Rebooting Bata: Will its new campaign help the footwear brand get there?
Finally, the heritage brand is rising from its slumber rolling out its first commercial in years on March 14. So, why the return to TV? "Somewhere along its journey," explains Sonal Dabral, chairman and chief creative officer of DDB Mudra Group, "the brand needs to reach out to consumers, highlight its offerings and build a fresh connection with the youth." The brief is to contemporise the brand, showcase its aspirational and trendy products and reach the evolving consumer; all centred around its Spring Summer' 14 collection.
While a peppy jingle, youthful imagery of flirtatious footsies and visuals full of colour and life may attract eyeballs, is it too little too late? Have rivals like Nike and Puma taken over the mindspace of cool even if they can't match Bata's clout across the various market segments? It depends on who you ask.
"It's been a lost decade for them," feels Abraham Koshy, professor of marketing at IIM Ahmedabad. They failed to understand simple principles of marketing — positioning and segmentation, he adds. While the brand is still seen as inexpensive and durable, an overemphasis on affordability might have taken a toll. "It is the perception of downscale versus upscale which puts a brand in the 'forgot after' or 'sought after' category ," says Jagdeep Kapoor, founder, Samsika Marketing.
In spite of periodic but irregular references to its global origins, Bata is still considered a durable desi brand. To the point where it's probably the only company hailing from the Czech republic which finds its way into Bollywood lyrics. Which brings us to its biggest dilemma: brand positioning. Sandwiched between luxury brands from the top and mass market offerings at the bottom, how does Bata leverage its considerable equity? When does being the oldest brand on the block, almost synonymous with the
category turn into a disadvantage? Koshi observes, "Unless you have a flaunt value, you can never be aspirational. Bata has to address this issue to connect with youth."
If durability was the most important criterion decades ago, these days design and style matter a lot more. "It has not been able to connect with Gen Z even while it evokes a deep sense of trust," says Smitha Sarma Ranganathan, a brand communication specialist who teaches marketing management at IBS, Bangalore . The middle class junta of the 70s and 80s, she points out, have graduated to next-tier of brands and now seek footwear that spells finesse and taste. "Offerings such as Marie Claire and Hush Puppies have been an attempt to up stretch the Bata brand to appeal to this segment, with
limited success though," she feels.
However, what might appear a lost decade could well have been a work in progress, says a report. After three straight years of losses, points out brokerage house Motilal Oswal, Bata started to script a turnaround story from 2005. The focus was on revamping retail — large format stores were opened and existing ones remodelled.
Extending working hours and keeping stores open on Sundays led to a spike in sales. A drastic cut in employee headcount and outsourcing labour-intensive operations helped in pruning costs. And the efforts appear to be paying off as Bata is the market leader with over 16% shareRebooting in the organised footwear segment, the report says. Besides Bata, doesn't believe it is playing catch-up . "I won't be able to comment on the time gone by, but what is there now is brilliant," says
Sumit Kumar, vice president - marketing & customer services, Bata India.
"I have seen brands positioning themselves in a fancy manner but not having content and so they fall flat," he adds. With its 'Where Life Meets Style' campaign, Bata intends ensuring a connect with loyal customers remains intact even as it reaches out to new buyers.
Recently, Bata opened its first global concept store in India at The DLF Place mall in Saket, New Delhi. The brand is focusing on creating a unique in-store experience. "The latest collection is contemporary , stylish, trendy, comfortable and durable which is the core DNA of the brand," says Kumar, adding that
all the sub-brands such as North Star and Power too would find their right place in the new marketing strategy. The size of the Indian footwear industry is estimated to at 240 billion and is likely to reach over 387 billion by the next year, according to industry body Assocham.
Even though the per capita shoe consumption in the country has crawled upwards from 1.4 pairs a year in 2004 to 2.5 pairs in 2012, it is still much below the average of 5.5% in developed markets. But this shows that there is an immense appetite for growth in the country.
Kumar is confident that consumers , especially youth, would love the new campaign. "The youth connect was always there," he asserts, adding that the latest campaign just tries to "amplify or add on a layer of aspiration." The months to come will reveal if this layer is enough to keep at bay a viciously competitive market chock full of global brands with massive budgets and online and offline consumer outreach programmes.