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Marketing Interviews

Samuel Selvakumar

CEO | 08 Mar 2004

“Today’s consumers do not want to hear the virtues of a brand, they are interested in specifics and that’s what our campaigns always do.”

In a career spanning over 22 years, Samuel Selvakumar has surged ahead with 16 promotions, holding different assignments in different locations across diverse business and industry. At 44, his career graph is highlighted with outstanding contributions in varied businesses through pioneering start-up ventures, promotions in quick succession and high-profile assignments. Selvakumar has spent the past seven years in the cellular industry. And, now, serving as the Chief Executive Officer of Hutchison Essar South, taking care of Karnataka and Chennai circles. In his conversation with Shubha Kumble, Selvakumar shares his plans for Hutch, the need for non-techno communications and his optimism for the cellular industry.

Q. How is Hutch positioned?

Hutch is a brand that delivers and focuses on what the consumer wants. We believe in taking small-yet-firm steps rather than large-but-trembling leaps. Our brand is not about promising but about delivering. Our brand is very much about ‘here and now’. It’s not about ‘what a great position’, ‘what a great statement’ or ‘what a great company’. Instead, it’s all about experiencing ‘here and now’. To that extent, we believe our core-values to be simply related to work-values. In a service business you can’t have high imagery and low delivery. When customer expectation is a moving target, your brand will have to constantly connect with the consumer. In that sense, our positioning is in real play.

Q. Hutch is a relatively new entrant into the cellular industry. Could you please take us through how your brand evolved since its entry into the Indian market?

Let me tell you about our business before taking you through how our brand evolved. We were given the 1800-mega-hertz spectrum where we launched our business. This was the first time the country was allotted this spectrum. We came in and launched our network and the brand, Hutch. It is a much young brand compared to other major market players and what we have always focused on is keeping in mind our views and philosophy that take us towards creating a successful business. We have constantly worked to create a value proposition to our consumers. What we have seen in the last 19 months since the time we have launched the brand is there are huge endorsements that keep growing day by day in the Southern markets where we are newcomer. We have seen a large number of customers exercise their faith and choice in favour of us as their service provider.

So, if we see how we have evolved, I guess the evolution has been much like this: people came in, saw a new service provider, experienced the good and also the short-comings in terms of quality and depth of network and having overcome that substantially, they turned a big leaf. This is demonstrated in the large number of subscribers who have opted to use our services. They speak volumes for our evolution. The brand is only as good as its delivery on the ground where your experience is only as good as your last call.

Yes, we have never used a tagline in our communication, as it has always been for others. We wanted to establish Hutch as a brand. As I said, we don’t talk imagery, we talk about what our consumers can touch and feel and experience as a whole. It requires product innovativeness. Since you can’t touch and feel our product, you need to experience it. So, we focus on the continuous stretch of innovative services that we offer to our consumers. Instead of giving you a simple SMS service that anyone can give, we have given you SMS as a medium to allow interactive response between users. This continuous process of providing innovative products and services has been a milestone in the way we have evolved.

Q. What was the main focus of your brand positioning when you entered the Indian market and how has this positioning evolved since?

Our focus has remained the same since the time we entered. We entered with the intention to say that we are here to expand the market and that’s what we’ve done. The size of the market has grown enormously since then. We had said that the way we would expand the market would be through giving you more value for your usage. So, we’ve not only expanded the size of the market, also gave our customers better services and ensured their stay with our network.

Q. What kind of marketing strategies did you apply to achieve this enlargement of market?

We’ve been innovative in everything that we’ve done. We’ve been innovative in our tariffs. When we launched, we gave you the choice to pay as you use and, the more you talk the less you pay. Tariff is a factor that keeps constantly changing in an industry like ours and we have used the trend in an innovative manner. Whether it is tariff or value-added services, innovation is our key. Keeping our services constantly relevant and cost-effective for our consumers has been our main focus. At the end of the day, our customers judge us on the basis of simple things like the quality of our network, getting him the bills accurately and on time. So, the more we involve ourselves with the basics of life, the more the brand gets perceived for what it stands for.

Q. Your ad campaigns have been immensely popular especially the recent boy and the pug one. What media objective did they go out with?

If you look at a category like ours, there is a lot of ‘technology-speak’. But, we need to speak the language that the consumer understands. We have always tried to, if I may say so, consumerise our communication. If he is making a call, how does it matter to the consumer if he is using technology A, B or C? Our focus on keeping to simplicity has been the main driving force. Network is hygiene in this industry; so, we are trying to communicate this ‘hygiene’ factor in a language the consumer easily understands. This is what you have seen in the boy-and-the-pug campaign.

Q. The techno-speak, as you called it – that was seen in earlier campaigns, has now been completely replaced by a softer mode of communication across the industry. Do you see yourself as a trendsetter?

You can catch on to a concept, bandwagon. But to continue to create it, it needs to be an institutionalised way of life. Brand is not about imagery; it has to be integrated at the ground level. If you speak about the use of human emotions, I must say, brand values do not substantiate these values, and the task becomes extremely difficult. So, that is something that Hutch has focused on over a period of time.

Q. Your campaigns have predominantly been related to one or the other service that you provide rather than a complete brand promotion.

In our communication, we need to constantly connect with the consumer. You have to be able to give a value proposition to the consumer that relates to your campaign. If you do not give a value to your consumer, it turns very difficult for them to get high simply on imagery. If you only offer a high gloss value, which is what you see in most campaigns today, it still needs to convey to the consumer what he can get out of it. The more you establish a connect between what you see and what you experience and get, the more the chances that the campaign would be successful. The consumers today do not want to hear the virtues of a brand, they are interested in specifics and that’s what our campaigns always do.

Q. What kinds of investments have gone into your campaigns?

I would say that we are a very relevant and strategic spender. I am not in a position to reveal to you the exact volume of spends but nationally, we are certainly one of the high spenders in our category and across categories as well.

Q. While you are known as Hutch in most parts of India, you go by the name of Orange in Mumbai. Does this dual branding create any confusion?

No, so far, we have not experienced any problems with that. Everybody recognises that Hutch and Orange are one. We are brands that are fundamentally from the same stable. We launched Hutch in the South and consequently all our properties across Delhi, Kolkata and Gujarat aligned and changed to Hutch. Historically, we launched Orange many years ago and it continues to be the leading force as far as that market is concerned. Through our various campaigns we establish Hutch and Orange as an association that everyone reckons.

Q. A lot of players have successfully geared up on their below-the-line activities. Will you be following suit?

Our approach has always been to have an integrated communication. We have always supported our thematic campaigns with a lot of below-the-line activities. Apart from this, we have a fairly widespread distribution of outlets, which makes our products and services available at an arm’s length. We have our own exclusive shops and at the next level, we have what we call, teleshops, which are a smaller format of our main Hutch shops. Then we have our retail outlets where our services are available. So, we have virtually covered all spectrum areas available and it is still evolving. If you want to know whether we do road shows, then yes, we do. But our road shows mainly focus on what else our consumers can get out of our products and services.

Q. Spice, one of your biggest competitors in Karnataka has acquired considerable mileage through its audience-specific services – be it for the youth or women. Will we see Hutch going after niche audience?

Hutch has never gone out and branded our different products exclusively, saying for example, as Hutch Youth. But a lot of youth have come into our network mainly because of the innovation that is constantly being applied to our operations. So, while we have not gone ahead and sub-branded our products be it for the youth, women or children, we have addressed the needs of various sections in that sense. So, while our services are catering to different needs, they are all offered under the Hutch name.

Q. What percentage of the market share does Hutch hold?

If you take a look at last year’s figures, we were for the most part of the year operational only in Bangalore and four towns. It was in the later part of last year that we expanded our footprint spreading across 75 towns. But if you look at what we took last year, 40 per cent of the gross share last year went to Hutch’s account. Our experience in rest of Karnataka is about a year in some towns and in others, it’s about a few months. We are being well received and I think we will see more consolidation and growth happening even outside Bangalore.

Q. What kind of growth are you expecting?

From all indication, most markets are expected to double the subscriber base. Though I don’t know at what time the doubling of subscriber base will happen, we will certainly get a fair share of the cellular growth that is expected. Karnataka has 20 lakh cell phone connections that are expected to grow beyond 30 lakhs and we expect to get a fair share out of that. We would continue to launch very innovative and relevant products for our consumers and we would continue to deliver global-standard services to our customers. These would be the key drivers of growth for our business in the future.

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