“There are no readymade answers in digital”Mahindra’s Vivek Nayer talks to Bindu Nair Maitra on the need for marketers to embark on their own digital journey
Vivek Nayer, senior vice president—marketing, Mahindra & Mahindra says the most common question that he used to get asked after he joined the company in 2005 was how a dyed-in-the-wool FMCG man like him moved to the automobile sector.
“I had spent so many years in FMCG that after a point, I felt like I had done everything that there was to be done in that space. Also, marketing is finally about understanding consumers, and creating strategies that are based on consumer insight. Fundamentally, they are the same. I made the switch and because I was so passionate about automobiles, I am here five years later and enjoying it,” he explains. Nayer started his career with Voltas in their Pharma and Consumer Products (PCP) division in 1987. “It was known in those days as the training ground for a lot of people, folks like Jimmy Anklesaria, Vinita Bali, Rajesh Jejurikar had been a part of that division, ” he says. Nayer credits his early days working in markets like Bihar and Orissa for Voltas as the foundation for his later career in marketing. “It’s sales that lays the foundation for a job in marketing. From planning, thinking to execution—there sometimes tends to be a big gap and most companies are not able to deliver on that because they fall in between. Plans get made but then they don’t get executed. That’s a learning you get only when you’re fully grounded at the market level. That’s when you understand what works and more importantly, what doesn’t,” recalls Nayer of his early days in sales. Nayer later moved to Reckitt & Colman (later Reckitt Benckiser after the former’s merger with Benckiser) in the UK where he worked for five years.
His UK stint, he believes, was an important experience from the point of view of his career. It was a telling insight into the diametrically opposite work cultures in India compared to the West. “Indians are, by nature, hard working. They are also innovative. From childhood, we are used to competing and trying to find ways of going forward. We are not black and white, we live in the gray and that’s a very Indian ability. An Indian won’t give up, he’ll find a solution. Indians are flexible, they work with less to come up with innovative solutions.
After five years working in the UK, Nayer was ready for India. “I realized that in the UK, life would always be about 2% or 3 % growth, whereas in India you were talking about double digit growth. The opportunity beckoned and in 2005, I moved back,” he explains. He joined Mahindra & Mahindra the same year. He currently has SUV brands like Scorpio, Xylo and Bolero under his belt as well as Mahindra’s commercial vehicles like Geo and Maximo.
Nayer says the one big change that has taken place in the last few years has been the shift in aspirations of the Indian consumer. He explains, “Earlier a car was merely looked upon as a means of transportation. Today, it’s a statement of who you are, it reflects your personality. Lifestyles have changed, people want to get away on weekends. They want a car that suits that lifestyle.”When Nayer joined Mahindra, there were a couple of critical brand refreshes that were on the anvil. The relaunch for Scorpio and Bolero was on the cards. As was the launch of Xylo.
“The most common refrain I heard on the eve of the launch of the Xylo was that it would cannabalise the market for Scorpio and Bolero. That didn’t happen, each of the brands has grown in share since then.
On Xylo’s launch, he says, “In the last three years or so, Xylo has been one of the most important initiatives for me and my team. It is very satisfying because Xylo was one of the most successful launches in the automobile industry. Six to four weeks before the launch was when we launched the pre-launch website. We had two lakh hits before the launch. We managed to garner so much buzz around the launch, without actually showing the car.”
“The other big initiative is the digital journey that we have undertaken. It began hardly two years back and today, as a company, we are considered among the more cutting-edge folks on social media and digital.” Nayer says Facebook allows them to amplify customer experiences of properties like Mahindra Great Escapes.
“Great Escapes is an exercise which we undertake about ten times in a year, across the country. We bring together about 50 to 60 Mahindra owners and we take them for an off-road drive. It’s all about a having a good experience. And Mahindra Great Escapes is a perfect example of managing the synergy between the brand’s offline and online activities.” Nayer says Mahindra as a company chose to embark on their digital journey two years ago and it has been a learning experience.
Nayer has little patience for people who approach him with doubts on the digital medium.
“I tell them that they have to start that journey themselves. You can’t look for readymade answers on this medium. We’ve used online media even for promoting our commercial vehicle range; we’ve looked at all the possibilities that are out there. No one knows your brand better than you do so why ask others?”
Nayer believes that the challenge for most marketers to get their head around digital comes from the mindset of not being able to give up control. “That’s key in the online space and that’s never easy for the senior management in most companies. If someone says something negative about my brand, there is nothing that I can do about it. I can try and influence him and say, ‘If you’ve had a problem that we can sort out.’ But better still, twenty others will jump in to defend the brand. We are merely the enablers.”
Aug 2005 onwards Mahindra & Mahindra Ltd - Auto Division (Sr. GM/ Vice President / Senior Vice President - Marketing)
Feb 2000 - Jul 2004 Reckitt Benckiser plc in UK (Global Category Manager- Antiseptics & Personal Hygiene and thereafter Furniture & Floor care)
Apr 1993 - Jan 2000 Reckitt & Colman Of India (Product Manager / Group Product Manager / Marketing Manager / South Asia Category Leader - Antiseptics & Personal Hygiene
Jul 1987 to Mar 1993 Voltas - Area Sales Manager (first Bihar; then Delhi Metro)