“I want to share with you our strategic perspective, based on which we set about conceiving and developing this product (Bajaj V). As you know well, in about half the motorcycle market, comprising the entry and the sports segments, we are already, by far the leader. But the middle of the market, which is about… the other half of the market, has been elusive as far as we are concerned. Typically, commuters buy 100 or 125 cc motorcycles in that space, about 500,000 motorcycles every month.
We said to ourselves that we would keep things simple and go for this market with two things. One, of course, is a good product. And secondly, a good story – or a good position for the product.
Typically, manufacturers tend to approach this with one or two thought processes or strategies. Most people approach such a task, with what I like to call the ‘strategy of familiarity’. They see something out there that is doing well, and they say to themselves, that if I also were to make something similar, I would succeed, I would get a reasonable share of the market – our own belief, at Bajaj, is that this never works. He who is first to market continues to lead that segment or that category. And all those who seek to ape him by making me-too products only serve to endorse the leader. So instead of the strategy of familiarity, which seems very comfortable to start out with, but then fizzles out and goes nowhere, we as a company believes in the strategy of differentiation.
And quite simply that means, not just giving customers what they want. That is obvious. I don’t think we need marketing departments or agencies to tell us what they want – any fool knows that. What is important is to be able to give customers what they want, and what competition does not – or cannot, easily.
Where should differentiation start?
When talking specifically of the auto industry, especially two-wheelers, and in this case motorcycles, a lot of the time, differentiation seems to start with…. brand ambassadors, for example. As if people are walking into a showroom to take a cricketer or an actress home. It (differentiation) seems to start with the headlamp, with whether the tyre has a tube or not, it seems to start with how long or short the seat is, some notion of comfort, some notion of some aesthetic detail somewhere.
But I have come to realise, after 25 years in this business, that there is a lot to be said for that American saying in the context of motorcycles, that ‘There is no replacement for displacement’. For us therefore, differentiation starts with the displacement – the size of the engine, what we call cubic capacity or cc of the engine. Once one articulates that a bike is of 100 cc, 125 cc, 200 cc or a litre, the consumer immediately plays in his mind a movie, of all that he can and cannot expect from that motorcycle. Just imagine, if we were to present to you a 100 cc bike, with the metal of (INS) Vikrant…. It just wouldn’t stick.
We have come to believe that there is no replacement for displacement. It worked very well for us in 2001, which was a turning point for Bajaj as it moved from scooters to motorcycles.
In 2001, we launched the Pulsar. With that launch, if I may say so, we changed the sports biking or the premium motorcycles segment on its head. We dominated it from day one. We do so even now. What was the reason for the success of the Pulsar? The CBZ was there in the market before us. The TVS Fiero was there in the market before us. What made Pulsar successful, was that it was, first and foremost, differentiated by displacement. Very few people have actually realised, that the Pulsar was launched as a 180 cc bike. Of course, it was also available as a 150 cc for those who felt more comfortable with that. But in terms of its positioning, in terms of its communication... if you remember that advertisement which said, ‘It’s a boy’, and somebody went thundering down the Mumbai-Pune Expressway on the Pulsar. That was a 180 cc Pulsar. The reason it was able to make a mark for itself, was that it was not another 150 cc bike in the market place, like the CBZ or the Fiero. It was a notch above as a 180 cc that offered much more performance.
We’ve come to realise that these two aspects we must apply to the task – the left-brained and the right-brained – are both equally important. From the left brain comes the desire to create a new, differentiated product. And from the right brain must come the ability to create a new position. The product in itself will sell, only if there is a marketing position based on which one can sell it.
Testing the hypothesis, again
Looking back, I am very certain, that if the Pulsar had been launched as a 150 cc motorcycle, only, it would still have been a great motorcycle, but one without the position that was at the time articulated as ‘Definitely male’. Customers would have walked into the showroom and said, ‘What is Definitely male about your motorcycle? There is a CBZ, there is a Fiero. You are just another male, you are not Definitely male.’
But when we had a 180 cc motorcycle standing there, they could not dismiss us like that. They had to grant it to us that we had created a different position. Creating a different position, to us, is what is marketing. And sales without marketing, is like a ship on dry land. It may have all the potential to go far and wide, but it is never going to go anywhere.
In 2016, fifteen years after what we did with the Pulsar, we are testing the same hypothesis again. Most people would intuitively think, ‘These guys have lost it…. Commuters just want a mileage motorcycle, something that gives them good mileage, costs about 50,000 rupees… Will last forever. Bajaj is out of its mind coming out with a 150 cc commuter motorcycle, a displacement that is usually associated with sports biking.’
Our thought process is quite the opposite: How are you going to crack Hero’s impenetrable hold on this market? With the 50th 100 cc bike? The 30th 110 cc bike (no matter how many valves and spark plugs it might have in it)? Or the 25th 125 cc bike in the market place? We don’t think that is going to cut it. As Einstein said in a different context (but I think it very much applies), ‘A problem is never solved at the level at which it is created’. If competition creates a problem for us at the 100 cc level, we must have a 125 cc solution. If it’s at a 125 cc level already, we need a 150 cc solution. To our counter-intuitive way of thinking, this was very obvious – we needed to create a new 150 cc motorcycle, with a distinct and differentiated positioning.
Connecting the two dots
I am very pleased and proud to present one of our engineers from our R&D, Mushtaq, who is part of a team that created this product.
Beyond stating that the V would be a bike that would be ‘Invincible’ in daily commuting, we really didn’t have the skill to articulate it in a charming, catchy way, and put that ‘X’ factor into it, which would amplify it so many times in the minds of people. And that came, from an equally ‘junior person’, Kevin (from Leo Burnett, our ad agency). I was in office and my marketing team came up to me, and said, ‘Boss this is a video that I think you should see’. I would have had to be stupid not to see the potential in that.
It struck me that all I needed to do was connect these two dots – the design that Mushtaq has created, and the position that Kevin has articulated – and some magic is going to happen.”
(Edited excerpts from Bajaj Auto MD Rajiv Bajaj's address at an event to announce the Bajaj V on 1 February 2016, which has infused in it metal from India's first aircraft carrier warship and celebrated war hero, the INS Vikrant. This article was first published on 8 February 2016.)