Key challenge is to stay relevant & build unique brand identity: Rahul Pansare

Pansare, Head Marketing Communications & PR, FCA India Automobiles talks about bringing the American Jeep brand to India, the marketing initiatives, the pricing strategy and more

by Dipali Banka
Published - Aug 13, 2019 8:24 AM Updated: Aug 13, 2019 8:24 AM

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Pansare

Since its launch in July 2017, Jeep Compass has captured the Indian SUV market in a big way. Rahul Pansare, Head Marketing Communications & PR, FCA India Automobiles Pvt. Ltd. tells us about the challenges of bringing the American Jeep brand to India and about the marketing initiatives that helped to cement its position within the Indian SUV segment.

Excerpts:

Since its launch in July 2017, Jeep Compass has captured the market in a big way. Can you share with us your marketing initiatives that have helped the brand find its way through competition?

When we started work on Brand Jeep in 2017, the biggest challenge was to make our target audience aware and familiar with the original Jeep brand. Jeep was a generic name to describe any SUV-type vehicle for many years.

However, the American Jeep brand coming to India and manufacturing in India was a big thing. We not only manufacture Jeep SUVs for India but also export to developed countries such as the UK, Japan and Australia. We leveraged these strengths coupled with Jeep’s strong legacy and started building our own identity. Our ‘Know Your Compass’ web series with Milind Soman was widely appreciated. Jeep fans were shown manufacturing processes highlighting what’s under the hood of a Jeep vehicle.

Soon after the Compass launch, we introduced two of our flagship experiential platforms to engage with consumers. Jeep is an experiential brand and what’s a Jeep enthusiast without a good 4x4 experience? Jeep Trails and Camp Jeep are our top of the line events for Jeep customers and enthusiasts. The list of initiatives can go on, but I will sum up by mentioning a few more – Asia’s largest OOH display on the Mumbai Pune express highway, ‘Thank Jeep It’s Thursday’, a unique Jeep Life event, a high impact ‘This is It’ campaign, the ‘Jeep Democracy’ initiative, and so on.

You started with the campaign ‘This Is It’ for the flagship model Jeep Compass. How has the positioning of the brand moved forward from there?

The campaign helped build the Jeep brand among consumers. #ThisisIt has become a slogan for all ‘Jeepers’. We saw Jeep customers uploading their Jeep images on social media using this hashtag. The loyalty towards the vehicle and brand recall increased drastically.

Your competition is launching cars, pegging them right against Jeep Compass. Even their communication is reacting to the brand. What steps are you taking to address this?
Jeep has inspired people the world over with the four pillars of its brand philosophy – passion, freedom, adventure and authenticity – for over seven decades. We are undertaking innovative and strategic marketing initiatives to showcase our capabilities and premium features. The new digital content campaign ‘Under the Hood’ is a unique and impactful way to reach out to our target audience. The campaign uses a combination of hip-hop music and dynamic graphics to highlight key features of the Jeep Compass. We have seen great engagement on the series so far.

Pricing is the key in terms of product positioning within the segment. How did you work out the ‘onion pricing’ strategy for Jeep Compass?

Pricing plays a significant role in decision making. However, the brand imagery and product performance plays a greater role and cannot be ignored. Today’s consumer has the knack to identify premium and superior products. Jeep is a global, premium SUV brand and probably the most desired as well. Jeep Compass was introduced with a very thoughtful pricing strategy and that is one of the reasons why it is leading in the compact premium SUV segment.

How have you tweaked communication to relate to Indian audiences?

We have been true to our brand core values across all communication. The tweak was probably to make messaging more relevant to the Indian market and the consumers here. The SUV space is garnering a lot of attention and the key challenge is staying relevant to the target audience and building a unique brand identity. Brands that stay true to their offerings and have a strong brand positioning will benefit over the competition. Our launch TV campaign ‘Fables’ was shot in different geographies of India, showcasing the culture and beauty of Indian landscapes. The campaign had a global appeal with a very strong local connect.

You are trying to push Jeep sales through more variants and a new TVC. Is that giving you the numbers?

More variants have got new customers into the Jeep showrooms. Prospects who desire to own a perfect SUV now have a range of Compass models to choose from, right from the most feature-loaded entry model Sports Plus to the most capable Trailhawk. The overall consumer sentiment is low as we speak, not only for automobiles but across categories. We have to wait until we see the customers gaining confidence and markets getting back on track.

People in India used to or still associate the brand Jeep with the old open generic jeep vehicle. What was your stance while re-launching this brand in India, in order to ensure that you create a path for new products?

The Jeep brand has crossed that hurdle. TRA research has announced Brand Jeep as India’s most trusted automobile brand. This wouldn’t have been possible if people at large were not aware of the brand and its values.

What are the key insights of Indian consumers in the SUV category? Where do you think is the sweet spot?

Looking at the segment growth for the past five years, SUV is the most attractive segment for all automobile manufactures and hence it is getting all the attention it deserves. While everyone is trying to create appeal for their models through price, features and technology, the real sweet spot is the fun of driving and what you can do with your SUV. What’s an SUV without some level of capability? The Jeep Compass isn’t just a big car which looks like an SUV, it’s a perfect SUV with real capabilities. At Jeep we believe that the real fun is where our vehicle can be driven and the real accomplishment is when the driver enjoys the drive by controlling the vehicle, on the road and especially when off the road.

Jeep Compass Trailhawk was launched recently. What are your marketing plans with this particular variant?

The Trailhawk will have its own space and identity within the portfolio. The high impact campaign is out and well received across customer segments.

The auto industry is going through its worst slowdown with domestic car sales slump for eighth straight month in June and industry in red for 11 of the last 12 months. What is your view of the current situation? How do you see the industry shaping up in the next coming months?

With a good monsoon and the festive season ahead, I am optimistic that the market will get back to normal soon. There’s a lot happening between brands and its customers. Today the auto customer is well researched and knows how to make the right choice. He is not ready to compromise when it comes to comfort and safety for his loved ones. Brand trust has become an integral part of the purchase decision. In today’s scenario, apart from staying true to the core brand values, brands must deliver what they promise. Hence, we at Jeep will continue to focus on delivering the best SUV experience to our customers. With the Trailhawk launch we have raised our standard on performance and capability within the premium SUV space.

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