Driving is one of those rites of passages which we all look forward to. From getting your driving licences, to buying your first car, they are very special moments in your life. So what does it take to design a good car? What does it take to market this machine and make it a success? From making sure a car has the right specs, to ensuring that it is a desirable product for your audiences, the genesis and marketing of an automobile is quite an interesting task. Find out how experts do it in this episode of InsideIIM’s Career Podcast featuring Nakul Gupta, Head of Marketing, Utility Vehicles at Tata Motors.
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A graduate of XLRI Jamshedpur, Nakul Gupta has been with Tata Motors for close to 15 years. He talks of his journey and his role as Marketing Head and what it entails. He then takes us through the wonderful journey of how they envisioned, designed, planned and marketed the very successful Tata Harrier. Right from its genesis, which began after Tata acquired Jaguar Land Rover, the Harrier was bound to be a stellar vehicle. The brains behind this beast spent years designing and ‘spec-ing’ it, Nakul explains. He even explains how they settled on the name ‘Harrier’ and what the process is like for naming cars.
Further, Nakul explains how marketing has changed over the years with the advent of digital, and how they use the new medium to engage with their audiences. He gives insights into what the targeted Harrier audience is like, and how they plan and make sure that this audience gets the best from their product. In the end, he talks of future trends in the automobile industry and how buying habits will change with the changing times.
Tell us in the comments section below which automobile marketing campaign really struck a chord with you, and why!
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Hi guys, welcome to another episode of the inside IIM career podcast in association with
Tata Administrative S+ervices. There is one product that is so aspirational that everybody
constantly looks at their life stages on the basis of what level of that product they own. That
product is a Car. And we are talking to someone who is in the business of selling cars for
many years now. Nakul Welcome to the InsideIIM career podcast, really appreciate you
doing this. Nakul you've not just seen a variety of products within Tata Motors, you've also
seen a variety of roles. So there are different vantage points through which you've seen the
business and now you head marketing for the utility vehicles.
So tell us What's it like to be a marketing head for a particular business?
In the marketing space, my job requires me to overall understand where the market is
moving, come out with the right set of products. Spec it well, getting the right price points.
You have to keep costs and profitability in mind. More importantly, how do we go to market
how do we build excitement in the market, which is completely cluttered, there's everybody
wants to be in this space,
And how to create a niche for ourselves where we differentiate on some of the pillars that our
vehicles will completely hold, stand good and be differentiated in the market. So I think
that differentiation in the market on a continuous basis is something that is extremely,
extremely important for any marketer.
And that's where understanding of our product and the customer comes. Very very handy.
You work with McKinsey, on some of the projects you worked in the MD’s office as well as
you mentioned. So what did that bring in into your marketing role?
Working with the Managing Director’s office is a different ball game altogether mean when
you're at in the Agra one of the mandis and trying to give a demo to a customer to a moment
where you're making the presentation to the board and seeing what kind of dynamics are
playing out there.
And the way that the business is looked at is very, very different. At Managing
Director’s level, you're looking at trends which are going to impact the business 10 years later.
And are you future ready for that? You're looking at technologies which are so future looking;
you're looking at whether your business is configured rightly or not. I think this stint at
McKinsey helps you to look at the world around understanding from other segments from
other industries, not just the automobile, because they've been consultants, get a perspective
which is not just automobile but global automobile, as well as from industries and other places. So I think that overall 360 degree perspective really helps you to look at your business very differently.
You managed lot of different Tata Motors products over the years, which one is your
I think hands down the product that we see next to us is the favorite. The Harrier. I mean, in
terms of the excitement in work, I think the first product that I handled 207 Pickup, that was a
different beast altogether. But I think today this is the real beast and the real kick ass product
that we have in our portfolio.
Now I want to get a little deeper into the genesis of the Harrier and I'm picking up Harrier
because it's something that you've seen from start to end at a very senior position. So what are
the journeys that it goes through before hitting the market,
The genesis of Harrier pretty much lies in 2008 when, Tata Motors acquired Jaguar Land
Rover, and Land Rover, as we all know, is the gold standard of SUVs worldwide. One of the
big reasons for Tata Motors acquiring Jaguar Land Rover, was the fact that in India, we've
had a history of SUVs and we understand that market and we thought there was something
we could really do, along with that company, which would have synergies for us in the Indian
market. I think that's where the genesis of the product was, obviously took three, four years
for us to find out in terms of what product configuration, etc could actually be in the market.
What would be the right time to launch a product like this? I don't think if we had launched
this product in 2011, or 12, the market was frankly ready to absorb it. The challenge as a
marketer was to spec it right? To understand where the market is moving, and to make sure
that we don't over spec it, because with the Land Rover DNA that this product has, you can
go completely berserk. I mean, there is no limit to what this machine can do if you let it go
completely haywire. But at the same time, there are costs to be maintained,
There is a certain price point at which a customer will be willing to write the cheque for you.
So how do you define that balance and where is the sweet spot is something that a marketer
can do and I think that's where understanding with the customer going deep down doing
customer clinics, looking at a lot of research in terms of how the markets have been moving,
looking at how markets have evolved globally, right. So I think the SUV trend that India
started seeing, maybe last five years is something that started in China 10 years back, right.
So how do those markets pan out? What made customers switch from the sedans, the
traditional sedans to SUVs? And how we could configure our product and then the entire
journey of once the product was packed? How do we go to market? What is it that we need to
communicate about this product? And what medium do we choose? I think that's where the
entire journey of the 24 months that we spent before the launch of the product was
phenomenal. It's completely phenomenal.
This naming of the cars, the cars that you launch is such a complicated business you see all
kinds of names coming up sometimes you understand them sometimes you don't what are
some of the philosophies that Tata follows when you're naming the cars and what
was your approach into branding, the Harrier?
It's like how you name a child. It's a very emotional decision. It's the child's name somehow
somewhere is an extension of what the family, the parents want their child to be in the future.
That's where I think the name hairier we thought was quite apt for this product. Harrier as we
know is a bird of prey. It's a big bird. And it's a powerful bird. It kind of communicates
the essence of what this vehicle would go for. Also, Harrier’s are your sea aircrafts as well
right, which have vertical lift capability. So that was in terms of performance as well, this
vehicle the kind of capabilities it has, I think we thought it was quite apt. So for each of the
products we come out with names, which we think will kind of resonate with our
And also are the target audience for that particular product.
For that target audience. At a very subtle level, you don't want to name a product a beast, you
don't want to name a product, power packed or something. And obviously smaller nuances
like easy to pronounce the way it is pronounced in different parts of the country. For example,
we had a concept of G showcased in the Geneva Auto Show a couple of years year back and
we'd given it the name Buzzard. Now Buzzard is a good name in English and it also connotes
a bird but if you look at go to the northern markets, especially UP or Punjab from where I
come from, Buzzard somewhere gets degenerated into Vussert.
Vussert? That is a negative connotation.
Yeah, so then we completely redid it and said okay, eminent visitors concept made.
But you stay away from it. So different markets. Different diction, different phonetics in
different parts of the country, which is as versatile as it is. So those are the small tests that we
do across the market to make sure that we get it right and it's easy to pronounce.
When a car is launched, there is like a variety of things that are done the advertisements that
come out the BTL that you were talking about. So what was the strategy as far as that thing is
Harriee’s audience is not a first time buyer. He's a pretty affluent guy. He's already owned
maybe two, three cars in the past, it may not be his first SUV as well. He may have owned the
compact SUV three, four years back, and now he's upgrading to the bigger SUVs lifestyle
wise, he's pretty much upper middle class, maybe even top middle class. A lot of customers
that we get are actually BMW owners. Audi Merc owners were sort of disposed of their
sedans. They have A3’s and A4’s and then graduated to the Harrier. So keeping that segment
in mind, I think our communication and the way it would appeal to those audiences had to be
thought of in a very different manner. So we looked at the market and said, what is it that
these people are looking for? We did a lot of research. So design was one of the critical
reasons for them to make a purchase. And the vehicle that they wanted to be seen around
moving in had to be a head turner. The second big insight, which we got was that they want
to move around in a brand which is reputed and which has a reputation. For example, they'd
be moving around in a BMW in a Merc and others have the choice of with the money in their
pocket, they have a choice of buying those kinds of brands as well. So how do we make sure
that the reputation is something which the entire product stands on while Tata has had a great
legacy, but I think the luxury brands stand completely different. So I think these are the two
key insights that we got from this target audience. At the very, very primitive level, which is
at least 18 months prior to launch, we fixed that we have to talk about design. And we have to
talk about the reputation that this product built about and that's where I was, handling the entire
communication, if you see, was completely targeted even before we launched the product
from 12 to 18 months prior to launch, completely speaking about these two elements, the
entire story on omega architecture, which is the architecture derived from the Land Rover
platform became a huge story for us. Every one month, we would tease the market with some
information on what this architecture stands for. We spoke a lot about how this architecture
has been tested for India, it had a great power train, we did an entire story on how we've
taken the power train from Fiat, the cryogenic engine that we have in the market, which will
give the right performance, right. So I think that was a builder that we did, just to make sure
that customers understand this. This is a true SUV hitting the market.
The TV commercial. How has it evolved in the last 15 years in the sale of a car and the role
of digital how it has evolved in the last 15 years in the sale of a car,
My first stint in marketing 2009 when we launched the Indigo Manza which was a sedan,
we only had TV at that time, we had digital, we could do a little bit here and there. YouTube
frankly did not exist. We could do some digital banners here and there but predominant
communication medium was either print or television. So print was more to communicate the
functionalities of the product, but the imagery would be built by a Television.
Those ads would be pushed out by dealerships also so there's like more immediate purchase
image ads and sale and stuff like that.
Absolutely. So the brand would be built more by the television commercial, whereas the print
would more sustained nature at business for the month in terms of generating inquiries, etc.
With the advent of digital I think it's completely changed our entire communication for 12
months before. Launch is predominantly digital now. We had absolutely no presence on
television. The customer audience is so well connected digitally. Every video that we would
post, we would post it on digital and not put it out on TV and we would get millions and
millions of views. Why it also helps us is because there are so many other people covering
your video digitally, it would get picked up by the media, it would get picked up by other
auto enthusiasts and posted and the multiplier effect that we got was phenomenal. So I think
now, when we do the media strategy, in fact now when we are launching the Harrier 2020,
and just in the stages of finalizing our communication, it's a balance. How much do I spend
on TV and how much have I spent on digital? And I think the scale is definitely tilting
What are some of the things that you do on digital that you feel are effective for a product of
Right, I think this is, the segment that we're looking at is a very educated audience. Plus,
these are people who want to know more about their vehicles. When we launched
the product, there was a series of at least eight to nine videos, where we put up multiple videos
where we showed the customers how we have tested the product in which way all arranged,
What does it take to build the manufacturing facility for Harrier and we actually showed a time lapse where over a period of six months a manufacturing facility from ground zero from a bear facility got transformed into a Giga factory which is churning out 40 vehicles a day, 350 vehicles a day etc.
So a lot of stuff on safety because here we are talking to people who are 35-40 years old. They have maybe five six year old children some of them will be just in school started going to school, safety is predominant. What does it take to design a vehicle which is as big as a Harrier to
be extremely safe for the family members even in terms of any eventuality? What does
it take to make a machine as solid as this, we could have just taken a brand ambassador and go
to brand ambassador to say hey I think Tata is the best vehicle and buy a Harrier, but we went
into a very, very immersive experience of the product. Give them a glimpse of what it means
to have a Land Rover vehicle.
Nakul, I wanted to ask you, you say you've been saying spec it up spec it up. How do you
come up with these specs?
What we mean by spec in the vehicle is some of the bells and whistles that you can see also
the tech specs of the engine that we choose. The other things that you will notice when we talk
about specs, let's say the infotainment system. What we've loaded this car with is in terms of
design, a floating island concept, which you will see on luxury cars where the infotainment is
not kind of part of the dashboard of the dashboard, but it is something which is standing up
which gives you a good view of whatever you're trying to listen to and you want to operate in
terms of specs. Android Auto, Apple CarPlay is something that has become very, very
important for today's people. We did our customer clinics and observed customers how they
were moving a Google Maps or something Which was operated on mobile phones. And we
saw a lot of consumers when they're driving, they would tune their Google Maps, put the
mobile on the dashboard, but then suddenly, they would get a call from the family or the
office. And suddenly things would go straight. They have been cases where people have met
with an accident as well, because they didn't really know how to handle that situation. So
which is where we've integrated the entire functionality of the Google Maps and your
infotainment requirements into the infotainment system. What we've also done is to go a step
further. There have been times when people take their eyes off the road, and they're looking at
maps on the left hand side and suddenly they lose sight of what's coming ahead. So the entire
maps get mapped on to the instrument cluster, right in flat. So it's not visible here because
I've switched it off, but instead of taking my eye off the road, and turning this Slight 45
degree left, which is aligned, which takes a fraction of a second mole, I can just look down
and see a hundred meters ahead, I need to take a left. And I can take the left once it comes or
whatever places coming ahead. So these minor tweaks with technology we now kind of
connect our cars and make them much more advanced and much more convenient for
customers whenever we spoke to customers, and the trends that we are observing customers
over a period of time are wanting their vehicle to be safe. Customers now ask us those
questions when they come to the showroom. It might have features but is it safe? Is it safe for
my family? Is it safe for me? Is it safe for my kids? I don't know why. But Indians are
crazy about suns.
For a tropical country. We're a little too crazy about the suns.
So you will notice we've not put a small aperture but we've put this big panoramic sunroof
When you’ll click this button you see this huge expanse of entire skyline that you can see
How do you define your success factor? So when do you say that okay, this product launch of
us, has been a success?
You have to create that buzz where people around you in your social circle are looking to buy
the vehicle. So, as managers, we definitely follow all the metrics, the key consideration
metrics, the term scores, what is my consideration, intention to purchase? Obviously market
share segment to segment, Market to Market, whether I'm doing well in a Delhi whether I'm
doing well in Karnataka and how do I need to calibrate my market presence accordingly.
Ultimately, as I said, my neighbour has to pick up the phone and tell me Nakul, how can you
help me get delivery faster? The idea that's off the pudding.
What are the mega trends that you see coming going forward in terms of the passenger
Definitely some trends, mega trends, which are kind of starting to hit us and we in Tata
Motors are also adapting, as you mentioned, people not wanting to buy cars, I think, slightly
far away. But as we started seeing some signs of that car sharing may become a big way
forward. And that is where Tata Motors is also investing in different technologies, different
partnerships. Customers may not want to have a car in their garage. If they want to go out on a
Weekend, maybe they will want to take a car but for the weekdays. For a lot of people now
Ola, Ubers are the way to go. But I think that trend is still less as you were introducing right
in the beginning. Still when you pass out of college, a B school, how early can you get a car
in your garage? Is the key consideration and how big and how fancy the car could be? Electric
vehicles is definitely something the world is moving to. Thankfully so, and I think we in Tata
Motors are kind of at the forefront of the chain that we want to drive in India. I think given
the congestion in the cities, given the kind of pollution road pollution that we are seeing,
that's one trend, which is completely irreversible. Even if there are issues right now on the
charging infrastructure, the battery costs, I think it's just something which is going to change.
Teething troubles and over time.
Teething troubles and also one scale come is I mean, from what we've been told, let's say 15
years back, the amount it would cost to create a lithium ion battery for your Nokia mobile
phone was maybe 10 times or even hundred times of what it is today. So I think,
the moment technology develops, I think those challenges we will overcome. Autonomous
cars? Tough to say so. I think globally, there are a lot of companies investing in US and
Europe in those technologies, maybe it is good for those markets today. You could foresee that.
But I think in India, maybe, maybe not in today's scenario where you have more cows than
cars on road today, I don't think you can move to autonomous cars and in the, in the near
future, at least in India,
Thank you so much Nakul for doing this. This was very eye opening about a business that we
see around us all the time, but we don't particularly understand the back office of it. Like how
does this come together? So really appreciate you doing this for us. I think our students
would have learned a lot of very interesting things about one, how marketing is done.
Second is how automobile business is run. So thank you so much.
You're most welcome. Thanks.
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