Transitioning from mass marketing to massive customisation: Sanjiv Mehta, HUL

In his keynote address at the launch of BW Businessworld’s Marketing Whitebook 2017–18, Mehta reiterated the need to navigate the unprecedented pace of change

e4m by exchange4media Staff
Published: Jul 31, 2017 7:49 AM  | 4 min read

Consumer companies are seeing rapid evolution in the marketplace, with factors of success being constantly redefined. Leaders can no longer rest on past laurels to stay relevant in the new world. “Digital technology is impacting not just the marketers, but the entire value chain. It is no longer about digital marketing, it’s marketing in a connected world,” asserted Sanjiv Mehta, CEO and Managing Director, HUL, speaking on the massive innovations disrupting the consumption industry. 


A company’s scale, size, technology and bench strength will not necessarily give it the competitive edge going into the future. Hence, it’s important to develop a one-on-one relationship with the customer. “In many ways, we are reaching an era where things will get redefined. We will move from mass marketing to massive customisation,” noted Mehta, in his keynote address at the launch of BW Businessworld’s Marketing Whitebook 2017–18.


Addressing an audience of over 400 senior decision makers, gathered for the launch, Mehta reiterated the need to navigate the unprecedented pace of change. Agility, speed and resilience will enable companies to survive and thrive. 


Nobody can predict the future, he reminded. “There were times, not so long ago, when we would make strategic plans once in three years and forget about it because life was stable. From that era, marked between the 1980’s and 2007 to now, we are witnessing a classic VUCA environment. The US army did a great job in coining this term of ‘volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous’, which is not just related to defense and geo-politics, but to businesses as well.”


The Idea Age

Past achievements are no longer enough. “Size, scale or pedigree does not give you the right to survive. Disruption can come from anywhere and proven business models themselves can be at risk,” pointed out Mehta. 


Conventional strengths such as massive distribution network that were once barriers to entry, no longer act as a moat. Brands can be created, and consumers can be reached at scale, without deep pockets. “Today, you need an idea to grow your business, and you have people to fund you,” Mehta said.


The surge of new brands and services are testimony to the fact that consumer’s needs, wants and desires keep evolving and this keeps consumer marketing companies on their toes. 


The core of marketing, though, remains unchanged. You need a great product to deliver the functional benefits and the art of storytelling to occupy the emotional space in the minds of the consumers. However, with technology and changes in the consumer journey the way to tell the story keeps morphing. 


However, Mehta cautions that companies have to be rooted in purpose. 


The Big Picture

Quoting HUL as an example, he explained, “Our success is because we are a purpose-driven and values-led company. In the new world, when you are constantly under the microscope and public scrutiny, this becomes even more important.”


For HUL, brands stem from the corporate philosophy towards making sustainable living commonplace across the country.


Brands such as Lifebuoy reach millions of consumers, working tirelessly to change behaviour. Lifebuoy’s endeavours in inculcating the habit of washing hands after visiting toilets and before eating is seen in its communication and initiatives – some especially targeted at rural India as well as urban slums. 


The ADC of Marketing

Speaking about how the ADCs – AI, Data & Content – of marketing, which formed the theme of the BW Businessworld Marketing Whitebook 2017–18, are shaping up the business model of an FMCG company, Mehta indicated that classical market research is now giving way to picking up trends from conversations and interactions with consumers. “You don’t have to extol them to tell you what they want because they are speaking to you. You are now able to capture that, courtesy the power of technology,” he said.


He also stated that technology helps to influence shopper behaviour. Similarly, FMCG companies don’t need to rely on their own R&D set-up alone and the molecules and other big inventions can come from outside. “Open innovations and digital simulations can increase speed to the market,” he said. 


Mehta asserted that regulatory changes and technology will have a profound impact on distribution of FMCG products. “Thanks to GST, I won’t need to have 41 mega-distribution centres across the country. The uberisation in trucks means that I will reduce my distribution time to market immensely,” he pointed out.


Ubiquity of technology and innovation in digitisation are creating immense opportunities for business and the economy and Mehta advises that it is in the best interest of business leaders to be aware and prepared for this change.

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