Using The Personal Touch In Marketing – Sujot Malhotra, Marico – FMCG Unplugged

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What do you think when you hear the word Parachute? I am immediately transported to the childhood memory of sitting on the verandah with my grandma or mom, chatting about anything and everything as she gave me a nice champi. Meet the man responsible for conjuring such images in your mind through marketing – Sujot Malhotra from Marico.

We are back with the 2nd episode of FMCG Unplugged Podcast.

After joining as a marketing trainee and working in sales for a bit, Sujot quickly moved to the marketing function. In this podcast, we talk about his time at XLRI, how Marico empowered his growth and his pet brand – Parachute.

Here is a transcript of the video:

Ankit: Hi Guys, welcome to the second episode of FMCG Unplugged, in association with Marico. I am with Sujot Malhotra right now. Sujot is an XLRI Alumnus.  We are very very happy to have you here with us today.

So, Sujot, from Campus to a management trainee at Marico to category head, how has the journey been for you here?


Sujot: It has actually been a lot of fun. And to me in some sense, I never really left campus. So, if you look at what Marico has been for the last 11 years, it has been a college in its own sense, a university in its own sense. And I can’t really remember a significant patch of my journey over here where I have not been lost or where I have not struggled to figure out what next. And which is a great place to be in, because in a role like Marketing, which is an edge function, we are always trying to figure out what are the boundaries to push on the brand and there are unchartered territories. And you learn more with every single day with every single initiative that you put out over there. And much like campus, it is not something that is mandated or something that comes with the job. It is a function of your own initiative how much do you want to push yourself how much do you want to push the work that is interested upon you.


Ankit:  So Sujot, the first thing that we noticed is that you have obviously been with Marico for so long. The other thing is that you have also done 9 different roles across these 11 years.  So, can you talk something about how that journey has been?

Sujot: Yes, I have done a fair degree of different kinds of work over here across 2 large functions as Sales and Marketing. First 2 years, I have spent in sales. First year in South India and then another year in North India, handling U.P, which was good fun actually.

And then I got an opportunity to move into brands, where I have now worked across various different roles.


Ankit: So Sujot, can you tell us how Marico has empowered and helped you grow into a successful marketing professional?

Sujot: To me, whatever I know of the corporate world, every organisation is empowering in two different degrees and that’s really our role. I mean, unless a manager or custodian is not really empowered, you cannot really make a difference. What is different in Marico, is the degree of hunger that the company has and the degree to which people will let you be, if they have the confidence that you know what you are talking about and you have some prone track record of actually delivering it. So if you look at the kind of stuff that Marico has allowed me to do over the past 11 years, whether it’s brands like Set Wet or brands like Shanti, the degree of changes that they have allowed me to do on such big equities, it is just overwhelming. And that makes a large difference. And the other part also is that it is not just empowering if there is a fair degree of accountability and there is actually a very very large degree of psychological security that the company provides. I mean it is not like I have not messed up ever in the last 11 years but that has not been held against me. I have only grown from year to year.

Ankit: Sujot, what marketing work around the world has excited you recently?

Sujot: See, from a trend if I were to talk about, the large piece that is always possibly on everybody’s mind nowadays, the new strides that are happening in this world. So it not just excites me, actually at some level also scares me. So in fact the day before we were even discussing how to take the new grandparent’s day campaign live to the consumers, because largely it is an online campaign, how do you really activate it online is something even we are still learning  and it’s people younger than you, who actually teach us, how to do it and we don’t know it. So despite 11 years of work experience, I can safely say that I know less about how online marketing works than possibly a person with zero work experience because they are actually consuming that. They are the people for whom that world is built.  And we see that in some, like travel is one sector that has really taken onto it. I mean, search for travel location A to B once on any portal and see how they chase you after that and how they are able to get to the last mile and give customized marketing to each and every person whether it is online or whether it is even connecting back to the offline world.

The kind of stimulus that is post that shown to you, whether it is a phone call or whatever else that they do, FMCG is miles behind when it comes to that. Because so far we have largely been a One to Many kind of communication, where we put out something and we expect consumers to behave in a certain way. Yes, we are no longer in that place where we just put a film and we say-  Okay people, start buying the product. We do activate, like the grandparent’s day activation we were just talking about or we do have surround media, whether it’s putting the communication online on YouTube, or GDN banners and stuff like that. But I think that’s still quite dated.

The world is evolving faster than we as marketeers are evolving and that’s really the exciting domain. Within this also if I were to talk about, some brands have really mastered this two-way communication and this two-way communication is no longer about just some brands that are fine, that are fancy and that I want to use but brand that I really engage with. Apple to me stands out as one brand that has managed to do it And recently so, it is One Plus. So if you look at One Plus as a device, it’s just the new the Chinese manufacturer like so many out others, whether it is, you know I will not take brand names but there are so many of these others. We know who has looked like a Chinese competitor. But One Plus is not.  Because the way they started off with an invite only system, they had a relationship ecosystem that they did things right. Or closer home if I were to talk, you know, Indian examples. If you take Bajaj V as the campaign, in which Vikrant as the destroyer is about to be decommissioned and really the destroyer was about to be broken down and sold for scraps the entire idea of using that metal and build bikes and sell it, it’s just a beautiful idea, it’s a beautiful campaign. Really inspiring. Not only have they managed to build a brand out of it, they have managed to increase brand love to enough degree by such a simple idea.


Ankit: So Sujot, would you like to shed some light on a new trend that surprises you or abuses you as a marketeer?

Sujot: I think the one thing that just comes to my mind that I am talking from my heart is from our kind of industry, the FMCG world, increasingly what I have seen is the trend is moving closer to every brand becoming a service. It is no longer just a product being bottled or packed and sold to the consumer. What you are really selling is a service. And that’s a paradigm shift in how do you market to the audience. And that’s really something students should look at and learn from.  And I am sure these trends have happened much more globally than they are happening in India now. That could be one test that they could look at. So I would not say FMCG alone, I would say anything. See I will tell you the one trait I have seen that sets apart people who really go the long way, who really stick around, who make something of themselves and the people who do tend to get lost in the first few couple of years. It is the openness and willingness to learn.

And that is actually a potential show-stopper for a lot of people because when you are fresh out of campus, you just want to go out there and change the world and become a CEO the next day. Which is not bad.  Having drive and having the enthusiasm to go and change things around is never bad. But in some places what does happen is that you tend to get close to new ideas actually not new ideas, I am saying actually the value of experience. That’s a better word to use. That people who have been open, who come and work with you and who have built from what is the resident knowledge, have tended to go a longer way in their careers, that I have seen, than people who have come and tried to change everything around, turn things on their head, because they have this desire to show results tomorrow. They have either irreparably damaged the piece that they are working on or even if they managed to do something with it, in the quality of interactions that they have with the people who are reviewing them, or people who they are working with, they have managed to spoil relationships. And if you see the marketing world, per se, marketing world or any professional world it is not actually just about the aptitude that you bring to the table,  because aptitude can really be taught.

So the basics of Marketing, the basics of Sales, the basics of Supply chain, any function can be taught. What sets people apart is the attitude. The attitude to learn, the attitude to work with others and the attitude to have common wins rather than have your individual wins and victories. That’s one advice I have for people who come fresh from the campus that don’t just focus on learning what is happening new in the world, what are the new trends, learn and give some focus to these softer skills, human skills that you bring to the table. That is what is going to really set you apart as a professional.


Ankit: So, the next question, Sujot, we have for you is – How does a brand like Parachute Advanced continue to stay relevant in today’s times? Considering that oiling is a habit that might be reducing and there are newer options for hair care. And what has the brand done to marry the tradition with modern Indian lifestyle and outlook?

Sujot: So, seeing Parachute Advanced, actually to me, as a brand today is even more relevant than what it was possibly a decade ago. The brand is all about that ‘Champi’ moment. It is that one moment where human beings have connected over years, during the act of oiling. So everybody, if you really look back in your own life, I don’t think there’s anybody who doesn’t have that one experience of oiling with one of the whether it’s a nani, whether its’s a mother, where we will be really emotionally vulnerable. Where there is somebody who has taken care of us. Where we have cried. Where we have really shared a strong emotional bond.

And today if you see, what is changing in today’s world is actually that, that bond is becoming weaker. So are relationships are more social media led. I don’t know when was the last time any of us in this room went and spent a day with our grandparent. We don’t do such stuff anymore and largely it is phone calls because everybody is busy in their lives and people are getting pulled apart. We are working in different cities from where we used to live. I live in a different city from my parents and I don’t get to spend time with them. So Parachute Advanced is that one of those very few brands that actually can credibly talk about these moments and these relationships and try to make a difference to people’s lives. And that is really what our new campaign is all about. And not just the campaign, actually that is the new brand purpose. If you manage to see the new communication that we have put out –  ‘Thoda Love Jatao’ where we are largely just prodding people to give expression to the love that they feel for others. So, it is not like any of us love our grandparents any lesser or parents any lesser. It is just that we assume that people know and we don’t tell them enough and possibly we should. And oiling as an act also is relevant in the same. So there are these ‘Champi’ relationships that you have and there are relations that are not ‘Champi’ relations.

Like today, anybody sitting in this room can’t pick up a bottle of Parachute Advanced and start oiling. It is a very intimate relationship that you have with only a select few people. And those are the relationships that we really want to make a difference to, that we want people to go back in time, go back and start connecting again. And that’s where I see the brand being more relevant. Even functionally, if I would talk about, not emotionally, oiling as an act, if I would talk about, while, yes, there are new instant benefits of conditioner, conditioning shampoos and whatever, today if you look at globally, factually speaking, Indians have the best hair. In fact there was a campaign that we did a while back that’s called ‘World’s Best Hair’ and that is largely because of the fact that oiled hair is the best hair.  And you talk about any hair quality, whether it’s thickness, whether it’s texture, anything about hair or length of the hair, Indians, actually, factually speaking, have the world’s best hair.

And today, in a time when you are more exposed to pollution, in a time where you are more exposed to a hectic lifestyle, stress that leads to body conditions, including hair deteriorating, oiling is even more relevant. Yes, there is a small mass of consumers, small chunk of consumers who are oiling a little lesser, but the larger chunk is actually oiling just as much and even for the large chunk, there is now a return to the roots kind of fable that we are seeking that we are saying that, people are seeing really drastic signs of reduction in hair quality whether it is hairfall or it’s even dryness in hair that is why people are going back to oil. So the trust in oil is not lesser than what it used to be and the trust in Parachute Advanced is definitely not lesser than what it used to be. Infact today when we meet consumers, they actually verbatim say that, that over the years if you see, quality of possibly everything that we have used has deteriorated, Parachute Advanced is still the same what it used to be, when I had that last experience of using it with my mother.


Ankit: Have you done any interesting new activations around this, which you can share with the students?

Sujot: So actually a campaign is going live in 2 days from now, which is around grandparent’s day and that’s what I touched upon right now. So the campaign just really urges people that grandparent’s day happens to be on 10th September and we are urging people on this 10th September to get out of their online world and the social media update world and actually spend some real time with the grandparent. And maybe if, you know, possible for people who have been there for you throughout their life, people who have spent, who have given everything that you have possibly asked them and today all they are asking for from you is just your time. And if you could just do that for your grandparents, you will see what is does, not just to your grandparents, but to you yourself emotionally.


Ankit: Tell me about a memorable thing from your days at XLRI.

Sujot: I think it is all the wet nights that we used to have. All the drunken dancing that we used to do, that’s one thing that is memorable.


Ankit: So Sujot, how many batchmates are you still in touch with from XLRI?

Sujot: Actually very few. Not too many. Actually, there is the need for that ‘Thoda Love Jatao’ in our own lives also. There is so much of paucity of time that you can hardly connect with your family that it becomes quite difficult to connect with friends also.


Ankit: I am assuming you would have had many long train journeys to Jamshedpur from Calcutta.

Sujot: Yeah, from Delhi.

Ankit: From Delhi. So, would you all travel together, you know, from the same region? Any such memories?

Sujot: Yeah, actually when you talk about that, it is coming back to me and actually that was a very very good part of life at XL, which forces you to actually spend time with each other, in one boogie, that is seating all of us and we used to make life hell for all our fellow passengers over there. And also once we reached over there, at that time the conveyance wasn’t that great, so I remember travelling in open tempos. Like 10 of us sitting in an open tempo and travelling to Jamshedpur.


Ankit: Thanks a lot Sujot for doing this. It was great talking to you. I am sure that users of InsideIIM will really enjoy listening to your experiences and will hopefully learn a lot as well.