The past couple of years have been rather eventful for apparel companies in India. Despite the recessionary trends, a number of global brands launched or expanded their retail presence in the country. The entry of these new players lent some vibrancy to a market where low-ticket purchases have anyway remained unaffected. But if Chakor Jain, business head of Lee, is to be believed, the dense clouds of gloom began to lift with the onset of the festive season. Associated with Arvind Mills for over a decade, Jain has enough experience in different facets of the apparel industry to project that the worst is almost over. He spoke to FE’s Radhika Sachdev on how to get the best bang for your buck when times are not exactly favourable.
Advertising budgets are often the first to be hacked during a recessionary phase. Have you also introduced major cuts in your media budget?
Not exactly. In fact, we have always been a little frugal in this respect. We’ve never been flamboyant, so there is no real need to pull the strings tighter, although, given the pressure, we are being more watchful of our spend now and expect to make the money work harder. The idea is to get the maximum bang out of your marketing buck.
Although there is no point in going overboard with strategic marketing, this is certainly also not the time to drop your spends, but rather to ensure that every rupee is well spent and your message is extremely focused and targeted. Visibility was never an issue with our brand, which is why we don’t need to undertake all those elaborate brand-building exercises. That said, we are careful about keeping a tight vigil over conversions and are working harder at drawing the customer back into our stores.
What can marketers do to spur demand during a trying time?
Actually, a lot of promotional things. These can be launch schemes (not necessarily linked to discount schemes), cross promotions, loyalty programmes etc. Typically, during recession, the tendency is to shy away from shops. The experience becomes more tactical than actual—window-shopping increases, actual sales fall. The job of a marketer is to entice the consumer back into the shops using innovative means.
And the festive time is the best time to do that…
Exactly. Our peak sales season effectively starts from October 1 and lasts for the whole of December. So if the H1:H2 sales are in the ratio of 40:60, nearly 70% of our media budget gets allocated around this time.
Being a youth brand, what’s your annual spend on the digital medium?
About 15-20% of our topline goes into media purchase, out of which nearly 20% is allocated to the digital space. In my view, digital, especially social media, is not just a superb image building tool, it’s also highly targeted with the least amount of wastage.
What generates better response from customers—single or multiple brand stores?
Both the models work. We are present in both and the response varies depending on the occasion and the thinking process. In the case of strong players in a given segment, such as Lee, or women’s fashion-oriented brands such as Mango, where customers are aware of the value of a brand, exclusive stores give you a better depth of experience. You can explore the full range in that brand.
However, often, customers also like to compare and choose between brands, although this works better in the case of mass, generic value products. We have done well even at multi-brand stores and big departmental stores, where we are given exclusive display space.
How fast is the premium wear segment growing in India and how does this compare with the rest of the world?
It’s growing at the rate of 15-20%, which is the same in China or the rest of Asia. But in the western world, the pace is much slower, around 5-7%.
What is your ‘Make History’ campaign about?
It’s a campaign that’s entered its second year in Europe and has now come to India. Without pushing the brand in any manner whatsoever, it’s a call for submitting photographs (including digital prints) to www.makehistory-ap.com along with a short narrative describing where and when the picture was taken. The stories and pictures will get published in a fashion magazine later under the ‘Make History’ banner. The bumper prize is $40,000. The campaign is a new line of communication aimed at attracting, engaging and sharing a dialogue with the youth community.
In our view, history is not about important people or events. It’s also about ordinary people and ordinary events. This is recorded in songs, painted on canvas. It’s told in stories and it lives in snapshots. From several parts of the world, we have collected hundreds of such stories—playing ping-pong in Istanbul, eating fire on the streets of Milan, spraying graffiti on trains in London, partying until dawn under the Eiffel Tower, racing for chocolate in Turkey, or attending underground fetish parties in Miami—you can actually gaze at and read these accounts on the site.
The campaign is unique because of the depth of its content. It records characters and scenes, struggles and failures, life and death, denial, overcoming, acceptance, joys and wars, enemies, compromises, friendship. Although the entries span different cultures and themes, there is a sense of unity. You won’t believe it, but the campaign has sprung up networks across the board connecting people across MySpace and personal blogs.
May be because Lee is a well-loved, iconic brand…
That’s right. It’s a premium jeans brand that’s almost 15 years old in India. It’s the first truly American apparel brand that launched the first exclusive brand outlets in 1995 and today we have over 100 Lee stores in the country. Our brand initiatives have always stood apart—be it the Lee model hunt, the annual Lee dance event—which have all featured as MICA (Mudra Institute of Communications, Ahmedabad) case studies for their long, successful stints. We come out with real campaigns that drum up real footfalls into our stores. No me-too efforts.
What are you doing to tap the new medium?
We are very clued into the blogs where our brand is being talked about. There are several active fan clubs and communities that we discreetly support and participate in the discussions. Some discussion threats are an eye-opener. They reveal that even up-country consumers in, say, Sonepat or Panipat, are very conversant with our brands. Mobile is another New Age medium that we tap, though not in a clichéd manner, in the form of games and contests. Take the ‘Make History’ campaign—it’s not a run-of-the-mill contest. It makes you value a few historic moments of our everyday life.
6 months ago