As one of the leading players in Vietnam’s male grooming segment, X-Men products are a familiar sight on the shelves of local department stores and corner shops. So are other brands represented by Marico SEA —Thuan Phat and Sedure. Household names with a significant presence in the personal care, beauty, and foods categories, they are loved by generations of Vietnamese consumers.
Marico Limited is one of India’s leading consumer products companies operating in the beauty and wellness space. Currently present in 25 countries across emerging markets of Asia and Africa, Marico entered Vietnam in 2011 with the acquisition of International Consumer Products Corporation (ICP) — one of the most successful Vietnamese FMCG companies.
Avik Chatterjee, Vice President – Marketing at Marico SEA, leads marketing efforts for the X-MEN, X-MEN for Boss, Parachute, Code 10 and Silk-n-Shine brands for Marico across the markets of Vietnam , Myanmar and Malaysia. Passionate about brand building and new product innovation, Avik has over 13 years of sales and marketing experience across India and South East Asia.
In his interview for Vietcetera, Avik talks about the idiosyncrasies of Vietnam’s FMCG industry, shares insights into running a truly groundbreaking marketing campaign, and shares tips on hiring the right talent.
What was behind Marico’s decision to expand into Vietnam’s market?
Marico is one of India’s largest consumer product companies. Started by a first generation entrepreneur about 30 years ago, the company is known for its marquee brands that are well integrated in the beauty and wellness space. In the last decade, the company has made significant inroads in international markets and today operates in 25 countries globally.
Back in 2011, when Marico was looking to expand internationally, the management identified South East Asia and Vietnam as an attractive option due to the market’s potential. It was expressed in high demographic dividend, strong GDP growth, and the stage of market evolution the country was at.
Marico’s entry into Vietnam was through the acquisition of ICP, a market leader in male grooming category. ICP was the ideal entry platform due to its portfolio of exceptionally strong brands, like X-Men, across the categories that Marico had identified as future growth avenues.
What’s unique about Vietnam’s FMCG market and how did you adapt your previous marketing experience and solutions to Vietnam?
Vietnam personal care industry is fairly unique because even though it is a developing country, penetration of personal care products is high and in some categories, the market can even be considered saturated.
Unlike some other markets, however, in Vietnam people are willing to pay a premium for a differentiated offering. Moreover, male grooming is an extremely dynamic category and it is necessary to keep creating excitement with new offerings to capture the attention and retain young men as loyal customers.
My previous experience was across packaged foods and hair care in India — in managing large marquee brands as well as creating and launching new, innovative products. While the market here is quite different, my experience in new product development and innovation was quite useful in driving marketing strategy for the Vietnam market.
That said, however, I had to adapt to raise the bar in terms of creating exciting product propositions and attractive packaging to be able to stay competitive in this market.
What makes a successful marketing campaign? What are the marketing pillars you build on?
I would say a successful marketing campaign is built on four key pillars:
- A genuine consumer insight or need
- Simple messaging that is disruptive in delivery
- Highly targeted marketing mediums
- Better speed to market for high effectiveness and impact
A successful marketing campaign has to be based on a genuine consumer insight, whether it is a consumer need that a product fulfils or an emotional dilemma that your brand can help resolve. This is the foundation of any effective marketing campaign.
Secondly, the simpler the message, the more impactful it is. Often we overcomplicate things by trying to address multiple issues or make complex arguments in our advertising. The simplest messages enable the most creative solutions since you can be more focused.
It is also important to seek disruption in execution because of the high clutter of competing brands in the marketplace. It’s challenging to cut through the noise.
Don’t be afraid to be brutal in simplifying the message. This approach applies to the choice of marketing mediums as well — you do not want to spread yourself too thin. Every campaign idea can create a disruptive intervention only in a few chosen mediums. It is important to identify the best mediums for your target group; the ones that allow your idea to be expressed to the fullest. Resist the temptation to try everything.
Speed is extremely important today since social trends change quickly and competitors could just be faster than you to market. We also see immense value in a well-run development process with tight execution timelines. A short development process keeps energies high, avoids overcomplicating the campaign, and allows the team to focus on amplification and impact.
What’s the most difficult aspect about managing marketing campaigns for multiple brands at the same time? How do you align your marketing efforts across multiple brands to ensure optimal performance?
The most difficult aspect of managing marketing campaigns across multiple brands is the challenge of being completely committed and fully mentally present for each. There is no other way to create an impactful campaign that cuts through the clutter and generates value.
There is a pitfall of going easy on one campaign because you are trying to do something disruptive on another. Hence approaching every campaign with a fresh mindset is critical. I stick to my daily routine to make sure I am well rested and energized when I start a discussion.
There are usually different parts of my team taking the lead on different marketing campaigns happening simultaneously. We plan out the annual marketing calendar and try to phase big campaigns across the year or keep one part of the team focused on one big campaign at a time. Obviously things do not always go according to plan but we generally stick to the strategy.
In a way it is easier to manage multiple marketing campaigns than managing different expectations — which is a big part of my role. As Vice President – Marketing, I am responsible for meeting revenue targets, driving growth strategy for the unit, leading and managing a large and diverse team, and creating effective marketing campaigns as well as managing new product launches.
Different aspects of the role require you to wear very different hats, and switching between them is often quite challenging. However this variety and intensity is also what makes the role interesting and immensely rewarding for me.
Which of your campaigns for Vietnam’s market made you proudest?
Honestly I am hoping that my proudest moment is yet to come!
But my favorite one to date has to be the repositioning of X-MEN — an iconic brand in Vietnam’s market. It is synonymous with a “real man” in the minds of Vietnamese consumers, as it represents physical heroism and traditional masculinity. The definition of masculinity has changed with the arrival of Gen Z, however. Today masculinity is so many things and in some ways the definition of a real man has evolved over time.
In 2018, we repositioned X-MEN with a more modern man in mind. One who faces challenges but overcomes them to find his calling in life. The thought resonated with young men going through college or starting out professionally and struggling to find their identity. We decided to empower men to be bold, risk-taking, and confident to seek out their own path.
The campaign was really special since we had not been successful in our previous attempt to reposition the brand. The re-positioning got noticed, the brand grew and, more importantly, gave us a platform to build the brand on.
When putting together a team for a new project, what are the qualities that you seek for in a candidate?
The first thing I look for is the right attitude that signals an aptitude for personal growth — a willingness to stretch one’s capabilities and learn new things. Then there is the ability to respect others and work well in a team. The third criteria is possessing adequate skills for the task at hand.
I have seen enough talented minds completely fail while working in teams to realize that the capacity for self-growth and collaboration is more important than skill. And the nature of our business is such that it is entirely dependent on delivering as a team. Nobody succeeds alone.
What are some difficulties that you are facing in today’s economic climate? What are you doing to reduce the impact the economic slowdown is having on the company’s performance as well as on the workforce?
We are doing this interview at the time of covid so obviously the biggest uncertainty at this point of time is the gravity and duration of the global crisis. The situation is so dynamic that it is difficult to plan too far ahead. Maximizing business by reaching consumers at the time of need without putting our own workforce under any risk is the key challenge we face.
Our first priority is to make sure that our workforce is safe and healthy; and we have implemented various policies including work from home, social distancing etc to ensure this.
In terms of business, our focus is on being agile and continuing to meet our consumers’ needs even in constrained circumstances. So, for example, we are expanding our presence across e-commerce and online delivery platforms. Furthermore, we are working on expanding and re-aligning our product portfolio to capitalize on the short-term and long-term changes in consumer behavior arising from COVID-19.