“In a commoditised market, brand does not matter”

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Anish Srikrishna

Anish Srikrishna joined SpiceJet on May 1, 2009 to head the marketing function for the company. He brings along over 15 years of experience in sales and marketing across various industries including hospitality, retail and FMCG.

Prior to SpiceJet, he worked as VP Marketing with Oberoi Group of Hotels where his key responsibilities included overseeing international marketing, conceptualising and executing the brand strategy across multiple geographies.

An alumnus of Asian Institute of Management, Manila, Srikrishana also holds a bachelor’s degree in Engineering with specialisation in Electronics & Communication.

In an interview with Deepti Aggarwal of Pitch, he talks about the marketing challenges in aviation sector in a tough year that 2009 was, and the need that propelled SpiceJet to favour television advertising in present times even as the purse strings in the sector remain tight. Excerpts:

What was the need to come up with new commercials and what is the stand that Spicejet has taken?
The need of these television commercials was to try and reach out to a larger mass of both the present and future consumers. Currently, out of a potential 100 million SEC B1 to SEC A1 audience, only about 20 odd million have the propensity or the ability to fly. Out of even that 20 million, only about 6-7 million people actually fly. So, the opportunity to reach out to a larger mass of our audience has made us prefer TV over the others. Also television has a superior reach and a far superior cost per reach.

Though, television commercials, obviously, are more time consuming so it took last couple of months to concretise and figure out what we wanted to say and how we wanted to say it.

As ROI expectations continue to be a touchy issue, what was SpiceJet’s rationale while opting for TV?
As I said the intention is not just to look at the most economical vehicle to reach out to the audience. A marketer is governed by two fundamental principles. First, every marketing spend that you make should have a clear return on investment. And the second is that you have to pick the most efficient vehicle to get those messages across. So, if we follow these tenets, clearly there is no choice but television.

Sometime back, SpiceJet signed Contract as its agency on record and after that a shift in the strategy has been seen. Can you explain the reasons for the  shift?
Looking at the evolution of low cost airlines over the last five years, our current strategy can be easily understood. When the first low cost airline came into being, probably in 2004, there was a clear distinction between a low cost airline and a non-low cost one. Now, the scenario has changed and a lot many low price airlines have come into the picture. So, the phenomenon that started with a single player has now different players jostling for the new space in the segment.

Also, the full service carriers have devoted more of their fleet to the low cost operations in past one year. It means that all the brands in the industry want to be seen as a ‘value for money’ carrier, thus offering the Indian consumers with more and more low cost services. In the process, most of the airlines have cut the frills, hence making the competitive environment even more intense.

To a marketer it presents a huge challenge as to how to differentiate a particular airline in such a commoditised buying environment and make consumer move their mouse to a particular brand.

What are the concrete offerings that make your brand different?
We have been grappling with this challenge since the beginning of this year. So, we tried to boil down the message to the top 4-5 things that we could do better than our competitors. We looked at improving the product proposition such as we were the first LCC to offer hot beverage onboard. We were the first one to say we will not charge for an unaccompanied minor.

We basically said that while we are a low cost airline, we also understand where the consumer comes from. We are most eager to bring unique value added services with a tagline ‘get more when you fly SpiceJet’. This campaign has been live on radio, outdoor, internet and print since June last year. And the logical extension of this thought is to get on to a medium with a wider reach i.e. television.

What has been the media mix for SpiceJet in past some time to reach out to its customers?
It is all dependent on the purpose that the medium serves. A call to action medium like print is used primarily to communicate our promotions. A magazine medium, on the other hand, is used to drive home the point that we are an airline with a difference as we bring value added services to the table. Again, on the internet we do a mix of promotional as well as brand communication. So, there is no reduction in the budgets for one medium while we increase spends on other medium. If you look at it vis-à-vis last four years, spends have gone up. Still, they form a very small part of our turnover. In this fiscal it would be less than one and a half per cent of our turnover.

Late last year, SpiceJet got an online specialist agency, i-Vista Digital Solutions, on board. What was the insight that led to this decision?
The online savvy customer is going to be the  customer of future. About 25 per cent of our bookings come through Spicejet.com. Another 25 to 30 per cent come through online travel agents. Consequently, it becomes extremely important for us to make sure that we are part of our consumer’s life. We figured that we needed to be strong on search engine optimisation. We use a lot of search engine marketing. Besides that we connect with consumer lifestyle with a limited amount of banner and rich media advertising.

We also have a continuous tracking of our consumer’s feedback online. However, this is still at a developing stage. But, these are the things that prompted us to hire an internet agency.

Overall, how would you describe marketing practices at SpiceJet and the ideas driving it?
In a highly commoditised marketplace, the brand really does not matter to consumer as long as the price is right and flight is on schedule time. Now, as market grows and demand increases, the space will become more brand-savvy and consumers will start demanding more value for their money. So, marketing at SpiceJet has got to stay current to those trends.

How was the year 2009 for SpiceJet? How did the brand manage the year?
On balance, the year was a good for us. The fear of slowdown brought the industry a couple of very poor quarters in the year 2008-09. The results for previous quarters, however, have shown that SpiceJet has recovered the best amongst all the airlines. We had a 109 crore profit in Q3. We increased our market share per aircraft to six and a half per cent. Also, we are looking forward to a good year 2009-10.

What heartens me a lot is that consumer has given us thumbs up for our services. In a recent survey done by Hindustan Times Mars, we were rated way ahead than our competitors in the low fare airline space.

What are the plans for the year ahead considering that the sentiments are bouncing back now?
In the present scenario, we are seeing that the customer is not happy with just the low price, but he also looks at the whole package. This has happened to other industries like retail earlier, now it is happening to aviation. Therefore, we need to stay ahead of this curve by adding on stuff that would surprise and delight the consumer and keep bringing them back to the airline.

We are adding about five aircrafts over the next two years. We are also looking at some international routes along with adding some of the obvious destinations that we have not touched so far.

About the author / 

Neha Goel

Former Correspondent, Pitch/pitchonnet.com

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