IMA Summit: 'In today's world, we must encourage idea meritocracy'

Bharat Puri, MD, Pidilite Industries Ltd, hinted at the importance of agility as a key force in helping brands navigate through the most testing times

e4m by exchange4media Staff
Published: Feb 4, 2021 9:01 AM  | 8 min read
IMA-Bharat Puri

Despite trying times, it's amazing how Pidilite as a brand has shone through it all and has captured a place in the hearts and minds of consumers. The way it managed to emerge stronger through the pandemic is a testament to that. At the 7th e4m Indian Marketing Awards 2020, Bharat Puri, MD, Pidilite Industries Ltd in conversation with Nawal Ahuja, Co-Founder, exchange4media, spilled the beans on how the company put up a good show despite the Covid-led constraints, how agility is a key force in helping brands succeed and how idea meritocracy is of the essence. 

Puri spoke of how agility has been of essence for businesses as they grappled through the pandemic. “When you are hit by a pandemic, it's obviously something that no management books or no budgeting process or planning process prepares you for. And it's never about falling down but about how quickly you get back at it. Companies that have impressed me are the ones that got up quickly, connected with consumers very quickly, cognized to the new realities, realized there was a trend around health and hygiene and that there was a trend around shopping and interacting electronically. There was far more emphasis on wellness and many companies reacted very well to this,” he remarked. 

“If you are looking at FMCG, durables, the real consumer space, it's wonderful to see how quickly brands adapted came back, whether it be the pace of innovation, whether it be understanding insights and acting on them, and whether it be just good breakthrough communication. So overall I would say a good year for the consumer industry, I think, the services industry has suffered a lot more. And retailers suffered a lot more but they will bounce back a little later. But overall, I think it's been wonderful to see people adapt and act with agility,” he continued. 

When asked whether the CEO's role, pre COVID and post COVID is likely to be slightly different, and if COVID will leave some lasting sort of changes in how CEO and MD of a company approach the business, Puri had an interesting take. 

“A lot of times we tend to get overcome or overwhelmed by the enormity of what faces us, but I think what distinguishes the CEOs that stand out from the others is their ability to be able to, in a sense, understand that while there is a storm. You have to manage the storm. You have to keep also strengthening your own ship, as you're navigating the storm. And, therefore, I always say that it is a period of crisis that tests the character of a leader,  the mettle of a leader, and the culture of a company. All the good work that you've done in better times. This is when it comes back because that's when people really own the agenda, that's when people go the extra mile because they have a sense of ownership for the organization. So as far as the CEO is concerned, he has to fly visually because you don't know what is going to happen the next you know in a week or the next  10 days. The whole planning horizon shifts and shrinks dramatically,” he said. Secondly, Puri advised that the CEO must look at when it gets over, how the organization can emerge stronger from it. “You need to have to put in a whole set of actions, whether it be related to innovation, whether it be related to supply chain, whether it be related to people, which help you basically manage the storm. The role of the CEO is going to change. These are truly the famous VUCA times, and the role of the CEO is continuously evolving. So whether it be how you communicate, how you visit the market, how you see consumers, how you meet your own people, given the scale of change I think the role of the CEO has to change. But at one level, the role of the CEO still remains to lead by example, to lead from the front, lead authentically and lead and own the company as if it's your own, that's not going to change. I think that that's a fundamental truth that will remain in place for,” he expounded.

Puri admitted that decision making being much faster, is something that will continue to happen post the pandemic and that is there a big opportunity waiting for companies to tap there.

“I definitely think you will prioritize a certain amount of speed and agility of doing things. What this crisis has taught you is finally what the consumer sees and how quickly the consumer sees the change is what matters more than you're getting it perfect,” he said. 

Furthermore, he sheds light on the intricacies of the challenges that Pidilite had to battle. “Because we operate in a whole variety of categories, we obviously have different challenges. In our case, first and foremost was just to keep the wheels of the vehicle the wheels of large trucks running. And therefore, how do you get back quickly into action how to get your supply chain back into action. Most importantly, how do you ensure first and foremost the safety and security of your team, then of your partners, then of your influencers,” Puri exclaimed. 

He shared instances of how the company acted in such a situation.”We actually had a deal with Paytm where we converted the loyalty points of carpenters actually into money because they didn't have any jobs and everything was locked down. And we said, listen this is the time when companies like us have to be there for you,” he explained.

Moreover, Puri revealed that what helped was forming two teams: the act now team and a plan now team. “The job of ‘the act now team’ was to ensure safety, security and keep the wheels moving on a given day to day and make sure that business is cutting back. The job of the plan now team was to say that this pandemic is going to lead to a lot of change. How can we be ahead of the change rather than struggling to catch up with the change and how do we emerge stronger from this crisis. In the last two quarters, we have bounced back much quicker simply because of that,” he shared.

On dealing with social media scrutiny and battling fiascos, Puri advised that brands need to put the consumer first. “The media will go away, the regulator will go away but if the consumer goes away then she's not going to come back, so put the consumer first and make sure that you're acting in the interest of the consumer,” he said. Secondly, he suggested that brands must tell the truth. “Even if you make a mistake, consumers will forgive brands for the mistakes as long as people stand up and say the truth, rather than try and cover it up or blame somebody else, etc. You are in this for the long run, so don't do anything in the short run, which is going to, in a sense, not let you put your head on your pillow and sleep well, and not let your brand succeed in the medium and long term as brands are going to outlive all of us. We must treat them therefore in the same way,” he explained. 

Puri spoke of how the CMOs role over the last few years has significantly changed. When I was a young marketing manager, marketing was like a test match. You had lots of time, you had time for a lunch break, you had time for a tea break, you knew you plan your strategy, and generally, the pitch was predictable and you knew what had to be done. By the time I became a CMO, it didn't become a one day match. You still have time but you have to be a little quicker,” he reminisced. He drew an interesting analogy between marketing and cricket.

“Today you have to innovate much quicker, you have to find new ways, you have to find new pattern combinations. So I really think the role of innovation, the role of speed, the role of thinking on your feet. All of this has actually got heightened for the CMO. I think, actually the marketing job is now become a fuller well rounded and constantly changing job and I think it's a wonderful challenge for any young manager, to be a CMO today because you're talking to your consumers experiencing you in all facets 360 degrees, seeing you in a variety of media, and you have a variety of choices to interact with the consumer side. I think it's now a T 20 match,” Puri said.

Lastly, speaking about digital adoption and how he looks at it holistically, Puri said, “It must be seen through the lens of impact on business in the short, medium and long term. A lot of times we get into doing things because it's fashionable but we must first look at the lens on the impact of the business but not just today's business tomorrow's business day after tomorrow's business. Also in today's world, we must push the idea meritocracy and the best ideas are never going to come from the top. The best ideas are going to come from those who are close to the consumer, close to the customer.”

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