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Marketing Interviews

Ramesh Natrajan

Head Marketing | 31 Jan 2004

When we started in 1979, this industry did not exist. We invented express services in India. We have always held a dominant position in the market. With our services and substantial investments in every aspect, whether brand, infrastructure or people, we continue to dominate the market. We have seen this industry evolve and we have evolved with it.

DHL defined express services in India in 1979. Since, then the organisation has witnessed the market evolve and has changed itself accordingly. With the company bringing all its operations under the umbrella brand DHL in 2003, the focus did not limit to taking DHL itself to the next level but also to communicate to the market what the new DHL is.

In a conversation, Ramesh Natrajan, Head (Marketing), DHL speaks to Noor Fathima Warsia about the various activities that the company is involved in and its future plans.

Q. You are the first name to courier service in India. What is it like to be the first entrant in the business?

When we started in 1979, this particular industry did not exist. We invented Express Services that is door-to-door time definite delivery in India. Being the first entrants, we held a dominant position in the market. Backed with substantial investments in every aspect, whether brand name, infrastructure or people, today we continue to dominate the market. We started with documents, went to packages in mid 80s. We saw the industry grow, the market evolve and we evolved with it.

Q. How has the market evolved in these years?

The express services industry has changed with the change in the economy on the whole. Markets needs have evolved and in this evolution two factors affect us directly. One, globally changing concept of time and second the increased trade and the Indian economy opening up to it.

When it comes to time, people don’t want to compromise on it, which means that express services are required that much more. There is a need for speed. This has consecutively fuelled trade and the growth Indian economy is recording is very encouraging for us. From the 0.5 per cent growth in mid 80s, now it is 19 per cent. Added to this, imports are growing at a very significant percentage. So in all, the requirements of the market has changed and we have changed to cater to these requirements.

Q. Tell us more about how DHL has changed?

We changed with customer needs. Today we are more than just express service providers. We provide logistic services, hold inventory, offer supply chain management solutions, we can do sea freight… the whole gambit. This transformation happened in 2003. DHL before and DHL after 2003 are two completely different entities. From the traditional business of international air express, we have now brought in all our services under the motherbrand DHL.

Q. Why the need to consolidate your position under one brand name?

With the array of services we provide, DHL becomes a one-stop-shop for all activities. It is better to have one name and everything under it rather than four companies with many functions. Today where DHL is the umbrella brand, with DHL Express, DHL Freight, DHL Air and Ocean and DHL Solutions under it, tomorrow it will become one company with different divisions.

Q. And why did you choose DHL, amongst DHL, Danzas and Euro Express?

We conducted researches where it showed that while Danzas and Euro Express are serious brands in Europe, they don’t command the same strength anywhere else. DHL commands worldwide recognition and becomes a more significant brand name across the world. So it made sense to provide all the services under this name

Q. But why did you feel the need to provide this whole range of services?

Because the market has grown in that manner. Consumer’s needs have led to a change in any service for that matter. How many times, for instance, has there been loss of sales because of unavailability of a product. A manufacturer need not be good in logistics and they realise that now. So comes in the trend of outsourcing. This automatically makes more room for a service and we are providing it. There are other factors also like after sales and timeliness, which requires the consumer to have all these services and have them at his convenience.

We already held strength in the market, which is obvious in the researches we carried. This indicated that DHL as a brand can stretch beyond the core air express service that it was offering. And so we went all out to do that. In the process, we have changed our look with vibrant red and yellow and unified the appearance for all services.

Q. The new colours do dominate all forms of communication you involve in. It looks like you want an image change?

We need an image change! Our image in the market lags our capability. Today I need a customer mind shift that this is the new DHL which is capable of everything. Even though in India, on ground, we still don’t have a few services like solutions and freight but given a year or two we will stitch up everything such that we have all in place. But we are capable of getting things done and that must come across in our communication. And so we are going out and advertising aggressively.

Q. Please tell us more about your advertising and promotional activities?

The idea is to match our image to our capability. We are communicating to our consumers by various ways - direct mailers, all forms of direct marketing, events, below the line, promotion and importantly other ways like DHL vehicles on the ground, which is making an impact.

In the express service category, there are more of two wheelers and three wheelers but for DHL, you will always see a completely equipped, air conditioned DHL van. The first thing of course is security of the shipment or the package but apart from that it is a mobile visual medium. We are taking the best efforts and investing substantially to ensure that it is always visible to the customer, bright and nice. You would not miss it on a Saturday, Sunday, 12 in the night. Every 3km, you are quite likely will see a DHL vehicle on the roads.

Q. And that is making an impact…

A substantial one. The communication message that goes out is strong. Looking at the vans, the customer will think, ‘There, they are moving my business.’ It is a significant communication tool.

Q. What is the division between your below the line and above the line activities?

We don’t make a clear differentiation. Above the line and below the line is the function of what that particular campaign requires. If I want to stimulate my cash and credit sales on a revenue generation programme then I will go for an aggressive above the line campaign. But since most of my customers are known to me and I have a good ongoing relation with my customers a below the line campaign is good enough.

My current campaign nonetheless, is that of a positioning change. So it employs more above the line than below the line because of the shift.

Q. What else becomes significant to your communication?

Our role as a trade facilitator. We are oiling the wheels of globalisation and our communication strategy encompasses that as well.

Q. When you say trade facilitator, what do you imply?

Take the example of any business, for instance garments or fashion. There are various levels involved in the trade. Designs are exchanged, approved but they have to be very timely so that it matches the period of that fashion. So, it is very important that the time in each stage is cut. With our services, we facilitate their trade and they realise that.

Q. Your customer relationship programme ‘Stripes’ is a unique initiative. What is the objective behind this?

‘Stripes’ is the result of having good business to business relationship. Here customer relations and decisions are not made by an individual but by a panel of people. With ‘Stripes’, we give this group of our customer hard benefits, that is points on their business transaction that converts into rewards and soft benefits. Soft benefits include building affinity in form of events, magazine subscription, enabling knowledge and more globalisation with the branding.

Q. How does this benefit?

There is an increased involvement. So some one who is using us for documents will use us for packages, someone who is using us for packages can use us for documents. Someone who uses us for these can use us for import exports. There are more relations with who already have relations with us and new relations too.

This is the only loyalty programme in the country which has a call centre of its own. We have very focussed mailers to our customer rather than mass mailers. It is a very different programme in itself.

Q. So are your monthly India trade and quarterly trade magazines. What is aim behind those?

It is again a result of our role as a trade facilitator. It aims at giving our customers an insight in their business, whether it is how country exports are moving, how they can expand business to other countries. We wanted to give a focal newsletter that would provide information like trade statistics, insights in trade evolution in different countries. Our in-house research team decides the editorial content of the magazine. Then we have names like Indica Research and D&B India to give the information, which makes it credible. And with this data we developed the Trade Confidence Index which is more emotional, as in what do exporters feel about facts and how do they view it.

Q. It is a great business to business initiative. What is the kind of response you received?

We have received an overwhelming response. More than 250 top CEOs of the country have got to us, saying this is great stuff and that they really liked it. And this is just the first step.

Q. So what’s next?

Oh, there is a lot more coming from us soon. Currently, we are making our presence felt with the Freight Forward promotions. With our dash of yellows on the roads, billboards, brochures, I think we are already creating waves.

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