouldn’t say there has been a turning point as such because the strategy was very clear that we had one brand at that time which was an image brand. It would be driving the profitability for the company and we pitched it to the lifestyle segment. The pricing has also been super premium, we have sustained the strategy for the past three years and that is how we are going ahead in the years to come. Year 2011 will see some game-changing activation and marketing strategies for Carlsberg.

Q. How does the brand perceive advertising as it is niche and restricted in the case of an alcohol brand?

Advertising does play an important role as in most of the strategic places we can’t show the alcohol bottles. But we use innovative ways and method to advertise in lifestyle magazines like Vogue and GQ and some typical magazines for male audiences like FHM. We have focused more on advertorials. So, we have talked about our heritage, our association with cuisines and so on. There have also been times when we have associated with celebrity chefs in some of the magazines who have used our product to cook and prepare dishes. Usage of the colour green has also been vivid enough. ATL advertising has helped us and we will continue with this strategy.

In fact, BTL activities might seem easy for an alcohol brand but for us it is the most difficult part. I would say ATL is easy because if you see some of the routes that we have taken, we have just used a basic template in most of the magazines but when it comes to activation, coming up with a clutter-breaking idea and then trying to do it in a specific environment where your consumer is, that has actually been challenging. It is about getting the right surrogate platform through which you can connect with the end consumer.

Q. Digital medium is being adopted by almost every second brand these days due to its quick outreach and importance in day-to-day lives. How does Carlsberg intend to capitalise the digital space?

Essentially for Tuborg, the target group we look at is the youth who is digital savvy. We have a Tuborg India page on Facebook and that right now has more than 1200 fans. There are many of our events happening at the same time and we keep on updating about them on Facebook. Even through our partners – for example –VH1, they have their own fan page on Facebook so we create linkages there to promote our events. We recently had Tuborg Sunburn Digital Talent Hunt wherein the contestants had to come up with an anthem for Sunburn 2010. We have an online plan ready which we will break in the beginning of 2011. We have kept aside 5 per cent of the overall marketing budget for digital medium and have hired Webchutney for our entire online deliverables.

Q. How do you plan to strengthen the brand’s presence in terms of both mind share and revenue in the next year?

We have distinct activation platforms for every brand. We have two categorical aspects -activation marketing and trade marketing so we look at it from consumer perspective and other from the trade perspective. As far as consumers go, we look at classic ATL plans which includes, OOH, press etc.

We are planning to increase each and every maket share for our brands in 2011. We are following our portfolio strategy where we are developing mild beer brands as well as strong ones. We have specially designed plans for each brand and they will have their separate target and budget. There will be a 40 per cent increase in the marketing budget. We just need to be smart about what we spend where.

Q. Is strong beer market in India cluttered? How do you intend to make space for your brands?

Strong beer market in India is already very cluttered and competitive. There is a mix of international and Indian local players. We know it is going to get more competitive because after Tuborg Strong made inroads, many of our competitors are looking to introduce strong variants of their existing mild brands. Probably now we are the only ones in the premium strong beer segment but there will be other established players launching their brands soon. It is a very healthy challenge because if you look at the kind of consumers we are looking at per capita income in terms of beer consumption is one of the lowest in the world – it is 1.3Lts per person per annum. So, there is room for every player to exploit this potential. The opportunities are huge and it really depends on which player has the best quality and how innovative the marketing strategy is and that will decide who gets the maximum share.

Q. What is the vision of Carlsberg for the next five years?

‘Every bottle counts’ is what Carlsberg believes in and that is what I personally tell my team. We have to have that kind of passion for our brands because every bottle that we sell leads to increase in our market share, profitability and mind share. In next five years, we should be amongst the top players for sure and enjoying a healthy market share.

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